It's amazing how quickly medical problems can add up to turn coping with PTSD into trying to walk through a minefield. I'm struggling to understand why all of these random health problems seem to keep happening to me, but it's getting old and particularly challenging to deal with. While I am not out of the woods yet, I am starting to feel a little better. That being said, the stress of this past week has taken an incredible toll on my wife and I. I am physically exhausted as my body continues its struggle to heal. My wife is beyond emotionally exhausted after having to resume the role of full-time caregiver of our daughter (and me). What makes that even worse is that these were physical issues on my part that were not (as far as we know) related to my PTSD.
Here's the synopsis:
As you can see, it's been a long week. While I am proud that I have been able to keep a lid on the anger (barely), it has been substantially more difficult to keep the catastrophic thinking and anxiety at bay over the course of this week - especially when I thought about my job security. At some point a company is going to decide they've had enough and I live in an at-will employment state. I kept on thinking, with how unreliable I have been because of health issues over the past year, they would be justified in letting me go. While that outcome is improbable, the catastrophic thinking was pushing to convince me that I was going to lose my job.
Sooo,,,Now that I have turned the corner with my health issues and finally feel like I am on the road to recovery, I now have to contend with the emotional/PTSD fallout from everything I went through this past week. The anxiety and adrenalin are still going strong and it is hard to keep a lid on them and not freak out. But I am still here, somehow.
I can't even imagine how hard this past week has been on my wife, She just can't seem to catch a break and enjoy a little bit of stability, what with the PTSD and the random health issues. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. While I know that the physical issues are completely out of my control, it doesn't change how guilty I feel that she had to experience that emotional distress, take care of me and our two year old, and work to bring in money to keep us financially stable. Seeing her that distraught and still fighting made my heart clench in my chest. She just never gives up. She fights until she literally can't stand up anymore. It's disturbing to think of where I might be right now if it wasn't for the amazing fortitude of my wife and the strength of her love for me. It's why I will always be dedicated to her, working as hard as I can to see her happy and fulfilled, despite my problems.
Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday. All I keep thinking about is how we need tomorrow to be uneventful and restful, for both our sakes. So, here's to hoping.
Well, I made a stupid mistake at work. I sliced my finger really deeply and ended up in the ER getting stitches. Two hours and six stitches later, the tip of my finger looked like a finger again...and not like a hot dog that someone had sliced down the middle. I was really calm through the whole thing, but was exhausted from the adrenalin when I got home at the end of the day. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't have any major issues.
Then the adrenalin started wearing off and my finger was on fire. I struggled to get comfortable. The pain was extreme and all I was allowed to take was Tylenol or Ibuprofen. I didn't bother. When I laid down to try to get to sleep, I fell deeply into nightmares. Dead bodies, broken and torn. The smell of blood, the screams of the injured and dying...It was hell. I woke up gagging and choking on my own bile. I ran to the bathroom and spent the next half hour vomiting and dry-heaving.
The cherry on top of it all: It scared the living shit out of my daughter. Not only do I have 'big boo boo finger', I now have 'boo boo tummy'. It was devastating to see my daughter come up to me acting brave and say, 'Dada cry. It's OK, Dada'. I felt myself shrivel up inside. My instincts were screaming at me to pull away and withdraw. I couldn't let go. I love her too much.
How can so many things go so horribly wrong when everything was going so well? I. Hate. This. What do I do? I spent all day in horrible pain because of my finger and my throat was raw and swollen from vomiting. Oh yeah, my ear was still swollen and sore from the infection, too. I really need this crap to stop, but I will never give up. It does make it more difficult to control my anger, though, and that is something I really need to be wary of.
Well, the day's almost over. For the first time in a long time, I am wary of going to sleep. I gotta try, though. Despite everything that's happened this week, I have to be at work tomorrow morning and 'acting normal'. It's amazing the faces we have to put on just to get by and hold down a job, huh?
What do you do when you realize that everything you have been doing for free (advocating for veterans and educating civilians) is something that you'd like to do as a career?
I can tell you this, while it doesn't take away from the fulfillment I find in helping veterans and their loved ones, it does motivate me to find ways to make my dream job a reality. In recent months, so much has happened that has drawn a lot of attention to the deficiencies in our behavioral health system. I hear and read about all of these so-called experts talking about how we need to fix the system and they all agree: we need to add more layers of bureaucracy and research. Remind me again, how does this help? When are organizations going to start listening to the ideas of the people they are designed to help?
Our behavioral health system is out of date and out of touch with the realities of today's population. I have looked around. Unless you have a substance abuse problem, it is almost impossible to find real-world peer to peer support groups.
I have a strong desire to change this and have some ideas on how to affect positive change. I do need to consult with some folks about some certain subjects and would appreciate any advice that people could give me. Here's what I need:
I am sure there will be more down the line, but right now, I am interested in gaining feedback from people with these areas of expertise so that I can perform a feasibility study for an idea that I have. If you know anyone who may fit this criteria who may be interested in finding out more, please have them contact me through the website! I have tomorrow off, so I will be spending some downtime with my family. A little decompression before starting a new gig at work is always a good idea. I plan on writing some more of my next installment of my serial novel. It always seems to clear my head. Have a good weekend, everyone!
This past Wednesday I was sitting in group and I was pretty angry. I whole lot more angry than I felt I should have been. We were discussing why I felt so strongly about respect and the equal and fair treatment of others. We took a little trip back to high school memories.
Not a place I enjoy going. We discussed how I was bullied in high school because I was an intellectual with independently formed opinions and a strong moral compass that didn't endear me to the acting out that most kids do in high school. I was physically bullied. A lot. When I got to my senior year, I had enough and finally started fighting back. When I wasn't an easy target anymore, the cowards stopped bullying me.
I didn't realize how much of this played affected my response to things I witnessed in Iraq. I was in Diyallah Province for most of my time over there. For the uninitiated, that's where the Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish controlled lands met. Three sects that hated each other in a situation made more volatile by the inherent vacuum of power created by the downfall of the Hussein Regime. The strong in each sect bullied the weak in the others. People were killed in retaliation for 25 year old conflicts between clans and tribes. Kurds killed Arabs suspected of supporting Saddam's regime. Kurds filled with hatred over the Hussein Regime's abuse of their ethnic group took out their pent up anger on Arabic children, hanging them while their parents were forced to watch. In essence, the most extreme and heartless manifestations of bullying imaginable.
And for a year, I was powerless to do anything to prevent it. All I could do was pursue the perpetrators after the fact, if and only if it was in line with the political alliances we had made in the region.
That's the reality of war and 'peacekeeping'. It tore me to pieces knowing I had the ability to put a stop to it but was powerless to use that ability to ensure any kind of true stability. I knew the cultures. I knew the what and how of making it stop and wasn't allowed to act on it because it was out of my purview as a linguist. I could recommend courses of action until I was blue in the face but no one would listen to the word of a sergeant. Not when politics were involved. They all firmly believed that politicking would create the stability they sought. They were wrong and still are.
Because of the civilian on civilian atrocities I witnessed directly or in passing every day in the markets and towns, my soul was destroyed. It was a death of a thousand cuts.
OK, so what does any of this have to do with my ability to cope now that I am home? Whenever my ideas are dismissed out of hand, I have to choke on my anger, my bile. Whenever I see someone abuse a position of power or bully another, I see red. I didn't realize how much empowering myself to stop the bullying in high school would lead to the extreme depths of despair I experienced when I wasn't able to stop it over in Iraq.
Now I do. The only problem I still have is that it doesn't change the way I feel about how people treat one another. It just validates my anger and that's dang
If anyone was unaware, I am an introvert. I was an introvert before the PTSD and it has only made those introverted tendencies more pronounced. What I didn't realize is how much the PTSD had changed my overall demeanor and personality. At the behest of Rod Deaton, I have been reading this book:
"...Emily nurtures her marriage in just the way that you'd expect an agreeable introvert to do, making Greg the center of her social universe.
Any of this sounding familiar yet? I know it sure did for me and my wife. I read her this passage and she just started laughing. She said that this was us to a 'T'. What makes this even more important to absorb and understand is that introverts and extroverts are very commonly drawn to each other because their demeanors complement each other well. Hence the relationship issues you hear about so often in our community of veterans with PTSD. I encourage everyone that identifies with this passage to discuss it with their significant other. Understanding this about each other can lead to compromises that will keep you both happier. My wife and I have discussed this and we are working on setting up a system where sometimes we go out (even though it exhausts me) and sometimes we stay home and watch a movie or read in companionable silence (being still makes my wife antsy). The simple fact that you are making the effort for each other is what makes all the difference.
The second excerpt addresses arguments and differences in approach:
'...When she and Greg disagree, her voice gets quiet and flat, her manner slightly distant. What she's trying to do is minimize aggression - Emily is uncomfortable with anger - but she appears to be receding emotionally. Meanwhile, Greg does just the opposite, raising his voice and sounding belligerent as he gets ever more engaged in working out their problem. The more Emily seems to withdraw, the more alone, then hurt, then enraged Greg becomes; the angrier he gets, the more hurt and distaste Emily feels, and the deeper she retreats. Pretty soon they're locked in a destructive cycle from which they can't escape, partly because both spouses believe they're arguing in an appropriate manner..."
Yeah, that one hit me like a ton of bricks...I kept on thinking how much my wife and I have spun through this cycle over the past six years. I felt truly frustrated and disgusted with myself. I highly doubt I am alone in this.
I have never been one to give relationship advice. It's not my area of expertise and I sure as hell don't have any room to talk from a position of superior moral authority on the subject. That being said, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It delves into workplace relationship dynamics as well. I believe it will help veterans better communicate with their loved ones and their co-workers, enabling them to lead happier and more productive lives.
So, yeah...I started working out again this past week. I have realized that the only way that I am going to be able to stay committed to working out is to go all out. What's odd is the way that I came to this realization: I have been in a funk for the better part of the past week. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why in the hell I was feeling so down. I started putting it together after I had worked out last night after work. I had been starting slowly and letting my muscles get reacquainted with weight training. I hadn't added cardio into the mix quite yet. When I got home from from the gym last night, I was almost instantly grumpy and withdrawn.
And then it clicked.
I wasn't fully committing to working out and I wasn't kicking the endorphins into high enough gear for the 'feel-good' to affect me. I thought about it a lot. I felt good while I was working out but it immediately started to fade as soon as I was done. It kept on leaving the gym feeling faintly dissatisfied. I knew that you had to attain a certain level of physical activity for the endorphin release to sustain itself for any length of time. With this in mind, I decided it was time to throw in a half-hour of cardio today. My body felt good and I wasn't sore, so I figured I might as well.
So today, I got out of work, headed to the gym, did 30 minutes of cardio and then weight training. My hunch appears to be correct. When I finished my workout, the good mood was still there and I felt good. I still felt a little out of balance after a week of 'I feel good, I feel like crap'. I liked the way I felt today. I was more aware and focused at home. I wasn't withdrawing from my wife and daughter.
So let this be a lesson to everyone else out there: When your doc says you need to exercise, take it seriously. I feel so much better when I am working out. I am more alert, more engaged. *so tired - going to bed and finishing tomorrow...*
Ok, to finish up:
The word of caution I have for all of the others out there that are feeling balanced on their medication: Exercise releases a lot of chemicals into the brain that cause feelings of happiness and contentedness. It might be a good idea to pay a little closer attention to your mood while you are getting into the habit of exercising consistently. Any time you drastically change your brain chemistry, it can change the potency, duration, and effect of the medications we are on. Please don't take this as an excuse to avoid exercising. Trust me when I say that the difference is wonderful. Just don't do it half-way. You'll thank me later.
Again, the true and enduring cost of war illustrates how little politicians thought about the long-term ramifications of a decade of war. These young men and women that took their lives survived unspeakable horrors overseas, TBI, other related injuries. As a nation we have let them down. The VA continues to struggle, in an outmoded business model, understaffed and underfunded. The practitioners in the VA healthcare system are left with little option but to show compassion and do the best they know how, given extreme limitations on time and resources.
The DOD says that they have instituted successful programs to improve education, behavioral health services and access, and service member resiliency. Go ahead folks, pat yourselves on the back. Your programs have been so 'successful' that the suicide rate in the military jumped 16%. Great job.
Then there's the other, more disturbing statistic: According to the IAVA, the VA estimates that 18 veterans take their lives DAILY. All the while, the useless bureaucrats at the VA are tilting at windmills and spending millions of dollars on pipe dreams and long shot research while ignoring the major problem the VA encounters on a daily basis - too many administrators, not enough caregivers.
The concerted efforts of the DOD and the VA are equivalent to putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. While some can justifiably argue that the increasing suicide rate amongst active service members is a result of ten years of conflict, how do they justify the fact that they provide no support network for recently separated veterans who are in distress? Does anyone think it's a coincidence that veterans with behavioral issues like PTSD, Acute Anxiety, and Depression don't come forward for help? Most of the time veterans return to uneducated family members that don't understand what the veteran is going through. Some take the time to understand their veteran. Many don't and chalk up the changes as their veteran being an ass or a 'pussy'. This ends up isolating our veterans without a support network with many holing themselves up in their homes and only having contact with the outside world through the internet. The more they withdraw, the more time they have to get too far into their own heads. They want to come forward to get help, but are fearful of the stigma they think they will face coming forward.
It's time to change this conversation and put pressure on our politicians, business leader, and everyday citizens to demand they step forward to care for the 1% willing to protect and ensure everyone else's freedoms. The state of the behavioral health care system in the country is a disgrace. The infrastructure is archaic and outmoded, unable to reach the people who need their help the most. The conversation we should be having: How do we change the system to best reach those that are at risk and isolated? No one hears a cry for help in a shuttered room.
I implore you. Share this message with everyone you know. Send a copy to your Congressman, your Senator. Stand up and be heard, stand up in solidarity so that we can end this epidemic.
Yours in Health,
Well, it looks like I will be moving departments in about a week and a half to help out another department that is a little depleted right now. While I don't mind helping out short-term, any major changes like this have a tendency to ratchet up the anxiety quite a bit. Of course this happens right when I am starting to get my anxiety down to manageable levels after a trying holiday season. Why would it happen any other time?
So now I have to make sure that I don't get too stressed at work and bring it home to my family. I don't want to put them through any of that again. It's easier said than done, though. If I can't help from bringing it home, I just hope that I can keep it under control until my daughter is in bed. I need to be there for her and I love the relationship that we have now. She comes running at the sound of the door opening when I get home from work and I get a huge hug every day when I get home.
I guess we'll see how this goes, but I can already feel the anxiety building and it hasn't even happened yet. I hate this feeling. The feeling of trepidation, without any specific thought or fear causing it that I can articulate. Well, guess it's just another day...
Well, my last CPT session went really well. I was talking about how I had gone into a funk over the holidays and how I was trying to eliminate stressors from my life. It was an interesting conversation. We talked about how my lack of regular schedule at work was keeping me from being able to get into a routine. Routines are important to me. When I have a consistent schedule, I am able to get to the gym and workout. When I am able to work out consistently, I feel better and look better. I expressed how frustrated I was that I couldn't seem to find a way to get myself on a routine. What I realized is that having a job in retail doesn't exactly lend itself to maintaining a low stress lifestyle.
I was all down on myself and one of the guys from group and pointed out to the doc and me how much progress I have made. I thought. What Progress!?! He went on to explain that when I first came to group, I was a hot mess. All of the problems I had been trying to find solutions for were intangibles - worst case scenarios, even though they had little chance of ever occurring. I stressed out about all of the things that were out of my control. What he told me was that I need to keep a proper perspective. What he sees is a guy that is focused on addressing tangible problems that will lead to an improved quality of life.
It goes to show you how incredibly important objective validation can mean to a vet with PTSD. The progress I have made was so gradual that I didn't notice any change in my perspective or any changes in the way that I address problems. I really couldn't see the forest for the trees. My perseverance has paid off, yet I was still the last one to know!
It truly floored me. I sat back and absorbed it for the remainder of group and felt something I hadn't dared feel in a really long time: hope. If I persevere, stay the course, can I really make a more fulfilling and happy life for myself and my family? Maybe I can. Maybe I can.
As always, the post-holiday funk lasted longer than I expected it to. I have been trying for over a week to write something meaningful for my blog, but have been dissatisfied with what I had written and deleted a total of seven drafts before finally figuring out what was bothering me so much.
I was depressed, severely. I had no idea why and it was frustrating as all hell to find a way to articulate why being depressed made me feel annoyed and angry with myself. After all, the rest of the holiday season went pretty smoothly. I didn't have any major issues with my PTSD. I didn't have any anger issues with family. I really enjoyed my time that I did get to spend with family, despite my standing desire to avoid large family gatherings out of fear of my PTSD getting the better of me in those situations. I refused to let my fear of the PTSD keep me from enjoying the company of family I don't get to see very often.
So, imagine my surprise when I woke up on January Second, depressed as all hell and fighting the urge to hide in a deep, dark hole for the better part of the month. Why the hell am I still depressed? It doesn't make any sense. Why would I be depressed when everything went so well?
It took me until tonight to finally put two and two together. It was the release of pent up stress from working in a store that experiences extremely high customer traffic. Having to contend with large crowds, disgruntled and stressed co-workers, demanding customers, and substantially less sleep ratcheted up my stress level substantially. It was the release of this pent up stress that triggered the depression.
So now, I have to claw my way back out of this funk so that I can focus on all of the things that matter to me most: Family and Family. I am thinking that the break from blogging, while necessary, deprived me of an essential release valve for my stress.
I have my first individual and group therapy sessions of the year tomorrow and I am really looking forward to getting back into that groove as well. Maybe other reasons will present themselves during therapy. I am certainly hoping that I can make a breakthrough tomorrow. This depression is sucking the motivation out of me faster than I can recharge my batteries.
Am I the only one experiencing this? I doubt it. It would be very helpful to hear from you all on this matter.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.