I was approached a few days ago by David Burch, Director of Communcations for Volunteers of America. In his email he invited me to participate in a webinar that will help dictate the tone and agenda for a panel coming up in early May. Click here to see info on the Panel. It's called, "After the Uniform - Serving the Veterans Who Served Us".
Needless to say, I am extremely honored to be part of this - getting in on the ground floor. When I asked Mr. Burch for more details, he said this:
"Volunteers of America is already one of the largest and oldest providers of services to homeless veterans in the U.S. In 2010, we helped more than 7,700 veterans in 33 cities and 19 states with housing, counseling, job training and medical assistance. The organization is also a leading partner with the Veterans’ Administration on its current initiative to end homelessness among veterans.
While our work with veterans has traditionally focused on homelessness, we’ve seen a growing need for more services related to mental health, PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and we’re working to expand our services in these areas. The 'three-year conversation' will be a series of panels we have planned as part of our advocacy and awareness efforts to draw more attention to these invisible wounds of war. Next year, we’re planning to focus specifically on PTSD, TBI, etc., and the third year, we’ll focus on women veterans and their unique, unmet needs. All of this, of course, coincides with the return of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan and the growing demand we anticipate as a social assistance provider for these services. In addition to these advocacy efforts, many of our affiliates are also in the process of establishing new programs specifically geared toward TBI and mental health treatment for veterans."
This is an amazing opportunity that I do not plan on passing up. I will lend my voice to the webinar this coming Tuesday, April 17th. I will keep you informed as the process continues and I will tweet from the panel live on May 8th in the National Press Club in D.C.
With all of that being said, I want to provide you, the readers, the opportunity to be heard as well. If there are pressing veterans' issues that you think should take the forefront, now is the time to sound off and be heard. Please comment on this post. Please spread this far and wide. Let veterans know they have a forum that will listen to them. The reason they chose me is because of the voice I have in the community - YOUR voice. Let's be heard together!!
OK, so I am starting to wonder how much of me staying home is me hiding in my cave. There's a difference between staying home and spending quality time with my daughter and being sedentary. When a person isn't being active, it doesn't exactly improve his mood. My wife pointed out to me yesterday that I didn't seem to be doing much activity. Even when I was playing with our daughter, it was always when I was sitting down or laying on the floor, etc.
She's right. I'm being sedentary. Inactivity is making it hard to get active. So what did I do? I asked my mom to come over and watch Caley so that I could go do something active - go to the clubhouse and use the gym, go for a walk, run, ride...
Guess what I did: Nothing. I couldn't get my tired ass out of bed. Again. What is so frustrating about this is I LOVE being active. I mean I really love it. I never used to be one of those guys who would sit on his duff all day and essentially do nothing. So I thought about this while I was feeding Caley and came to a realization. I am scared witless that I will go into respiratory distress again and end up back in the hospital. The doctors cleared me, but it made me scared for my life and I haven't felt that way since Iraq. So here I am, sitting. Wondering. Feeling guilty. Feeling scared. Feeling like a failure. How do I fix this. The thought of going outside to exercise scares me stupid. When my wife makes me go for a walk or I take my daughter for a walk, I don't last very long.
I refuse to let this beat me. I am going to talk to my wife about this try to come up with a plan to beat this. I want to beat this, but I need a drill sergeant to light a fire...
There is a common fear among veterans with PTSD: People will know we have 'it' and whisper about us. When I see someone in public looking at me, they know...
For a long time, I was afraid of going out in public because of this. With crap like Bales being in the news and the defense lawyers blaming it on PTSD, many veterans with PTSD feel even less comfortable than we did before. It made me realize that no matter how much I type on here, it's not going to help educate the general public. So what can I do to change that? God, I don't know.
All I know is I hate that feeling. I have had people ask me, "So does that mean you are going to go crazy on us?" They say it like they're joking - like they are saying it in jest. The problem is that their voice goes up an octave when they laugh and their eyes are dead serious. They say it that way but really want to know - are we going to go John Rambo on their asses? All I know is I never think about getting violent with people until they say ignorant shit like that. BUT if that's what it takes to be able to educate someone and break the stereotype. Hmm. Maybe if I was out in public and announced to the world that I am a Combat Veteran with PTSD people would be forced to pay attention - their own fear of what I might do would take care of that. Definitely have to think about it. I'm going to go and follow this train of thought back to the station.
I have made a lot of progress that past few weeks rediscovering me. It just doesn't seem like enough. I look at myself in the mirror and I don't recognize the person in the mirror. I look tired, haggard. I have huge circles under my eyes. I'm gaining weight again that I worked hard to shed. What the hell is going on? I know it's not in my nature to be satisfied with the progress I have made. I just don't know if the image of how I should look is accurate or realistic.
So, am I being too hard on myself? I don't know. It's hard to tell. I can't ask anyone who is emotionally invested in my success. I wouldn't trust that their answer isn't biased. I don't think it's fair to ask anyone else that question. I have to figure this out for myself. I know that this is something that a lot of us are guilty of - being our own worst critics. I could beat myself up all day for perceived failings and still not be satisfied that I was hard enough on myself. It's not a constructive trait but I am not sure how to change that way of thinking. I am not even sure that I would want to change that part of me. I feel that is part of who I am, not the PTSD. I just don't think it's the most helpful in coping with it. So where do I go from here?
I think I need to think on this for a while. The last thing I need to be doing right now is adding any additional pressure on myself to fix what's 'broken'. I need to make sure I am maintaining a healthy perspective. I guess time will tell. Let's see where this line of thought takes me over the coming days.
I woke up this morning and realized that I woke up happy. It felt empty. Like a consolation prize. I don't know if I can adequately describe the feeling. I really am happy today. Truly happy. It just feels hollow, like the happiness is a veneer, a facade. Is it? I don't think so. I feel like just being happy isn't enough. I'm not satisfied with just happy. I need my life to have meaning and purpose. While I have found meaning and purpose blogging and administering to my website, I didn't realize how much I missed doing 'good works'.
I am going to do a lot of thinking on this. I had thought, before the PTSD, that I was going to lead a life of service to my country. I need to find a way to incorporate serving others back into my life. When I am living a life of service to others, I feel more than just happy, I feel...full. I desperately need to feel that way again. It's different that the amazing feelings I get when I look at my daughter. I think part of why I feel this way is I want to be my daughter's hero, for a reason other than I'm her daddy.
I think I am going to explore this. Maybe there is more that I can do around the community. Maybe there is a need that isn't being met that I can fill. I don't know. I need to talk to my wife about this and see what she thinks.
I wish everyone a Happy Easter. I hope everyone enjoys time with family. I know I will.
After this past year of letting the PTSD run my life, I have a really big problem: I can't figure out what is my PTSD and what is me. When I have a strong emotional response, is it me or the PTSD? When I have difficulty sleeping, is it me or the PTSD? So now, not only do I have to retrain my brain not to fear the PTSD, I also have to examine my feelings and whether I have habitualized this fear and let my PTSD take control of my emotions.
So what does this mean for me? It means every time I have a strong emotional reaction, I have to clamp down on it. I have to take a step back from myself and ask: Is this ME or the PTSD. More often than not, it's the PTSD and that scares the shit out of me. I had let the PTSD take so much control over what I felt that I had lost my identity to it.
When I realized this, I got really concerned. If I have grown accustomed to acting this way, being my PTSD, how do I know who I am anymore? Talk about the worst kind of identity crisis. So I decided today that I am going to reach out to one of my friends that I alienated: One of my friends that has a clear idea of who I used to be before all of this started. Maybe he can find it in his heart to help me get back to where I was and to rediscover who I was. If there is one thing I know for certain, this person knows who I am and would kick the PTSD in the nuts for fucking up our friendship.
Well, I guess we shall see. I have my work cut out for me. I need to learn how to be me again. Not an easy task. My doc said I am performing self-imposed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. OK. I guess I am. I am trying to be aware of how my PTSD interacts with the core of who I am so that I can separate them. That sounds more like Metaphysical Id Therapy to me...
It was one of those nights. I don't remember the nightmares, just feeling of nausea and the smell of blood. I woke up too many times to count so this was repetitive. Really repetitive. I was so exhausted I didn't hear my alarm and my wife was back from the gym before I was able to drag my ass out of bed. Needless to say, my wife was justifiably annoyed with me.
Here's the weird part. I'm in a good mood today. Despite the start to the day, I'm in a good mood. It's almost like my body and my mind are saying, "Screw you, PTSD!" While I wish this could be the case every day, it's not. It's not even frequent at this point. It starts to wear on the soul. When you look at the past week and all you see is sadness and anger broken up with small bright spots of happiness, it's hard to remain hopeful or optimistic.
That's what I wrote this morning before I went to the VA. I was sitting in the waiting room and realized that I was falling prey to the same cycle that I had been trapped in before. God Damn It All to HELL!!
I will not let my PTSD take over. Not again. Not ever. I looked back over the past week. Yeah, a lot of it was rough. It was not a great week. Much of this past year wasn't rosy. What I realized is that I am so physically exhausted all of the time that it's making me more vulnerable to the catastrophic thinking, the depression. That sleep study can't get here soon enough. If I can get just one good night sleep, without the use of medication to put me under, I may just cry. I feel that my inability to get a good night sleep is making it near impossible to have a healthy outlook on life. Is it May yet?
So here's my two cents for the day. VETERANS: If you find you are physically exhausted all of the time and you have a hard time staying asleep, ask for a sleep study. Find out it there is a clinical reason for your physical exhaustion. Don't write off what your body may be trying to tell you as a side effect of your medication or depression. Be your own advocate. Don't ever settle for the status quo.
I really have my work cut out for me. I made the realization that I have been living in fear of my PTSD for a lot longer than the past year. I have been living in fear of it for 8 years. Yeah. That blew my mind. I kept on asking myself, how the hell is that even possible? Well...
When I first got home from overseas, I had a lot of issues with my anger. One of the defining moments that spurred me to get help was almost beating my dad. I was freaking out about how the Army was trying to intimidate me back into the service. My Dad was presenting logical arguments why they would fail. His cold, hard logic set me off. I didn't want to hear logic. I wanted validation for my fear and anger. I took one step toward my father, realized what I was about to do and crumpled to the floor, paralyzed by my guilt and fear. This was a defining moment for me. It spurred me to get help. It is also when I started living in fear of my PTSD.
Because of that incident, I was deathly afraid that my PTSD would 'take control'. This feeling was only reinforced when I heard about a few veterans in our area who had been arrested for aggravated assault after returning home from deployments. One guy in support group was only allowed to leave house arrest to come for therapy and group sessions. All of this made me even more fearful that my PTSD was going to sabotage my life. What I didn't realize was that it already had because I was afraid to live my life because I was afraid of potential consequences. I wouldn't go to concerts, malls, public places, etc. Whenever someone invited me to an event, the first thought that would run through my head was always 'how is my PTSD going to affect me?' That's a good thought, but what followed that was pure catastrophic thinking. Going to a diner to meet friends would end in bloodshed because there would be a drunk idiot in the diner that would cause problems. Mmm. Does that sound particularly likely to anyone? No. Not really.
So Veterans, learn from my massive mistake. Don't get caught living in fear of your PTSD. Learn to live with it, not around it. The worst part is that my fear of my PTSD taught others how to view it. I did that damage myself. No I have to retrain everyone's thinking and my own. I have my work cut out for me, but for the first time in nearly a decade, I am pissed off AT my PTSD for getting in the way of me living my life. NEVER AGAIN.
I have a major problem. I have not been able to quiet my mind and get a quality night of sleep for weeks now. I have so many ideas and thoughts and issues I am trying to work through bouncing around my head it's giving me a chronic headache. I need to slow everything down. I am going to try to create a place at home for meditation and relaxation. The recommendation was made to me that I explore the idea of 'just being' for a little and not thinking. This presented an interesting challenge to me. I think this idea scares me more than I care to admit. To slow down my thoughts and to 'just be' would invite memories and destructive thoughts to visit.
Well, today I am facing that fear. My wife is taking our daughter down to her parents for a while and I plan on using some of that time to 'just be'. I don't know if I know how to clear my head of thought, but I am going to try. I think that the greatest lessons in life are the ones taught to us when we aren't paying attention. Introspection or 'soul searching' have always played a key role in informing me about my PTSD and how it impacts my life.
I think a good portion of the emotional detachment that my wife experiences from me is attributable to not being able to get my mind to shut up long enough for my day to day life to register in a meaningful way. I plan on talking to my wife about making time once a week for me to focus my mind. Before I was in the military I had the uncanny ability to focus on a single problem or idea and explore it meaningfully from all angles. It made me VERY good at chemistry and drafting. Maybe I just need to find something that will appeal to my affinity for spatial relations. Building models. Wow. Where did that thought come from. Time to search online for local hobby shops. I think that's what I am going to do to focus my mind and clear it of all the other junk. Time to build a model.
My wife made it very clear to me yesterday that I have obsessive compulsive tendencies that have been manifesting more and more over the past few months. This scares the crap out of me. I am going to talk to the docs and the social worker about it as soon as possible. That's a relatively new wrinkle that I need to get ironed out. I start doing something that I am passionate about and I lose sight of everything else. I can't get my mind to focus on other things. I think the obsessive aspect of my PTSD that has manifested over the course of the past year had played a major role in making me seem emotionally inaccessible. Is being my kind of intelligent a curse or a blessing? I can disappear into a thought or idea for days and not realize the passing of time. Before the PTSD, I had ideas and thoughts like this, but I was always grounded by the passing of time. I have lost that sense. How do I regain it? I don't know. I wish I did, but I don't.
So now I have to be even more careful: I can't afford to start obsessing about whether or not I am obsessing. That sounds confusing right? I almost laughed when I wrote it. It's true, though. Looking at this another way, catastrophic thinking is, in my mind, a form of obsessive compulsive behavior. Is it that much of a stretch to think that the obsessive behavior could manifest in other ways? I don't think so.
I ask that you, my readers, think deeply on this. I am asking for your input. I hope everyone has a great weekend. I will continue to think on this as well. Maybe together we can find a workable solution for coping with this.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.