Where to begin...
My wife and I have seen our ups and downs as I have learned to rein in my PTSD symptoms and harness my drive to succeed, both personally and professionally. It has not been easy and we recently made some realizations about why our relationship has a tendency to get tense - even when it doesn't need to be.
What Relaxing Means to Me:
Sitting on my duff playing video games, blogging, writing the next installment of my serial novel, watching a movie, snuggling into the corner of the couch with a good book. You'll notice that my idea of relaxing involves taking a load off my feet. I would love to do this with my wife, cuddled up on the couch.
What Relaxing Means to My Wife:
Going outside for a walk, run, bike ride. Going to the mall and walking around with Caley. Going out somewhere and doing something...anything other than sitting on her duff. My wife loves to go for walks in the evening with our daughter and me.
Do you see where the problem is? I like to NOT do anything. My wife likes to DO anything. Sedentary relaxation versus endorphin release from exercise. I don't need to tell you which way is healthier in the long run. What we have been doing is this: My wife takes our daughter for a walk while I sit in my chair and read something, write something or watch something. We relax apart after a day apart working apart.
Not exactly ideal for our intimacy or our relationship. We never made time to spend together because neither one of us was willing to do what the other found relaxing - mostly because I hate going for walks and she hates sitting for long periods of time. So how do we meet in the middle. Do I recognize that always sitting on my duff after or before work isn't healthy and change my routine? Nope. If I did that I would be grumpy all the time. I can't be the only one to make concessions. So where is the happy medium? What do I do to meet my wife half-way?
I am going for a walk tonight with my wife to discuss this. We'll see what happens.
Sometimes I wonder how I get through the weeks in one piece. This past week I interviewed for a new position at work that would limit my exposure to mold so that I could have a healthier working environment. My employer has been incredibly supportive through this whole process.
The part that has been hardest for me is how it affects me at home and my past ability to contribute there. I have really thought long and hard about what my wife needs from me. The biggest thing that she needs from me is help around the house and with our daughter. While I recognize that I do sometimes need time to be alone and decompress...
As a husband and a father, sometimes I just need to suck it up for a little until my daughter is asleep and the chores around the house are done. As I said, I thought about this for a long time and I have wanted to commit to being that man again - the man she fell in love with. I had PTSD when I met her, so I know I am capable of being that man again, in spite of everything. I have wanted to do this for a while, but I wanted to make sure that I was emotionally stable when I verbally made that commitment to her. The last thing I wanted was to set myself up for failure and hurt and disappoint my wife. She deserves so much more than I have been giving her.
Yesterday at work, I suddenly realized I was ready to commit. I called my wife on lunch and told her not to make plans for the evening. I made reservations at our favorite restaurant and I talked to Dani about my thoughts and renewed my commitment to her.
Last night was good for us both. My parents were watching Caley so that Dani and I could get an adult night out. It was wonderful and we talked about all of the obstacles we had overcome in the past year. When everything was said and done, Dani recognized that there was something different about the way I was committing this time. I think we both felt it. Like we were finally closing the door on everything that has happened the past few years.
So no all that is left is to follow through. And I am. I will. If I have a bad day, I wait until everything is taken care of for the day and then I can take my 'leave me the fuck alone to decompress' time. Being there for my daughter and my wife make this all worthwhile.
*NOTE* I know I have a lot of people to write back to via email. I apologize for the delay and will write responses as soon as I am able.
OK, so I think I figured out part of my problem. Biting off just enough that I never get to stop chewing. Here's a list of my current responsibilities:
So, as you can see, I am not doing much of anything right now. I wonder why I feel tired a lot and emotionally spent. While I am passionate about all of these things, I need to manage my time better and prioritize what I do on a daily and weekly basis. I really need to simplify my life.
So where do I go from here? Well, some good news. Aside from final editing, the next part of my serial novel is complete and will be published in a few days. So that will be one item off the list for a while. The guest speaking engagement is going to be scheduled for sometime this fall, so that's not really a worry. The website is due for some updating and revamping as HTML5 tools are more readily available now. That's not urgent, though. The website layout is clean and easy to navigate, so I can put that on the back burner. LVMAC and the entrepreneurship program go together for the most part. That whole project is on pause until we finish the current round of communication. We are not sure we have all of the players on the board yet, so we are taking our time to make sure we develop this program carefully.
As for the last few items on the list, well...They should be the easiest and they are the hardest. Being a good husband and good father are all I really want to be. The rest is just icing on the cake, so maybe I need to remember that before I commit to any more meetings, programs, memberships, book writings. I can manage a department in a grocery store like a well-oiled machine. Here's to hoping I can manage myself and my personal life with the same level of grace in the future.
A while back I wrote a post called It's Not Her Fault. To this day it is still one of the most talked about posts I have made. It resonated with a lot of people. Yet despite all of this, I seem to be forgetting a lot of these pearls of wisdom myself.
I need to focus more on making sure my wife knows I love her, no matter how horrible I am feeling. I need to make sure that my daughter understands that daddy always loves her, even when it is hard for him to show it.
Life doesn't pause to let you catch your breath. There is always something happening that will have the potential to change your life. I know this, but I can't seem to beat it into my thick skull. I have started down the path I was treading before - getting revved up for work, making it through the day, and then gassing out when I get home. I can't live like this and I won't.
My wife has said it very succinctly: Parents never get a day off. Yet with my PTSD not being under control right now, she is left caring for our daughter, more or less, alone. How can I expect to rebuild a strong relationship with my wife when I keep on letting her down, disappointing her?
I received a question right before Memorial Day. Because of the very serious nature of the questions, I wanted to take the time to think deeply about it, consult some friends, and answer the questions as fully as possible. Here's what she said:
I have a question I am a spouse of a OEF/OIF veteran, he is still active duty we are currently separated and we have endured a living hell my family and I the last four years. i am baffled does mild tbi have anything to do with adultery my husband did not have affairs or act violent towards me up until two years ago he gradually got worse?
TBI and Changes in Personality:
There is so much that isn't known about the long-term effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries. We are only now starting to feel the repercussions for NFL players, let alone for our service members. What does seems to hold true is that the more severe the brain injury, the more likely it becomes for moderate to severe personality traits to manifest over the years following. Additionally, there seems to be some compounding factor. If a person has multiple m-TBIs, the effects appear to be cumulative over time. I am not an expert on TBI and am not a doctor, so aside from relating to you the little I know, I will refer you to the experts on these types of injuries.
PTSD, Adultery, and Abuse:
This is a very complex issue as well and one that you don't directly mention. Regardless, I feel compelled to address the possibility of PTSD being a major contributing factor. Having TBI makes a person more susceptible to behavioral disorders such as PTSD. When someone is suffering from PTSD, a person can feel an inability to connect with loved ones. As a result, some turn to adultery as a way to deal with this. From the guys I have talked to about this, they all say the same thing: They don't want to be intimate with their spouses because they don't feel like they can connect with them. Also, many have stated that it is safer to be intimate with a stranger who they don't care about because they CAN open up and if it scares the other person, they could care less. At least they are not hurting their loved ones.
I know that rationale is convoluted. I know it doesn't make any sense, but based on my experience and my conversations, it's classic avoidance of confronting their trauma and their PTSD. I can't speak for your spouse. There are so many individual factors that make this equation more true or less true for each person. Only your spouse knows the truth of this.
As for the abuse, I can't speak for the TBI side of the equation. That may play a factor. As it stands with me, abuse demonstrates an conscious choice to hurt others, a conscious choice to let anger get the better of you and to visit your trauma on someone else. If there is a medical reason for the personality change and loss of impulse control, that's one thing. Regardless, I find the act of abuse, repulsive and reprehensible. First and foremost, look out for your welfare and your family. You can't effectively confront abuse if you are still subjected to it.
I hope that this has given you some insight. I need to repeat, I am not a doctor or health professional. I can only share with you the knowledge I have gained from personal experiences dealing with my own PTSD. I wish you the best of luck in confronting these issues in your own life. If there are any follow-up questions you may have for me, please let me know.
Yours in Health,
I was looking at a painting that belonged to my grandfather that is hanging on the wall in our living room and missing my grandfather terribly. He always knew the right thing to say to make a person feel like they were the most important person in the world. The best part: He didn't do it intentionally. That was just part of what made his personality so magnetic and compelling. I am his only grandson and he shared a lot about his wartime experiences with me. He never said much about how it made him feel, but I could tell there was a certain level of pain associated with a lot of his memories. Especially the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In honor of his memory, I wanted to share the interview he wrote out for me when I was in Seventh Grade:
*For some reason, the file refuses to orient itself correctly, no matter how many times I scan it. To view it upright, click on view and rotate it twice.*
My grandfather was truly an amazing man. He retired from the Navy and moved to St. Croix, USVI. He was everything I wanted to be. A good husband, a good father, and the best kind of military officer: the kind who won the loyalty of every enlisted man who ever served under him. I can still remember as a child that the dock on the Fredericksted side of the island was used by the navy subs when they came in for port call. Invariably, the senior officer staff would come by the house to pay their respects to 'the legend'. They always treated him with the utmost respect and a substantial amount of awe.
To me, he was just grandpa. I didn't understand the respect and awe he commanded until I was flying home in dress uniform in the spring of 2001. A navy master chief looked at me like he had seen a ghost. He walked straight up to me and I snapped to parade rest, sure I had done something egregious. He asked me if I was related to Commodore Ray Harris. I told him that he was my grandfather. The master chief snapped to attention and saluted me, a Private First Class. He then shook my hand and asked if I had time to hear a story. I said I had time. We sat down and he related to me a story of a young seaman stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had decided it would be a good idea to sneak off base for a night out on Havana. He was apprehended on his attempt to sneak back on base and brought before the Commodore of Fleet Training, Capt. Raymond M. Harris. I got goosebumps. The master chief went on to say that the 'talk' that my grandfather had with him was the defining moment in the master chief's Navy career. He asked me to pay my respects to my family and departed for his flight while I sat there stunned.
My grandfather not only left an indelible mark on US Navy history, but he personally touched the lives of so many. I never got to greet him in uniform. He passed away before I had the opportunity. I think about the look in his eyes when he would tell me a story about his time in the war. There was an immense amount of pain there and something else I wouldn't recognize until I saw it later reflected back at me in the mirror: An intimate knowledge of death that no human being should ever have to know.
It's days like today that I miss him the most. I wish I could have talked to him about what I was going through after I got home. It hurts so much knowing that I will never get to hear his wisdom. He, like so many others of his generation, carried the invisible wounds of war. His experiences were fresh in his mind until the day he passed on, my father's hand in his. I never got to thank him for his service to our great nation. I always took that service for granted, coming from a military family. It my greatest regret, not being able to look upon his face with the knowledge of what he had dealt with his whole life - the sacrifices he made to ensure the safety and security of this amazing country - and say thank you. Not being able to tell him I love him and I understand. I wish for nothing more than to see him one last time so that I could hug him and find solace in his embrace.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa. No man I have ever known deserves it more.
Love and Respect Always,
As Dani and I started getting ready, I could feel the anxiety already starting to build. I went out to the kitchen and made sure that I had a few extra anxiety pills with me and took one to try to stop the anxiety before it got out of control. Soon after, we left for dinner.
Dinner was easy. It was close to home and in a family setting. As we got in the car to head to Mayfair, I started to get a little edgy. We go close to the park where it's held and there was nowhere to park. It was pretty packed. We ended up parking a few blocks away and walking in. When we got to the gate, I was in for a pleasant surprise - military admission was free all weekend. Well, holy shit. That was new. It instantly ratcheted down my anxiety a notch. It make me feel welcome in a place I was expecting none.
After that, things went fairly smoothly. I got progressively more anxious as the night wore on and had to stop to take my anxiety meds once while we were there. Towards the end of the night, I started to tune out: I pushed Caley's stroller a little faster than the rest of the group was walking and quietly disengaged myself from conversation. I had been ready to go for a while but I didn't want to ruin the night for Dani. She was having so much fun. Shortly thereafter, we all headed out.
Looking back, I couldn't tell you much of the conversations we had. I don't remember. I was too focused on the environment around me. I do remember making comments and smiling at the appropriate times. I guess it's a start. The important part is that the night didn't end up with me blowing up, freaking out, or ruining the night out for my wife.
We got back to the car, bade our friends a good night and left for home. When we got home, I went into lala land for a while, decompressing. I just keep on remembering that one thing: It didn't end in disaster.
Tomorrow is Mother's Day and I won't have time to write this in the morning, so I am getting it written now. I am fortunate to have three mothers in my life whose love and support have meant the world to me over the past year.
OK, I had to get that out. It's time they really know, the mothers in my life, how much they mean to me. Don't pass tomorrow by without telling the mothers in your lives. We have a tendency to take it for granted that they will always be there.
I woke up this morning, unsure of how I felt. Then I heard that my daughter was awake. I went into her room and before I could say anything, she saw me and let loose with an amazing smile. Pure unconditional love. Happiness - she was ecstatic to see her daddy. I was all that mattered to her in that moment.
It felt amazing. I greeted her with a "Good Morning, Caley!!" and she almost jumped out of the crib in her excitement to be held by daddy. It was exactly what I needed to get the week started off on the right foot. It really made me think about how much I had accomplished since I came home from Iraq and how much I had that I never thought would. I never thought I would meet a woman who could love me. I never thought I would have a child of my own. I thought I was too damaged for either. The PTSD did a good job of convincing me of that.
But here I stand. Married for over five years, gainfully employed by an employer that is compassionate and willing to give me short-term disability, no questions asked, and father to an amazing little girl. I accomplished all of this. Despite my PTSD. And over the course of the past year, my PTSD caused me to forget all that I had accomplished. I am going to start a new routine - at the end of every day, I am going to look at everything that I accomplished during the day and be grateful for it. Once a week, I am going to reflect on the week and all that I was able to accomplish. I am going to continue my work that I started on changing the way I think. I still use the Roll Call every day (Don't know what the Roll Call is? Read this post). That's become habit, so it's time to take the next step in my journey in re-learning how to cope with my PTSD. Let's see how it goes!!
After the holidays were over, things got even worse. My wife was getting desperate to get through to me and was emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent. In February, she sat me down and figuratively slapped me out of it. Those details are too personal to share, but boy did it snap me out. It went into a serious introspective period that lasted about a week and half. When my wife snapped me out of it, I gained a clarity I hadn't experience for the better part of a year. I looked back and felt crushed by the guilt - of not being there for my wife and daughter. The guilt was so oppressive at first I felt like I was suffocating. I had a significant sense of the loss of time. Much of the past year I don't remember - at all. I missed doctor appointments at the VA, I had really let the PTSD take control. So what the hell happened? After a lot of talking with my wife and a lot of introspection, these are the things that I figured out that sent me down the rabbit hole for the past year:
OK, so those were the big three. My wife and I have talked about all of this and are working to fix all that we put out of place. I love my wife for her strength and her commitment. Not many women have the intestinal fortitude to hang around when they get put through the emotional wringer like that. I am back in therapy and I am starting back up group sessions again. I am going to make sure I continue blogging because it helps to clear my head and get out the 'bad shit'.
Most of all, I want to thank everyone who has read my blog and expressed gratitude. Your gratitude has been like the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. I never intended my 'online diary' to turn into this. Let's move forward. Together. For Every Day is a New Day.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.