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...
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!!
The Best TV Episode You've Probably Never Seen About Combat-Related PTSD, Suicide, and the Long Road Home.
Have you ever heard of the TV Show, 'Hack'? I hadn't either, but it was available in Netflix and its premise sounded interesting. I cop that made a mistake, lost his badge, and started over as a cabbie or hack in Philadelphia. The show starts Andre Braugher and David Morse so I figured I'd like it.
I'm glad I gave it a chance. The show ran for two seasons in 2003 and 2004. It has excellent lessons in morality and it's massive scale of grey, love, hope, and family. Then I started watching Season 2, Episode 14, named "Fog of War". The main character's godson came home from Iraq after being wounded and they depicted PTSD, raw and unfiltered. They showed how he tried to numb his mind with pain killers and alcohol. They showed how corrosive the effects of survivor's guilt can be on the soul. They illustrated the particular way in which our anger can flare - by raging against inanimate objects and scaring the crap out of our loved ones. It illustrates moral injury and the cost of war upon the human condition. What gave me chills was the manner in which the actor playing the soldier depicted intrusive recollections. The unconscious twitch of the body, the quasi-nauseous shudder and the thousand yard stare.
It also shows how quickly dependency and depression, combined with survivor's guilt, can lead to suicidal ideation.
One thought kept on popping into my head: "This Could've Been Me."
PTSD didn't really reach mainstream awareness and acceptance as the signature wound of this conflict until 2006 and 2007. What really gave me goosebumps was the date that this episode aired: Feburary 7, 2004. Just five days after I returned home from overseas - I was one of the vanguard. One of the first to return home from Iraq. They didn't even have support services in place for the conflict in Iraq. My support group was comprised of veterans of previous conflicts, predominantly Vietnam.
I watched the episode four times in a row, with tears in my eyes every time. Every time I watched it, the more poignant I realized it was - and just how aware the writing team was of the enduring costs of war. I would warn against watching this episode if you are still learning to cope with triggers, but if you are in the right frame of mind - take the time to watch this episode. It will be particularly educational for family members. The show demonstrates just how important fidelity, unconditional support and love are to our returning veterans.
The veteran depicted in the show had a father who was a hard-nosed cop. Old-school. The show no weakness type of man who thought his son should just forget what happened and 'just move on' in his life. The main character, who over the course of one and a half seasons has found his compassion and his own code of morality, lights the way to a positive solution to the show - not with his virtues but with acceptance of his flaws. It is masterfully done and in such a way as to give hope to those who watch it that their loved ones with PTSD can learn to cope and live with their experiences.
I really didn't see this episode coming at all. It even depicted the politics of the time from both sides of the aisle in a way that showed the validity of both standpoints without being argumentative.
Take the time to watch this show if you have Netflix. You won't regret it. It is truly an episode for the ages.
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...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.