Sorry for the delay in getting this out to everyone. For personal reasons, I was not able to write this in a timely manner. For a good summary of what happened during the panel, click HERE. It's been too long since the panel for my memory to be clear of all that was said and the best I would be able to do is reading the paraphrasing of the live twitter feed. There are a few points that were made that were significant that I do remember and those are the ones that I will discuss in this post.
Veterans as Civic Assets:
One of the panelists, Koby Langley, commented that one of the major problems facing veterans is that they are not viewed as civic assets. I agree 100%. What was nice about him making that comments is that it puts that subject on the national radar. Veterans are volunteering and serving their local communities in record numbers and not much attention is being paid in the national media. Yes, they have articles about veteran volunteerism on websites like CNN and FOXNews. The problem: It's never THE item of news.
Veterans continue their selfless service after they leave the military, making a huge difference wherever they put down roots. This hard work and dedication to their communities, however, has not translated into gratitude and jobs. Serving honorably in the military used to mean stability and a guaranteed job upon separation from service. The communities we live in seem to have forgotten just what it is we sacrifice and how selflessly we serve. I don't say this on my account - my family doesn't live paycheck to paycheck, but too many veterans and their families struggle to make enough to keep a roof over their heads. Many veterans with disabilities that CAN work aren't given equal consideration for employment yet none of us can prove discrimination. I am lucky that I work for a compassionate company that does right by veterans.
Koby obviously understands this struggle that veterans face every day and is working to make sure that our plight is put on the national radar and stays there. Many thanks, Koby, for your efforts and I wish you success in your endeavors.
We were all in for a surprise visit before the panel got under way. Representatives Phil Roe of Tennessee and Tim Walz of Minnesota talked to the audience about all of the struggles facing veterans with PTSD. They vowed that no partisan politics would come into play when it came to doing right by veterans. I was surprised to see a Republican and a Democrat standing side by side voluntarily. The respect each man had for each other was obvious. It was very heartening to see.
With all of the partisan vitriol constantly being spewed from all corners of DC and across the country, more open cooperation is necessary for our country to move forward - especially concerning the long-term care for our nation's veteran population. Representatives Roe and Walz have dedicated themselves to doing what is best for veterans, regardless of constituency or political affiliation. I encourage them to continue on this path of cooperation. I know I will be paying much closer attention to their efforts in DC.
Again, I am sorry that I was unable to follow up on this panel like I did last year. Personal issues, aside, I still believe that the conversations being held at these panels is important and gives us all an idea where policy is headed (as well as what issues will be focused on by non-profits and veterans organizations). I just wish that I could have given this panel discussion the attention it was due. If you are interested in watching the whole panel and the Q&A, you can watch it below. I would love to hear from everyone on what was covered in this panel. Hope everyone has a great week!
So the MRI results came back negative for TBI. In fact, they said my brain health was incredibly good. Talk about a relief. The only problem is that I still have all of the problems but they just don't stem from TBI. The only other viable explanation is extreme sleep deficit.
So Now What?
Well, I talked with the docs and did research online and it appears that folks with PTSD are substantially more susceptible to sleep dysregulation. Working shift work where your schedule is inconsistent at best wreaks havoc on our systems. It leads to a substantial loss of quality sleep and overall hours of sleep resulting in a major sleep deficit that, over time, erodes cognitive abilities and short term memory (among other things).
Their solution is to recommend to my employer that I get put on a consistent schedule that will facilitate a strong routine. They want me to get up at the same time every day. Start and end work at the same times every day. Go to the gym the same time every day. Make dinner the same time every day. Go to bed the same time every day.
They said it will take time, but it will eventually retrain my body to digest, sleep, and burn at appropriate times and intervals. Now I just need to see whether my employer will be able to facilitate this or not. That is the major concern I have with all of this. If they can't facilitate that, what then? Well, I'm not crossing that bridge yet. Let's see what happens when I meet with HR tomorrow.
Today was one of those days. I woke up tired and angry. I was a little bit nervous about going to work because I didn't feel in particular control. I went anyways. Not even two hours into my shift someone did something that really triggered me (disrespect will do that). Next thing I know, I am shaking from the adrenalin and fighting off some extreme anger. My only saving grace was that I was responsible for tasks that left me to my own devices and allowed me to essentially ignore everyone. I made it over six hours before my anger finally made it too exhausting and stressful to stay at work.
I just couldn't figure out what the hell caused me to wake up that angry. Nothing seemed to make any sense. After I got home, I got changed and went to the gym. I did cardio until I couldn't sweat anymore. It cleared my head a bit but I still couldn't figure out what the hell had set me into that pattern of barely concealed and controlled anger. I hadn't been there in quite a while.
And then it hit me.
I only seem to get that angry when I feel particularly out of control of something - the spectre of TBI hanging over my head fits the bill nicely. Now I just need to figure out what in the hell to do about it. I am going to have to change some things in my lifestyle to help compensate for this. I have no resolution to the TBI issue in the near future but the workout helped a lot. Time to get serious about putting my life in order. Adequate sleep, exercise to burn off the adrenalin, anything I can do to stay stable and prescient for my family.
Guess we'll see how it goes...
Recently, I have noticed an uptick in the severity of my PTSD symptoms and my coinciding depression. It's starting to make me worry a little bit that not having a functional group to attend is slowly eroding my ability to cope and adversely affecting the effectiveness of my coping mechanisms. Or...It could be just a temporary uptick because of the uncertainty surrounding my upcoming TBI evaluation. Either way, it's decidedly annoying and not something I am handling well.
What to do? I am going to have an individual therapy session this week and I plan on talking to my therapist about my concerns and my frustrations with not having a group to attend. My PTSD is fighting to get through - the anger, the depression, the nightmares, and the insomnia. I also have been dealing with a higher than usual level of hypervigilance. Most nights I toss and turn so badly that I end up sleeping in my recliner, uncertain as to why I don't feel safe - I just don't.
What's even more frustrating is that there is a very clear dichotomy in my life. Everything is going so well with my non-profit and my plans for it. The more I work at it, the more I feel fulfilled and stable. When I have days where I don't have time to work on it, I feel a hair's-breadth from snapping at people. Today would be a prime example. I had to go to work early and I have not been able to do anything for my non-profit. I knew I wasn't going to have the time when I woke up this morning and it made it exceedingly difficult to deal with people at work. I am not even certain what ticked me off so much - they just did.
So, time to hold it together and hope I can figure this out. I only have ten more days to go until my TBI eval, so we'll see how it goes. I guess we'll see if I can hold myself together until them Fingers crossed.
The day started off so well. My wife and I took my daughter down to a local mall and we walked outside and enjoyed the weather, ate at Red Robin, and my daughter played with the other kids in the fountain next to the Starbucks. No really, she did:
I feel relaxed. I am enjoying the day. In the mid-afternoon, we get in the car and head home. When we get there, I very quickly fall asleep in my recliner...and wake up choking on my own bile from a nightmare. I bolt out of my seat and start gagging and puking up bile into the sink in the kitchen. My daughter saw the whole thing happen and it's a first I could have done without. She is scared out of her wits and very worried about her daddy. I stay as calm as I can since I am still gagging and trying to clear my wind pipe and my wife is a champ, explaining that daddy's ok. I did my best to reassure her that I was ok, but she wasn't satisfied until my gag reflex receded and I was able to pick her up.
Caley: "Daddy, you cried."
Me: "Yes I did, bear bear."
Caley: "It's OK, Daddy, It's OK" (hugs me fiercly)
Me: "I'll be OK, Caley. Daddy just had a bad dream."
Caley: "I love you, Daddy."
After that exchange, my heart melted into my figurative boots. Caley asked to be put down and went back to playing in the living room and I was left to reflect on my nightmare. It was about the death of an Iraqi translator that was killed for working with the US. He knew it was dangerous but worked hard to ensure the safety of our troops wherever he was. He wasn't the only Iraqi to die protecting us. The Kurdish Peshmerga (Special Forces) guarded our safehouse in Khanaqin. Many were murdered after they returned home to the Kurdish North for disobeying orders and staying to protect us while we got set up in town. These are not isolated incidents. These men were believers in what the United States stands for and died to protect our troops. They paid the ultimate sacrifice too, but you will never see a monument to their courage and selflessness. The men and women have always been there in any war - the forgotten heroes. The locals who believe so strongly in us that they protect our troops and sacrifice themselves for our cause.
I don't know why I had that nightmare in the middle of a wonderful day. I think I may actually be grateful for it. All of us are mourning the loss of those we served with who didn't make it home. All I ask is that you take a moment to reflect on the nameless ones who never expected to be remembered. Take a minute to praise and give thanks for those who have selflessly sacrificed themselves to ensure our troop's safety in a hostile environment and paid the ultimate price for their efforts.
Because, In My Eyes, They Were All American Service Members, Too
I have been trying and trying to write this blog post and every time I start to write it, I can't seem to get anywhere. Honestly, the whole prospect of TBI has been a lot to wrap my mind around and I have been having issues with my PTSD as a result. It scares the hell out of me. What makes it worse is that I don't even know if it IS TBI - and that's what's killing me right now. If it's not TBI, is it because I am not getting good sleep? Or could it be that my brain chemistry has changes drastically and my med cocktail is out of wack? What if it's all three or none of the above? It's driving me nuts and I haven't been able to concentrate at all. My ability to focus has gone right out the window.
Then there's the PTSD. As a result of all of the added uncertainty and fear, I have been struggling to keep emotionally involved with my wife and daughter. Granted, when I start to withdraw, I have been able to catch myself and pull myself back from becoming a cave-dweller, but it scares me that this whole situation has had such an adverse effect on my ability to cope with aspects of my PTSD that I have managed very well over the past six months.
The TBI evaluation cannot happen fast enough. It's amazing how uncertainty can throw my life into total disarray. If anyone has any brilliant suggestions on how to work through this, I am all ears.
Well, I had another session with my individual therapist today. We did a lot of talking about my recent realizations about being black and white about everything. We still haven't come anywhere close to a work around or work-through. One realization that I did make was that survivor's guilt plays a huge role in setting the standards I hold myself to (and my inability to forgive myself for not being good enough) and why I can't forgive others for disappointing me (well, violating my trust is more accurate). There's a lot more to this that I still have to work through, that's for sure. One of the things she told me is that she's concerned that because I need to have people fall into one category or another (Trusted or Not), I may try to force people to fit into those narrow categories, even when they don't belong there.
We talked about this for the vast majority of the session and she asked me if there was anything else bothering when I unintentionally dropped a bomb on her. I could tell it concerned her greatly because her demeanor went from relaxed and attentive to focused and intense. Here's the situation:
Last week, Thursday night into Friday, I lost a day. What do I mean by that? I went to sleep a little after midnight and the next thing I remember coherently is waking up and realizing I have to be at work in 45 minutes - work started at 2PM. I slept for over 12 hours. I remember nothing in the interim. The next thing I remember clearly from that night is helping to clean the slicers at the end of the night. I know interacted appropriately with my coworkers, but I have absolutely no sense of the passage of time for that night. None. I have no idea whether I was asleep all that time either.
I drove home that night wondering whether I was going to be walking into a shitstorm at home. I had no idea. After talking about this with my therapist today and seeing how concerned she got, it raised some alarms in my head and I ended up not working on the newsletters I wanted to send out today - I could barely concentrate on writing this blog post. So I decided to take a break and watch a movie or two. I couldn't concentrate on anything and it was starting to ratchet up my anxiety something fierce.
What I thought was strangest was the timing. Everything was going well. My PTSD symptoms were wll-managed. The only thing I can think of is that it happened the night after I talked to the consultant about incorporation and foundation documents for the non-profit and I had a funding proposal that I put before a local veterans group for consideration. I was extremely excited. I was thinking that maybe my body doesn't know how to tell the difference between excitement and fear. I know my adrenalin was pumping like crazy.
Unfortunately, the end result was the same - I lost a day.
So now, I have to track when this happens to see if there is a pattern. I did some looking online and the specific information about the symptoms of TBI seem to fall in line with some of the issues I have with short-term memory, loss of sense of time, anger, etc. Anyone out there know more specifics or resources online that articulate this better? I don't want to pee up a tree and send doctors looking for ghosts if there's nothing to this.
This past Wednesday, I had my weekly meeting with my individual therapist and she expressed some concern about how black and white I was. She didn't express concern with the way I was black and white in the fiasco that was my last group session. She asked me if I was this black and white about most things in life in general. I said I was. She asked me if that bothered me and I said that it didn't really. Then she went on to give me scenarios: work, social gatherings, making friends, working with others in my non-profit. What happens in those situations when someone violates some aspect of my code?
My response? I rationalized it all away. The upsetting part is that I didn't realize that's what I had done until after the fact. It hit me later that night and ran me over like a train when I had time to think through it more fully. The inability to see and accept shades of grey is what has held me back at work and from making friends.
At Work: I voluntarily stepped down from a management position because I was too stressed out all of the time and was having difficulty handling my anger when people did little thinks that would trigger the massive overreaction that would ensue. Most of the time, I didn't show the overreaction and that's what made me so stressed and so exhausted all of the time. Up until this moment, I didn't realize that it wasn't the job that was stressing me out - I was my PTSD getting triggered. How about them apples?
Friendship: I haven't been able to make any friends for a while. Every time I make one, they do something that violates some minor aspect of my 'code' and I refuse to bend because 'I don't operate that way'. I have alienated almost all of the people I considered friends not solely because of what they did, but also because they violated my personal code which I have been treating as inviolable. The end result? I write them off and cease all contact because 'I don't need their shit'.
The End Result: Through unwitting actions I have taken, I have succeeded in halting my career progression and alleviated myself of friendships that should have been long-standing ones. Way to go me. The worst part is what it has done to my self-esteem and estimation of my self-worth. I feel like a pariah. I don't like the person I see in the mirror. I feel worthless.
The Solution?: Hell if I know, but at least I have made that realization and have somewhere to start from and something to work on. If this is what many of us go through in professional settings and in friendships, no wonder we have a tendency to live very isolated lives. Well, at least I know what I am going to be working on with my therapist over the coming weeks and months. I can't let this stand. Having success in starting my non-profit has only made me realize that I need more than an hourly wage at work. I need to live up to my level or experience and knowledge and work to put myself in a position to affect real progress in my professional life. Having started the non-profit also made me realize that, other than my wife and my parents, I have no one to share my passion with - no one to celebrate with. I'm tired of feeling lonely. Maybe it's time I go find a wading pool...
Boy was I glad to have off Sunday. I talked in my previous post how the Boston Bombings had really triggered my PTSD. Well, I did what I said I was going to do and I turned off the news.
Too bad it made absolutely no difference whatsoever.
Every day I went to work, people wouldn't stop talking about the latest developments in the bombings. Yippee. Everyone knows I am a veteran and this situation was the first time I wished people didn't know. Everyone wanted my opinion on the situation. Everyone wanted to tell me about it and hear what I thought. People kept on telling me they were afraid it wasn't over - that something was going to happen again, and soon.
Not exactly the type of thing I needed to hear. So, work became trigger after trigger. The only thing that's kept me from hiding in my hole is my love for my family and my advocacy work. The gym has TVs suspended in front of every piece of cardio equipment. Any guesses as to what was on every one of those TVs?
I couldn't escape it until Sunday, my day off. I took a break from things all morning and early afternoon and just spent time with my wife and daughter. We met my sister-in-law and her two Blue Tick Coon Hounds and we went for a walk in the local park. It was really nice just to get away and enjoy a cool spring day. I felt revitalized and came home and got to work on website design for the non-profit.
So what happens now? I need to rethink my strategy for coping with this and not getting triggered at work. I can't keep this up or I am going to exhaust myself. I guess I can talk about it in group therapy this week and see what we come up with.
I don't think I need to recount what happened yesterday. When I heard about it from my father when I got home from work, I had to (and I mean HAD TO) see what was going on.
The descriptions, the blood, first-hand accounts, everything, triggered my memories of stuff that I had seen and been through over in Iraq. The second I knew I was triggered, I slammed shut my computer and I walked away and tried to do stuff that would take my mind off of what had happened up in Boston. I succeeded pretty well and was able to go to bed at a fairly normal hour. Then the nightmares came. They weren't so bad that they woke me up, but it was an endless cycle of suffering and emotional pain. When my alarm went off at 0600, I didn't get out of bed. I barely made it to work and I knew that I was going to be anxious as all hell.
And I was. An hour in, I had to pop an extra anxiety med to keep my self going. Another hour later, another.
Wash, rinse, repeat for five straight hours. I didn't have any more with me and I knew that my anxiety was still getting worse. I gutted it out but told my boss that as soon as the evening shift came in at two, I had to leave. To his credit, he didn't question it. He thanked me for gutting it out today. I think he knew that something was really rattling my cage.
So, I came home and I unwound. I took another pill and ended up passing out in my recliner, only to be woken up when my wife and daughter got home. I still feel triggered, but I am hoping that is something that I can work through with my individual therapist and group therapy tomorrow. I guess we'll see,
This is where I want to do a little explaining. Why was work so hard for me?
Everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY was talking about it. The customers, the employees, everybody. Everybody had a theory about who did it, why, how, everything. To make matters worse, I came into work and the flags were still at full mast. It just tweaked me that much more. I immediately went to the store manager and asked him if he knew why the flags weren't at half mast. He said he'd look into it. Thankfully, the next opportunity I had to check, they were or I think I might have lost it. All in all, it was one conversation between two customers that I overhead that almost made me blow a gasket:
CustA: You heard about that Boston Shit, right?
CustB: Yeah, that's what happens when you let those dirty Arabs into our country.
CustA: I know, man. They already got a Saudi in lock-up.
CustB: They should have just let that sand-N****R ass bleed.
Yup. This shit brings out the best in people, don't ya think? I almost didn't walk away. All I can say is this:
If you are a veteran who has been triggered by this bombing, don't watch the fucking news! Just leave well enough alone. If you don't trust yourself not to, ask your family or spouse for support in this. It makes things easier when I am not constantly re-triggering myself. It's not that I don't care, it's that I care to much and the feeling of helplessness, not being able to do anything to help kills me. I know you know what I mean.
So there it is. Avoid triggers and avoid people you know that are ignorant and hateful. Now I am calling it a day and I am going to spend time with my wife and daughter who I suddenly find even more precious than I did yesterday.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.