When this first happened, I wanted to write something immediately. I felt compelled to write from the heart on this, but I waited. This incident devastated too many lives to be written off the cuff. I decided to look into some background information so substantiate my views and in the course of doing that research became more and more disturbed, more and more concerned for the direction our country is headed. So, here goes.
The proliferation of firearms in the United States has reached critical mass. Industry lobbyists in Washington have worked tirelessly to pave the way for almost anyone to be able to purchase and own firearms. While I believe in the Second Amendment, I think it's time we actually looked at what the Second Amendment actually says.
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Well, this seems pretty damn black and white to me. 'If this criteria is met, then this holds true'. Is the United States general public now considered a 'well regulated militia'? Is owning an automatic rifle 'necessary to the security of a free state'? Unequivocally, NO. We have local police, state police, the National Guard, and more. There is absolutely no reason for assault rifles to be available to the general public.
Before any NRA sycophants get on here and rant, you better think carefully about what you say. I fought to protect the ideals of this country, so don't you dare impugn my intentions. You want to argue your 'right to bear arms'? Last time I checked, this right is an AMENDMENT. First and foremost we have a duty to uphold the core tenants of the Constitution. Let's visit the core tenant of that wonderful document:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness."
It is not a coincidence that Life takes the spot as highest in precedence. When others' rights to bear arms encroaches on another citizen's right to live a life in pursuit of these three basic tenants, I draw the line. No parents should have to live in fear of sending their children to school. They shouldn't have to fear a phone call telling them that their six year old was murdered in cold blood by an assault rifle toting psychopath.
I thought deeply about the philosophy that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' While semantically true, this is a delusional rationalization. Yes, guns don't kill people. Someone has to pull the trigger and we, as a society, have made that insanely easy to accomplish. It's time that we held ourselves to a higher standard.
Special Interests and Politics:
While the above incident is horrible, it is a symptom of a deeper malady - a cancer that has spread insidiously into every facet of National Governance. Special Interests, working to promote specific agendas have taken our political system hostage. Special interest groups have taken over policy making so completely in Washington that the average politician can't get elected without taking money from these groups and offering policy reciprocity in return. We supposedly elect these politicians to office out of a belief that they will do what is best for their constituencies. Now, campaign platforms are empty words designed to keep power-hungry 'public servants' in office. Special interest groups are the ones that facilitate this. Their money buys influence and power in Washington, drowning out the voices of the average American who doesn't have millions of dollars to throw at corrupt politicians. The firearm special interests and the NRA both tout deep and abiding beliefs in God. Unless God is now synonymous the almighty dollar, these folks and the politicians that support them are the most profound of hypocrites. Last time I checked, avarice was one of the seven deadly sins. The firearm industry and their cadre of bought policy-makers have sold the lives of our children out of a desire for more money and more power. So I say this to those policy-makers and lobbyists - HOW DARE YOU.
It's time that we take back our power from these elitists. I didn't go to war to protect and uphold the Constitution of the Unites States just to watch it be slowly subverted to fit the greed and need of a select few.
Ultimately, it is these lobbyists and policy-makers that have supported lax firearms policies that I hold accountable for what happened in Connecticut. If I had my way, they'd all be brought up on charges of Negligent Homicide. Take what you will from this, but my stance will never change. Policy-makers are given their power by us. We can just as easily take it away. It's time they start advocating for us and not the special interests.
Mental Health Care in the United States:
Since I was diagnosed with PTSD, I have taken a keen interest in the state of the mental health care system in our country. Bluntly, it's embarrassing. So little education is out there about mental illness, mental disorders that those with these issues are viewed by many as second-class citizens at best and a danger to the general public at worst.
News Flash: My name isn't Rambo. I will not go on a murderous killing spree because of the horrific things I witnessed in a Combat Zone.
PTSD, Depression, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia. People hear these words and become fearful. Thousands and thousands of people never come forward for treatment out of fear of being shunned by a society that holds no place for them. Whatever happened to compassion for our fellow man? Not surprisingly, those sufferers with the most understanding families that actively support their treatment, that show them unconditional love are substantially more successful in mitigating the effects of their illness/disorder on their lives. It's time that we, as a nation, worry more about others again. Where is our heart? Our nationalism? Our pride in what it means to be truly American? Since when did ignoring or marginalizing a portion of our population become acceptable?
The only way to fix this is to get rid of the vast bureaucracy that overshadows our efforts to provide for our citizens with mental illnesses and disorders. In the case of Veterans, the system is so cumbersome that they have to file with one organization (the VBA) in order to be provided with free health care from the other (VA Medical). It takes days, months, and sometimes years to get the help we need. And the first solution given by most psychiatrists? Medication.
There's another special interest that disgusts me. Pharmaceutical Companies. The FDA approves these drugs when the side-effects are worse than the malady they are addressing. I saw an add for Cymbalta on the TV in the work break room the other day. The first 15 seconds were about what it addressed: Depression. The last 45 seconds addressed all of the possible side-effects. By the end of the ad, I couldn't even remember what the hell the drug was for until they flashed the name back up on the screen.
Do you know what has been most helpful to me in coping with my PTSD? The compassion of others and finding therapists that help me learn to identify and cope with my symptoms. It took me EIGHT YEARS to finally find this kind of help. And I'm one of the lucky ones with a supportive and loving family.
So, have I gotten your attention yet? Please don't let this issue pass you by. I hope to hear from everyone on this issue, for and against the view I have presented. Discourse is the only way we can get to where we need to be. It's a topic of discussion that hasn't been addressed in way too long. Let's find our hearts again. Let's work to hold our public officials to a higher standard. And for Pete's Sake, get these weapons out of the hands of the general public.
A friend of mine contacted me recently and he was in distress. During a heated discussion with his ex, he got so angry that he swung at her shoulder. Unfortunately, she turned into it and the punch glanced off her shoulder and he clocked her in the face. When I read what he wrote me, I was shocked and initially stunned. I didn't know what to think. After carefully considering his act of domestic violence, I decided to withhold judgement of his actions until I finished reading what he had written me.
After reading his note in entirely, I was angered that he was put in the situation and frustrated that it happened at all. I need to make this clear: I do not condone his behavior in this matter - violence is unacceptable. That being said, there was more than enough blame to go around. He explained to me that part of the reason that his ex was his ex was because of her cruel enjoyment of pushing his buttons - buttons she knew would get the desired reaction from him. He allowed her back into his life out of a desire to repair damaged relationships and his generosity of spirit. His reward was being pushed to violence.
Enter the Concept of Toxic People:
The basic idea behind this concept is that we, as veterans with PTSD, need to identify these toxic personalities present in our lives and excise them like they are a metastatic cancer. For every veteran, this personality is different. It could be someone in your family, it could be a 'friend'. It could be lazy people who don't give a shit about others. It could be people who try to shove their religion down your throat. It could be anything. The hard part is knowing what to do about it. If you know that someone can get you to redline, find a way to avoid this situation at all costs. Spouses and loved ones, you are also needed in this process. You can sometimes recognize when someone is goading your loved one with their behavior. If you see this happening, play interference or extricate your veteran from that situation.
My friend wanted me to out him in this post. He felt so badly about what happened that he was willing to take the heat when I dropped his name on here. I told him I would never do that, even if he begged. His right to privacy and all of yours hangs in the balance. You need to be able to trust that I would keep your privacy in mind when I write these posts.
I hope this makes you all think about this issue, veterans and spouses. What happens when you stick a sleeping bear with a red-hot poker? You get mauled. If you know someone is wielding a poker and is trying to wake the 'bear', remove them from your life. As I have heard many times in my life: 'People Teach You How To Treat Them'. Act accordingly.
This past week, I have done a lot of thinking about why my anger is getting harder and harder to control. After a lot of deep thought and talking to my individual therapist, I have examined my life at home and at work to try to narrow down where the increasing stress is coming from. This past Monday, I got pulled aside at work and was talked to by the management trainee in our department. While I don't recall exactly what it was that I did (which is problematic as well), it suddenly became crystal clear that the vast majority of my stress stemmed from stressors at work. I realized that the more stressed I became, the more forgetful I became, the more distracted I was, and I was substantially easier to anger.
With this in mind, I evaluated what about my job was making me so stressed, so miserable and I realized it was all of the management tasks. I was stressing about finding the time to write reviews, talk to employees, train and develop subordinates, improve merchandizing, writing accurate orders, maintaining maximum product freshness, product rotation issues, etc. The list went on and on and the more I thought about those tasks, the more worked up I got.
It couldn't be that simple, could it? I had promised almost a year ago that I would do everything in my power to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Could stepping down from the management team and assuming a role of less responsibility and accountability really be the answer? I talked to my wife about it and she agreed that the stress that work was causing me in my current position was not worth the bump in pay. So, I approached my boss and his boss and asked to sit down and talk. I let them know that I was stepping down and had a desire to be a plain old full-time employee with no management responsibilities.
Neither one was surprised and both were relieved. They told me that they had talked about offering to let me step down as an option. They noticed that I had become more and more distracted and much more irritable at work. They knew that with my current levels of stress, that I wan't happy. The were concerned about my welfare. They knew what I was capable of. They also knew what a toll my PTSD and events over the last two years have taken on me. They understood why I was stepping down and understood my reasons for doing so. They approved it and a great weight was instantly lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in a long time, I felt a moment of peace. While I took a pay cut, it is more than worth it to come home from work without the stress that had been weighing me down. I swore I would never put work before family ever again and I knew I was getting close to breaking that promise to fulfill duties at work.
So there you have it. I wanted to share that because it's food for thought. Many of us take on more than we can handle. The more stressed we are, the harder it is to cope with our PTSD. If things start getting away from you, try to identify why. It was one hell of a relief for me.
My wife and I were talking yesterday about how we both tended to respond to situations out of habits formed over the past two years. I didn't to do something, my wife gets frustrated and mad, I feel guilty and withdraw. For any other vets and spouses, does this sound familiar? I am sure we are not the only ones who have fallen victim to habit.
When I realized what was going on, my wife and I talked about it and we came to an agreement, a compromise that will hopefully help us from falling into those habits. Here's what we agreed on:
What's the reasoning? I have a tendency to fall asleep for a nap after work because work is very energy consuming. The end result: There are a list of tasks that I would normally do that didn't get done that, over the course of time, made my wife resent me for not doing. My wife and I talked about this and she agreed to afford me the opportunity to show her that I DO CARE. So after coming to this agreement, I thought a lot about the stress my wife was under. My wife did all of the work around the house. This was because she either didn't think I would remember to do my tasks or she thought that I didn't care. This led to an enormous amount of Caregiver Stress and eventually, Burnout.
So today we tried an experiment. I had a day off today. Last night I talked with my wife about going out somewhere and doing something. While she was gone I would do chores around the house and afford her the opportunity to decompress and unwind. She said, "Well, some of the folks from the gym are going out for breakfast tomorrow..."
So this morning we woke up, and my wife went out to breakfast with friends, leaving our daughter with me. After breakfast, she went out to the mall. While she was gone, I vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the floors, and folded my laundry - all while trying to keep my daughter entertained. When my wife came home in the early afternoon, she said she felt stoned. I jokingly told her, "This is what feeling relaxed feels like." Later in the afternoon, my wife got ready and left for work. I prepared dinner for Caley and me and then cleaned up the kitchen. My wife came home from work relaxed, happy, and grateful - three things I haven't allowed her to feel in way too long.
Now the evening is mine. I get the rest of the night to relax. So it works out well for everyone. It also helps me feel better because I don't feel like a burden rather than a husband.
I would really love to hear from Veterans and their spouses on this issue. It's too important to ignore.
I couldn't have asked for a better time to have all of the counseling that I have had in the past day and a half. Group CPT ended up being one on one because none of the other members of the group were able to make it. I individual therapy we discussed why the intensity of the anger, nightmares, and hypervigilance have been increasing recently.
When I got there and realized that no one else was coming, I almost left disappointed. I really needed to talk out what transpired over the past week. When the doc expressed a desire to talk with me relieved, I was really relieved. So I went over everything that happened. He grew very serious and we discussed two topics.
Needless to day, it was a productive session. It has helped me to put what happened into proper perspective and helped me identify an underlying issue that causes my PTSD to have such a deleterious effect on my health and life.
My therapist's major concern is the increasing intensity of my nightmares, my inability to fall asleep easily, and my hair-trigger temper at work. She asked me how much physical activity I am getting outside of work. I told her that I don't really get much. She said that I needed to find a way to work exercise into my week. She said that I didn't need to go all out every day of the week. She said to start small - one or two times per week. Her concern is that only talking and thinking about things doesn't help to drain off the energy I build up over the course of a day. When the physical doesn't have an adequate outlet, it can have a very detrimental effect on the mind. So I promised her that I would talk to my wife about making sure that I have the time to exercise at least twice a week without distractions.
So there you have it. I have a few new things to consider and act on. It gives me a sense of direction, of purpose. I don't feel like I am just reacting to my PTSD right now, which is a pleasant change. We'll see how it goes over the coming weeks and months as I work on these new tasks.
I experienced a new level of nightmare on the night before Thanksgiving. The smells and sounds were always there, but these new recollections/flashbacks now include the fear, anger, horror, and disbelief that I experienced in the moment. The end result: I fell asleep on the couch at the in-laws and had nightmares. My daughter was the one who startled me awake. I became aware of what I had done when I looked over and saw her kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room and the looks or horror on everyone's faces. My startle reflexes had caused me to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.
Needless to say, for my sanity and safety and that of my daughter's, my wife and daughter have been sleeping at her parents' house so that, God Forbid, I don't actually hurt her. She was scared by my startle response, but unhurt. She's over it but I can't forgive myself. It is my worst fear - hurting my daughter.
I was at work yesterday and had a breakdown. I effectively hadn't slept since Friday night. My father took me to the VA and they are putting me back on Trazadone. The doc said that it would keep me from being physically able to act on any startle response.
I needed someone to talk to about what had happened that wasn't emotionally invested in a positive outcome. So, naturally, I talked to Rod Deaton. Rod may be a doctor at the VA and I may be a veteran with PTSD, but we are friends and do not share a doctor patient relationship. What is great about having someone so knowledgeable to turn to in situations like these is that he can stay calm and talk me down from my figurative ledge.
Talking to him last night definitely did that. He made me remember that I am a good and honorable man. That, in and of itself, would ensure that there wasn't a repeat of what happened on Thanksgiving. Additionally, he made me realize that my I was allowing me fears to blow what had happened out of proportion. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. When I get into situations like this past week, I verbalize my irrational fears to those I love, causing them to worry excessively. I force them to think the worst.
It's form of self-flagellation. On some level I have been punishing myself continually since my daughter was born. I think about all of the worst-case outcomes to my behavior and believe myself capable of making those outcomes a reality. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been hamstringing myself like this ever since my daughter was born. It all stems from irrational fears of losing my family, my daughter.
I won't go into all of the details but my conversation with Rod last night led me to make some incredibly substantial realizations about myself:
So what's the end-result of the mess of a week? Blessings dressed in wolf's clothing...
So it has been a traumatizing and productive week all at the same time. I am still exhausted and have to work at not being too hard on myself, but my wife and daughter deserve to enjoy the man I am - not the man I was afraid I could become.
Today, I woke up groggy and out of sorts. I had intense nightmares last night for the first time in a while. They were particularly intense and I am not sure as to why. I have had the nightmares about once a week pretty consistently for the past few months, but they haven't been very intense and they haven't had that HD replay reel feel or the scent memory of blood for a while. I have actually been looking forward to the holiday this year and what happens? Yeah, nightmares...
Regardless, I am not going to let that ruin my holiday. With that in mind, I want to recount all of the wonderful things I am thankful for this year:
Add all of this together and you have the mother of all support networks. My wish for everyone reading this is the grace and luck to find such amazing people to empower them. I firmly resolve that, despite my incredibly bad night, I will not let it take away from the gratitude I feel for the amazing people in my life. This post is for them - those I have mentioned and those I
I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Now stop reading and go enjoy some turkey and football!
It was an amazing and fulfilling experience this past Wednesday at group. We had known ahead of time that one of the guys in group was going to share his experiences in full. And boy did he. For the sake of privacy, let's just say it was pretty emotional and very heartfelt on his part.
What really touched me in a way that I didn't expect: How honored I felt that he trusted me and the other guys in group with his story. It takes a lot of courage for someone to come forward like that and lay it all out, raw and unfiltered in a group setting. So I wanted to congratulate him on taking the leap. For the other guys who still haven't shared their trauma, I think this was an encouraging moment. A watershed moment.
The other thing that our doc talked about was the fact that so many current conflict veterans seem to have a cavalier attitude about death - an ambivalence about their own survival. It's something that has been seen in veterans of other conflicts, just not in numbers of this magnitude. Doc thinks it may partially contribute to the high suicide rate and wonders how energy drinks (available by the case when I was over there) could affect the way that emotional and psychological trauma is received by the brain. Interesting thoughts, but I disagree. I think that it is a generational thing. It's not that a lot of veterans are cavalier about it. I think it's because they are desperate to appear as normal as possible. The faking disregard for suicide ideation comes across as disingenuos, cavalier. I would love to hear others thoughts on this.
I have written and erased this post more times than I can count in the past week. It was a tumultuous week for me. I was talking with my therapist about the timing of when I felt I started losing control over my anger and about the thought pattern - I don't know what's coming next, but whatever it is can't be good. After thinking about it, I started to lose control and emotionally withdraw right after my daughter was born. I said it so nonchalantly. We concluded our session and my therapist left.
About ten minutes after she left, it hit my like a ton of bricks. Holy shit, my daughter's birth is the root of all of this. As I thought about it more, I realized that this was the first time in my experience that intense POSITIVE EMOTION triggered my PTSD. That realization turned everything on it's head. So let's explore what I mean in more depth:
Finally realizing this has given me some element of power over it and control over my fears. It has been and exhausting journey, but I am hopeful that things will improve as I move forward. It's hard to cope with fears when you aren't aware of what they are. For the first time, I feel like I have a little better control over my anger again. Here's to hoping that things continue to get better.
To My Wonderful Daughter Caley: When you are older and you discover this blog, I want you to know I love you more than words could ever hope to express. Don't ever, even for a second, think that this was your fault. Know that it is the intensity of my feelings for you that make this healing possible. I love you widget, don't ever forget it.
I explained in the previous post that I was getting really amped up and didn't know how to shut it off. Well, as the day and night unfolded yesterday, the reasons for this became abundantly clear. My body was preparing me for action - action that had the potential to go on for a long time. There was no saying how bad this storm was going to be in our area. I didn't know if I was going to be taking my family on a flight to safety, if I was going to have to deal with potential looting, if my friends were going to need my help, etc.
What I realized is that I was amped up, not anxious or nervous. I was just ready. When I say ready, I mean READY. My body saw the potential threat in the coming storm and started priming the system for action days in advance. If something would have happened yesterday, I would have acted immediately to resolve the situation, no hesitation, no fear.
This effect on my body was predominantly primal, physiological. The docs at the VA and elsewhere have been talking about the 'battle brain' or 'fight or flight' and how that part of the brain taking over is what causes some of the issues we have with PTSD. While I understood the argument intellectually, I didn't fully understand the depth of what that meant until my body started amping me up in preparation for this storm.
Many of us can turn this on, short term, when the need arises, but there is still a lag before the clarity of purpose sets in. Getting amped up days in advance for what could happen reduced the lag created by needing to 'flip the switch' down to near zero. Hence the pre-storm build-up. I would have been ready for anything - running for cover, protecting my family from the elements, protecting my family from people, killing if the need arose to protect me and mine. Morality and gray areas be damned. Yet through it all, I knew what was happening this time. I knew the necessity of it and I knew that it could scare people to see the side of me that allowed me to survive outside the wire in a hostile environment with just three other guys to watch my back.
It was surreal. I was just along for the ride yesterday. I could freak out in my head all I wanted to and still trust that instinct would direct my body to make the best choices to ensure my survival and those I choose to protect.
Today, the threat ended. My body turned it all off and I crashed. I slept almost 10 hours during the day AFTER I woke up to start the day. The adrenalin dump was so extreme that my kidneys hurt and I felt like a junkie coming down off a high.
Then came the fear and anxiety, the anger at myself. How could I lost control like that? The thoughts of what I could have done yesterday (and the things I did have to do in Iraq) haunt me. This one is going to take some time to work out. I am just glad that it's over and I can start to work through the new wrinkles that this experience has introduced to the party.
I know a lot of my readers were in the path of this storm. I hope this finds you all well and in good health.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.