OK, so we moved at the end of May. The new apartments is light years better than the old place, it's less expensive, etc. I thought it would make everything settle down and put my PTSD back in its usual holding pattern...Boy Was I Wrong. Here's what ended up happening:
On the surface, everything was better about the move. We didn't have to worry about leaking foundations, clogged and ancient plumbing, mold and mildew problems, lack of A/C, in absentia landlords, etc. All of those stressors were gone. It should have meant smoother sailing. I wracked my brain trying to find out what environmental factor was different that could possibly mean more stress than all of the now absent stressors of the old place. Was it a perceived lack of privacy because we are sharing walls again? No. Our neighbors are great and everyone respects everyone else's space. Was it the gun club next door? No. I know the sound of a shotgun being fired and it is part of the background noise here. It doesn't stress me out. It sounds nothing like rifles firing. Was I bringing stress home from work? No. I was loving my job and looked forward to the challenges I faced there every day. And then it hit me.
I was dealing with sensory overload. The one factor that had changed from the old place to the new was the elimination of a physical location for my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. I no longer had a man-cave. I didn't realize how significant the effects of losing it would be until I thought about what I gained from it. Whenever I needed to get away from sensory overload, I went down into the basement and simplified things. I would use gaming as my focal point for cutting out all of the chatter. Now, as much as I love the new place, I don't have that. The place I try to get away from everything is right in the middle of the apartment. It doesn't allow me to get away from anything for even a millisecond. THAT's what was causing all of this stress. Finally recognizing this is a good thing, but now I need to find a way to shut out all of the chatter without having a physical location to do so. I will talk to Dani about this issue and see what we can come up with.
Today I finally got the down time that I needed to decompress. I was so out of focus and so emotional that I didn't trust myself outside the apartment today. Dani had to work and I got some quality time with Caley as well. I didn't even realize until I spent time with Caley today that I had been a little remiss in my duties as a father and husband over the last week or so. Granted, there were extenuation circumstances like the move and Memorial Day, but it didn't make me feel any less guilty when my beautiful daughter sighed in relief that I was back to rocking her to sleep. She had been missing it terribly.
I also spent some time thinking about what I need to do moving forward. I need to make sure I stay active outside of work - I haven't been exercising. I also need to make sure that I am eating healthy. I haven't been keen on monitoring my eating habits during the last week or so. I really don't have an excuse anymore for not exercising. I have a cycling park right across the street and it would be criminal if my bike tires didn't hit the road at least three times a week.
Getting back to 'normal' has been much different this time around. It has been a little surreal to be honest. I didn't think I would be writing about this so soon. The stress of the pending move had been eating at me for over a month and I didn't realize it. My sleep was irregular, my eating was irregular. My relationship with my wife came out the other side of this a little battered and bruised but, overall, none the worse for wear. The only thing that I have been consistent about this move that has differed from all of the other ones is the fact that I never stopped or forgot to take my meds.
So when it's all said and done, tomorrow's a new day. We got through the move and we are stronger and more dedicated to each other than ever before. Let's see what tomorrow brings.
OK, so here's the cut and dry of it. Even for a person without PTSD, moving is one of the most stressful events in life. So what do I do? I plan ours for mid-week, right before Memorial Day Weekend. I am such an idiot. I started getting snippy when our stuff was being packed into boxes. It only progressed from there. By the time move day came, Dani and I were 'grumpy'. We have moved beyond this fun little episode, but it was not an easy time for either of us. By the time we were half way through Wednesday, I was so emotionally drained that I couldn't function properly around anyone. I was exhausted and sore. My filter was in absentia.
Yet, we made it through that day and the next and our new place is already less of a stress impact on our lives. I didn't even realize it at the time, but the decision to move into this new place was the best move we could have made. There is something to be said for calming memories. I used to go down and visit my grandparents in St. Croix and one of the most relaxing things that I loved to do was lay on the bed and watch and listen to the ceiling fan, hanging from the vaulted cathedral ceilings. It is, strangely, one of my fondest memories of childhood and it had hidden itself away for a long time.
When we moved into the new apartment and slept on the bed for the first time in our new bedroom, I slept like I was in a coma. I woke up before the alarm clock went off and I was refreshed and relaxed. I tried to figure out what it was about the new place that was having such an immediate impact. That's when I relaxed back onto the bed to think about it and realized I was staring up at vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans in every room - just like my grandparents' house. I think this is going to be a really good thing for me. It will allow me to reflect on my day while reaching a state of relaxation much faster than before.
I don't remember much of the specifics of this past week. My PTSD was in full control and I had extreme tunnel vision. My short-term memory went out the window. I was distracted my first day back to work, but was able to make it through. I was still emotionally raw, but returning home to our new apartment was imminently more relaxing than the last place...
Then came Memorial Day. I was asked to be in charge of ensuring that the flags were put at half mast and back up to full later in the day. They even participated in a moment of silence in the store. I didn't think that today would be as rough on me as it was, but the memories came back today, stronger than they have in years. It was like I was watching HD video in a theater reserved for me. The intrusive recollections would not go away. I came home from work so exhausted that I passed out on the bed for over two hours and don't even remember laying down.
Why was today the worst day I have had in years? It's hard to articulate. I don't feel as emotionally unbalanced as on other occasions. I think what made it so bad is that I had already strained my coping system to the limit earlier in the week to move. The gas tank was already on 'E' before today. What made it even worse was I knew it and was aware that I was completely helpless to do anything about it. It was like having a dream where you are aware of what is going to happen but can't change what is coming because your mind has already scripted out the next act...
This has been a valuable learning experience for me. I am never moving myself again. I will not be leaving this place until it is absolutely necessary and will pay for someone else to do the honors. I can't afford to let my guard down or compromise my ability to cope. Never again.
I have been talking to a lot of vets lately and they seem to have one thing in common. They don't have employers that are sympathetic to their needs. As a result of this, I am asking anyone who is employed by Vet-Friendly employers to please comment on this blog entry and let me know what company they work for. I plan on adding a new part to this page which is a Vet Friendly Employer Recognition Page. When I find out more information about each of these companies, I will be contacting them to request contact information for veterans looking for work around the country and also a list of companies willing to work with Vocational Rehab members of our community. I am one of the lucky ones who has an employer who supports my struggle and provides me with a positive and constructive work environment. I know most veterans are not so lucky. Let's see where this goes. Hopefully, something good will come of this.
Today was one of those elusive good days that I wish I had more of. I was completely stress free and it felt wonderful. I have heard a lot of people say that they wish they could figure out what made good days just that - good days. If we could all figure out this little conundrum, we might just be able to beat the PTSD and go back to leading 'normal' lives.
I realized a long time ago that this kind of thinking, while it may seem constructive, is very counterproductive and usually leads to longer downswings, anger, frustration, and inevitable failure to figure out what triggered the good day. Think about it for a second and you will understand why:
Wash, rinse, repeat.
It doesn't seem so constructive now, does it? What I realized a few years ago is that graciously accepting that you are having a good day and not trying to duplicate it is the best approach. The real reason why this whole line of thought can be so destructive is this: You haven't accepted that you will never 'recover' from your PTSD. Remember the expression, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth"? Take it to heart and just revel in the good moments. Write the memories you create on those days in your mind. It will make surviving to the next good day easier.
So there you have it. I hope this gives insight into why the name of this blog is 'Every Day is a New Day'. Any other way of looking at it doesn't serve my best interests.
Dani and I have been working on packing and finalizing all of the details for our move in less than two weeks. I have been in a funk for almost the whole time we have been doing this and it took me until now to realize why:
When we start disrupting the equilibrium we have established in our home in any way (i.e. packing to move), it very quickly destroys the sense of peace and security I have found. It stops feeling like a home and I no longer feel safe. That's what has been nagging at me the past few weeks. I have come home from work and have had no true way to unwind. I can't unwind because I need to feel secure in my surroundings in order to put my guard down enough to cope with what I experienced that day. When I don't have this, everything builds up and it becomes a sort of sensory overload. I don't flip out, I don't get angry. I become distracted and distant.
So now I have to deal with the anger directed at myself for not knowing this was going to happen. It isn't like this is the first time we have moved. I realized this at work and the littlest things angered me. It took so much effort to remain calm that I came home and slumped onto the bed in a fit of exhaustion. Dani was sick with worry because she thought I was sick or injured. She hadn't really seen me like that before. I think it was more visceral this time around because we have experienced stability for a good while now and we had both become comfortable with it. I wouldn't say we had become complacent, but it felt like it when I first realized what was going on.
Needless to say, figuring this out has been a great relief (or will be when I calm the hell down). I know that tomorrow will be new day and Dani and I have started planning the layout of the new apartment to keep my mind focused on creating a new home and haven for our family. I wouldn't say she's trying to distract my mind from my current environment, but she recognizes that I need something to latch onto that will make me optimistic that I will experience the sense of security we just lost. Soon.
This one is directed to all of those families out there dealing with Combat Related PTSD that have children. Have you thought about what you would or should do if your spouse has a severe or prolonged episode? Dani and I have talked about this extensively and we have come up with a plan that works for us. Here's what we decided on.
I know it sounds extreme, but I would go to any lengths to ensure the safety and peace of mind of my daughter and wife. I am not recommending that every family set up a plan just like this one. I am asking that you talk about it with your spouse and come up with a plan that you feel comfortable with, if you feel it's even necessary. I don't think that it will ever be necessary, but I would rather have a contingency plan in place in the event that something drastic causes my world to come crashing down around me.
First off, I wanted to thank Kenna for asking the question that motivated me to write this: Kenna asked me to clarify what I meant by 'get away' in my last blog post and I visited her blog to learn more about what she was actually struggling with so that I could address her question appropriately. From what her blog says, loving someone with PTSD is very new to her and she is struggling to learn how to deal with it. Kenna, you are not alone in this and thank you for having the courage to learn how to support someone with PTSD. Here's what I can tell you about my experience with this feeling and what I know causes me to need to 'get away'.
When I am feeling the effects of my PTSD the emotions I feel are anger, guilt, depressed, afraid, confused. I am angry that people died. I am guilty that I survived and they didn't . I am depressed because I can't deal with the intensity of either emotion. I am afraid that I won't come out of the funk I am in. I am confused because I have NO IDEA what caused the episode this time.
A caregiver's innate response to a loved one being in distress is to want to comfort by hugging, touching, talking and, in general, 'being there' (being in close proximity) for the one in distress. In most cases, this is actually the worst reaction a loved one can have.
When I am episodal, the I am feeling all of these intense negative emotions. If my wife was to try to 'comfort' me, I wouldn't be able to handle it. Here's why: The emotions I am feeling are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the ones she feels for me. I can't handle both sets of intense emotional input at the same time. Because I don't have any choice but to feel the emotions I am feeling, my response is to get rid of the source of the other emotions that I am not ready to deal with - i.e. I feel an overwhelming need to 'get away' from my wife and all other external input that might make it harder for me to deal with my PTSD.
What My Wife and I Have Learned:
Lesson One: Communication is Everything.
We keep the lines of communication open at all times. I let her know what kind of mood I am in and how my PTSD is currently affecting me. Depending on the answer that she gets will dictate how much she interacts with me at that given time. If I am episodal, she doesn't even need to talk to me. She has learned to recognize the signs and leaves me alone to work through it. She knows that when I am ready, I will come to her and talk to her about what I have been dealing with.
Lesson Two: Create a space in your house/apartment that is their 'PTSD Fallout Shelter'.
It is important that the person who has PTSD has a safe place IN THE HOME that they can retreat to when the need arises. I cannot stress how important this is. If the person suffering from PTSD feels the need to 'get away' and only has to go downstairs and play video games in his man-cave to get away, he never has to leave the house. This is critical. So many horrible things happen when the person with PTSD is forced to leave the safety of their home to find this space.
Lesson Three: Be Patient.
As a caregiver, it can be incredibly hard to resist the need to 'smother' their significant other with love and support. You have to have the patience to wait until they are ready to receive what you have to offer them. Do not take it personally if it takes a while and DO NOT EVER THINK IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!
OK, I think that's all of the important topics. Thank you, Kenna, for asking this question. If you need any further clarification or if this has brought up new questions that you would like answered, please let me know!
One thing I know I don't handle well: disrespect. I don't even know why this person is disrespectful to me. Either it's a character flaw on their part or they don't like me. Either way, I don't tolerate that kind of crap in my AOR. It's easy for my anger to get the better of me in a situation like this, but I am not going to let it take control and ruin any chance I have of fixing this in a constructive way. I had to catch myself today to keep the anger from coming out and I think it flashed across my face for just one second. I didn't respond to the disrespectful behavior in words, but I think that my facial expression for that split second paired with my change in body language got the message across that I am not someone to be trifled with. I just don't want people to be scared of me. I have a large, intimidating frame to begin with and it's hard enough to break down the barriers of wariness that I get from others on a regular basis. I do eventually succeed, but many people's initial reaction to my presence when they meet me is fear. They hide it well, but their body language tells a different story. I hate it, but I can't change that aspect of who I am. I just have to learn how to disarm people better.
I was at work and I saw someone who looked a lot like a soldier I knew from Iraq that didn't make it home. I don't know how I didn't lose it right then and there. I was hyper vigilant for the rest of my shift, checking my corners and evaluating everyone that came through my area for threat level. It was ridiculous. I work in a freaking grocery store! I don't know how my co-workers didn't notice my change in demeanor. Well, maybe it did and it scared them. I guess time will tell. It's hard for me to ascertain for myself how my PTSD affects others in a situation like that. When I got home, I took an extra dose of my anti-anxiety medication. I was so amped up I couldn't sit down for the first 30 minutes I was home. I did eventually calm down, but thinking you're seeing a ghost doesn't help your mental stability. But hey...I made it through and tomorrow's a new day, right?
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.