I am so frustrated, encouraged, worried, angry, disillusioned and exhausted all at the same time. This past week and a half has been ridiculous. Every time I would be ready to sit down after thinking through things that have transpired, something else would happen and I would delay the blog post and process the new insight. Well, I can't hold this in anymore, so I am going to break this down by associated emotion.
Frustrated: I just found out today that in the span of a year I went from perfect reading on my blood screenings to being pre-diabetic and borderline high cholesterol. I feel like no matter what I do to better take care of my physical health that the PTSD is slowly killing me and it frustrates the hell out of me. What do I have to do to get these train wreck of health problem after health problem under control? Live like a monk? Deny myself all pleasures? Develop workout anorexia? Starve? GAH! I want to throw things in frustration but the inanimate objects don't deserve that kind of abuse.
Worried, Exhausted: My daughter is seriously sick for the first time. Bronchitis and bronchiolitis. She woke up Friday night crying and coughing, post-nasal drip, and a fever. I didn't sleep from Friday night until Monday night when her fever finally broke. With already being on heightened alert after the bombings in Boston, I started thinking that something was seriously wrong with my daughter's health. I was the youngest and never was around sick kids so I had no idea that this kind of sick was normal. I never really got sick. I remember having the pukes once as a kid and mild fevers a few times, but that's it. I never got strep, maybe bronchitis once, chicken pox was only three or four spots and a fever. I had no idea it could be this bad and not be life-threatening. I was relieved Monday night and was looking forward to catching up on some sleep on Tuesday. The cough was resurgent Tuesday night. My daughter didn't pass out until after 5AM Wednesday morning and didn't sleep at school either. Needless to say, I'm worn a little thin right now.
Angry, Disillusioned: I went to group today, looking forward to talking with them about stuff. Very shortly into group, the new therapist told me I could not blog about what I learned in group anymore. I got very angry as blogging about what I learn is at the core of my ability to cope. I explained to her that I have never once violated anyone's privacy and only bring up things that I learn and have worked through as a result of going to group. I told her that I had received express consent from the group members before I blogged about it. My previous group doc had signed off on it and over the course of the past year, it has become an integral part of my therapeutic process. She still refused even after directly asking the members of the group who all said they were fine with it. When I stated if no-one has a problem with it...
She raised her hand straight above her head and said she had a problem with it. That behavior, in and of itself, was exceptionally unprofessional. I got really angry and told her that I would no longer be part of her group. She professed to not understanding why it had to be that black and white for me. New flash, moron. Everything is black and white with veterans with PTSD. The fact that she didn't know that, combined with her extremely confrontational attitude illustrated to me that the 'new hires' at the VA are 'warm bodies'. I continue to wonder if she got her degree out of a cracker jack box. It took me eight years to try group therapy again after my first horrible experience. What I have come to recognize is that aside from Doctor Casagrande, I have never had a client/doctor relationship at the VA that I felt was constructive. When I talked about it with my father tonight over dinner, he made an incredibly astute observation: "She doesn't care about the welfare or privacy of the veterans in the group. She doesn't want to see herself critiqued online." Wow. Boy did that hit home. Her refusal was all about her ego.
Encouraged: I got the money into my account from the crowdfunding and started the ball rolling. I also got all four of my first choice board members and they are a perfect fit to effectively govern the non-profit. I have started the process of incorporating and have gotten the landing pages for the websites up and running and am incredibly proud of the landing page for Support No Stigma. I still can't believe I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by such good people in my life. Honestly, I think that the love for my family and the good works I do on here and now in forming my non-profit are the only things that have kept me from institutionalization. Especially over this past week.
So there you have it. What a ride, huh? It's all about the timing. Individually, any one of these issues would have been manageable. The fact that timing crammed them all together in a seven day span almost put me under. All I know is I am relieved and grateful that I am still here. A year ago, things would have played out very differently.
Boy was I glad to have off Sunday. I talked in my previous post how the Boston Bombings had really triggered my PTSD. Well, I did what I said I was going to do and I turned off the news.
Too bad it made absolutely no difference whatsoever.
Every day I went to work, people wouldn't stop talking about the latest developments in the bombings. Yippee. Everyone knows I am a veteran and this situation was the first time I wished people didn't know. Everyone wanted my opinion on the situation. Everyone wanted to tell me about it and hear what I thought. People kept on telling me they were afraid it wasn't over - that something was going to happen again, and soon.
Not exactly the type of thing I needed to hear. So, work became trigger after trigger. The only thing that's kept me from hiding in my hole is my love for my family and my advocacy work. The gym has TVs suspended in front of every piece of cardio equipment. Any guesses as to what was on every one of those TVs?
I couldn't escape it until Sunday, my day off. I took a break from things all morning and early afternoon and just spent time with my wife and daughter. We met my sister-in-law and her two Blue Tick Coon Hounds and we went for a walk in the local park. It was really nice just to get away and enjoy a cool spring day. I felt revitalized and came home and got to work on website design for the non-profit.
So what happens now? I need to rethink my strategy for coping with this and not getting triggered at work. I can't keep this up or I am going to exhaust myself. I guess I can talk about it in group therapy this week and see what we come up with.
I experienced a new level of nightmare on the night before Thanksgiving. The smells and sounds were always there, but these new recollections/flashbacks now include the fear, anger, horror, and disbelief that I experienced in the moment. The end result: I fell asleep on the couch at the in-laws and had nightmares. My daughter was the one who startled me awake. I became aware of what I had done when I looked over and saw her kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room and the looks or horror on everyone's faces. My startle reflexes had caused me to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.
Needless to say, for my sanity and safety and that of my daughter's, my wife and daughter have been sleeping at her parents' house so that, God Forbid, I don't actually hurt her. She was scared by my startle response, but unhurt. She's over it but I can't forgive myself. It is my worst fear - hurting my daughter.
I was at work yesterday and had a breakdown. I effectively hadn't slept since Friday night. My father took me to the VA and they are putting me back on Trazadone. The doc said that it would keep me from being physically able to act on any startle response.
I needed someone to talk to about what had happened that wasn't emotionally invested in a positive outcome. So, naturally, I talked to Rod Deaton. Rod may be a doctor at the VA and I may be a veteran with PTSD, but we are friends and do not share a doctor patient relationship. What is great about having someone so knowledgeable to turn to in situations like these is that he can stay calm and talk me down from my figurative ledge.
Talking to him last night definitely did that. He made me remember that I am a good and honorable man. That, in and of itself, would ensure that there wasn't a repeat of what happened on Thanksgiving. Additionally, he made me realize that my I was allowing me fears to blow what had happened out of proportion. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. When I get into situations like this past week, I verbalize my irrational fears to those I love, causing them to worry excessively. I force them to think the worst.
It's form of self-flagellation. On some level I have been punishing myself continually since my daughter was born. I think about all of the worst-case outcomes to my behavior and believe myself capable of making those outcomes a reality. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been hamstringing myself like this ever since my daughter was born. It all stems from irrational fears of losing my family, my daughter.
I won't go into all of the details but my conversation with Rod last night led me to make some incredibly substantial realizations about myself:
So what's the end-result of the mess of a week? Blessings dressed in wolf's clothing...
So it has been a traumatizing and productive week all at the same time. I am still exhausted and have to work at not being too hard on myself, but my wife and daughter deserve to enjoy the man I am - not the man I was afraid I could become.
I explained in the previous post that I was getting really amped up and didn't know how to shut it off. Well, as the day and night unfolded yesterday, the reasons for this became abundantly clear. My body was preparing me for action - action that had the potential to go on for a long time. There was no saying how bad this storm was going to be in our area. I didn't know if I was going to be taking my family on a flight to safety, if I was going to have to deal with potential looting, if my friends were going to need my help, etc.
What I realized is that I was amped up, not anxious or nervous. I was just ready. When I say ready, I mean READY. My body saw the potential threat in the coming storm and started priming the system for action days in advance. If something would have happened yesterday, I would have acted immediately to resolve the situation, no hesitation, no fear.
This effect on my body was predominantly primal, physiological. The docs at the VA and elsewhere have been talking about the 'battle brain' or 'fight or flight' and how that part of the brain taking over is what causes some of the issues we have with PTSD. While I understood the argument intellectually, I didn't fully understand the depth of what that meant until my body started amping me up in preparation for this storm.
Many of us can turn this on, short term, when the need arises, but there is still a lag before the clarity of purpose sets in. Getting amped up days in advance for what could happen reduced the lag created by needing to 'flip the switch' down to near zero. Hence the pre-storm build-up. I would have been ready for anything - running for cover, protecting my family from the elements, protecting my family from people, killing if the need arose to protect me and mine. Morality and gray areas be damned. Yet through it all, I knew what was happening this time. I knew the necessity of it and I knew that it could scare people to see the side of me that allowed me to survive outside the wire in a hostile environment with just three other guys to watch my back.
It was surreal. I was just along for the ride yesterday. I could freak out in my head all I wanted to and still trust that instinct would direct my body to make the best choices to ensure my survival and those I choose to protect.
Today, the threat ended. My body turned it all off and I crashed. I slept almost 10 hours during the day AFTER I woke up to start the day. The adrenalin dump was so extreme that my kidneys hurt and I felt like a junkie coming down off a high.
Then came the fear and anxiety, the anger at myself. How could I lost control like that? The thoughts of what I could have done yesterday (and the things I did have to do in Iraq) haunt me. This one is going to take some time to work out. I am just glad that it's over and I can start to work through the new wrinkles that this experience has introduced to the party.
I know a lot of my readers were in the path of this storm. I hope this finds you all well and in good health.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.