So, I disappeared off the radar, again - this time for good reason. All of my spare time has been dedicated to contending with family issues at home. The end result: My wife and I are entering into a trial separation, as of today. Before anyone overreacts to this, I need to make this clear - it was a mutual decision. We have taken this step BECAUSE we love each other and want to save our marriage.
Seems counter-intuitive, right?
It really isn't and I'm going to explain why so that maybe the lessons we've learned from all of this will help other couples in distress for the same reasons. I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to write about this, but I felt I needed to articulate in writing our thought process - that and blogging always helps me process through my emotions, so...Here we go.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I've been struggling with PTSD and depression for years now. Back on November 8th, 2010, my amazing and wonderful daughter, Caley, was born. When I held her for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the profundity of my love for her. It was at that moment that I had the insidious and destructive thought: "If anything ever happened to her..."
My PTSD headed very quickly into a downward spiral and the depression followed, gleefully riding the coattails of my PTSD on the way down. I withdrew completely from my wife and from my daughter over the course of the next year, leaving my wife to contend with caring for two kids on her own: Our beautiful newborn, and me.
I hit rock bottom in early 2012 when my wife confronted me with my withdrawal and gave me the ultimatum: Get help or we are leaving. This sounds really blunt but my wife had tried every other way of getting my attention and nothing had worked. I was so deeply in the throes of my own despair that I needed the emotional slap in the face to be able to see through the fog of my depression. When I did, I was horrified. I had emotionally abandoned my family. The guilt I felt was crushing - so crushing that I seriously considered committing suicide so that I wouldn't be able to hurt them anymore. That's how insidious depression can be. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and almost deprived my daughter of a father and my wife of a husband - Not because I wanted to selfishly end it all, but because I couldn't see any way of preventing my family from getting hurt again.
To this day, I still don't know what, exactly, pulled me back from the ledge but I'm grateful that I found a way. Just thinking about how close I came still horrifies me and always will. Over the course of the next few days, I started to gain a bit of clarity and was able to make a compact with myself - that I would never, EVER, let things get this bad ever again. I knew that the road ahead of me was going to be long and painful, but I needed desperately to be the Father and Husband I know I can be when the PTSD and the depression haven't taken me hostage.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I have put in the work. I've gone to therapy, learned how to effectively cope with my PTSD and depression, learned how to watch for warning signs that I may be headed in the wrong direction and also learned that I needed to remove as much unnecessary stress from my life as I possible could.
The end result:
Up until a few months ago, I thought that the whole concept of Post Traumatic Growth was a load of crap. I found myself, all of a sudden, full of drive and energy and motivation to live life and live up to the ideals I had always striven for. I finally felt I was WORTH fighting for.
What happened next completely blindsided both my wife and I. It sucks and it hurts, but I think you will see clearly how we got to this point.
I Need Some Time Apart to Clear My Head
Over the course of the past few months, I noticed that my wife was getting angrier and angrier with me over the smallest of transgressions. I started talking to her about it and expressed a desire to get help and get therapy, for both of us, if necessary. Nothing ever came of it and I thought, after some very serious heart to hearts, that we were moving past the anger and emotional distance (things have deteriorated so far for my wife that she's completely emotionally closed off and unable to show affection or appreciation - we've been living like roommates for the better part of the past year).
Over the course of the past few weeks, things had gotten progressively worse between us and it seemed like the hurt feelings and emotional distance were gaining momentum, regardless of how I tried to reconcile with my wife. The end result: I told my wife that I couldn't live like this anymore - that I felt like I was walking on eggshells because the was angry all of the time and was either unable or unwilling to be intimate or reciprocate my affection.
That's when she said those fateful words: "I think I need some time apart to clear my head". I felt the bottom fall out from under me and I clung desperately to the edge of my sanity.
Over the course of the past week and a half, I've climbed out and things have settled down. Yes, my wife and I are separating but it's a mutual decision and I'm going to take the time to explain why this doesn't mean the end of our marriage.
The Five Stages of Grief
It was only after I had finally accepted what needed to happen that I just gone through the five stages of grief for the state of our relationship. It's analogous to the stages of grief that a person would go through when the doctor had told them that their loved one being kept alive by life support was going to be taken off of it according to wishes presented in their living will - the machines would be turned off and the person would either breathe on their own or they'd die. For our marriage, things were very much the same. My wife needed to get the space she needed (turning off the machines) so that she could process through the intensity of her emotions and figure out whether she was able to move past them and recommit to trusting me and loving me the way she knows I need (finding out whether our marriage will breathe on its own). Here's how the five stages of grief play into this:
However, rather than a means to an end, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is troubled and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge together more, get as close as we can, and do more to "make the marriage work".
After reading that excerpt, things started to make a whole lot more sense. Our lives were financially stable, our work was stable, and most importantly, I wasn't only stable, I was ME again - the guy with the inner fire and the sense of purpose. It was finally safe for my wife to not be in survival mode anymore and when she let down the walls she had put up to survive, she was completely overwhelmed with how angry she was. She fully recognizes that I never meant to hurt her, but the end result was the same: She felt like she had been betrayed and abandoned by me for the better part of the past almost four years, since our daughter was born. As anyone will tell you, the more deeply you love someone, the more deeply you hurt when you feel abandoned and betrayed by him.
All of a sudden, I understood completely why she needed separation. The emotions she was feeling were so intense that any time she saw me, it triggered her emotions and none of them were particularly happy ones. The only way she could possibly start to work through all of this is by removing the source of the pain: Me. So, a few nights ago, I explained to my wife that I accepted her need for separation and why. Believe it or not, it was a huge relief for both of us. Up until that point, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find a way to accept her need for space and that the marriage would end before we even had a chance to work on it - not because we wanted it to, but because of irreconcilable differences.
Over the past few days, we've spent a lot of time getting on the same page and laying out the groundwork for separation and what it means for us and for our daughter. By loving my wife and supporting her in her need for space, we have already started down the right road. It may sound weird, but working together to coordinate the separation has been the closest my wife and I have been in years - because we are working together to save our marriage and working together hasn't been in the cards for a while now. In the next blog post, I will detail our Separation Contract, what it entails, and why. I could continue on and make this all one massive blog post, but this seems like a logical place to split it up. I know that there are readers out there that are probably in the same position we are in and can't seem to find a way forward. I hope that the struggle that I've gone through, both with the PTSD and Depression and with coming to terms with my wife's need for separation can help those of you out there that find yourselves facing a similar scenario.
Thank you all for your constant support and continued readership.
We are getting absolutely pounded with heavy snow right now. So, with nothing else going on, it seemed like a perfect time to catch you all up a bit on everything that's been going on. There has been some concern expressed by family, friends and readers that recent posts have expressed a lot of anger. Yep, they sure have. I'm less angry than I am frustrated, but that's just part of the story.
I'm 35 years old and I have had no luck starting a meaningful career since 2007 when I graduated (Magna Cum Laude, I might add) from college. I have continually been told that I'm 'overqualified'. Well, now I'm seen as too old and too experienced for entry level work, but I don't know the requisite computer applications that seems to be required for mid-level management (seriously? It's a computer application - I could learn a stupid computer program in a day or two). I've also come to the realization that I really don't play very well with others. I'm demanding and exacting and hold people to the standards I hold myself to and that seems to cause me a lot of problems in the workplace. It's made me realize that the education and skill set I currently have isn't doing me any favors. As a result, I'm exploring whether VA's Vocational Rehabilitation program could help me get the training I need to go into business for myself (or at least on a contract basis).
So, that's the work side of life. Things on the personal side are settling down substantially. I go to train MMA as often as I am able to get out to the gym. I am learning to deal with my emotions better (anger and frustration still need a lot of work). I've been off the medication for about two months now and I feel a whole hell of a lot better. My psoriasis is much more manageable, I have stopped having constant stress headaches, and my asthma is almost non-existent. My instinct that the medication was having an adverse impact on my physical health definitely appears to be right on the money so far. I feel more energetic, motivated. I've still got a lot to work through and think through, but I feel like I'm finally headed in the right direction.
As for the non-profit, well...The backlog on 501(c)3 Tax Exempt status is so big, we won't gain our tax-exempt status until 2015 at the earliest. It has made getting the non-profit off the ground exceptionally time-consuming and frustrating. As a result, I've had to change the short-term focus and just get down to the basics. The crowdfunding rewards are finally done and in hand - sort of. The company that made affortable static window clings went under. The other companies charge more for a single window cling than I paid to purchase and print a t-shirt. Same goes for the 550 cord key chains. As a result, I've decided to send all supporters a silicone bracelet and a t-shirt. So keep an eye out for the email I'm sending out to confirm mailing addresses. The silicone bracelets I got for a song - the website I purchased them through gave me 200 free when I bought 100 debossed two-tone bracelets. At least I'll be able to make a little money for the non-profit by selling them and the extra t-shirts.
So there you have it. That's pretty much everything going on right now. I've been much better about recognizing my limitations and am finally making the lifestyle and professional changes I need to so that I can live a less stressful and better balanced life. I won't lie and say that things have been easy as I have worked on making this transition. It's been stressful as hell, but I finally feel like I'm thinking long-term and making the changes I need to provide for long-term stability. I'll keep you posted as things progress. Thanks to all of my readers for your continued support and readership!
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...
I don't think I need to recount what happened yesterday. When I heard about it from my father when I got home from work, I had to (and I mean HAD TO) see what was going on.
The descriptions, the blood, first-hand accounts, everything, triggered my memories of stuff that I had seen and been through over in Iraq. The second I knew I was triggered, I slammed shut my computer and I walked away and tried to do stuff that would take my mind off of what had happened up in Boston. I succeeded pretty well and was able to go to bed at a fairly normal hour. Then the nightmares came. They weren't so bad that they woke me up, but it was an endless cycle of suffering and emotional pain. When my alarm went off at 0600, I didn't get out of bed. I barely made it to work and I knew that I was going to be anxious as all hell.
And I was. An hour in, I had to pop an extra anxiety med to keep my self going. Another hour later, another.
Wash, rinse, repeat for five straight hours. I didn't have any more with me and I knew that my anxiety was still getting worse. I gutted it out but told my boss that as soon as the evening shift came in at two, I had to leave. To his credit, he didn't question it. He thanked me for gutting it out today. I think he knew that something was really rattling my cage.
So, I came home and I unwound. I took another pill and ended up passing out in my recliner, only to be woken up when my wife and daughter got home. I still feel triggered, but I am hoping that is something that I can work through with my individual therapist and group therapy tomorrow. I guess we'll see,
This is where I want to do a little explaining. Why was work so hard for me?
Everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY was talking about it. The customers, the employees, everybody. Everybody had a theory about who did it, why, how, everything. To make matters worse, I came into work and the flags were still at full mast. It just tweaked me that much more. I immediately went to the store manager and asked him if he knew why the flags weren't at half mast. He said he'd look into it. Thankfully, the next opportunity I had to check, they were or I think I might have lost it. All in all, it was one conversation between two customers that I overhead that almost made me blow a gasket:
CustA: You heard about that Boston Shit, right?
CustB: Yeah, that's what happens when you let those dirty Arabs into our country.
CustA: I know, man. They already got a Saudi in lock-up.
CustB: They should have just let that sand-N****R ass bleed.
Yup. This shit brings out the best in people, don't ya think? I almost didn't walk away. All I can say is this:
If you are a veteran who has been triggered by this bombing, don't watch the fucking news! Just leave well enough alone. If you don't trust yourself not to, ask your family or spouse for support in this. It makes things easier when I am not constantly re-triggering myself. It's not that I don't care, it's that I care to much and the feeling of helplessness, not being able to do anything to help kills me. I know you know what I mean.
So there it is. Avoid triggers and avoid people you know that are ignorant and hateful. Now I am calling it a day and I am going to spend time with my wife and daughter who I suddenly find even more precious than I did yesterday.
As I do my best to avoid landmines on this subject, I need to put this disclaimer out there first and foremost:
I am not a doctor. I can only share my experiences with medication for PTSD, dos and do nots. Never stop taking your meds without informing your doctor of that decision first. If you are concerned about what the medications could do to you physiologically, express those concerns with your doc and see what you can do together to mitigate those effects.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let me take you on a little trip back to 2004 when I first got home. As soon as I got into the VA system, I was put on meds. I was put on trazodone for sleep (the nightmares were nightly for months after I initially got home), Citalopram HBr for mood, and Gabapentin for jitters. I took them religiously for two years. I honestly think that the compassion of my teachers and staying on my cocktail were the only reasons I made it through college.
In March 2006, I met my wife, I made the classic mistake that all properly medicated people make at some point in their treatment. I felt so good, I went off my meds. I stayed off them until December 2007, I think. There may have been little spurts where I took them, but it wasn't consistent. I had graduated from college in May 2007 and the stress of having to find a good paying job was killing me. I found a job at a local bank and without my meds, I went belly up and out the door in six months. I went back to the VA and they put me on my meds again in December 2007. In May 2008, my wife graduated from Massage Therapy school. Somewhere along the way I had stopped taking my meds again. Part of the problem is that my PTSD was really out of control and I was having issues with loss of my sense of the passing of time. My wife would ask if I had taken my pills and I would tell her I had because I really thought I had. My head was a mess.
In June 2008, we moved down to Georgia and things got really bad really fast. I had not access to a VA hospital that I trusted and, therefore, had no meds. We had moved down because there were supposedly a lot of jobs to be had down there. Unfortunately the economy was in full recession mode and there were no jobs to be found. I worked temp work here and there but my wife couldn't practice massage therapy because the state of Georgia never, in six months we were there, sent her a licence. Our finances were at a straining point, my PTSD in full episode (all I did was play Call of Duty 4, 12-16 hours per day). In December 2008, I took a contracting job in the Middle East out of pure desperation. We moved my wife back home to be near family and I went over to Qatar. I lasted about a month without my wife before I had to bring her over. The separation was too much. Keep in mind, I am still off my meds. Shortly after my wife got over there, we moved to Manama, Bahrain. And that's where my PTSD got dangerously bad. Without going into details, I was the worst I had ever been. I was drowning. Out of desperation, my wife put her foot down and we went home in September 2009.
I knew I was screwing everything up and I was determined to get myself straight. I went back to the VA and got put on meds. I started attending group sessions. I got a job at a local grocery store and still work there. I haven't gone off my meds since. It's the only period since I have been home that I have enjoyed a true sense of stability. Over time, the docs augmented my cocktail with Lorazepam (for anxiety), and Wellbutrin (additional mood med). The reason the changes were made was because I was noticing changes in my behavior that I didn't like. The previous meds didn't seem to be working the same as they had been. So the doc evaluated me and changed it up. Brain chemistry changes over time, so there will the potential need to 'tweak' the cocktail.
So what are the lessons to take away from my mistakes?
Now, I can say that meds are not for everyone. Some people will do better with natural alternatives. Some won't benefit from either. No two veterans are alike in their emotional needs. Regardless of what decision you decide to make, I ask that you consider how your potential change in emotional stability and change in demeanor could adversely affect the ones you love. It's not fair to put our loved ones through the emotional meat grinder because we are too proud to admit we actually need our meds/natural alternatives to stay stable.
So, there you have it. That's my lowdown on PTSD and Medication. I encourage you to educate your loved ones on the meds you are taking, including side effects. Having extra eyes looking for disturbing changes in emotional and physical health will help you stay healthier too.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.