When I woke up on Veterans Day, I was really looking forward to it, as I always do. I was going out to enjoy a free breakfast at the local Friendly's with my dad (who is also a veteran). After that, I was going to a promising meeting for work and then the Netizen Crew (all veterans) were hitting Texas Roadhouse for a team lunch. Then, that afternoon, I had another really promising meeting for work.
I started off the day full of vim and vigor, ready to seize the day and enjoy the company of my fellow veterans.
To say that the day proceeded a little differently...well, that would be an understatement.
When I arrived at Friendly's, I met my dad and we went inside. The place was packed. There was one cook in the kitchen, one very stressed waitress, and ZERO management. I looked around the seating area and saw a lot of disgusted faces. To attract veterans (yes their food is free) and their families (their food is NOT free) with free food to honor their service and then not staff up was a complete failure on Friendly's part. It wasn't the fact that I wasn't going to get free food that really rankled me. What really angered me was that now, because of the absolute ineptitude (and apparent apathy) of Friendly's management, I no longer had time to find another place to eat breakfast with my father and was denied the opportunity to celebrate our service and spend quality time with my dad.
That was TRIGGER#1
I walked out into the parking lot a little edgy. I saw my dad off and as I was walking to my car, I witnessed a lady t-boning another lady in parking lot adjacent to Friendly's. I didn't think, I just reacted. I ran over to check on the two drivers. The lady who was t-boned was standing outside of her car next to the open driver-side door, visibly shaken and wobbly. I quickly instructed her to sit down, as I was afraid she was going to pass out. She complied and I asked her how she was feeling, whether she had any medical conditions and told her I was going to call 911. The lady said she had hypertension so I again reassured her that I was calling 911 and that everything was going to be ok. I called 911 and when the cop arrived, gave my statement. While we were waiting for the police, I helped the lady to call her husband so that he could come and pick her up - her car was totaled.
After my information was taken and I was released by the police, I went back to my car and was shaking from head to toe with adrenalin. I didn't need to remain calm anymore, as the welfare of the accident victims was now in the hands of the police. I had to consciously focus on slowing down my breathing. I was having intrusive recollections of the aftermath of an IED attack in which I was one of the first responders. I felt like I was a hot mess, so I swallowed my memories, bit my lip and drove to my first business meeting.
That was TRIGGER#2
I arrived at the first meeting feeling like I must appear outwardly to be a hot mess. Somehow, I got through the meeting without imploding. I even asked our CEO, who I was in the meeting with, if I looked visibly shaken or distracted. I felt like is had to be obvious to everyone that I was a hot mess. He reassured me that it didn't show and I started to relax a little bit.
After the meeting, we headed to lunch with the team. Texas Roadhouse was packed. I was still on edge, so I was really hoping that the staff was on point and that I would be able to sit with my back as close to the wall as possible.
Thankfully, the staff was amazing (Texas Roadhouse, you ROCK!) and I was able to sit where I could see most of the people coming and going. The lunch and the company was great. I was starting to relax and decompress as I was finally getting to celebrate the day and enjoy the company of my fellow veterans.
I headed home to check on a few things for work and to prep for my afternoon meeting when I got notification that an article that had been written about me and the nonprofit work I am doing had gone live. My stress level went up instantly. They hadn't afforded me the opportunity to fact check what they had written and had not notified me that it had been published. I quickly checked the article on their website and I almost put my fist through the wall. They had gotten every fact about my service wrong. They had the wrong suffix for the nonprofit's website. They screwed up the name of the entrepreneurship initiative I am working to roll out. They directly attributed quotes to me that were such poor grammar that they made me sound like an uneducated idiot.
To say I was furious would be an understatement. I immediately called their managing editor and chewed him a new one. He took down all of the fallacies that needed to be corrected and told me that he would correct the article online, but there was nothing he could do about the print version.
That was TRIGGER#3
Before anyone jumps the gun and comes to the conclusion that this is about my ego, let me clarify a few things:
After all of this went down, I had to get back in my car, again, and head to my last meeting for the day. The meeting went well, but it was exceedingly hard to keep the agitation and adrenalin in check. I was a hot mess.
I got out of the meeting and met my parents for dinner at Red Robin. I ate quickly and departed quickly. I just wanted to get home. I changed clothes and headed over to the Yoga Lab to take advantage of a free mat yoga class. I figured doing some yoga would help to work out the adrenalin and anger and allow me to focus on my breathing.
The class was intense and I struggled to maintain the motivation to finish the class, but I was able to purge a lot of the anger over the course of the class (Thank you, Yoga Lab!)
I went home and putzed around, desperately hoping that my body would allow me to actually lay down and get some sleep. I went to bed and closed my eyes, desperate to put this day behind me. I tossed and turned for hours and finally fell into a fitful sleep around 2 in the morning.
I woke up a few hours later when the alarm went off, feeling like I'd swallowed a cup of sand. My eyes were gritty and blood-shot, my tongue was swollen, and my lips were stuck to my teeth. The bed was soaked with sweat. I looked in the mirror and my lips were literally glued to my teeth in a grimace.
I didn't remember any nightmares, but they must have been intense.
My body ached from head to toe. I let my boss know that I was going to be working from home today and explained that I was a bit worn out from being triggered yesterday.
His response? "No sweat, take the time you need".
I've never been so grateful to be working for Netizen as I was this morning.
I'm feeling a bit more like myself, but it's going to take a few days to come down fully off of this. I hope I recover sooner, rather than later, though. Startup Weekend is this upcoming weekend and I'm one of the organizers.
As always, the timing couldn't be better...
It's June 30th, the last day of National PTSD Awareness Month. It's also exactly one month out from the trauma anniversary that has, historically, been very challenging for me to cope with. It's with this in mind that I'm writing this blog post. I wanted to bring a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor to a serious subject and help to inform loved ones of how pending anniversaries can impact the daily lives of our veterans. I also wanted to present how I cope with my PTSD anniversary in a way that would be immediately familiar and identifiable to anyone who has served in a combat zone. So, here goes...
Pre-Deployment Processing (PDP):
When soldiers are getting ready to deploy, they go through an exhaustive review of their readiness from physical fitness to ensuring all shots and vaccinations are updated to drawing weapons and equipment to updating their life-insurance beneficiaries and their wills. It is a focused and direct approach that ensures that each soldier is fully-equipped to confront the challenges they will face when deployed. When I am preparing for the emotional and physical buildup that stems from a pending anniversary, I take stock in much the same way - to ensure that I know the status of my resources and to shore up any weaknesses in my coping mechanism. I take stock of how well I've been sleeping. If I haven't been sleeping well recently, I make a point to go to bed earlier to try to compensate for this. If I haven't been active and exercising, I make a point of increasing my activity levels - it helps you sleep better and it has been proven that exercise improves your mood. I start paying particular attention to events that could potentially trigger my PTSD (the Fourth of July, for example) during the month leading up to and immediately following the anniversary. I do what I can to prepare my family for what could be a bumpy ride. Marshalling and evaluating the readiness of your resources is key to a 'successful deployment', whether into a combat zone or in preparation to confront and cope with your PTSD triggers. In the past, I have tried convincing myself that I don't have to do this and that believing that the anniversary won't impact me would see me through - Epic Fail. Don't fall victim to the Five P's (Piss Poor Proper Prior Planning).
Battle Damage Assessment (BDA):
After a battle, a unit goes through what is called a Battle Damage Assessment to evaluate the readiness of their troops and equipment. This is a critical process - after the BDA is complete, it allows the unit commander to redeploy his resources in the most effective way possible, given the readiness and condition of his assets. It is much the same after something has triggered your PTSD. It is vital that you evaluate how much of your emotional reserve has been depleted by coping with the trigger and fighting to regain control. It is also very important that you evaluate your physical condition. There is almost always a strong adrenalin response when I am triggered and it can disrupt my sleep and my physical energy reserves can become dangerously depleted. After I have re-stabilized, post-trigger, I perform a BDA so that I can redeploy my coping resources more effectively. Sometimes that means taking naps to catch up on lost sleep. Sometimes that means making sure I have time to decompress built into my day. Sometimes it just means staying in for a day to recover. I do whatever I have to do to ensure that my resources last as long as possible.
Make no mistake: Effectively coping with anniversaries is like fighting a campaign with each trigger event being an individual battle. Winning or losing an individual battle may not win or lose you the campaign, but without proper planning and resource allocation, you will lose out to attrition and loss of morale. Don't try to ignore the warning signs - you'll get blindsided. It would be like a convoy not sending out scout vehicles and being surprised when they get decimated by a near ambush with intersecting fields of fire...
Calling in Reinforcements:
Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where you know you're about to be overrun. In the past, I have let my pride get in the way of asking for help and have paid dearly for it. Reinforcements are not unlimited so it is imperative that you know what reinforcements you have access to and how often.
After-Action Review (AAR):
After every campaign, commanding officers get their officers and their NCO cadres together to evaluate the performance of the unit over the course of the campaign, to better identify recurring weaknesses in strategy or to identify resources that were more rapidly depleted than planned and accounted for. This is a high level review that allows commander to respond and react to lessons learned and properly account for them in future deployments. It's important to do the same with PTSD after the anniversary has passed. Once things have returned to the status-quo, it's important to take a look at what you did right and where there's adjustments that need to be made. It's important to talk to your friends and family and get feedback, should it be necessary. If you don't incorporate lessons learned in preparation of the next anniversary, you're not doing yourself any favors. As a commander, if you knew that deploying your troops differently in response to a threat would save lives, you'd want to know it. Treat coping with your anniversary the same way.
So there you have it. I hope you find this helpful and humorous at the same time. If you have any questions or feedback, don't hesitate to comment on this!!
I know I haven't blogged in a while. I haven't kept up on a lot of the things that I need to be. I have been feeling really burned out and have been struggling in a lot of ways that have not been easy on me or my family. This is really raw and emotional for me, so bear with me...
I have been working in a high tempo, high stress, retail environment for four years now. When I first started working there, I was a rising star. It took two years for me to implode and end up on short-term disability. When my daughter had been born a few months before I went out on disability, it sent me into a tailspin. I obsessed about being a supernatural provider and withdrew emotionally at home, cutting off my wife and daughter from love and companionship. Thus, I went out on disability.
When I returned to work after fighting through my PTSD and learning to cope, I swore that I would always be prescient at home from now on. My goal was come home from work with the energy and emotional awareness to be a good father and attentive husband. What ended up happening is that my reliability at work and my availability suffered greatly. It was made clear by my employer that they needed a level of reliability that I have not been providing over the past few months.
This raised my stress level at work, making work a 'non-permissive' environment - a place where I was at risk of losing my job or benefits or both if I couldn't sort this out. It made me realize, regress my performance to a mean over time and it is readily apparent that retail work is grinding me down and taking a long-term cumulative toll on my performance at work. That toll has sped up since I swore to always put my family first.
So now I have some hard decisions to make. The only work I find fulfilling is being of service to others. I have to balance what is best for me long-term with the welfare of my family. It's not a fun place to be, but one I am confident I will work through.
I know I haven't been active recently in the community I created. I know I haven't blogged as much. For that I am sorry. I needed to set myself in motion and resolve this issue with employment. Now that I have the short-term leeway to figure it out while ensuring the welfare of my family is giving me the time and space I need to figure all of this out.
I want to thank all of those people who have reached out to me via email to express concern over not hearing from me and from my readers who reached out to ask how I was doing. I truly value your compassion and understanding!
I seriously need to get out of retail. I used to love the holiday season. Getting together with family, good food, football, food comas...What's not to like? That has slowly changed over the last few years. Now I just want the holiday season to be over.
You wonder why? Let me break it down for you:
That's what I have to face every year. I fight really hard to keep an even keel and to be there for my family and this is what I have to look forward to.
I need a vacation.
I was talking with my wife about my inability to get to sleep at a decent hour on a regular basis, even though work has been very accommodating with my scheduling. She was confused why I couldn't seem to get into bed and fall asleep until after midnight when I have to be up by 5:30 most morning.
As we talked more about it, I discussed with her the regularity of my nightmares. The thing that she didn't understand was that I don't always remember having the nightmares. What I do know is that I wake up sore and stiff on the mornings following the nightmares I don't remember. It's like I tense up head to toe during the nightmares. What's worse, I am exponentially more susceptible to intrusive recollections and flashbacks on the days following the nightmares I don't remember.
Add this to the nightmare 'memories' I DO remember and I think you get the picture. I don't get many undisturbed nights. It makes me afraid of going to sleep. What I didn't realize is that when it gets close to bedtime, the adrenalin kicks in and I become hypervigilant. I am only able to lay down and go to sleep once I have gotten to the point where I am so tired that my physical exhaustion outweighs my fear of sleeping and the hypervigilance.
For those of you that understand the impact of adrenalin on the body, it takes an extreme sleep deficit to become exhausted to the point you can overcome the adrenalin and fall asleep anyways.
This is my world right now. Granted, I am coping with my PTSD very well right now. I am closer with my wife and daughter than I ever have been. Yes I have to take my anxiety medication for emergency anxiety control on a more regular basis than I ever had to in the past, but this fear of sleeping has become the focus of my frustration in recent weeks.
I discussed this with my individual therapist and she it looking into ways to work around this. Stay tuned...
This past Saturday, I waded into the deep end and attended my sister-in-law's engagement party - lots of people I don't know and lots of people I wasn't sure I would feel comfortable around. I've explained it before but I will explain it again. When I am around people I don't know the hyper-vigilance kicks in and it forces me to examine the actions of every person around me for threats.
Surprisingly, it went fairly well. I felt the compulsion to give in and watch everyone. Somehow, and I really don't know how, I was able to keep the hyper-vigilance at bay. Fighting the urge was exhausting, though. I fell asleep three times while I was at the party and it was out of sheer emotional exhaustion.
I thought about that as my wife was driving us home. Are these my two options? Giving in or exhausting myself fighting the urge? It really bothered me on Sunday and Monday when I was at work. I kept on thinking that there had to be another option - another way of dealing with the hyper-vigilance and anxiety.
Then something unexpected happened. I was waiting on an elderly couple at the store and the old man was very grateful for my help and proffered his hand. When I shook his hand, I saw the tattoo on the forearm of his other arm. Numbers. He was a Holocaust survivor.
I got goosebumps.
He saw me notice and he grew concerned at the look on my face. He asked if he was the first survivor I had ever met and I told him, to my knowledge he was. He nodded slowly. He was very astute. He asked me if I had been in war. I told him that I was in Iraq.
What he said next was a gut shot:
"You have the look of the American soldiers who freed us from Dachau. Your memories live with you every day. I can see it in your face."
I didn't know what to say. I just nodded my head.
"So do mine. I am comforted by my faith. In our faith, God cherishes those who are just and righteous. Only a righteous man is haunted by war."
With those simple words he patted me on the shoulder and walked back to his wife who was picking out bagels.
Talk about food for thought. Having the memories as bedfellows means I am a righteous man? Is this the price of righteousness? So where's the upside of being righteous?
This is what I have been struggling with since Monday. Needless to say, these are not the kinds of questions that don't have easy answers. So...I keep on looking for them.
Recently, I have noticed an uptick in the severity of my PTSD symptoms and my coinciding depression. It's starting to make me worry a little bit that not having a functional group to attend is slowly eroding my ability to cope and adversely affecting the effectiveness of my coping mechanisms. Or...It could be just a temporary uptick because of the uncertainty surrounding my upcoming TBI evaluation. Either way, it's decidedly annoying and not something I am handling well.
What to do? I am going to have an individual therapy session this week and I plan on talking to my therapist about my concerns and my frustrations with not having a group to attend. My PTSD is fighting to get through - the anger, the depression, the nightmares, and the insomnia. I also have been dealing with a higher than usual level of hypervigilance. Most nights I toss and turn so badly that I end up sleeping in my recliner, uncertain as to why I don't feel safe - I just don't.
What's even more frustrating is that there is a very clear dichotomy in my life. Everything is going so well with my non-profit and my plans for it. The more I work at it, the more I feel fulfilled and stable. When I have days where I don't have time to work on it, I feel a hair's-breadth from snapping at people. Today would be a prime example. I had to go to work early and I have not been able to do anything for my non-profit. I knew I wasn't going to have the time when I woke up this morning and it made it exceedingly difficult to deal with people at work. I am not even certain what ticked me off so much - they just did.
So, time to hold it together and hope I can figure this out. I only have ten more days to go until my TBI eval, so we'll see how it goes. I guess we'll see if I can hold myself together until them Fingers crossed.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.