Sorry to everyone for leaving in a flash this morning. I needed to collect myself and work through some things. I had an appointment today at the VA and I thought a lot about what I am going through right now. Talking with the docs, one thing has become abundantly clear, the clinical depression has evolved. Co-morbidity is a bitch. What the docs have evaluated in my behavior now indicates I have substantial bi-polar tendencies that are screwing with my sense of stability.
That would definitely explain the short bursts of motivation (manic behavior) followed by long periods of lethargy, apathy, and emotional withdrawal. So I will be spending the rest of the day thinking this all through and trying to come up with a plan to work through all of this with my wife. Signing off for now. Knowing what you are facing makes you fell less helpless. At least I have that.
Talking with my wife last night I came to the realization that I have been talking a good game. I am the heaviest I have ever been. I have little to no motivation to do anything that is not sedentary. Ugh. What a gut check. I have to do something about this. I need to figure out how to put my money where my mouth is. I forced myself to admit that I hate the guy looking back at me in the mirror. I don't recognize me. I'm fat, I'm lazy, I'm the guy that finds an excuse for everything - all of the things I find repulsive.
So what to I do about it? How? It's amazing how eroded self-confidence can destroy a person. I used to be confident that my body would be able to handle whatever was thrown at it. Then I end up in the hospital, allergies out of control. I realized that I felt betrayed...by my own body. The allergies played right into my PTSD. Because I am allergic to every damn thing in the air I breathe outdoors, I now view going outside as subjecting myself to a life-threatening environment. Even leaving the apartment has become close to impossible unless it is absolutely necessary.
You know what the worst part is? I am completely aware of the train wreck I have become. I saw it all happening and felt powerless to do anything about it. I have, once again, come full circle. My PTSD is again dictating how I live my life. Yup. Definitely a gut check. I hate feeling helpless, powerless. Yet, here I sit, on my duff while my wife takes my daughter for a walk. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Time to stop talking about making changes, time to start doing. My wife and I purchased a bike seat for my daughter because my wife knows how pointless I find walking. The problem is that we don't have room to store the bikes where we live. Gah! Are you fucking kidding me? I'm already trying to talk myself out of it. I have got to sign off.
For the past few days, I haven't felt like doing much. About four days ago I had gotten some time of intestinal bug and had been miserable. For the days following I continued to feel fatigued and slept a lot during the day. My wife kept on asking if I felt OK, if I was still sick. I told her that I was just tired, like I couldn't shake the fatigue. I don't know when I realized it was depression. I think it was some time yesterday. I really can't put a finger on the moment I became truly aware. I just know it made me really annoyed with myself.
When I woke up this morning, I realized that even though I was aware of feeling depressed, I didn't seem to be able to shake the feeling. Once again, I had been blindsided by it. I didn't write a blog post yesterday. It wasn't because I didn't have the time. I felt so demotivated. I had a scheduled meeting with a local veterans advocate and I almost didn't get out of bed in time to make it to the meeting. Yeah. That's the kind of day yesterday was. I don't want today to be a repeat of that.
I am so annoyed with myself. How could I not realize it was the depression? I kept the blinds shut in the living room. I sat in the dark and stewed while I watched meaningless crap on Netflix. How many more clues does a guy need? I missed out on opportunities to play with my daughter in the park because I was caught up in my own bullshit. Well, not today. I refuse to let this happen again. I want to see my daughter laugh and play outside. It's such a joy to watch.
*sigh* As I sit here trying to type this, I feel the anxiety building. Anxiety about what, I have no idea. Great. Wonderful. It's like my body is trying to hold me hostage. Not today. Yeah, that's my new mantra. Whenever my PTSD tries to take over my life I am going to say, "NOT TODAY". I just need to stop worrying about what could happen in the future or what already happened in the past. One you can't control and the other is already history. That leaves the one day I can control the outcome of: today. I plan on making the most of it.
Recently, with Federal initiatives aiming at pushing for veteran employment, more and more attention is being given to the plight of the veterans of current conflicts. As the conflicts come to a close, the numbers are only going to go up. The programs that have been put in place look great on paper, but how much thought have they actually put into considering the needs of the transitioning service member and the veterans who have been out a while who are still looking for work? It's time to take a closer look at this situation:
I hope that this has put the issue in greater context. My greatest desire is that we all have the opportunity to pursue our wildest hopes and dreams. We are uniquely qualified to turn those dreams into reality if someone would just afford us the opportunity to make it happen.
PTSD advocacy and education hasn't come nearly far enough. We have made strides in ending the stigma, but Dr. Phil is a prime example of just how far we have yet to go. Changing the name of the disorder (I call it that because that's what it is) won't change a damn thing except make it even harder for VA benefit evaluators to quanitfy. Some people believe that this is an attempt by the government and US society at large to avoid living up to their responsibilities to our service members. While I gave this some serious thought, I finally came to the conclusion that this was not true either. Do you know what I see as the motivation for the classification change?
Incredible hubris on the part of the psychology/psychiatry professions at large. These no talent idiots actually think that they can 'heal' us. They give those who do 'get it', like Rod Deaton (his blog is amazing), a bad name. So now, I want to hear from the horse's mouth. Docs, prove my assertion wrong. Let me lay this out for you in terms that you can identify with:
If my strong opinion offends people, so be it. I have never been known to candy-coat what I perceive is the truth, no matter how much it hurts or offends others (a personal flaw, I know). I sure as hell won't start now. All that will ensue from making this classification change is people will be even more confused. I have already heard, "PTSI? Is that different from PTSD? I thought you guys coming home had PTSD. What's the I stand for? Illness?"
Think on that last quote for a second. Does anyone here really truly think that reclassifying PTSD will reduce the stigma? Or is it more likely that it will just add another layer of 'crazy' for people to label us with? Think long and hard on this folks. I can't say that my opinion is the correct one. I am no more the moral expert on this subject than the docs are. All I can say is that serious discourse needs to take place. A precipitous decision to change the classification doesn't do anyone any favors.
Every so often, you just need some down time. I have been busy with the family and with medical issues and everything else for a while now. Today is just for me. Dani is taking a day for herself as well. She is taking Caley down to her parents' and is spending time down there quilting with her mother. As for me, well...
I haven't decided what I am doing today. I just know it won't involve actually doing much of anything. I am looking forward to sitting out on the porch for a little bit here and there, reading. Spending some quality time with my Xbox 360 may also be in order. I am not sure yet. I just know that today is a day to unwind and reflect on all that has happened over the last few weeks and months. I went back and read a lot of the posts from when I first started blogging again. They were pretty desperate and dark. I feel like I am in a better place now and not only for myself and my family.
There is going to be a lot happening in the ensuing months. I am getting more heavily involved in local veteran affairs and advocacy. I am excited about where that could lead, but I don't want to get my hopes up unrealistically. There are a lot of opportunities to improve the lives of veterans in my area (as I am sure there are everywhere) and I have some plans in the works to take advantage of those opportunities. I will probably spend a portion of the day mulling over my ideas and setting them down on paper, writing up a business model to envelope the ideas bouncing around in my head.
Regardless, I stay aware of where I have come from and what I need to continue to do to manage my PTSD. Some days are better than others and today's a good one. It's what I do on the days where things aren't so hot that will narrate my story in the coming years. I am tired of feeling angry and depressed and am working hard to fight the survivor's guilt. As the uncertainty of the future weighs more heavily on my shoulders, I look at my daughter to keep my focus. In the meantime, I will revel in doing whatever I please for a day.
First, I wanted to thank everyone for their warm wishes and prayers. It's no small thing to have the amazing support from all of you. When health problems seem to just keep on piling up, it is pretty easy to get depressed without even realizing it. Even now, when I seem to be coming out on the other side in better health, staying positive can be difficult. You get so used to something else going wrong or finding out that there is another health issue that you weren't aware of and it sets you back again. I didn't even realize until yesterday that the reason that I was feeling anxious about the surgery was because it is the last medical problem on the very long list from the past few months. The surgery is the light at the end of the tunnel and I am afraid of cloud cover.
I thought about it and recognized that I am actually very confident that the surgery will not only go well, but be resoundingly successful. What I am actually stressed out about is what comes after: I don't know. Am I actually going to be fairly healthy? Is that even possible? Since when did the prospect of being healthy cause me anxiety? I caught myself thinking, "If my health is getting better and better, what else is going to go wrong?"
Two weeks goes by in a flash when you have a toddler. I just want to get through the surgery and come out the other side. In the meantime, I am going to focus on my daughter who adds new words to her vocabulary practically every day now. She is an absolute delight to play with and spend time with. I saw the allergist yesterday as well and she said my lungs were doing really well. Time to put them to the test. My wife and I bought a child seat for the back of my bike. Time to get outside, enjoy the amazing weather and forget about life for a while. I am going to revel in the simple act of loving my wife and daughter. Who knows? Maybe I'll even forget about my problems for a little while.
Just when you think all of the doctor visits are coming to an end...I went for an allergist mandated consultation with an ENT. The doctor deemed it medically necessary to fix my deviated septum and improve airflow in my nose. As a result, I will be going in for outpatient surgery in two weeks, with two weeks of recovery after. I am really hoping that this is the final piece of the equation.
It is hard not to think that my body is betraying me, a day at a time. I feel like everything is breaking down. I know that's the catastrophic thinking at work, but it doesn't make everything that I have gone through any less scary. I find that I am a whole lot more anxious on a daily basis about my health than I have ever been. I think about how debilitating the PTSD and anxiety have been for me over the past few weeks and I feel guilty. I made it home. What right do I have to complain? I think about the guys I knew who didn't make it back and I feel like the world's biggest failure.
Alright. Enough of the pity party. This is not who I am. I am better than this and tougher than this. Focus on what it going right. Focus on the local advocacy efforts that are coming together very rapidly. Focus on your family and your amazing daughter who is days away from telling you all about her days in English. Focus on the beautiful weather. Anything.
I guess we'll see how things turn out. It is what it is. I am done pushing back against the things I cannot change. Time to accept what life throws at me as best I can.
I received a question right before Memorial Day. Because of the very serious nature of the questions, I wanted to take the time to think deeply about it, consult some friends, and answer the questions as fully as possible. Here's what she said:
I have a question I am a spouse of a OEF/OIF veteran, he is still active duty we are currently separated and we have endured a living hell my family and I the last four years. i am baffled does mild tbi have anything to do with adultery my husband did not have affairs or act violent towards me up until two years ago he gradually got worse?
TBI and Changes in Personality:
There is so much that isn't known about the long-term effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries. We are only now starting to feel the repercussions for NFL players, let alone for our service members. What does seems to hold true is that the more severe the brain injury, the more likely it becomes for moderate to severe personality traits to manifest over the years following. Additionally, there seems to be some compounding factor. If a person has multiple m-TBIs, the effects appear to be cumulative over time. I am not an expert on TBI and am not a doctor, so aside from relating to you the little I know, I will refer you to the experts on these types of injuries.
PTSD, Adultery, and Abuse:
This is a very complex issue as well and one that you don't directly mention. Regardless, I feel compelled to address the possibility of PTSD being a major contributing factor. Having TBI makes a person more susceptible to behavioral disorders such as PTSD. When someone is suffering from PTSD, a person can feel an inability to connect with loved ones. As a result, some turn to adultery as a way to deal with this. From the guys I have talked to about this, they all say the same thing: They don't want to be intimate with their spouses because they don't feel like they can connect with them. Also, many have stated that it is safer to be intimate with a stranger who they don't care about because they CAN open up and if it scares the other person, they could care less. At least they are not hurting their loved ones.
I know that rationale is convoluted. I know it doesn't make any sense, but based on my experience and my conversations, it's classic avoidance of confronting their trauma and their PTSD. I can't speak for your spouse. There are so many individual factors that make this equation more true or less true for each person. Only your spouse knows the truth of this.
As for the abuse, I can't speak for the TBI side of the equation. That may play a factor. As it stands with me, abuse demonstrates an conscious choice to hurt others, a conscious choice to let anger get the better of you and to visit your trauma on someone else. If there is a medical reason for the personality change and loss of impulse control, that's one thing. Regardless, I find the act of abuse, repulsive and reprehensible. First and foremost, look out for your welfare and your family. You can't effectively confront abuse if you are still subjected to it.
I hope that this has given you some insight. I need to repeat, I am not a doctor or health professional. I can only share with you the knowledge I have gained from personal experiences dealing with my own PTSD. I wish you the best of luck in confronting these issues in your own life. If there are any follow-up questions you may have for me, please let me know.
Yours in Health,
I was looking at a painting that belonged to my grandfather that is hanging on the wall in our living room and missing my grandfather terribly. He always knew the right thing to say to make a person feel like they were the most important person in the world. The best part: He didn't do it intentionally. That was just part of what made his personality so magnetic and compelling. I am his only grandson and he shared a lot about his wartime experiences with me. He never said much about how it made him feel, but I could tell there was a certain level of pain associated with a lot of his memories. Especially the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In honor of his memory, I wanted to share the interview he wrote out for me when I was in Seventh Grade:
*For some reason, the file refuses to orient itself correctly, no matter how many times I scan it. To view it upright, click on view and rotate it twice.*
My grandfather was truly an amazing man. He retired from the Navy and moved to St. Croix, USVI. He was everything I wanted to be. A good husband, a good father, and the best kind of military officer: the kind who won the loyalty of every enlisted man who ever served under him. I can still remember as a child that the dock on the Fredericksted side of the island was used by the navy subs when they came in for port call. Invariably, the senior officer staff would come by the house to pay their respects to 'the legend'. They always treated him with the utmost respect and a substantial amount of awe.
To me, he was just grandpa. I didn't understand the respect and awe he commanded until I was flying home in dress uniform in the spring of 2001. A navy master chief looked at me like he had seen a ghost. He walked straight up to me and I snapped to parade rest, sure I had done something egregious. He asked me if I was related to Commodore Ray Harris. I told him that he was my grandfather. The master chief snapped to attention and saluted me, a Private First Class. He then shook my hand and asked if I had time to hear a story. I said I had time. We sat down and he related to me a story of a young seaman stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had decided it would be a good idea to sneak off base for a night out on Havana. He was apprehended on his attempt to sneak back on base and brought before the Commodore of Fleet Training, Capt. Raymond M. Harris. I got goosebumps. The master chief went on to say that the 'talk' that my grandfather had with him was the defining moment in the master chief's Navy career. He asked me to pay my respects to my family and departed for his flight while I sat there stunned.
My grandfather not only left an indelible mark on US Navy history, but he personally touched the lives of so many. I never got to greet him in uniform. He passed away before I had the opportunity. I think about the look in his eyes when he would tell me a story about his time in the war. There was an immense amount of pain there and something else I wouldn't recognize until I saw it later reflected back at me in the mirror: An intimate knowledge of death that no human being should ever have to know.
It's days like today that I miss him the most. I wish I could have talked to him about what I was going through after I got home. It hurts so much knowing that I will never get to hear his wisdom. He, like so many others of his generation, carried the invisible wounds of war. His experiences were fresh in his mind until the day he passed on, my father's hand in his. I never got to thank him for his service to our great nation. I always took that service for granted, coming from a military family. It my greatest regret, not being able to look upon his face with the knowledge of what he had dealt with his whole life - the sacrifices he made to ensure the safety and security of this amazing country - and say thank you. Not being able to tell him I love him and I understand. I wish for nothing more than to see him one last time so that I could hug him and find solace in his embrace.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa. No man I have ever known deserves it more.
Love and Respect Always,
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.