It happened Sunday night into Monday morning. Since then, I have been struggling to describe how terrifying these last nightmares were. I am not going to rehash the details again - the nightmare was about the friendly fire incident. Combine that incident with nightmare groundhog day and you get the picture. I experienced that recollection over and over and over...
The truly terrifying part: I knew I was dreaming. After the first 'playthrough', I tried to wake myself up, but I couldn't. After a few more replays, I started to get scared. Why couldn't I wake up? I thought maybe I had to do something, change something. But I couldn't, I was only along for the ride. All I could do was spectate.
Screams and death moans.
The smell and taste of blood in the air.
I got to feel everything - especially the helplessness. On top of that I experienced the helplessness of not being able to wake up, even though I was lucid. It was like being trapped inside myself with no way out.
I started to scream in my head, screaming to be let out. I started to feel like I was losing myself.
The alarm jolted me awake. Terrified and disoriented, it took me a second to come back to the present. I was exhausted. All of my muscles ached like I had been clenching all of them. My heart was beating so hard it actually hurt.
And then came the relief. It was over. I didn't have to experience that scene again. I was back in control. I was still pretty messed up, though. I was only able to make it through half of my shift on Monday before my need to be alone and process what had just happened overwhelmed me and forced me to go home. I am still processing it. I don't think I have ever been so terrified in my whole life.
What the hell was the meaning of that nightmare? Was there a message in it? I don't know and I have a feeling I won't know for a long time. All I know is that somehow, my perspective on work and life has changed. The differences are subtle. Maybe one day I will figure out why.
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.
The day started off so well. My wife and I took my daughter down to a local mall and we walked outside and enjoyed the weather, ate at Red Robin, and my daughter played with the other kids in the fountain next to the Starbucks. No really, she did:
I feel relaxed. I am enjoying the day. In the mid-afternoon, we get in the car and head home. When we get there, I very quickly fall asleep in my recliner...and wake up choking on my own bile from a nightmare. I bolt out of my seat and start gagging and puking up bile into the sink in the kitchen. My daughter saw the whole thing happen and it's a first I could have done without. She is scared out of her wits and very worried about her daddy. I stay as calm as I can since I am still gagging and trying to clear my wind pipe and my wife is a champ, explaining that daddy's ok. I did my best to reassure her that I was ok, but she wasn't satisfied until my gag reflex receded and I was able to pick her up.
Caley: "Daddy, you cried."
Me: "Yes I did, bear bear."
Caley: "It's OK, Daddy, It's OK" (hugs me fiercly)
Me: "I'll be OK, Caley. Daddy just had a bad dream."
Caley: "I love you, Daddy."
After that exchange, my heart melted into my figurative boots. Caley asked to be put down and went back to playing in the living room and I was left to reflect on my nightmare. It was about the death of an Iraqi translator that was killed for working with the US. He knew it was dangerous but worked hard to ensure the safety of our troops wherever he was. He wasn't the only Iraqi to die protecting us. The Kurdish Peshmerga (Special Forces) guarded our safehouse in Khanaqin. Many were murdered after they returned home to the Kurdish North for disobeying orders and staying to protect us while we got set up in town. These are not isolated incidents. These men were believers in what the United States stands for and died to protect our troops. They paid the ultimate sacrifice too, but you will never see a monument to their courage and selflessness. The men and women have always been there in any war - the forgotten heroes. The locals who believe so strongly in us that they protect our troops and sacrifice themselves for our cause.
I don't know why I had that nightmare in the middle of a wonderful day. I think I may actually be grateful for it. All of us are mourning the loss of those we served with who didn't make it home. All I ask is that you take a moment to reflect on the nameless ones who never expected to be remembered. Take a minute to praise and give thanks for those who have selflessly sacrificed themselves to ensure our troop's safety in a hostile environment and paid the ultimate price for their efforts.
Because, In My Eyes, They Were All American Service Members, Too
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.
Yesterday, I posted my latest blog entry (you can see it here). I had been having a rough few days and I talked about it extensively. I talked about how the Phillip Phillips song, 'Gone, Gone, Gone' is what had gotten me through the moment and allowed me to find peace. As is the usual when I reference someone in my blog entry, I add them to my tweet in the hopes that they see it. Honestly, I didn't think, with how crazy P2's twitter feed is that anyone would even notice my post.
And then it happened. I started getting a lot of traffic from Twitter. People started retweeting my post, favoriting it and reaching out to me to comment on my blog. It was an amazing and overwhelming response. I never thought that so many would connect with my writing. It was an amazing feeling to know that I was able to reach so many and illustrate the human side of what it means to have combat PTSD.
With this in mind, I wanted to thank the fans or 'Philatics' who have demonstrated an amazing capacity for compassion for a stranger. Your passionate comments and support are a testament to the type of music that Phillip Phillips makes - it only draws to highest quality of individual.
Again, thank you all so much for your amazing display of support. I promise, no matter how bad it gets that 'like a drum, my heart won't stop beating'.
Yours in Health and Happiness,
WARNING: The following blog post is very graphic and will disturb some readers. If you have PTSD, this account could trigger you. Despite this, I had to get it out of my head and try to think through what happened.
The silence was deafening, but we all knew what was coming. I don't know if I held my breath for seconds or minutes. Time has ceased to have meaning when they fired on their own troops.
I startled awake and felt the familiar pain of bile burning the back of my throat. As was becoming the norm, I had woken up from the nightmare choking on my own vomit. I scrambled out of bed and ran to the bathroom. I vomited repeatedly into the sink. I dry-heaved for an hour, unable to clear the bile from the back of my throat. When the gag reflex receded, I continued to salivate and spit for another hour. I finally dared to look up and didn't recognize the person staring back at me. My face had a gaunt, almost skeletal quality to it that I hadn't seen before. My eyes were swollen and red, the blood vessels in my eyes inflamed.
"I thought things were getting better"
That's a common thought that runs through my mind every time I start to physically recover from my nightmares. It finally sank in yesterday that the nightmares seemed to be their worst after the deepest and darkest moments of my latest episode have receded far enough for me to see and recognize the insanity that others call 'hope'.
I was too exhausted to sleep after that moment. I somehow didn't let on at work that I had this horrible experience Friday night into Saturday. I was afraid to go to sleep last night and slept fitfully until something woke me up. I had only been in bed for an hour or so, but my heart was racing and I didn't know why. Determined to fight this feeling of complete helplessness, I ran for my iPad, plugged in my earbuds and turned on the Phillip Phillips. Something in one of his songs vibrated through me and I finally felt at peace.
"Gone, Gone, Gone"
I'd listened to this song many times before, but the lyrics never really registered until last night and I knew I had found an anthem that would put my mind at ease and always remind me that I wasn't going through this alone. I had the love of my wife, friend, family, and even strangers to keep my head above water - even when I didn't have the strength to keep myself afloat. So this one's for all of you - You Know Who You Are.
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.
Well, I made a stupid mistake at work. I sliced my finger really deeply and ended up in the ER getting stitches. Two hours and six stitches later, the tip of my finger looked like a finger again...and not like a hot dog that someone had sliced down the middle. I was really calm through the whole thing, but was exhausted from the adrenalin when I got home at the end of the day. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't have any major issues.
Then the adrenalin started wearing off and my finger was on fire. I struggled to get comfortable. The pain was extreme and all I was allowed to take was Tylenol or Ibuprofen. I didn't bother. When I laid down to try to get to sleep, I fell deeply into nightmares. Dead bodies, broken and torn. The smell of blood, the screams of the injured and dying...It was hell. I woke up gagging and choking on my own bile. I ran to the bathroom and spent the next half hour vomiting and dry-heaving.
The cherry on top of it all: It scared the living shit out of my daughter. Not only do I have 'big boo boo finger', I now have 'boo boo tummy'. It was devastating to see my daughter come up to me acting brave and say, 'Dada cry. It's OK, Dada'. I felt myself shrivel up inside. My instincts were screaming at me to pull away and withdraw. I couldn't let go. I love her too much.
How can so many things go so horribly wrong when everything was going so well? I. Hate. This. What do I do? I spent all day in horrible pain because of my finger and my throat was raw and swollen from vomiting. Oh yeah, my ear was still swollen and sore from the infection, too. I really need this crap to stop, but I will never give up. It does make it more difficult to control my anger, though, and that is something I really need to be wary of.
Well, the day's almost over. For the first time in a long time, I am wary of going to sleep. I gotta try, though. Despite everything that's happened this week, I have to be at work tomorrow morning and 'acting normal'. It's amazing the faces we have to put on just to get by and hold down a job, huh?
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.