As a whole, whether we realize it or not, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have it pretty good. We have the respect of our peers. We came home to parades - not empy airports and apathy. We have the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. We have social media - the ability to find others like us all over the country...
I could keep on going. In a nutshell, we have it really good. I am not saying it's perfect. Far from it. The VA is understaffed, overworked, and underfunded. We have a huge number of veterans seeking aid and not enough resources to help them all. Despite all of this, conditions like PTSD are recognized as serious issues. The focus in Washington (and around the country) is on how we can help the returning warfighters and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Very little has been said and very little gratitude shown to those who came before us. Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and even the children of WWII Vets brought many of these issues to light. It has been their sacrifices, their suffering that originally put the spotlight on a broken system and inadequate support for veterans.
They still need our support and should not be left out of the equation when we consider how veterans' services get shaped moving forward. NONE of our vets should feel forgotten or less than. And that's what is already happening. All of the perks veterans of current wars have that are not available to veterans from other eras has already started to foster resentment from those who came before us. We need to provide services for veterans equally or not at all. All veterans issues should be addressed - not just those who happen to have strong advocacy in Washington. It is our responsibility as veterans and Americans to ensure that all veterans have a voice, especially those who can't speak for themselves.
Let's make sure the people making the decisions never forget that.
On May 8th, there is going to be a very important panel discussion on Veterans' Issues in DC. It's called After the Uniform. As a way of celebrating this initiative, I am going to be counting down the top seven issues facing combat veterans with PTSD according to my readers. I wanted to give people one more chance to be heard before I finalize the list and the topics for the coming days. Please take the time to learn about After the Uniform and its purpose. Think about what challenges are most challenging for us to face and write me about it. You can comment on this blog entry, fill out the comment form on the home page, comment on the Facebook Page, or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please take this very seriously, folks. This is an opportunity to have your voice be heard on the issues facing veterans and influence how initiatives are prioritized in the coming years. Let's work together to improve the prospects of veterans everywhere!
Remember yesterday when I said I didn't know where to place the next step? Well, I think I've figured it out and it's going to take a lot of work and constant awareness to make it happen and make it stick: Acceptance
I need to learn how to accept that it is OK to be afraid. I used to be OK with that, but since my daughter was born...Being afraid was not acceptable. I had to be the big, strong daddy. I ignored my fears and it led to a lot of what I went through over the past year and a half. I need to learn to accept my fears as valid and put them in proper perspective - it's the only way to remove the hold they have over me and get back to living a constructive life. Just one problem: How do you do that?
Once a week I am going to 'Face My Fear'. Here's what I plan on asking myself:
I am hopeful that using these questions will help me work through what I am most afraid of over time and help me learn to accept my fears. Here goes...
I thought a lot yesterday about what was causing the obsessive perfectionist behavior. What I realized is that it all stemmed from fear. Fear that I wouldn't be able to provide for my family. Fear that I wouldn't be a good father. Fear that the PTSD would ruin everything. Fear that I would scare my daughter. Fear that I would scare my wife. Fear that I would scare myself...
I could keep on going. I was afraid of everything. I was afraid to live my life and see what comes my way. At the same time, my fear motivated me to work like a mad man. My fears of scaring my wife and daughter contributed heavily to closing myself off emotionally from my family. I felt like I was damned if I did, damned if I didn't. The only way I saw out of the corner I had painted myself into was to be perfect. I figured if I could be perfect at one aspect of my life (being a provider), everything else would fall into place.
Boy was I wrong. I am continuing to think about how I can avoid falling into this trap again. I don't know if I have it figured out yet. I wish I did. I recognize that fear of my PTSD, fear of living my life, precipitated a lot of this. Acknowledging that fear was running my life is the first step. I just don't know where to place the next step...
I took some time off for family birthdays these past few days and I ended up discovering something about myself that was unexpected: I had really unrealistic expectations for myself as a father. I am not sure when the thinking started this way, but it caused me a lot of problems and made me feel helpless to do anything about it. It caused my PTSD to flare up and I needed to make sure that this never happened again.
After my daughter was born, I felt a lot of pressure to provide for my family. All of that pressure was put on me by...me. I was already providing well for my family, but I didn't feel it was good enough. I wanted to be a good father and a good provider, so I doubled my efforts at work, thought about how I could get better and learn faster. I became obsessed with the next promotion. I began neglecting the emotional needs of my family - not intentionally, but because I was obsessed with being the perfect provider and husband.
Boy did I have a serious disconnect. By striving to be perfect at work, I lost sight of what it really means to be a good father and provider. It means being a good husband and partner. It means being there for your child when she needs a hug. When I realized that I had become emotionally detached from my family, I thought it was because of my obsessive behavior at work - coming home with nothing left in the tank. I realized the past few days that this was not the case. You see, I have this little problem. If I think I don't have the ability to be 'perfect' (like I thought I had the ability at work), I avoided what would cause me not to be perfect. In this case, it was my family.
It all started with simple comments: "You are an amazing father. Your daughter loves you so much. Oh wow is she a daddy's girl! You are so calm! Are you sure you haven't done this before?"
I heard these questions and comments everywhere that I went with my daughter after she was born. Everyone seemed to think I was this perfect father and I kept on thinking one thing: What happens when they find out I am not? I need to be perfect for everyone. I need to be the perfect father for every one...I need to be perfect...I need to be...but I can't be a perfect father...I don't know how or what that means, but I need to be perfect...
This circular train of thought was latched onto in a very unhealthy way by my PTSD. I started having catastrophic thoughts about royally screwing up as a father. I thought through every possible scenario I could imagine and how I was bound to screw it up. I became so afraid of making a mistake as a father that I stopped trying to be one. I closed myself off emotionally and focused on the one thing I felt I had control over: work.
This is where PTSD can get ugly. The PTSD wouldn't let matters stand. There were other insecurities it could latch onto and boy did it. I started thinking about how I was screwing everything up at work. I became more and more agitated about trivial things as the year went by. I lost the ability to control my temper. It just kept on getting worse. And worse. And worse.
And then everything came to a head. My family was reaching its breaking point because of my drive/need to be perfect. When I realized this a few days ago, I swore to myself that this would never happen again. The problem was I had no idea what had caused the obsessive perfectionist behavior in the first place. I am still trying to figure that out. Maybe that will be tomorrow's post...
First let me start off by saying the following: There are no perfect people, just perfect intentions. What do i mean by that? I have talked to people I know who watched Dr. Phil's show, 'From Heroes to Monsters'. Dr. Phil's intentions were pure. He wanted to show that guys who were seen as monsters were human. I get that. I respect that. The goal of his show was to help destigmatize PTSD. I wish more people would get on TV and do that.
It's not the content of the show that I have an issue with. It's the way that it was advertised on TV in the run-up to the show airing. Once again, the media whores who only care about ratings sensationalized the content of the show, thinking it would increase viewership - and I'm sure it did. Here's what they failed to consider and what Dr. Phil should have:
Those are the major points. I could go on a typing rant, but I think the message would get lost. Here it is in a nut shell: YOU SCREWED UP, DR. PHIL. You forgot one of the cardinal rules of being a doctor. As a highly trained psychologist, he should have been aware of the sensitivity and volatility of discussing this issue. With that in mind, you should have done more to protect those who are stigmatized by this stereotype. Your advertising 'specialists' should be fired. The advertisement doesn't accurately depict the content or intent of the show. What I find most disappointing is that I can't imagine this hit the air without you knowing about it, Dr. Phil. If you didn't know about it, you should have.
OK, I'm getting down off my soapbox now. I remind people again - there are no perfect people, just perfect intentions. While I detest how this turned out, I do recognize that his intentions were good. He has done so much to help people over the years that I am willing to forgive this - I just won't forget.
Recently it has been brought to my attention that more people would join in discussion if they could be anonymous. When I brought up people can comment on this website and is can be anonymous, I was told that the name field was required. This is true. BUT...you don't have to put your real name. You could put "A Concerned Veteran" if you felt like it. I say this because there was an incident recently where someone put their real name on a post and after posting it, he realized what he had written could potentially get back to family. He asked me to delete it and I expeditiously obliged.
In this day and age, social media and online connectivity provides us with the unique opportunity to reach out for help and reach out to give it. A desire for privacy is the one part of the equation that is missing in this country. A little while back I learned about a website in Britain called the Big White Wall. I encourage you to look over this site. It provides true anonymity to those who are looking for support online. This is what we need more of in this country. I am hopeful that the new initiative being taken by the VA and Volunteers of America will have a positive impact, but they specialize in real world services. The real challenge is creating an online presence that veterans with PTSD can trust to maintain their privacy. Facebook is definitely NOT it.
If you were to create an online service for veterans with PTSD, aside from anonymity, what other services would you offer? Feedback in this area is really important if we want to be able to really make a difference for those veterans who are reaching out online. I really encourage people to leave comments so we can discuss this.
Yours in Health,
I woke up this morning and knew I was in a bad way. My nerve endings were on fire. I was super sensitive to touch. Even to the clothing I was wearing rubbing against my skin. My emotions felt completely out of control. If I was sad, I knew I'd be sobbing. If I was mad, fuming. If I was happy, laughing hysterically. I could just FEEL it. Then, as I was about to start writing this, my daughter woke up early. I clamped down so hard on my feelings. Really hard. I couldn't afford to have them out of control with my baby girl. I went in and got her out of her crib just as Mommy got home from the gym.
Mommy and I talked a little bit and I ended up over-reacting to everything she said. I never yelled, but I ended up in a depressed funk, laying on the bed. I finally fell asleep, oblivious to everything. My wife woke me up hours later because she needed help with our daughter. I had to fight so hard against the depression, but I was able to get my self moving. My emotional freak out was over, but my nerves were still on fire and my emotions were raw, like someone had rubbed them across a cheese grater. It was the first time in a long time that my emotional intensity had manifested as physical pain. Excruciating physical pain and I can't get it to stop. I knew that if there was one promise that I was going to keep to myself today, it would be to write my blog. Hopefully this helps, but I will not be on for the rest of the day - this is as far as I could go.
Deep Breaths, Max. Tomorrow's a new day.
Ever since I decided to regain control of my life, some interesting things have occurred and it makes me wonder if emotional connection, even on a fundamental level, with other people is what makes the difference in finding fulfillment or not. Let me lay it out for you:
I've always been a geek. Any new technology, especially with computing and gaming, excites me. Over the past few weeks, since I have won back some semblance of my identity from the PTSD, I have made new friends who are allowing me to explore this passion at a deeper level than every before. For the first time in a while, I have felt compelled to explore new friendships and learn new skills that are way outside my expertise. It's thrilling and safe, all at the same time. This group of people share a passion for technology and entrepreneurship. Everyone is welcome and no one gets turned away. It's a level of acceptance that I haven't experienced from non-veterans in quite a while. As a matter of fact, when I told one of the guys at the last meetup what I was working on (the website, the panel in DC, PTSD advocacy), he very vehemently told me that he would be more than happy to help me learn website building and coding. He said he had a special place in his heart for programs and projects that were intended to help others. It really caught me off guard - I mean REALLY. When was the last time any of you can remember being received with open arms by a group of people that don't really know you - especially AFTER they find out you are a Combat Vet with PTSD?
It's amazing what having time to decompress and get my head straight has done for me. I just hope that I continue to move in the right direction. The last thing I need or want is for my PTSD to get in the way of pursuing my passions ever again. It made me smirk when I thought about this when I woke up - So This Is What Connecting With Other People Feels Like? I could get used to this.
I woke up early today and recognized immediately that I just don't care. About much of anything. The apathy is so strong I had to mentally discipline myself to even write a blog post today. After the fallout that occurred from stopping blogging the last time, I swore to myself that I would never stop again. The apathy is so strong today that I almost said, "Ahh, screw it. What's one day?"
Famous last words...that's what started me down the wrong road last time and I won't go down that road again, ever. The apathy is probably the most insidious part of PTSD - it's the first step in closing yourself off emotionally and it's also the hardest feeling to fight. It's dangerous and destructive. I asked my parents to come over this morning so that I could go and work out or go for a walk or something. I never went. Yes, there was a lot of stuff I had to clean up from last night that was still in the kitchen. Yes, it was over a half hour later when I got done cleaning up. I still had a lot of time to go and exercise. I couldn't bring myself to do it.
When I realized that I didn't even care about blogging this morning (that followed shortly after I decided not to go and exercise), I caught myself. I recognized the apathy for what it was. I talked to my parents and asked them if they wanted to go to the park later today and go for a walk. I sat down and I started typing. A lot of times, I don't know what's bothering me until I sit down to type. Today, I knew...I just don't care.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.