Once again, it is becoming harder to roll with the punches. I had an asthma attack at work on Saturday. I had to leave to come home and use my nebulizer to get it under control. It is the kind of thing I don't need to happen after all that I have been through the past few months.
I am rolling with them though. Punches that used to knock me on my ass just make me stumble now. I am slowly returning to pre-anniversary me. It has taken me longer than I would like to regain my footing, but substantially less time than I thought it would.
When everything settles out I hope that less of my time will be spent exhausted. I apologize for the gaps between posts, as I do try to write every day. I am getting there. Shooting for another post tomorrow.
On another front, I did receive some exposure in an online article. The author of that article wants to do a profile on me - and how I use technology to better the lives and health of others. Who knows what may come of this. I leave you until tomorrow with the link.
I had an interesting day on Wednesday. When I was getting ready to go to CPT my daughter jokingly closed the door to the bathroom. The lights were off and the central air was on. In that moment, I was in a state of perfect relaxation. It felt amazing.
After this amazingly relaxing episode of cool, dark, quiet, I headed out to the local VAOPC for group. This session was a little different. Doc said every now and then it was good to pause and see what kinds of issues or questions bubble to the surface. So I asked why I felt so at peace in the cool, dark, and quiet. Doc had a really interesting observation: I wasn't unsure of what was going to happen next. I also wasn't sure that whatever happened next was going to bad. Hence, the absence of anxiety.
So this begs the question - how do I recreate this feeling of blissful emptiness in daily life? How do I use this to alleviate or reduce daily anxiety? This got a chuckle from the other guys in the room. I even got a smile and a joking roll of the eyes.
The doctor came back to the topic of acceptance but in a little bit different context than last time. It was two parts:
I accept that what happened in the past can't be changed and that worrying about the past doesn't help me change the present or the future.
I accept that others will never understand what I have experienced.
Hmm. Time to think on those too. It may seems simple on the surface but many times the simplest ideas are the hardest to accept. Don't ask me why, I haven't the foggiest. I will follow up in later posts this week once I have had more time to absorb this information. I can say this for sure: CPT is making a difference for me.
This is getting ridiculous. I can't seem to break out of the funk I am in. Maybe when I talk to the guys tomorrow in CPT group I will have a breakthrough. I want so badly to be present for my family and I have been more successful today than I have been over the course of the past week, but I shouldn't have to work this hard just to show my love and affection.
Maybe I am putting too much pressure on myself. God knows, that wouldn't be the first time I have done that. Maybe I should try putting this into a little bit different perspective. Last year, my life fell apart after the anniversary. Eight months later, I was out on short-term disability - my physical and psychological health were in shambles. This year, things are starting to return (albeit slowly) to normal already after just a week.
Huh. How about that. Talk about a silver lining.
So, yeah. This past week really sucked. After the anniversary, I disappeared inside myself. I knew it was happening and felt powerless to stop it. But I am back and I return bearing a warning. Adults can handle emotional withdrawal - children can't. They think they did something wrong. Something so horrible that you are ignoring them. It is an easy road from guilt to hatred and resentment for a parent who is never accessible to you. Your child is informed on what it means to be a good husband and father by your actions. A male child will have that example. A female child will have that expectation.
As much as I am aware of this, I still fall victim to emotional withdrawal. I hate myself every day for it. That, of course, just makes it harder to get over and prolongs the agony. I see the confusion in my daughter's face and I see her withdrawing from me more and more...exactly what I worked so hard to overcome before. This has to stop. I am going to address this issue in CPT this Wednesday. Maybe the doc and the others in group will have some advice, for I am at a loss.
I have now successfully attended three sessions of Cognitive Processing Therapy. This last Wednesday gave me a lot to think about and it has taken me until now to fully think through everything we talked about. The conversation was nuanced and edgy. The fundamental question that was asked of us was this:
Is there a difference between acceptance and forgiveness? If so, why is the distinction so important?
The discussions we had were really raw. The idea was put forward that acceptance is logical, whereas forgiveness is emotional or spiritual. We all agreed that this is a good explanation of the difference between the two. The doc then asked us to think about which one of the two was more important to being able to cope with our PTSD triggers and symptoms. We all sat there for a while thinking about it when the doc asked us if we could see why acceptance was more important.
Boy did that get a visceral reaction. We all rejected that idea for different reasons, but the most important aspect that resonated with me is that while acceptance uses logic to deal with our experiences, our experiences were anything but logical. I explained that whenever someone tries to give me a logical solution to an emotional and spiritual problem, my immediate response is extreme anger. Even talking about it made me edgy. I asked how acceptance could possibly be the more important of the two.
The doc said that starting with the way we are thinking is paramount. We experienced something horrific, responded emotionally and spiritually to it and, as a result, modified the way we think. If we want to work backwards to get to the core of the issue and learn to control our reactions to outside influence, we need to accept what happened. We need to to accept that we had no control over what we experienced, that it would have happened whether we were there to experience it or not.
As I said, it was a lot to digest and is still something that I am mulling over. I don't know if I agree with the methodology. Regardless, I do feel that the group therapy is helping. It is forcing me to ask myself a lot of difficult questions that I hadn't considered before. I guess we'll see where this leads in the coming weeks and months.
Today is the big anniversary. I didn't really want to think about this today, but the intrusive recollections didn't really give me much of a choice. I have to go to work soon. I just need to make it through the evening. That's all. I have the next two days off and I will have the time to reflect and decompress. Until then...
July 30th, 2003. The day the course of my life irrevocably changed. The day that I remember every year with trepidation, sorrow, guilt, anger, and gratitude. It made me question everything I believed. It shattered my psyche, shredded my soul.
Quite honestly, I am surprised I survived long enough to make it home. Every day after became harder and harder to bear. The horrific scene that haunted my mind, the smell and taste of blood...
Yet here I am, writing about how that experience and others that followed after changed me. I don't want to remember what I experienced, yet I am afraid to forget.
Change the date and any veteran could have shared this. The scary truth: Every veteran with PTSD I know has an anniversary. A day that makes them pause, unwillingly, and remember horrific experiences. A day they can't reconcile with physically, mentally or spiritually.
I have had many people ask me why I mark this date on the calendar. They don't understand why, when it is so horrific, that I am forced to remember. The answer I give them is always the same - Because I still am unable to accept what happened. That, to me, accepting it would feel like a betrayal of those that died. After almost a decade, I still feel this way. I feel this so strongly that you might call it conviction.
My answer leaves many people shaking their heads in incredulity. They ask me why I punish myself this way. The answer: I don't know. Is it self-imposed punishment for surviving to talk about it when others never had the chance?
I'll make you all a deal. When I figure it out, I will let you know.
Yet another day and more frustration and anger. People have a tendency to try to push the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. They just push, push, push...
So I pushed back.
I didn't do anything violent. I didn't verbally abuse anyone. I just let people know, unequivocally, what I expected of them. I think I need to do that more often. Things went very smoothly after.
The real problem: I couldn't let the frustration go. I care too much. It makes me anxious as hell. I have already been down this road. The anxiety and the PTSD continually push me toward the cycle I was in all last year: gear up for work, exhaust myself, come home useless. It pushes and pushes...and shoves.
So I push back with all my might.
I will not let this happen again. I will continue to take my medication, I will continue to do things with my family, I will never stop blogging, and I will learn how to cope by attending CPT.
Next week is going to be a rough one for me. It always is. July 30th is the big anniversary. The one that feeds my nightmares the most. I have yet to make it through this without the PTSD shoving me squarely on my ass.
But I will push back. Hard. And maybe this year, I will maintain my balance.
I had to go to work early this morning and I still had last night on my mind. I knew that today was going to be a day I just had to get through. And I did. I had to fight the depression, the lethargy. I knew that the changes that returning to work would bring had the potential to put a serious strain on my coping mechanisms.
I had been hoping to have the time to catch up on all that has changed at work. No such luck. The basic business strategy has changed and it is a challenge to keep everyone on point. I also have the challenge of learning to relate to everyone at work again. While most have forgotten what it is like to have me around, some seem to have forgotten that I was out of work at all. The learning curve has been intense.
I knew that the change of returning to work would be difficult. The anxiety and anger have been difficult to keep in check at times. When it gets tough, I think about my family. It helps tremendously. Spending time with my wife and daughter, blogging and advocating for local veterans help me remain positive and leave me feeling fulfilled. I don't know where I would be without my friends and family. I know for certain that I wouldn't be sitting here writing this.
So...Here's to Victory.
And everything was going so well...
I had the kind of day that triggered my anger and my PTSD. I got frustrated a lot and it was hard not to bring it home with me. When it was time to leave and come home, I got out as quickly as possible and tried to leave work at work. I was not successful. I helped my wife get dinner on the table for the little one and talked about the anxiety that I was feeling. It was the day we both knew was coming but were hoping wouldn't.
My wife convinced me to go for a walk after dinner and it seemed like it was going to help and then I felt and heard a loud concussive explosion. My wife jumped and I immediately turned toward the source of the sound. My mind was no longer in Pennsylvania. The reaction and change in body language was instantaneous. My wife knew my instinct was to run directly at the source of the explosion. Her grip on my arm was like a vise. The only thing that kept me standing there was the absence of screaming. There was dead silence. No birds chirping and no cicadas sounding off. Even the sound of car traffic sounded far away. With every instinct screaming at me, I turned away from the source of the explosion and continued on our walk.
We never did find out what caused the concussion wave. I can feel that nagging doubt that everything is OK and it won't go away.
It's gonna be a long night.
It's my first day off and I'm exhausted. I had nightmares last night and I didn't sleep well as a result, I am out of it today. It's not what I needed on today of all days. I have a meeting with the Director of the Baker Institute and the Chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee from the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC). We are going to be discussing local veterans' issues, particularly what we can do to create opportunities for veterans in my home town in the Lehigh Valley, PA. I know that veterans can be the backbone of economic growth and development. They just need the right tools to make it happen. That's what this meeting is going to be addressing. I was hoping that I would have more specific information to bring to the table, but the established programs that are out there already know how to navigate the bureaucracy that is the SBA. I explored their website and felt completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information and options available.
With the lack of sleep, things aren't feeling any easier. I have been excited about all of this for a long time and now I just feel like I am a fish out of water. Who the hell am I to try to organize this? I wish I could just hide in my hole today. I really do.
That's all later today. The rest of the day belongs to family. I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with the little one and momma bear. I know I am a little distracted because of the particular clarity of last night's nightmares, but I promised myself I wouldn't let my life return to the shambles it was before. Time to go be a participant in my own life. Off to the park.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.