For the longest time, I have struggled to consistently go to the gym. There was something unrewarding about going to the gym, working out by myself and not getting a workout high. Granted, some of the lethargy may have been attributable to the meds, but I just didn't enjoy it at all. I enjoy working out WITH people. Pushing myself to get better in comparison to the people I exercise with has always been a strong motivator for me. I think that's why I always worked out so hard in the military.
I finally got fed up with the lack of motivation. I started looking for other ways to get back into shape. I've always like the martial arts - Tae Kwon Do as a kid, and Nin Jutsu when I got older. There was also a crew of us who got together when I was in the military and sparred using various styles varying from Kung Fu to Muy Thai to Brazilian Ju Jutsu. I looked to see if there were any good Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) schools in the area. To my surprise, I found a top notch gym - Hammer Training and Fitness. I went out to tour the school and talked with the owner, Rodney Guignet. I was very impressed with the facilities and the school in general. I knew, right away, that I wanted to train there.
That was about a month ago. I have been training there every since and it has been a life-changing experience for me. With MMA, you only get out of it what you put in. I leave every class soaked in sweat and practically gasping for breath. My core strength has improved drastically and I feel stronger and healthier than I have in a long time. The best part: I leave the gym feeling calm and emotionally balanced. As I push myself, I am able to train for longer and longer stretches, but I won't lie - when I first started training, my body hated me with a passion. I didn't care. I continue to push through it and feel so much better for it. I have even met another veteran who trains there.
I can't say enough about Hammer Training and Fitness. They have been a pleasant surprise, providing me with a safe place to work out my emotions and PTSD angst. They are also very supportive of veterans. So far I know of one other veteran who trains seriously there and I am sure I will meet more. It's a safe environment for me to socialize as well. I didn't realize how much I needed a safe, judgement free place to exercise and make friends until I experienced it at Hammer.
I'll keep you posted as things progress. When I started there, I weighed 292 pounds. I'm currently at 284 and am carrying a lot more muscle on my frame than I was a month ago. I wonder where I'll be by my birthday in May!!
Talk about passionate responses from the Previous Post.
Some of the points that were made I wanted to draw attention to because the points they made were incredibly important.
He talks about being accused of not being a team player. We talked about how when he was in the Army he could trust his team with his life but the "teams" here he can't even trust with his cigarettes. Those are days he has his anxiety/panic attacks. Thankfully those are decreasing since we have started dating (together about 4 months now). I know it sounds cliche but it is reassuring for him that I support his decisions and understand that with the training he has had, the situations he has been in, and his own personality he is going to react to things differently than other people. That doesn't mean I use kid gloves, it means that when either of us feel we are in the right and are following our hearts we will stand up for what we want/feel is right.
Anji, I couldn't say this any better. If you have PTSD or are in a relationship, you need to sit down and talk about this. I would bet money on the fact that the way a person with PTSD in a relationship responds in many situations puts a lot of strain on things. I would also be willing to bet that is disturbs the loved ones of a PTSD survivor that they are so black and white. Recently my wife and I have talked about this extensively and one major concern that has come to light is how my black and white view of the world could negatively impact out daughter. I have since explained to my wife that I understand that the rest of the world works in shades of grey. Part of raising a child as a parent with PTSD is to make sure you educate your child about the realities of PTSD. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.
Yet, the question remains: what kind of life can I, being so black and white about everything, expect to have if I can't operate in shades of grey? If I knew for certain, I would say - but I don't. All I know is that I am not going to apologize for being true to my code. It does mean that I need to find a different line of work, though. It has become abundantly clear that I can't operate in a corporate or service setting without it slowly causing the deterioration of my physical and mental health. With that in mind, I am currently evaluating my options for future career options - careers in settings/industries that accommodate my needs.
Amen, Max. The lack of honor in today's world is crushingly depressing to me, and I haven't gone through your experiences. You might want to read the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius -- what do we have left but our honor and the quiet knowledge we are doing what is right.
I hadn't thought about Marcus Aurelius in a long time, but I always loved his teachings. I pointed to one of his teachings, one that has always been at the core of my beliefs and identity:
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this and some of his other less famous quotes that have resonated with me for a long time - so I thought I'd share them because I think that they are critically important - especially to people suffering from Survivor's Guilt.
"You have power over your own mind - not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength."
I learned about Marcus Aurelius from my grandpa. Grandpa Ray Harris was a man I still measure myself against to this day. He was a truly amazing man, husband, and father. He was the one who told me the measure of a man is determined by how he conducts himself when it matters. He also used to joke that if he wanted to know your opinion, he'd give one to you. As one of the most open-minded and tolerant people I ever knew, my grandfather taught me what it meant to aspire to a set of higher ideal - I still do. He was always so sure of himself. He knew, unequivocally, that his opinion, his judgement of a situation was always more trustworthy than the opinions and judgement of others. Somewhere along the line, I had lost confidence in myself was afraid to stand behind my assertions.
Not anymore. I am so glad that so many found that previous blog post so powerful - it validated my feelings and assertions.
These tenets will help me repair the foundation I built my identity on. Time to go think on this some more while taking care of my sick daughter.
Stay tuned for further updates and responses! Let's keep the conversation going!
On September 27th, my wife and I celebrated seven years of love and commitment to each other. I need to share with the world just how amazing that milestone is. It is a testament to my wife's love, commitment, patience, compassion, and intestinal fortitude. Let's recount the wonderful years of marriage that my wife has endured as my PTSD hijacked my life and our marriage:
THREE: The number of years I didn't take my meds because I was 'fine'.
TWO: The number of years that financial and employment instability undermined our financial well-being.
FIVE: The number of years that I wasn't getting quality therapy to help me learn to cope with my PTSD.
ONE: The number of years I completely withdrew from my wife and newborn daughter completely.
SEVEN: The number of years my wife stayed by my side and did what was necessary to get us through.
You do the math, there was substantial overlap on these 'blissful' years of marriage. I never stopped loving my wife. Ever. Now, more than ever, I don't take her or my daughter for granted. I have a lot to live up to in order honor my wife and the sacrifices she has made to stay by my side and to keep our family in one piece.
For me it starts by dedicating myself and my efforts to being an equal partner by helping around the house (I've been dedicated to this for about a month and it's been wonderful for our relationship). Also, getting myself trimmed down and healthy. No more half measures. Time to go all the way and tear it up.
It's going to take consistency to earn her trust back. I lost that and all of my credibility with her years ago.
There is nothing I want more is for her to be able to trust me and have faith in me again. I am not striving to be the man I was - the man she met. I am striving to be her partner, her equal. Whatever it takes.
So here's to seven years of commitment and love and compassion, given freely by an amazing woman I am lucky to have in my life.
Happy Anniversary, Baby. I love you will all of the pieces of my shattered soul.
Well, that was an unexpected turn. A few days after the horrible nightmare I had last week, I suddenly found myself motivated to examine how I had been living my life. It wasn't pretty. I wasn't doing everything I know I am able to be. I wasn't being a partner to my wife, I wasn't pulling my weight at home. I was anxiety eating myself into diabetic shock, slowly gaining weight, pound by pound.
It hit me that I now have a consistent work schedule where I am home for dinner almost every night. I could actually go to the gym regularly as well. I actually sat down and made a commitment to my wife to be a better man and husband. For the first time in a long time and I am feeling a little more like 'myself'.
It didn't hit me until a few days ago that I was feeling this motivation, this change in outlook because of that horrible nightmare. I'm not sure how or why this is true, I just know it is. It's like there's one less shackle weighing down my soul.
All of the things I accomplished this week just added intensity to the brightness of the light in my heart. The 501(c)3 formation documents are officially submitted to the IRS. One logo is done, one done soon, and one in the works. I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Veterans' Day events in my home town. I confirmed my speaking engagement at St. Francis University. Combat Vets' Google Plus Page was listed as one of the "99 Google Plus Accounts Military Service-Members Should Follow".
Despite all of this, I am deeply anxious that the other shoe is going to drop. It tempers my happiness and dulls my optimism. At least this time, it
In the future, you will see blogs entries from guest bloggers who have a message or mission that I think is relevant and worth supporting. First Up: Natalie Cramer of the Blue Star Family Platoon!
Max, thank you so much for offering me this great opportunity to guest blog for you today! I'm much appreciative for the chance to share my project with your readers and followers and friends.
OK, so what's the deal? This week started off with me being a huge bundle of anger and anxiety. I was anxious about my psoriasis, work, my fundraiser. My anger was resurgent, causing me to have to use a lot of energy to keep it in check. My psoriasis was so bad that I had to be removed from handling food. My fundraiser was only half way to the minimum I needed and there were only seven days left.
Things were so off course that I couldn't remember to do even the little things that had become habit over the course of the previous months (washing dishes, drying the shower, folding my laundry). I caught myself thinking on Tuesday. If this is the reward I get for trying, why should I bother? I was as disheartened by my situation as I can remember being, compounded by the fact that I was seriously working to turn the corner.
Then I got REALLY angry. I mean blind rage, hatred filled, anger. Who was it directed at? Myself. It was like the part of me that has kept me going all this time had seen and heard enough. The thoughts that went through my head weren't pretty but they sure as hell snapped me out of it. I was able to channel that anger and regain my motivation, albeit with a little bit of a darker edge.
Then Wednesday came.
My fundraiser had a banner day and it now sits at $700 over the minimum I needed to start my non-profit. My psoriasis flare-up receded back to it's normal levels in the span of 12 hours, without explanation.
And Then Thursday:
The dermatologist decided to put me on Enbrel. I start this coming week. I initially expressed concern about how the injections would compromise my immune system but he told me that it suppresses the immune system in a targeted way that can leave people open to increased risk for infection, but if you don't have a history of chronic infections, it shouldn't be an issue. I thought about it and about all of the people I know who have seen dramatic results. Hey no harm no foul, right? Might as well and see what happens. If it doesn't work as advertised, I just cycle off of it, no harm done. The kicker: this ridiculously expensive regimen won't cost me a cent because my psoriasis didn't manifest until after starting military service and tearing up my knees and elbows in basic. Since it is service-connected, it's covered.
So here I sit. I talked to work and they said I was good to return to my old job and they recommended working with my area manager to create a contingency for future flare-ups. Again, going out of their way to accommodate my service-connected disabilities. And I'm still angry.
What. The. Hell.
Granted I recognize that my anger actually served a purpose this week and pushed me through a difficult spell, but I'm good now. Can it please go the fuck away? It is exhausting and I don't have time to be a zombified husband and father. If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.
I try to keep the tears from hitting the keyboard as I write this. I found out today that I lost a man who held a special significance in my life. In his honor, I want to share what I knew of the man.
Read His Obituary Here: Dr. Joseph Casagrande
I never even knew his first name. We just always called him 'doc'. I didn't even know him for very long, but Doc Casagrande had a huge impact on my life. About a year ago, when I was out on short-term disability and learning how to cope with my PTSD, I found out about his Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) Group and asked to join it. That's when I first met him. We met one on on and he asked me pointedly whether I was committed to learning the tools I needed to learn to better my life.
That should have been the first clue that this doc was different. I went to my first group session two weeks later...and my life was changed forever.
Over the course of the past year, I have taken control of my life. I still have horrible nightmares, I still get triggered. I still have to fight the depression, the anxiety. The difference is that I have acquired, through emotional growth and a considerable amount of emotional pain, how to better cope with these symptoms of PTSD. I learned these skills in my CPT group and at the direction of Doc Casagrande.
He was an amazing man. He never wore his heart on his sleeve but his passion for helping veterans came through in his straightforward attitude and brutal honesty. He told us what we needed to hear, no matter how difficult. This was his gift to us, he taught us to look at our behaviors and beliefs unflinchingly, to never back away from a problem. Doc always knew what we needed to hear and talk about the most and directed group discussion. He didn't drone on and monopolize group time. He asked pointed questions and, throught his direction and the support of the other veterans in the group, each of us learned more about ourselves and what we could do to make changes for the better.
Four weeks ago, Doc wasn't at group. Neither was anyone else. When I asked where everyone was, I was told that Doc was out sick. Concerned, I let it ride. Two Wednesdays ago, someone else was leading the group, a clinical social worker (for more about this group session, click here.) By this time, Doc Casagrande had already passed away. No one said anything. When I asked about Doc, the social worker evaded the questions with 'I don't knows'. Growing more and more concerned, I went to group today and noticed that the room was empty again. I didn't wait around. I left and drove around for a little, thinking. In the end, I came back just after the group was ending and I ran into another doc that I have worked with and asked him for a no-bull explanation as to what was going on. The doc stared at me, stunned. The look in his eyes told me everything I needed to know but the doc said. He passed away. I found out that Doc Casagrande had passed before the last group session that I had been to and I felt the lights grow dim. My world took on a much more threatening glow.
As I said in my previous post, 'The VA Screwed Up, Big Time.' I was angry and very distraught. My grief was eating me alive. As I have had many times in the past when I have worked with Doc Casagrande, I felt a moment of clarity. The grief is still there and still profound. The fact that I never got the chance to say goodbye, to have closure, will haunt me for quite some time. What that moment of clarity gave me was resolve - to continue to do the work he would have wanted me to in order to make the most of my live. And to make a difference for others. That moment of clarity showed me that, while I was robbed of my right to honor the man after he died, I could live my life - the live he had made possible - in his honor. To live my life as he lived his: with compassion, honesty, integrity, and unflinching resolve to do the right thing.
It is with this in mind that I share with you my vision. I want to take what he has taught me and make a difference for veterans with PTSD. As I move forward with creating my non-profit, I will be needing a physical location. In his honor: It will be named the 'Joseph Casagrande Center'
I ask for your support in making this a reality. Please help me and others that knew him honor his memory and his mission.
Yesterday, I posted my latest blog entry (you can see it here). I had been having a rough few days and I talked about it extensively. I talked about how the Phillip Phillips song, 'Gone, Gone, Gone' is what had gotten me through the moment and allowed me to find peace. As is the usual when I reference someone in my blog entry, I add them to my tweet in the hopes that they see it. Honestly, I didn't think, with how crazy P2's twitter feed is that anyone would even notice my post.
And then it happened. I started getting a lot of traffic from Twitter. People started retweeting my post, favoriting it and reaching out to me to comment on my blog. It was an amazing and overwhelming response. I never thought that so many would connect with my writing. It was an amazing feeling to know that I was able to reach so many and illustrate the human side of what it means to have combat PTSD.
With this in mind, I wanted to thank the fans or 'Philatics' who have demonstrated an amazing capacity for compassion for a stranger. Your passionate comments and support are a testament to the type of music that Phillip Phillips makes - it only draws to highest quality of individual.
Again, thank you all so much for your amazing display of support. I promise, no matter how bad it gets that 'like a drum, my heart won't stop beating'.
Yours in Health and Happiness,
So, it appears that my therapist's advice really sank in. I woke up yesterday with a clear sense of purpose and a vision of where I wanted my life to go. I decided to conserve my energy at work (yeah, still a work in progress) and devote that conserved energy to my advocacy and my family. I started moving things forward and saw results. Here's what's happening right now:
As I said yesterday, it was an eventful day. I look forward to sharing all of this journey with you! Let's make a difference for each other and for the vets we still n
It's amazing how quickly medical problems can add up to turn coping with PTSD into trying to walk through a minefield. I'm struggling to understand why all of these random health problems seem to keep happening to me, but it's getting old and particularly challenging to deal with. While I am not out of the woods yet, I am starting to feel a little better. That being said, the stress of this past week has taken an incredible toll on my wife and I. I am physically exhausted as my body continues its struggle to heal. My wife is beyond emotionally exhausted after having to resume the role of full-time caregiver of our daughter (and me). What makes that even worse is that these were physical issues on my part that were not (as far as we know) related to my PTSD.
Here's the synopsis:
As you can see, it's been a long week. While I am proud that I have been able to keep a lid on the anger (barely), it has been substantially more difficult to keep the catastrophic thinking and anxiety at bay over the course of this week - especially when I thought about my job security. At some point a company is going to decide they've had enough and I live in an at-will employment state. I kept on thinking, with how unreliable I have been because of health issues over the past year, they would be justified in letting me go. While that outcome is improbable, the catastrophic thinking was pushing to convince me that I was going to lose my job.
Sooo,,,Now that I have turned the corner with my health issues and finally feel like I am on the road to recovery, I now have to contend with the emotional/PTSD fallout from everything I went through this past week. The anxiety and adrenalin are still going strong and it is hard to keep a lid on them and not freak out. But I am still here, somehow.
I can't even imagine how hard this past week has been on my wife, She just can't seem to catch a break and enjoy a little bit of stability, what with the PTSD and the random health issues. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. While I know that the physical issues are completely out of my control, it doesn't change how guilty I feel that she had to experience that emotional distress, take care of me and our two year old, and work to bring in money to keep us financially stable. Seeing her that distraught and still fighting made my heart clench in my chest. She just never gives up. She fights until she literally can't stand up anymore. It's disturbing to think of where I might be right now if it wasn't for the amazing fortitude of my wife and the strength of her love for me. It's why I will always be dedicated to her, working as hard as I can to see her happy and fulfilled, despite my problems.
Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday. All I keep thinking about is how we need tomorrow to be uneventful and restful, for both our sakes. So, here's to hoping.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.