So I said I would explain more - here I am. After the accident, I thought I was ok. I didn't seem any worse for wear. About five days passed and something changed. Maybe it was the shock wearing off, I don't know. All I know is that I suddenly started having constant nightmares.
It was different this time.
Rather than being the 'usual' reliving of the friendly fire incident, I find myself on a cot in a hallway when another soldier - a sergeant, comes running in, dazed and hysterical, with blood all over his face. He keeps on saying that there's been a vehicle accident and that the other passenger was killed. I had to keep him from going back out there.
This is where it gets weird for me. I can't tell if this happened or not in reality. Talk about screwing with your head. The recollection (if that's what it is) seems too specific and too detailed not to be real but I have no clear memory of this incident when I'm conscious. Is this what a repressed memory resurfacing is like? Talk about terrifying. What else is out there that I don't know about?
Needless to say, this is triggering the hell out of my PTSD when I'm awake and making it very hard to fall asleep most nights. Last night was the first night since the insomnia started on Wednesday that I slept for more than two hours in a night. And here I sit, wondering what will happen tonight.
The one thing I do know for certain: It's not a coincidence that this is happening after I just survived an accident I never should have. I have survivor's guilt and I don't know why. It's somewhat surreal.
So in a nutshell, I don't feel in control AND feel powerless to do anything about it. Add that in with my current reality that I am still adjusting to at work and you've got a recipe for PTSD to overwhelm me.
But it's not. I won't let it. I may be triggered but I can honestly say that the strength and support I get from family and friends help be find a way through my minefield of emotions, just waiting for an unsuspecting foot.
Writing this is definitely helping, though. It's good to be back in the swing of things. Maybe soon I will figure out what the hell is going on and why I can't shake these new nightmares. In the interim, I will do my best to cope with what comes. Here goes nothing.
It's been a while since I've written a blog post. For that, again, I am truly sorry. I never intended to go this long, but one of the first things to go when PTSD and depression are starting to get away from you is your accurate sense of the passage of time.
When the holiday season started, I thought I was dealing well with the end of my marriage. I was focused, motivated, and very dedicated to my daughter. I was going to the gym and training in MMA twice per week. I was enjoying my job and thriving.
Things changed so subtly that I only noticed how depression and PTSD had started creeping in on the edges until things were dangerously close to a tipping point that would have seen me spiraling back into a very dark place.
On Christmas Eve, I had to take my daughter to her mother's house. Caley was communicating effectively how much she was grieving that mom and dad were no longer together and it hit me like a ton of bricks. When I woke up on Christmas day, I could feel the depression pushing the walls in. I closed myself into my apartment and pushed back with all of my might.
I thought about everything that I have been through over the past few years. I focused on how much progress I've made. I looked at what I have been able to accomplish, despite the PTSD. More importantly, I focused on how I have managed things since my wife said she wanted a divorce.
Logically, I knew I should be heartened by what I have been able to accomplish. So why didn't my feelings match what I have been able to provide for myself and for my daughter? For those of you who are familiar with my blog, you know by now that blogging helps me to articulate what I am feeling and why. Writing out how I am feeling, in general, has that effect.
Well, on Christmas Eve, I had received a Facebook message from a friend, sending me best wishes and hoping that I was doing OK. I responded with an outflowing of emotion and then, because of the nature of PTSD, summarily forgot that I had written her back until half way through the day on the 26th. Here's what I wrote her:
thank you for reaching out. It's been a bit dark for me in recent weeks, since the holidays started. I'm really struggling. I just want to curl up in a hole and I'm fighting the depression with everything I have. The sad part: it's been a slow creep. A death by a thousand cuts, emotionally. I have so much to live for and be proud of but I can't see the forest through the trees right now. I'm about to step into my parents' house to fill them in. You have no idea how much it means to me that you checked in. I hope you have a very merry Christmas. I'll be sending out an email to fill everyone in, since I've been silent for a bit. I am going to need support getting through the next few months, as the divorce gets finalized. I know I can be honest with you so I'll say it. I'm ashamed. Ashamed my marriage failed. Ashamed I can't keep the depression in check. Ashamed I haven't kept up with my blogging. Ashamed. Ashamed. Ashamed. I shudder to think where I'd be right now if it wasn't for my amazing family and friends like you.
The crazy thing is that I barely remember writing this or discussing what I wrote in it with my parents until I saw the response from my friend on Facebook.
You are right Max you do have so much to live for and be proud of, a great deal, more than most! I wanted to check in several times but at the same time want to respect your need for space. You may always reach out anytime you need someone, even if it's just to listen, share a meal, walk and talk, whatever... YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF, trust me when I tell you that forgiving yourself is a must, you need to allow yourself forgiveness because we are all only human trying to get through what can often be a hard and difficult path, it's ok that life doesn't work out like we thought, or that the path we were on changes, as hard as it is for you at this moment I promise you that you will understand at one point in your life and you will know you went through all of this to get through it, I know you will because you didn't get this far without having that courage and strength. I can not ever say I understand what you are dealing with because I have not lived your life, but I can tell you that you don't ever need to go through any of it alone, you have too many people Max who care... Please enjoy the joy of your family, of your daughter and have a blessed Christmas. 2015 is a year for opportunities and growth and love... Merry Christmas!
Sometimes, all you need is a little validation from a friend. If you are a friend of someone with PTSD, please read what was written by my friend above. She never claims to understand what I am going through but she validates my emotions while gently reinforcing the positive and forcing me to evaluate the truthfulness of the negative emotions that I was feeling.
Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. It allowed me to safely distance myself from the volatility of my emotions and figure out what exactly had transpired over the past few months that had landed me on the cusp of full-blown despair.
Here's how insidious PTSD and depression can be, even when they are being well managed:
What's so frustrating is that, in 20/20 hindsight, it's all so clear. Why couldn't I see it when it was all happening? I mean, I was in a good place. I effectively managing my PTSD triggers and was devoted to my daughter (still am). So why, WHY, am I sitting here writing this blog post? How did I get here?
Well, I have a choice to make. Learn from this and move forward to correct all of the things I am not doing to effectively cope, or I can disappear again.
Not much of a choice if you ask me.
I'm spending the rest of the holiday season resting and relaxing and relishing every moment I have with my daughter. Once 2015 begins, time to rededicate myself to doing the things I need and love doing.
All I know is that I have never been so grateful for the amazing family and friends I have in my life.
It's time to focus on the things that are working and fixing the things are aren't.
Here's to the New Year...
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.
So yeah. I was at work and unwrapping a piece of roast beef. What I didn't see was the pool of blood on the underside of the piece of beef. The blood ended up splashing all over my hands and my feet. Next thing I know, I have the smell of blood in my nose and the metallic taste in my mouth. It wouldn't go away. I took a break and took some extra anxiety medication and the memories just wouldn't go away. I hadn't had sensory recollection persist like that for hours at a time. Truly. Hours and the smell wouldn't go away. I tried eat something and all I could taste was blood. I just couldn't stay at work any longer. I ended up leaving work part of the way through my shift, distraught, and distracted.
I thought about it a lot for the rest of the day, worried that handling roast beef would cause more recollections. Fortunately, when I was at work the next day, nothing intruded.
It's left me a lot of anxiety and I haven't been dealing with it very well. Maybe it's more lack of sleep catching up with me. I know I had nightmares Friday into Saturday and Saturday into Sunday. I can always tell when I wake up after nightmares, even if I don't remember them - my muscles are sore like I was lifting weights all night. It makes it hard to lay down and go to sleep.
I need some time to think this through. More on this tomorrow...
Here's the thing: with all of changes that I have to make in my life to put my sleep back in balance, life is presenting a lot of new challenges...and lots of uncertainty. What if work will not accommodate my need for a set schedule? Why can't I seem to get to bed at a reasonable time? Why is it still so hard for me to get up and get active?
What if? Why? How?
I asked myself these questions a lot yesterday and tried to come to terms with all of the things that are going to need to change in order for my life to center itself. I got up, went about getting new sneakers and then went running in the afternoon heat. It felt amazing. Things fell apart as the day wore on. I ate dinner and had planned to sit down and work on making some changes to one of the websites. Well, that didn't happen and as the evening wore on, I lost track of time and that I intended to go to sleep at 10PM. 1230AM rolled around and I felt like an idiot. Talk about being frustrated with myself. If I can't get to bed at a reasonable hour, then I can't regulate my sleep and catch up on the huge deficit I already have.
So, just like the old challenges, I pick myself up today, dust myself off, and try again. Today, I am going to work on the website and blog entries in the morning, clean the apartment and go for a run in the afternoon, and take some free time in the evening. That's the goal. Now I just need to push forward and make sure that I meet those goals.
So, yeah. The challenges are new but the approach to overcoming them is the same. Grit and determination. Intestinal fortitude. Finding ways to keep myself motivated. All of these things are not new to me - just the problem to overcome. The important thing for me to remember is that I have never given up in the past and I won't now. I have past successes and failures to teach me what I need to do to move forward.
Because Every Day is a New Day.
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.
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 always, the post-holiday funk lasted longer than I expected it to. I have been trying for over a week to write something meaningful for my blog, but have been dissatisfied with what I had written and deleted a total of seven drafts before finally figuring out what was bothering me so much.
I was depressed, severely. I had no idea why and it was frustrating as all hell to find a way to articulate why being depressed made me feel annoyed and angry with myself. After all, the rest of the holiday season went pretty smoothly. I didn't have any major issues with my PTSD. I didn't have any anger issues with family. I really enjoyed my time that I did get to spend with family, despite my standing desire to avoid large family gatherings out of fear of my PTSD getting the better of me in those situations. I refused to let my fear of the PTSD keep me from enjoying the company of family I don't get to see very often.
So, imagine my surprise when I woke up on January Second, depressed as all hell and fighting the urge to hide in a deep, dark hole for the better part of the month. Why the hell am I still depressed? It doesn't make any sense. Why would I be depressed when everything went so well?
It took me until tonight to finally put two and two together. It was the release of pent up stress from working in a store that experiences extremely high customer traffic. Having to contend with large crowds, disgruntled and stressed co-workers, demanding customers, and substantially less sleep ratcheted up my stress level substantially. It was the release of this pent up stress that triggered the depression.
So now, I have to claw my way back out of this funk so that I can focus on all of the things that matter to me most: Family and Family. I am thinking that the break from blogging, while necessary, deprived me of an essential release valve for my stress.
I have my first individual and group therapy sessions of the year tomorrow and I am really looking forward to getting back into that groove as well. Maybe other reasons will present themselves during therapy. I am certainly hoping that I can make a breakthrough tomorrow. This depression is sucking the motivation out of me faster than I can recharge my batteries.
Am I the only one experiencing this? I doubt it. It would be very helpful to hear from you all on this matter.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.