As Dani and I started getting ready, I could feel the anxiety already starting to build. I went out to the kitchen and made sure that I had a few extra anxiety pills with me and took one to try to stop the anxiety before it got out of control. Soon after, we left for dinner.
Dinner was easy. It was close to home and in a family setting. As we got in the car to head to Mayfair, I started to get a little edgy. We go close to the park where it's held and there was nowhere to park. It was pretty packed. We ended up parking a few blocks away and walking in. When we got to the gate, I was in for a pleasant surprise - military admission was free all weekend. Well, holy shit. That was new. It instantly ratcheted down my anxiety a notch. It make me feel welcome in a place I was expecting none.
After that, things went fairly smoothly. I got progressively more anxious as the night wore on and had to stop to take my anxiety meds once while we were there. Towards the end of the night, I started to tune out: I pushed Caley's stroller a little faster than the rest of the group was walking and quietly disengaged myself from conversation. I had been ready to go for a while but I didn't want to ruin the night for Dani. She was having so much fun. Shortly thereafter, we all headed out.
Looking back, I couldn't tell you much of the conversations we had. I don't remember. I was too focused on the environment around me. I do remember making comments and smiling at the appropriate times. I guess it's a start. The important part is that the night didn't end up with me blowing up, freaking out, or ruining the night out for my wife.
We got back to the car, bade our friends a good night and left for home. When we got home, I went into lala land for a while, decompressing. I just keep on remembering that one thing: It didn't end in disaster.
Two days ago, I posted to my blog that I thought I was agoraphobic. Well thanks to my support network, I have been made to see the error in my thinking. What it comes down to is that I didn't catch what was really going on: My catastrophic thinking was hijacking my thoughts.
Many of you know Rod Deaton. He's a doc in the Indiana VA. When he read that post about agoraphobia, he got in contact with me right away. We talked it all through - the anxiety, all of the changes in my life I had to make, the health complications, everything. What became abundantly clear to me as we talked friend to friend is that my catastrophic thinking is what was out of control. I kept on obsessing about the worst possible scenarios when it came to my health. It reinforced rational fears of health complications and amplified them into debilitating and lifestyle changing obsessions. While making the realization that I was better equipped now than I have ever been to face allergies and irritants, I also got really frustrated with myself for letting it affect me this way and feed into depression.
What made it even more poignant was the note I got from my mother yesterday. She basically said that this guy who was moping around feeling sorry for himself was not the strong-willed and determined son she was used to seeing. She reiterated many of the points that Rod and I talked about. This really illustrates the important role of a strong support network and motivates me even more to make sure that every vet has the strong support he/she needs to survive and thrive.
Looking back at everything that happened, it's amazing how quickly one catastrophic thought sent me down the hill like I was on a slip 'n slide. So now comes the hard part: Getting out and doing something about it. It's one thing to recognize you are letting the PTSD win. It's another to know what exactly you should do to take back control. I guess I'll find out this weekend. I am not going to squander this opportunity to honor the fallen by moping around in my apartment.
I woke up this morning and found out a reader was concerned that she made the wrong decision in leaving her boyfriend. She writes:
I just ended a relationship with my then boyfriend who has Combat PTSD. He has done three tours in Afghanistan. He told me in the beginning of our relationship however being naive I thought it was just flashbacks (which i never saw). Anyways fast forward...we have been on a roller coaster relationship with him....when he pulls away again!
I have left him be this time, and doubt I there will be any reconciliation because I will not go through the heartache again unless I know he has been in therapy.
Is this the right thing to do? I am beginning to think I am going crazy.
OK, first things first. It sounds like you had no idea what you were getting yourself into, which is very common. It doesn't make you a bad person. A lot of people think they know or have heard others talk about PTSD and think the stereotypes are true. One of the major challenges Combat Veterans with PTSD face is a lack of education on the part of the general public. I don't say this to assign blame. It is what it is.As you all know, I try to stay away from offering advice or passing judgement on other people's actions. What I can do is draw off of personal experience to flesh out a given situation with the hope that added insight will allow a person to make an educated decision. So that being said, here goes:You want to know if you did the right thing or if you are going crazy? One thing I can tell you for certain, you are not going crazy. You are facing the dilemma that so many have faced before you:
Is It My Fault? Am I Causing Him to Pull Away?
In short No, and No. This is not your fault. Not even remotely. As for pulling away, it's a classic PTSD move. Traditional PTSD symptoms also happen to cohabit the same space as depression. Depression can cause people to withdraw emotionally from those who love them. I am guilty of this. I have done it on numerous occasions and it has been very difficult for my wife and I to manage. I go into this in a whole lot more detail in a previous post, It's Not Her Fault. I encourage you to read it. It is written to a veteran who recognizes that his wife blames herself for everything. It may be insightful for your ex to read as well.
Does Saying I Can't Handle the Heartache Make Me a Bad/Weak/Selfish Person?
Being with someone with PTSD, combat-related or not, is very difficult and heart-wrenching. Not everyone can do it. It takes a massive amount of intestinal fortitude. You are the only person who knows if you've reached your limit. It doesn't make you a bad person for looking after your own emotional needs. How can you care for someone else if you can't care for yourself? It sounds to me like you have a healthy sense of self-worth. Don't let that change.
Can His PTSD Get Better Without Therapy or Am I Just Second-Guessing Myself?
Possible? Yes. Probable? Not even remotely, from my experience. The human mind doesn't just flip a switch and everything is, all of a sudden, OK. It sounds to me like you have established that his refusal to get help is a deal-breaker for you. If this is the case, it sounds like a decision made rationally. From my experience, emotional withdrawal is a constant threat. Even for folks who have been in therapy and are fairly well equipped to cope with their PTSD. For the untreated, it's near unmanageable. I know it was for me until I got help and I still struggle with it every day.
I hope this helps answer your questions. If there are any points of clarification you need, please let me know. I also encourage the community to chime in on this post and offer support. As always, I wish you the best and hope you find the answers you are looking for!
Yours in Health,
So yesterday, we were about to head out to get Italian ice from Rita's when my wife asked me why I was dragging my feet. Until she said something, I didn't even realize I was. We sat down and talked about it after the little one was put down to sleep and we made a realization that should have been obvious:
I'm Agoraphobic (Irrational Fear of Going Outside). Ever since I had the issue with my lungs where I ended up in the hospital I have been afraid to put my lungs to work exercising. now that I have the allergist diagnosis that I am allergic to everything outside, I am deathly afraid of going outside. I am scared shitless that my lungs are going to seize up and that I am going to be back in the hospital. I narrowly avoided intubation and the ICU last time.
The problem is so severe that I haven't left the house in weeks unless it is something I felt was necessary to leave the house for (doctor's appointments, my sister's graduation in NY, the panel in DC) Even then, it has caused me an ever increasing amount of anxiety to leave. I looked up agoraphobia this morning and realized that I suffered from it and told my wife. She told me that I have been agoraphobic for as long as she has known me. Wonderful. Splendid.
I know it all stems back to the PTSD. I don't like crowds, I don't like unfamiliar places, I don't like loud environments, I don't like not knowing what is going to happen next. Most of all, I don't like not being in control of the situation and my environment. Add in a wee bit of social awkwardness because I don't feel like I have much in common with other people...
Until the hospitalization in March, the agoraphobia was proportionate to the degree in which my PTSD was affecting me. Now, I can barely leave the house and it's getting worse. It feels like I can see the bridge is out but I can't stop the train. My anxiety is ratcheting up just typing this.
When am I going to catch a damn break? I'm starting to get really pissed about a lot of this stuff. Right now I have a burning rage - a frustration with my situation so profound that I can't put it into words. I need to figure out a way to channel this rage and use it to motivate me to get out, to exercise.
All you're required to do is breathe. Calm down, think it through, and do something about it. Get up off your ass and do something about it.
Well, it looks like the worst of the catastrophic thinking from yesterday is behind me. A special shout out to Rod Deaton for letting me vent to him. There is nothing that I can do about the evaluation now except wait and see what happens. I have to keep on reminding myself that I have an amazing support network. Others aren't so lucky. Regardless of how stressed I may be, others have it much worse.
That being said, Memorial Day Weekend looms. I know it's going to be challenging this year. I am thankful that I came home in one piece but I know that the guilt will be there. Guilt that I made it home an others didn't. Guilt that I am thankful for being alive and that it wasn't MY mother that had someone knock on her door. This is a celebration of summer for so many and they grill food and drink and celebrate. How many remember the purpose of this weekend? How many honor the fallen, go to parades, even put out the flag? I would wager my readers do. If my apartment complex would allow it, I would. This coming weekend is a time for reflection. Maybe this year the guilt will let me remember and honor those that have fallen. I guess we will see.
I meet with a member of the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council this morning. I am going to talk with him about what I can do to assist with advocacy locally. Wish me luck.
I really don't ever want to have to go through that again. The doc called me in and we sat down and talked about how much I've messed up my life and how little control I actually have over my life. It was a wonderful feeling. So now I have to sit and wonder if I am even going to keep the disability compensation I have. It could be two to eight months before I hear anything. Two to eight months before I have any hope of hearing anything about my case. So now I have to go about making myself a royal pain in the ass.
So now I have some major thinking and decision-making ahead of me. Where do I go from here? What do I do about work? How do I balance work with personal life? I am already stressing out and it's only been a few hours.
No. NO! I will not go down this road. I will not let the PTSD take over. I don't know what to do yet, but I will figure it out. I will talk with my wife and my family. I need to discuss work, disability, life at home, everything. I am supposed to start Cognitive Processing Therapy in early June. Now, more than ever, I need to know that I can take this bull by the horns and learn to live with it. I refuse to put my wife through the wringer again.
So here's to tomorrow. I put myself through that mess today because I am stubbornly holding out hope that things will work out in the long run. One thing I know for certain: I will continue to blog, no matter what transpires. I need this to help keep my head clear. Last time when things got worse, I stopped. Never again. Tomorrow's a new day for us all. Let's see what it brings, shall we?
So out of the blue I look at the calendar notice on my phone and realize I have a really important appointment tomorrow. I put in to get re-evaluated for my PTSD with the VA. Needless to say, I am anxious as hell about this and freaking out a fair bit. I am trying my best not to be overly snippy with people but it is a challenge.
My Biggest Concerns:
Well, there it is. I have this momentous day ahead of me tomorrow and somehow I let it completely sneak up on me. I am a mess. Woo. I think I need to go and hide for a little until I get this little freak out moment under control.
After reading this post on Rod Deaton's Blog, I am deeply disturbed. I am going to tackle each one of the articles in his post one at a time:
Steroid Injection May Prevent PTSD:
Wow. All I can say is medically irresponsible. I can just imagine that the military is using active duty folks to see if this holds any water. Can you just imagine? Forget about the devastating potential physical side effects of steroids for a minute. One of the most pervasive side effects from using steroids is heightened anger response. And that's not the part of the article that really disturbs me. The studies are being performed by supposed experts that are asserting that this works. They never stop to think that giving someone a shot of steroids is more likely analogous to putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. Thousands of people with PTSD didn't have symptoms until years (and in some cases, decades) later. So unless this study plans on tracking their human guinea pigs for the next 20 years to be sure, their claims hold no merit and their research premise is extremely faulty.
Troops Today Have Better Prospects For PTSD Recovery An Expert Says:
This expert doesn't get it. He goes on to comment part way through the article that the rate of occurrence of PTSD much higher in veterans and so is the rate of suicide. Um....DUH!?!?! I'm not an expert and I can put two and two together on this one. Active Duty and deployed for the fourth time - trauma is compartmentalized. Veteran is home and safe - trauma has no reason to stay compartmentalized. Gee, I wonder what comes next. I would really love to know where they find these 'experts'. The one factor they don't take into account: Current conflict veterans don't want to come forward for treatment because of the stigma attached to it!
[Video] Military Matters: A Search For A PTSD Cure
This is just disturbing. Our government gave 35 million tax dollars to this joker? He is a psychiatrist, right? I am dumbstruck by this. Anyone who has even the slightest inkling of what a 'disorder' is knows a psychological disorder can not be 'cured'. The symptoms can be managed to the point where, over time and a lot of hard work, a person is able to control the effects of the disorder and live life mostly symptom free from day to day. Oh, and General Odierno, I just lost all respect for you as a person and as a leader. You are a prime example of what is wrong with the military leadership. I wonder how many of these guys you sent back over after they were 'cured' will end up being a statistic due to your utter failure to protect them. How DARE you.
So Now, I Am Drawing A Line In The Sand:
I will not stand by and allow this to happen. I will not stand idly by while our comrades in arms are subjected to this dangerous trend in 'treatment'. For those of you out there with PTSD, it's time to take a stand. 35 million of our tax dollars are going to this hack. This doc in the video is confident he can cure PTSD. We all know this is a disorder that can be managed, but never cured. You can't take away the scars that have been left on our souls. Ask any doctor who has been around the disorder for a few decades and they will tell you the same. We need to demand better oversight to protect ourselves from this type of dangerous thinking. It is exactly this kind of propaganda that leads to people like General Barry McCaffrey saying, "PTSD can be cured within a year".
No more. The government needs to know we can advocate for ourselves. I, for one, am willing to stand up and say, "No More!". Are you?
I'm going to starve. That's the first thing that went through my head this morning as I looked around the kitchen and realized we had practically nothing that I was allowed to eat. I'm on overload. The sensory overload. The allergies, the sleep apnea, the asthma, the massive amounts of daily medications, possible surgery to fix my deviated septum, having to change my eating habits. It's too much to process all at once. Too much change all at once.
I have to go get HEPA air filters today as well. I just feel like everything is closing in on me. I am allergic to everything outside right now. So much so that I have to turn my home into an 'allergy safe house'. Where do I go from here? I know that all of this stuff is supposed to improve my health and my physical quality of life, but what about my psychological quality of life?
Needless to say, I am in super hyper-vigilance mode. I can't get the jitters to stop. The medication isn't helping. I just got up and I am already tired from keeping the catastrophic thinking under control...
Deep Breaths, Max. Deep Breaths. Do what you do best. Learn about all of the changes that you are going to have to make. Your allergist's brother is in the service. You know she's going out of her way to make sure you get all of the treatment you need. Just take it slow. One hour at a time. One minute at a time if necessary. I can do this.
Recently, I have been talking to a lot of folks online and off about the struggle of getting veterans with PTSD to come forward and start getting help. The major struggle is that many can't even leave their home. So how do you reach people that only really interact with others online?
For those of you who may fit this category but don't feet comfortable talking unless you know you are anonymous, I want to educate you on what I offer in this blog and on my website.
I cannot express to you enough how important this is. We need to afford people the opportunity to come forward for help anonymously and without the fear of recriminations from family, friends, or employers. My goal is to be the life preserver you need and the rope that draws you to shore. Start taking control of your PTSD and start living with it, not in it!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.