I don't know where it came from, but I was feeling really nostalgic late last night and was poring over everything I had written since I got back. I was even looking for the discs of pictures. Nothing was satisfying or fulfilling the feeling that I was missing something. I got really frustrated and eventually went to bed a little after midnight. Something woke me up before the alarm. I felt compelled to sit down and search my mind for what was bothering me. I finally figured it out when I looked at the date: March 29th.
It all came flooding back. I was with the mobile interrogation team. Don't remember where. I just remember the guy they brought in. He was a wounded Iraqi soldier. They wanted me to interrogate and find out if the guy had any information. He was so terrified he had wet himself. When he saw me, he defecated himself. His uniform was singed in places and he looked like he had been through hell already. I wanted to show him compassion, but my job as a translator was to mirror the mood, tone, and inflection of the interrogator. So I held my place. Then the interrogator did something I will never forget. He grabbed the soldier's arm. Something so simple, right? He grabbed his arm.
The Iraqi detainee went into shock. I rushed over and pulled up his sleeve and couldn't believe my eyes. He had been close enough to a serious explosion that the concussion had shattered his arm. His arm was a collection of fracture blisters. No one had caught this. The Iraqi soldier was so scared of us that he never once asked for help or treatment.
I knelt and did what I could to comfort the man as the medics worked to stabilize him. I told him not to worry, that we have the best doctors. I told him to stay calm and to look at me - he kept on looking at his arm and getting even more scared. So he stared. And stared. And stared. He blinked really hard and looked at me with a look I couldn't understand. Then he smiled a sad smile and thanked me, "Shukran, ya Saydi" I watched at the light faded from his eyes. His body just couldn't process the fear and trauma.
His last words were to thank me and address me with a title of respect. I looked at my watch: 0632. 3/29
I remember thinking: 42 more detainees inbound - 30 mikes out. It's going to be a long day.
I know my compassion must have shone through and provided this poor man comfort, but I still felt like shit. yet another day and anniversary to watch out for. I can understand why I suppressed this memory. I really can. The question I have is why now? Why today? And is it coincidence that the memory came back at 0632 in the morning? Was that was jogged my memory? The memory is too real. Too clear in my mind. The look of the fracture blisters...don't think I'll be eating much today.
I will spend time with my daughter today and I will be processing this mess of emotions in the back of my mind. My daughter calms me. Her simple perspective and unconditional love make it possible for me to process this. She'll know something is wrong and will want a lot of hugs from Daddy today. That's OK with me. We'll play and I'll process and maybe I'll find a way to make sense of the feelings I have. I guess I will see how it goes.
So, people have started finding out that I am out on disability. I got angry. Angry with myself for not realizing that it was going to bother me. I wasn't ready to confront that, fair or not, people are going to judge me because of this. They don't have to know anything about PTSD but they will still judge me.
So I got angry. And then I wasn't anymore. They can all kiss my ass. If they don't want to understand, then they are not worth my time or aggravation. The response of a real person, a caring person, would be asking my wife if I am doing alright. That's my feeling in my gut right now.
Unfortunately, I can't afford to act that way or think that way. People are, by nature, scared of what they don't know. And PTSD is a BIG, BIG unknown for many. So, I will continue to do what I have been - telling it like it is and hoping that more and more people notice.
To all those folks out there with PTSD: Stay strong and patient. If they are willing to listen, explain it to people. If they are not willing, walk away and be stronger for it. I know I am.
OK, when I said I was committed to doing everything in my power to learn to cope with my PTSD, I did mean everything. I went to the OIF/OEF support group last night at the VA Outpatient Clinic near my house. It was me, the Doc, and one other vet. None of the other regular guys showed up. Curious, the other vet asked me about myself and I told him the basics. He asked me why I hadn't come to group before if I had been home for so long. I told him the honest truth: "Because last time I came, everyone pulled out their dicks and compared trauma. I don't care to compete and I don't want to corner the market on suffering."
The other vet laughed. He said most of those guys know they aren't welcome. He said the group is a bunch of serious guys that want to make lives for themselves.
You have no idea how happy I was to hear that. I had been looking for people like me to connect with in the flesh. I needed the real life contact with others and I got it. I didn't realize how much I missed the connection with other vets until I went yesterday. I look at all that I have accomplished and all that I need to learn and I don't feel so overwhelmed, knowing that there are other guys, in my area, that are struggling with the same hurdles I am.
So here's my message: Even if you aren't ready to share, go to group meetings if you have them in your area. Just listening to what other vets have to say and how they react in situations similar to yours can be very educational and provide you with a very important connection other vets. You may not feel like you want the connection, but I would wager you need it. Loneliness and isolation is what really sends us down the rabbit hole, so hold on tight and trust yourself enough to make new friends - friends who know EXACTLY what you are going through.
I know I stated as much in previous posts, but I am done letting the PTSD be the focal point in our lives. As a result of this promise to myself, we tried something we haven't tried in a while: We went out shopping at a department store. Here's how it went.
My wife needed new shirts for work so we went to Kohls. We walked in, wife next to me and Caley in the stroller. The place was packed, I mean packed. For those of you familiar with Kohls, yesterday was a Kohls Cash day. Yeah. Oops. My wife, Dani, turned to look for my reaction. I immediately turned down the aisle with the least amount of people. Dani asked me, "Isn't women's clothes the other direction?" I told her it was. She looked back at the crowds near the registers and we both started to chuckle.
Then Dani's face turned deadly serious and she asked, "are you going to be ok?" I told her I would be ok and told her that I just needed to stay out of the middle of the crowds. We went 'around the block' and avoided the mess at the registers. She got her shopping done and we headed up towards the registers. I started feeling a little nervous, because it was very crowded. I looked at my daughter, who was straining to get out and run around. I got her out and we ran around in a wide open space, while we waited for mommy to check out.
When mommy was done, we collected Caley up in the stroller and left. Dani was looking at me with thoughtful eyes. She didn't say anything but I think my reactions surprised her. Here's why:
I the past, I would have walked in, seen the crowds, become instantly super anxious, and turned right back around and back out, leaving Dani and Caley in the store. Usually, Dani would get frustrated - she wanted to do something as a family - and turn around and we'd go back home. See how the resentment builds? Well, NOT THIS TIME!
Yes, I recognized that the crowd made me anxious. The jump I didn't make was to assume that something bad was going to happen and that i was going to flip out and do something stupid.
Yesterday was refreshing. We'll have to do it again some time soon. Just not today. Baby steps, baby steps.
After the holidays were over, things got even worse. My wife was getting desperate to get through to me and was emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent. In February, she sat me down and figuratively slapped me out of it. Those details are too personal to share, but boy did it snap me out. It went into a serious introspective period that lasted about a week and half. When my wife snapped me out of it, I gained a clarity I hadn't experience for the better part of a year. I looked back and felt crushed by the guilt - of not being there for my wife and daughter. The guilt was so oppressive at first I felt like I was suffocating. I had a significant sense of the loss of time. Much of the past year I don't remember - at all. I missed doctor appointments at the VA, I had really let the PTSD take control. So what the hell happened? After a lot of talking with my wife and a lot of introspection, these are the things that I figured out that sent me down the rabbit hole for the past year:
OK, so those were the big three. My wife and I have talked about all of this and are working to fix all that we put out of place. I love my wife for her strength and her commitment. Not many women have the intestinal fortitude to hang around when they get put through the emotional wringer like that. I am back in therapy and I am starting back up group sessions again. I am going to make sure I continue blogging because it helps to clear my head and get out the 'bad shit'.
Most of all, I want to thank everyone who has read my blog and expressed gratitude. Your gratitude has been like the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. I never intended my 'online diary' to turn into this. Let's move forward. Together. For Every Day is a New Day.
I just received this anonymous comment and asked that I address it in a blog post. He says:
"I am tired. Burntout. detached. I know what needs to happen but I am too tired to make it happen. Just be husband, father, protector, rock. It is so hard now. I have to psych myself up to get involved and interested in the garage or building something and bam. The kids are fighting. Back to mr. dad again. Some how it feels hollow. It takes so much effort to psych myself up and try to get on a roll. I take so much medicine to deal with the shit in my head but cannot even deal with it because of the shit right in front of me. If most guys have trouble being a stable father then where does that leave me? Everything is twice as hard now. I can’t let her know. I have put so much on her already. How unfair and selfish can I be? I will smile because I am supposed to. Laugh because it is expected. Somehow I have become the best actor in the world. The overachiever that went to Iraq is gone and I am here. And I am so damn tired."
First off, I have to ask it and then I will follow up with comments in the comment section. If 'So Damn Tired' means you are considering harming yourself. GET HELP: 1-800-273-TALK.
OK, I had to say that first. I am going to post this now, just in case and follow up in the comments. Anyone who wants to can jump in for support!!
Before I actually get into what this piece is all about, I ask that you take the time to go back and read the following blog posts: (they set the stage and tell a story when read together)
Messing with My Safe Place
Waking Up Snippy
A Much Needed Down Day
Finding Ways to Recreate My Space
OK. Those set the stage. The last one you see there was the final blog post I wrote for over six months. Things went downhill faster and faster after that. Over the course of the coming six months, I alienated all but a few friends, became more and more emotionally distant from my wife and daughter (I cannot begin to tell you how many tears I have cried over this. How much I have hurt my family). The part that made each slide downward even more painful was that I knew I was sliding and I felt powerless to stop what I saw happening. It took me the better part of the past month to process through all of this.
I think that's enough to absorb for one day. Please think about where you see the warning signs. Where I could have done things differently.
I will discuss all that I have learned from this past year in the second installment:
Powerless - A Look Back, Pt.2
If you recall, I posted this blog entry about a week ago: I also posted what I planned on doing to keep Mr. Hyde at bay. The Roll Call visual that I made for myself is really working. I put it on the side of the fridge. I see it every time I look toward the kitchen and it reminds me of the priorities I need to keep in the forefront of my mind.
Where Am I:
This may seem stupid, but it's not. It's asking are you at home, waking up after a night's sleep? OR Did you just wake up feeling like you are back in Iraq?
When Am I:
Yet another strange one, but necessary. One of the major issues that a lot of vets with PTSD suffer from is a loss of the sense of the passing of time. I ask myself this question a lot to make sure that time isn't getting away from me. Even if I am stable, my mind can get so involved with a line of thought or performing a task that I won't realize that one or two days have passed. Asking this question helps keep me grounded in the immediate present.
Who am I Living This Moment For:
If you answer, "for my family, my loved ones, the people I'll hurt, etc.", YOU ARE WRONG! You are living this moment for YOU. That is the only acceptable answer. Unless you can learn to live for yourself and getting yourself right, everything else that life sends your way becomes that much harder to cope with. I have found that focusing on me is making me healthy emotionally and giving me the energy I need to devote to everyone else. They see the difference. They know the difference.
When Was the Last Time I Did Something For Me:
Take time out every day for yourself, uninterrupted. I mean UNINTERRUPTED. No distractions. To do something you find enjoyable and lets you clear your head. It doesn't have to be for long, but take a little time for yourself!
What Are You Grateful For Today:
I am now into the habit of looking for what I am grateful to have in my life. I get up and look around and think about my life. I list off three things that I am grateful for. Today: My Family, Blogging, My Health
It may seem a little silly to do all of this on the surface, but retraining our minds to look at life in a positive light can only be done if we constantly remind ourselves - Every Day is a New Day!!
If you want to print out the Roll Call for yourself:
In this day and age, news is instant. The fat guy picking his nose on the corner could tweet the next big story. With this being the case, I don't understand why the major media outlets continue the archaic practice of needing to break a story first. With how fast word spreads, does it really matter if you were the ones who started the broadcast a half second before your competitor? The major media outlets used to stand by the veracity of what they were reporting whereas the smut and trash recanted on stories or changed the information mid stream. Now that's par for the course. When did this become OK?
Well, Mass Media, SHAME ON YOU. Thanks to your irresponsible reporting of the Afghani Murder Spree by an American soldier, we service members with PTSD have to start over. For the past eight to ten years, PTSD advocacy had been making great strides in breaking a stereotype. A stereotype that soldiers with PTSD were dangerous to others. We are, in fact, not going to go 'First Blood' on anyone. The numbers and statistics show that if we are at risk of killing anyone, it's not other people. So when you negative press whores smell the idea that SSG. Bales may have PTSD, what's the headline? "Afghanistan Shooting Suspect: Rampage May Have Been Caused By PTSD" Now that headline may not be literally what any of you said, but the implication was there and all of the advocacy groups are scrambling to recover from this gut blow.
So here's what I propose: An apology to the thousands of service members with PTSD (like me) for setting back pubic awareness and PTSD education a decade. I want to see a return to responsible journalism where getting the story right was more important than getting to the story first. I want to see stories on every station about how PTSD has been overcome by folks like me.
I know that there is a huge scandal right now with the large percentage of folks that got their PTSD assessments overturned on the base that SSG. Bales hails from. What hasn't been made is a connection between the two. What would have been responsible journalism is as follows:
"It appears that a large percentage of service members had PTSD assessments were overturned at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. While SSG. Bales was stationed at this base before his deployment, this investigation into PTSD assessments does not appear to have any connection to or bearing on SSG. Bales' state of mind at the time of the incident."
Did you catch the nuance? Did you? The way it's hypothetically reported above, discounts PTSD as a cause for the crimes committed and shoots down the idea that folks with PTSD are dangerous. So what happens if it becomes evident that he had an active duty PTSD assessment overturned by suits looking to fill deployment numbers? Then he becomes a victim of a system that didn't protect him or the others around him. If you send someone with PTSD back into the environment that caused the PTSD in the first place, a person could go off the deep end, true. But if that person was known to have PTSD and if put in this situation could become a danger to himself and others, the folks who overturned his PTSD assessment should be the ones on trial for mass murder, for not protecting a service member with a disability.
OK, I've said my piece. What's done is done. I can't change that people are going to look at me and check for a weapon if I say the word PTSD. What I can do is shout loud and clear to all of my brothers and sisters out there who have to suffer this stigma, Stay Strong! We are all proud of you and we know and understand the truth. Never back away of who you are: A PTSD SURVIVOR!
I checked my website mail on the 18th and found a very heartfelt cry for help from a kind and generous young woman who was asking my advice. Here's what she said:
I have dated a veteran with PTSD for 3 months now and over the past month he has slowly closed himself off from the world and now from me. I have tried to reach out to him in numerous ways only to get an awful "silence" in return. He has told me that he cares for me very much and wants to see things work out between us, but his behavior says anything but that. At one point he was extremely depressed and would not answer my texts or calls when I was checking in to see if he was alright, I feared he might hurt himself because he has cut himself of from family, friends, and then me. Is this typical of PTSD, to shut out the people who love you the most????? He knew he was hurting me with his silence yet he let it continue.
My struggle is this: do I just continue to pray for his healing from a distance and send him love with my thoughts in hopes that things will get better because I so want to be there for him, or do I let it go and try to move on........... Any insight into PTSD and intimate relationships, about what to expect, how to handle when your loved one goes "AWOL", and thought processes of vets when this is happening to them would be greatly appreciated. It is also extremely painful to sit back and watch someone you love dearly suffer and not be able to help!!!!!!
Sorry this is so long....so much to say. Thank you for your service, your dedication to helping others through your journey, and for listening to people like me who want to help our loved ones pain stop! You are a true blessing.
For obvious reasons, I would really love to hear back from women who have suffered through this uncertainty. I can't give insight into how to best cope with this, but I can do my best to give insight into how a veteran may be feeling in his shoes.
Starting off with some PTSD and Depression 101: Emotional Detachment is the BIGGEST ENEMY in a new relationship with a veteran. I know, from my experience, the intensity of the emotions a had for my wife scared me. I wanted to close myself off, but I couldn't. I tried, and she saw right through it. The major difference was that I was not depressed at the time. When someone is experiencing strong emotions and is depressed at the same time, it's like overloading a circuit. The breaker trips and the connection is severed.Since I first met my wife, there have been times where my depression and PTSD caused me to become emotionally inaccessible. Those are the hardest times a loved one has to live through. Knowing how much it hurt my wife, it is also some of the deepest guilt I have ever felt.This is where it starts to get a little dicey: Emotional Detachment, caused by the PTSD and Depression can be serious cause for concern. Alienating friends and pushing loved ones away is standard, par for the course depressive behavior. Here's the tricky part. Before I started getting serious treatment, my mother had gotten some amazing things as gifts for me if I wanted them. I told her I didn't and proceeded to sort through all of the stuff that meant anything to me and prioritize who would get what. I was having serious suicidal thoughts. I am not saying this to scare you, just to make sure you are aware of the warning signs of suicidal behavior. IfTHIS sounds like your man, get him help!!
Is this typical of PTSD, to shut out the people who love you the most????? He knew he was hurting me with his silence yet he let it continue. Let me describe for you how it felt when I was suffering from a PTSD episode and depressed at the same time. Just imagine the situation:I get home from a long day at work. I sit down and my daughter, barely over a year old, wants my attention. I give her a hug and hand her off to mama. I sit down without saying a word and start playing Xbox360. My wife sits down in front of me (her cue for rub my shoulders, oh love of mine) and asks how my day went. My response was a non-committal grunt and that was it. She got up after a few more minutes. I never said hi, I never said anything. I never touched her to reassure her. She knew full well what was going on. Looking back the only way I can describe what I felt was like being in a sound proof glass room, my PTSD between me and my family. I banged loud and hard on that glass, wanting to touch my wife, tell her how much I love her. My PTSD had taken over. It took over because I was afraid. I was afraid that if I didn't have my PTSD under tight control, I could hurt my family even worse. Don't let anyone with PTSD buy into this line of self-deluding bullshit.Yes, I said that harshly - it's something I have to remind myself of every day. If you are afraid of your PTSD, it takes over your life. The fear of what will happen in ANY situation overwhelms a person. What could have been a safe place or event or past time all of a sudden becomes dangerous - what if the PTSD gets out of control? Yeah, WHAT IF?? I had a conscious choice to make: Confront my fear of my PTSD ruining every aspect of my life or not. I chose to keep my family in one piece and to start learning how to rethink my relationship with my PTSD. It's still a work in progress but I am making strides in the right direction. For your sake and his, I hope he chooses to love over living in fear.Two real-world pieces of advice: Find a vet center near you. They can get you into support groups and help educate you on what to expect. Lastly, after educating yourself and hearing from the spouses and caregivers that will definitely give you perspective, you need to be fair to yourself and your veteran: Is my love for this person strong enough to support this relationship? You NEED to ask yourself this question. If you don't think you have the ability to love a person in this way, it doesn't make you a bad person. Being in a relationship like this takes a very strong committment from day one. You have to answer that question if nothing else.OK, that's my input based on my personal experience. There are many other people that I would love to ask to share their experiences here. I know many will. Also, you are more than welcome to join the Facebook Page community and find outreach and understanding there as well. You can remain anonymous and just listen to what folks have to say.I hope to hear from a lot of you on this subject matter. Let's band together and help out a young woman in love!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.