I couldn't have asked for a better time to have all of the counseling that I have had in the past day and a half. Group CPT ended up being one on one because none of the other members of the group were able to make it. I individual therapy we discussed why the intensity of the anger, nightmares, and hypervigilance have been increasing recently.
When I got there and realized that no one else was coming, I almost left disappointed. I really needed to talk out what transpired over the past week. When the doc expressed a desire to talk with me relieved, I was really relieved. So I went over everything that happened. He grew very serious and we discussed two topics.
Needless to day, it was a productive session. It has helped me to put what happened into proper perspective and helped me identify an underlying issue that causes my PTSD to have such a deleterious effect on my health and life.
My therapist's major concern is the increasing intensity of my nightmares, my inability to fall asleep easily, and my hair-trigger temper at work. She asked me how much physical activity I am getting outside of work. I told her that I don't really get much. She said that I needed to find a way to work exercise into my week. She said that I didn't need to go all out every day of the week. She said to start small - one or two times per week. Her concern is that only talking and thinking about things doesn't help to drain off the energy I build up over the course of a day. When the physical doesn't have an adequate outlet, it can have a very detrimental effect on the mind. So I promised her that I would talk to my wife about making sure that I have the time to exercise at least twice a week without distractions.
So there you have it. I have a few new things to consider and act on. It gives me a sense of direction, of purpose. I don't feel like I am just reacting to my PTSD right now, which is a pleasant change. We'll see how it goes over the coming weeks and months as I work on these new tasks.
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.
So here I sit. It's 1:30AM and I am typing this on the computer, obsessing about this storm that's coming. I have this horrible gut feeling that it's going to be worse than they think. I can't shake it. We live in eastern PA, 30 minutes from the New Jersey border. According to the National Weather Service, we are smack dab in the center of the cone of possibility. The projected path puts us squarely in the cross-hairs to get the full force of the storm.
Enter serious anxiety. I was at work all day so distracted I could barely think straight. Do we have everything we need? What about a fully stocked first aid kit? What about enough water? Batteries? Emergency evac routes? If it gets really bad, what about potential looters? Could this traumatize my daughter? She's only two years old. What about our apartment? We have a lot of windows...
I could keep on going, but you get the idea. The adrenalin is pumping and I am going into all go survival mode and I am scared shitless that entering into that mode (which my wife has only seen glimpses of) is going to do more to scare my family than the storm will. My heart is pounding right now and I feel the blood pulsing through my hands as I try to type this. I have to get up in five hours for work and I doubt I will go to sleep.
So where do I go from here? I am standing on the precipice. The air at work was charged with a certain energy...Does fear have a smell? I am trying to talk myself down, but the adrenalin keeps getting in the way. My hands won't stop shaking but I have to try to get some sleep. I know I am not the only one out there losing sleep over this, but the waves of my adrenalin are isolating me in ways flooding waters never could.
What a long week. I keep on trying to find the time to write this post and others, but life intervenes. What is frustrating is that I always feel better after I get out my thoughts in this blog, yet right now there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day. *sigh*
Anyways, this past CPT session was pretty stressful. One of the guys brought the kid of a friend to group. The kid was in his early to mid 20's (wow - I just called someone in their 20's a kid. Must be getting older...). He was shot in the shoulder over in Iraq by a sniper. He was ghost white from the pain and the pain meds. His PTSD was deep and very severe.
And it felt like I was looking at a shadow of myself before I got help, when I first got home from overseas. His life was in shambles and he was pushing everyone in his life that cared about him away but you could tell he was desperate for the loving touch of the ones who loved him. He was a ball of jitters, anger, depression, catastrophic thinking, paranoia and guilt. It was hard to look at, hard to watch. I wanted to reach out to him and let him know that he was going to be OK. The state he was in, he wouldn't have believed a word I said, even if I said the sky was blue. He had insomnia, partially from the pain of his injury and partially from his wounded soul.
I didn't have the physical injury, but the rest...well, I don't like to think about the shriveled husk of a man that I was before I got help for my PTSD.
Here's the good part, the part that gives me hope: Every guy in group, no matter how bad their situation was, reached out to that young man with compassion and knowing love and support. We all told him he had a place with us if he needed it. The common bond of traumatic experience brought us all closer in that one moment. I think is was a benchmark moment for all of us in group. I don't know why, but something about that moment changed the dynamic in group and changed it for the better.
A lot more happened in group in addition to this. It was an eventful session. But that is a tale for another post. Off to hug my daughter now.
I was at work this weekend and I ran into my therapist from CPT group. I talked to him about having gotten the increase in disability rating. It was strange. In that moment as I was talking to him a lot of things came clear to me.
I felt guilty. I felt like I didn't deserve the rating I received. When things got really bad over in Iraq, I had a ritual every morning. When I first woke up, I asked myself whether 'today was the day that I would die'. I had to confront that fear (and likely reality) every day and accept it . I had to accept it or I wouldn't have been able to make it through the day. That's what makes all of this so hard. Guys who never accepted that they could die, never accepted their fear are the ones who didn't make it back. They were the ones who had the fire and desire to live. I was the one who 'gave up', that deserved their fate.
Because of this, I have experienced many a sleepless night since I got the decision in the mail. What is strange is that my doc told me that most veterans with PTSD that he has worked with have shared these same sentiments. How about that. I guess we'll have a lot to talk about in group this Wednesday.
I finally got a good night sleep last night. I used a neti pot to clean out my nasal passages and a huge clot came out when I purged my nose. The smell and taste of blood went away immediately. I think my wife could tell that my relief was more than profound - it was physically palpable. I feel energetic and motivated to face the day for the first time in almost two weeks.
It was awesome. No nightmares. No waking up with my heart racing. No smell of blood, no profound feelings of loss and sorrow. It was a much needed respite last night.
Today is about focusing on other aspects of my life for a change. I got the green light to return to work and will be heading back to work in two weeks. In a way it's a relief as well. I need to get back to living a somewhat normal life so that I can finally put all of my physical health problems in the rear view mirror. I hope everyone else has an amazing day!
Last night, I snapped at my wife again. I lost my temper with my parents. In other words, I have been an insufferable ass. I knew what was happening and felt powerless to stop the train wreck. I didn't know what was causing these outbursts of anger. Well, last night for the 10th straight night, I woke up to the smell of blood and the screams and moans of the wounded and dying. You heard that right - TEN FUCKING STRAIGHT NIGHTS.
The power of hindsight made me realize how close I came to destroying my family again. Here's the scenario:
The Weeping Buddha - A corner of it was barely visible under the crap that had collected on top of it that we had put there to keep out of my daughter's ever expanding reach. I pulled it out, I wiped off the dust and sat and stared at it for over an hour. I returned to bed with a level of spiritual serenity I haven't felt in ages.
Once again, I had dodged a very dangerous bullet. You never think you could become one of those 'weak junkies' addicted to pain killers or other prescription drugs. I now know how insidious and dangerous that particular addiction can be. Something at a deep and personal level told me something was vitally and dangerously wrong. It took seeing my Weeping Buddha again and meditating about my loss, about the sorrow I feel that allowed me to put the pain back into some semblance of proper perspective.
Yes I still smell and taste blood every day. It's not my imagination. My nose is still healing from the invasive surgery. It will heal, though. I just have to make it through the physical healing process and keep my grief in a healthy perspective. I just have to remind myself of the incredible strength of the Weeping Buddha. His incredible countenance and the stories whispered in hushed tones about the warlord who was the motivation for the carving have had a profound effect on my life. Back when I got this statue, the information about the Weeping Buddha was much less commonplace than it is now. I encourage you all to take that particular journey and learn about this amazing statue. I hope it resonates as strongly with you as it has with me for over six years.
Can you tell how much sleep I got last night? Not much. I'm making goofy references to The Shining...
On a serious note, I hadn't had the heartburn/reflux in a really long time. I thought that it was attributed more to stress. Maybe it's also due to lack of quality sleep over a long period of time. I can't stand it. The inability to lay down just makes you that much more tired and makes the heartburn that much worse. Last night was out of control...
I guess I need to take a look at what could possibly be contributing to all of this. I know that finding out I WAS exposed to burn pits ratcheted up the stress for a little bit. I also know that quitting smoking didn't exactly help my eating habits at all. I have gained a lot of the weight back that I had lost, but that's a temporary sacrifice I'm willing to take to get off the cancer sticks. A bad diet though...Shit. I am really going to have to find a way to buckle down and eat proper portions again. I can't afford to continue to lose even more sleep like I have been. Not to mention that lack of sleep exacerbates my PTSD symptoms, which makes the heartburn even worse. Yup that seals it. Gotta change the eating habits...again.
It was one of those nights. I don't remember the nightmares, just feeling of nausea and the smell of blood. I woke up too many times to count so this was repetitive. Really repetitive. I was so exhausted I didn't hear my alarm and my wife was back from the gym before I was able to drag my ass out of bed. Needless to say, my wife was justifiably annoyed with me.
Here's the weird part. I'm in a good mood today. Despite the start to the day, I'm in a good mood. It's almost like my body and my mind are saying, "Screw you, PTSD!" While I wish this could be the case every day, it's not. It's not even frequent at this point. It starts to wear on the soul. When you look at the past week and all you see is sadness and anger broken up with small bright spots of happiness, it's hard to remain hopeful or optimistic.
That's what I wrote this morning before I went to the VA. I was sitting in the waiting room and realized that I was falling prey to the same cycle that I had been trapped in before. God Damn It All to HELL!!
I will not let my PTSD take over. Not again. Not ever. I looked back over the past week. Yeah, a lot of it was rough. It was not a great week. Much of this past year wasn't rosy. What I realized is that I am so physically exhausted all of the time that it's making me more vulnerable to the catastrophic thinking, the depression. That sleep study can't get here soon enough. If I can get just one good night sleep, without the use of medication to put me under, I may just cry. I feel that my inability to get a good night sleep is making it near impossible to have a healthy outlook on life. Is it May yet?
So here's my two cents for the day. VETERANS: If you find you are physically exhausted all of the time and you have a hard time staying asleep, ask for a sleep study. Find out it there is a clinical reason for your physical exhaustion. Don't write off what your body may be trying to tell you as a side effect of your medication or depression. Be your own advocate. Don't ever settle for the status quo.
I have a major problem. I have not been able to quiet my mind and get a quality night of sleep for weeks now. I have so many ideas and thoughts and issues I am trying to work through bouncing around my head it's giving me a chronic headache. I need to slow everything down. I am going to try to create a place at home for meditation and relaxation. The recommendation was made to me that I explore the idea of 'just being' for a little and not thinking. This presented an interesting challenge to me. I think this idea scares me more than I care to admit. To slow down my thoughts and to 'just be' would invite memories and destructive thoughts to visit.
Well, today I am facing that fear. My wife is taking our daughter down to her parents for a while and I plan on using some of that time to 'just be'. I don't know if I know how to clear my head of thought, but I am going to try. I think that the greatest lessons in life are the ones taught to us when we aren't paying attention. Introspection or 'soul searching' have always played a key role in informing me about my PTSD and how it impacts my life.
I think a good portion of the emotional detachment that my wife experiences from me is attributable to not being able to get my mind to shut up long enough for my day to day life to register in a meaningful way. I plan on talking to my wife about making time once a week for me to focus my mind. Before I was in the military I had the uncanny ability to focus on a single problem or idea and explore it meaningfully from all angles. It made me VERY good at chemistry and drafting. Maybe I just need to find something that will appeal to my affinity for spatial relations. Building models. Wow. Where did that thought come from. Time to search online for local hobby shops. I think that's what I am going to do to focus my mind and clear it of all the other junk. Time to build a model.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.