Where to begin...
My wife and I have seen our ups and downs as I have learned to rein in my PTSD symptoms and harness my drive to succeed, both personally and professionally. It has not been easy and we recently made some realizations about why our relationship has a tendency to get tense - even when it doesn't need to be.
What Relaxing Means to Me:
Sitting on my duff playing video games, blogging, writing the next installment of my serial novel, watching a movie, snuggling into the corner of the couch with a good book. You'll notice that my idea of relaxing involves taking a load off my feet. I would love to do this with my wife, cuddled up on the couch.
What Relaxing Means to My Wife:
Going outside for a walk, run, bike ride. Going to the mall and walking around with Caley. Going out somewhere and doing something...anything other than sitting on her duff. My wife loves to go for walks in the evening with our daughter and me.
Do you see where the problem is? I like to NOT do anything. My wife likes to DO anything. Sedentary relaxation versus endorphin release from exercise. I don't need to tell you which way is healthier in the long run. What we have been doing is this: My wife takes our daughter for a walk while I sit in my chair and read something, write something or watch something. We relax apart after a day apart working apart.
Not exactly ideal for our intimacy or our relationship. We never made time to spend together because neither one of us was willing to do what the other found relaxing - mostly because I hate going for walks and she hates sitting for long periods of time. So how do we meet in the middle. Do I recognize that always sitting on my duff after or before work isn't healthy and change my routine? Nope. If I did that I would be grumpy all the time. I can't be the only one to make concessions. So where is the happy medium? What do I do to meet my wife half-way?
I am going for a walk tonight with my wife to discuss this. We'll see what happens.
It's been a longer week than it should have been and way too long since I used this blog to get my thoughts out. I wanted to write about one aspect of Cognitive Processing Therapy that has been really good for me and difficult as all hell - both at the same time. The doc says accepting what happened is a major step in the therapy process that presents the biggest challenge for most guys. Doc continually talked to us about acceptance and it started to annoy me how much he talked about it. I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never be able to accept what had happened.
I have been thinking about this constantly for the past few weeks and I finally had a breakthrough two weeks ago that I never got to write about - I was unwilling to accept the wrong thing. I finally made the connection that acceptance isn't about accepting the horrific things that I saw. It's about accepting that there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome. It was completely out of my control. THAT was what the doc talked about when he talked about acceptance.
I was so relieved when I made that connection. I felt like I had reached a guidepost on my journey. And then, as the world always does, my world did everything in its power to challenge this new found clarity. While I won't go into specifics, work threw down the gauntlet and I lost my temper. I got very angry at work and caused a lot of people a lot of worry. I ended up going home that day just so that I could regain control of my emotions.
I recognized what was happening and felt powerless to stop it. It the past, this type of stumble would have sent me into a tailspin for weeks, if not months. That didn't happen this time. I was angry and agitated for the rest of the day but somehow found it within me to let go of the anger. What had happened at work to trigger my PTSD was outside of my control.
Then, I simply accepted that it had happened and felt all of the angst and raw jumble of emotions dissipate. I went to bed exhausted but relieved and woke up the next day feeling much better. So, the concept of acceptance has taken hold and helped me to rein in volatile emotions.
I felt so much better until I saw how worried and stressed my wife was. She was so afraid that I was going to regress. She was scared to death that I was losing the battle with PTSD, that the PTSD was winning and she was losing her husband to it again. I saw the fear in her eyes and I felt horrible, guilty, and responsible for her distress.
So over the past week I have worked diligently to impress upon her that I am not slipping back into the horrible funk I was in last year - that I am OK. I explained to how much my ability to cope had improved since I started CPT. While she understood what I was saying, it didn't lessen the fear for her.
And that's when it came out.
Because of turmoil and instability my PTSD can cause in our lives, she never feels safe and our life never feels stable. It was at this moment that I recognized how much my therapy could help her and other caregivers as well. I sat down and talked to her about my CPT and the concept of acceptance. While I was talking to her I remembered something that her mother used to always tell her. I reminded her of it and am going to leave it with you now, for there is much truth in the following words.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace
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.
Sometimes I wonder how I get through the weeks in one piece. This past week I interviewed for a new position at work that would limit my exposure to mold so that I could have a healthier working environment. My employer has been incredibly supportive through this whole process.
The part that has been hardest for me is how it affects me at home and my past ability to contribute there. I have really thought long and hard about what my wife needs from me. The biggest thing that she needs from me is help around the house and with our daughter. While I recognize that I do sometimes need time to be alone and decompress...
As a husband and a father, sometimes I just need to suck it up for a little until my daughter is asleep and the chores around the house are done. As I said, I thought about this for a long time and I have wanted to commit to being that man again - the man she fell in love with. I had PTSD when I met her, so I know I am capable of being that man again, in spite of everything. I have wanted to do this for a while, but I wanted to make sure that I was emotionally stable when I verbally made that commitment to her. The last thing I wanted was to set myself up for failure and hurt and disappoint my wife. She deserves so much more than I have been giving her.
Yesterday at work, I suddenly realized I was ready to commit. I called my wife on lunch and told her not to make plans for the evening. I made reservations at our favorite restaurant and I talked to Dani about my thoughts and renewed my commitment to her.
Last night was good for us both. My parents were watching Caley so that Dani and I could get an adult night out. It was wonderful and we talked about all of the obstacles we had overcome in the past year. When everything was said and done, Dani recognized that there was something different about the way I was committing this time. I think we both felt it. Like we were finally closing the door on everything that has happened the past few years.
So no all that is left is to follow through. And I am. I will. If I have a bad day, I wait until everything is taken care of for the day and then I can take my 'leave me the fuck alone to decompress' time. Being there for my daughter and my wife make this all worthwhile.
*NOTE* I know I have a lot of people to write back to via email. I apologize for the delay and will write responses as soon as I am able.
I have another big week ahead. I am applying for another position at work that will significantly reduce my daily exposure to mold. You'd think I would be excited about the prospect. Instead, I am stressed that I won't be the best candidate. I am afraid that they won't pick me. I am pissed that I have to do this in the first place. I have the best, most supportive manager in the world and I feel like I am letting him down because my body won't behave.
Here's the weird thing. I have begun to realize that I have, in the past, wallowed in these emotions, draining all of my energy before I even get home from work. Stress, fear, and anger have been my on-again, off-again companion ever since I got home from overseas. There's a pattern of behavior in all of this that I don't know how to articulate and it is annoying me to no end.
Simplifying does seem to be helping to reduce the effects of these three, but not fast enough. Getting stressed about this coming week is making me more stressed. Snowball effect sucks. I am glad that I have CPT group this week. Bouncing my thoughts and frustrations off the guys in group does seem to help, even if only a little.
Breathe, Crazy! You have off tomorrow. Sit down, read, play with your daughter and forget you have a week of upheaval ahead.
OK, so I think I figured out part of my problem. Biting off just enough that I never get to stop chewing. Here's a list of my current responsibilities:
So, as you can see, I am not doing much of anything right now. I wonder why I feel tired a lot and emotionally spent. While I am passionate about all of these things, I need to manage my time better and prioritize what I do on a daily and weekly basis. I really need to simplify my life.
So where do I go from here? Well, some good news. Aside from final editing, the next part of my serial novel is complete and will be published in a few days. So that will be one item off the list for a while. The guest speaking engagement is going to be scheduled for sometime this fall, so that's not really a worry. The website is due for some updating and revamping as HTML5 tools are more readily available now. That's not urgent, though. The website layout is clean and easy to navigate, so I can put that on the back burner. LVMAC and the entrepreneurship program go together for the most part. That whole project is on pause until we finish the current round of communication. We are not sure we have all of the players on the board yet, so we are taking our time to make sure we develop this program carefully.
As for the last few items on the list, well...They should be the easiest and they are the hardest. Being a good husband and good father are all I really want to be. The rest is just icing on the cake, so maybe I need to remember that before I commit to any more meetings, programs, memberships, book writings. I can manage a department in a grocery store like a well-oiled machine. Here's to hoping I can manage myself and my personal life with the same level of grace in the future.
A while back I wrote a post called It's Not Her Fault. To this day it is still one of the most talked about posts I have made. It resonated with a lot of people. Yet despite all of this, I seem to be forgetting a lot of these pearls of wisdom myself.
I need to focus more on making sure my wife knows I love her, no matter how horrible I am feeling. I need to make sure that my daughter understands that daddy always loves her, even when it is hard for him to show it.
Life doesn't pause to let you catch your breath. There is always something happening that will have the potential to change your life. I know this, but I can't seem to beat it into my thick skull. I have started down the path I was treading before - getting revved up for work, making it through the day, and then gassing out when I get home. I can't live like this and I won't.
My wife has said it very succinctly: Parents never get a day off. Yet with my PTSD not being under control right now, she is left caring for our daughter, more or less, alone. How can I expect to rebuild a strong relationship with my wife when I keep on letting her down, disappointing her?
I am a naturally driven person. Driven to succeed, driven to be the best husband and father in the world, driven to be the best employee, manager, and leader...Whatever I set my mind to, I am driven to be the best at it. Needless to say, this has caused me no end to stress and anxiety in recent years. I don't have the energy to be everything to everyone else and to myself. I invariably burn out and shut down, closing myself off from success at work and shutting out my family emotionally.
I can't accept this as normal, as the status quo. I am aware that I push myself too hard, but that is my nature, down to the very core of my identity since I was young. How do you change something that ingrained? This question continues to hound me as I encounter even more change in my life that is upsetting the fragile balance that always seems to be just out of reach...
I need to think about this some more. I am going to talk to my wife and spend time with my daughter. I would love to hear from any of you out there reading this, too. CPT is helping but if I don't get this underlying drive under control, I will only be able to get so far...
It was another very thought provoking session of CPT this past Wednesday. We had a special guest: An 82 year old Korean War Veteran who was looking for help from the VA for the first time. This is a guy who has lived most of his adult life with PTSD and successfully raised a family - without any help or treatment. He made some choices he wasn't proud of and he has always had a short temper. He made it through it all, working for over 40 years with the same company, raising three kids, etc. He said there was one thought that got him through it all. Well, more of a philosophy or approach to each day:
Two things in life are free. Your love and your time. He always made sure that he gave enough of both to his family.
Can it really be that simple? I thought about what he said for quite a while. The conclusion I came to was that his philosophy offset the inherently self-centric/selfish nature of PTSD. Or at least, that's the only thing that makes sense to me. I find it hard not to emotionally withdraw from my family after a long day at work. It's not fair to them or to me and I need to figure out a way to make it stop. Sooner rather than later would be nice. So what harm does it do to try out his philosophy? Time will tell.
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.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.