I've been blogging for a while now - since January, 2011. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but it has. I've shared my struggles and my victories and I have been gladdened to see that by sharing my struggles, I've made a positive impact in the lives of my fellow service-members and in the lives of the ones who love them.
Over the course of those years, I've gotten to know quite a few bloggers sharing similar stories. One, in particular, has always had a deep impact on me: Living with PTSD & TBI. The author, Uncle Sam's Mistress has a talent for clearly and emotionally depicting how difficult life is for someone deeply in love with a veteran with PTSD.
Over the past few years, we've gotten to know each other tangentially through our respective blogs and through Facebook - sharing posts, insight and a kind word.
I began to grow concerned that I hadn't seen a blog post from her in a while, as I know my readers have been for me these past few months. One of my greatest regrets is that I couldn't see past my own challenges to check to make sure everything was OK.
When she posted her latest blog post, From A Stigma to A Statistic, I sobbed. I sobbed for the loss of her husband, I sobbed because of the profound and heartfelt pain she expressed through her words, and I sobbed because PTSD had taken another veteran too early. I did my best to let her know through comments how deeply distressed I was for her loss, but don't think I ever found the right words.
So that's why I'm writing this tonight.
Dear Uncle Sam's Mistress,
To One in Sorrow by Grace Noll Crowell
Let me come in where you are weeping, friend,
And let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours,
Let me come in -- I would be very still
Beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears can bring relief.
Let me come in -- I would only breathe a prayer,
And hold your hand,
For I have known a sorrow such as yours,
To my family, friends, fellow bloggers, and faithful readers, I ask the following: Show your solidarity. Write your name (or pseudonym) in the comments along with a kind word. Just a moment of your time would mean so much.
For the longest time, I have struggled to consistently go to the gym. There was something unrewarding about going to the gym, working out by myself and not getting a workout high. Granted, some of the lethargy may have been attributable to the meds, but I just didn't enjoy it at all. I enjoy working out WITH people. Pushing myself to get better in comparison to the people I exercise with has always been a strong motivator for me. I think that's why I always worked out so hard in the military.
I finally got fed up with the lack of motivation. I started looking for other ways to get back into shape. I've always like the martial arts - Tae Kwon Do as a kid, and Nin Jutsu when I got older. There was also a crew of us who got together when I was in the military and sparred using various styles varying from Kung Fu to Muy Thai to Brazilian Ju Jutsu. I looked to see if there were any good Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) schools in the area. To my surprise, I found a top notch gym - Hammer Training and Fitness. I went out to tour the school and talked with the owner, Rodney Guignet. I was very impressed with the facilities and the school in general. I knew, right away, that I wanted to train there.
That was about a month ago. I have been training there every since and it has been a life-changing experience for me. With MMA, you only get out of it what you put in. I leave every class soaked in sweat and practically gasping for breath. My core strength has improved drastically and I feel stronger and healthier than I have in a long time. The best part: I leave the gym feeling calm and emotionally balanced. As I push myself, I am able to train for longer and longer stretches, but I won't lie - when I first started training, my body hated me with a passion. I didn't care. I continue to push through it and feel so much better for it. I have even met another veteran who trains there.
I can't say enough about Hammer Training and Fitness. They have been a pleasant surprise, providing me with a safe place to work out my emotions and PTSD angst. They are also very supportive of veterans. So far I know of one other veteran who trains seriously there and I am sure I will meet more. It's a safe environment for me to socialize as well. I didn't realize how much I needed a safe, judgement free place to exercise and make friends until I experienced it at Hammer.
I'll keep you posted as things progress. When I started there, I weighed 292 pounds. I'm currently at 284 and am carrying a lot more muscle on my frame than I was a month ago. I wonder where I'll be by my birthday in May!!
Talk about passionate responses from the Previous Post.
Some of the points that were made I wanted to draw attention to because the points they made were incredibly important.
He talks about being accused of not being a team player. We talked about how when he was in the Army he could trust his team with his life but the "teams" here he can't even trust with his cigarettes. Those are days he has his anxiety/panic attacks. Thankfully those are decreasing since we have started dating (together about 4 months now). I know it sounds cliche but it is reassuring for him that I support his decisions and understand that with the training he has had, the situations he has been in, and his own personality he is going to react to things differently than other people. That doesn't mean I use kid gloves, it means that when either of us feel we are in the right and are following our hearts we will stand up for what we want/feel is right.
Anji, I couldn't say this any better. If you have PTSD or are in a relationship, you need to sit down and talk about this. I would bet money on the fact that the way a person with PTSD in a relationship responds in many situations puts a lot of strain on things. I would also be willing to bet that is disturbs the loved ones of a PTSD survivor that they are so black and white. Recently my wife and I have talked about this extensively and one major concern that has come to light is how my black and white view of the world could negatively impact out daughter. I have since explained to my wife that I understand that the rest of the world works in shades of grey. Part of raising a child as a parent with PTSD is to make sure you educate your child about the realities of PTSD. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.
Yet, the question remains: what kind of life can I, being so black and white about everything, expect to have if I can't operate in shades of grey? If I knew for certain, I would say - but I don't. All I know is that I am not going to apologize for being true to my code. It does mean that I need to find a different line of work, though. It has become abundantly clear that I can't operate in a corporate or service setting without it slowly causing the deterioration of my physical and mental health. With that in mind, I am currently evaluating my options for future career options - careers in settings/industries that accommodate my needs.
Amen, Max. The lack of honor in today's world is crushingly depressing to me, and I haven't gone through your experiences. You might want to read the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius -- what do we have left but our honor and the quiet knowledge we are doing what is right.
I hadn't thought about Marcus Aurelius in a long time, but I always loved his teachings. I pointed to one of his teachings, one that has always been at the core of my beliefs and identity:
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this and some of his other less famous quotes that have resonated with me for a long time - so I thought I'd share them because I think that they are critically important - especially to people suffering from Survivor's Guilt.
"You have power over your own mind - not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength."
I learned about Marcus Aurelius from my grandpa. Grandpa Ray Harris was a man I still measure myself against to this day. He was a truly amazing man, husband, and father. He was the one who told me the measure of a man is determined by how he conducts himself when it matters. He also used to joke that if he wanted to know your opinion, he'd give one to you. As one of the most open-minded and tolerant people I ever knew, my grandfather taught me what it meant to aspire to a set of higher ideal - I still do. He was always so sure of himself. He knew, unequivocally, that his opinion, his judgement of a situation was always more trustworthy than the opinions and judgement of others. Somewhere along the line, I had lost confidence in myself was afraid to stand behind my assertions.
Not anymore. I am so glad that so many found that previous blog post so powerful - it validated my feelings and assertions.
These tenets will help me repair the foundation I built my identity on. Time to go think on this some more while taking care of my sick daughter.
Stay tuned for further updates and responses! Let's keep the conversation going!
I know I haven't blogged in a while. I haven't kept up on a lot of the things that I need to be. I have been feeling really burned out and have been struggling in a lot of ways that have not been easy on me or my family. This is really raw and emotional for me, so bear with me...
I have been working in a high tempo, high stress, retail environment for four years now. When I first started working there, I was a rising star. It took two years for me to implode and end up on short-term disability. When my daughter had been born a few months before I went out on disability, it sent me into a tailspin. I obsessed about being a supernatural provider and withdrew emotionally at home, cutting off my wife and daughter from love and companionship. Thus, I went out on disability.
When I returned to work after fighting through my PTSD and learning to cope, I swore that I would always be prescient at home from now on. My goal was come home from work with the energy and emotional awareness to be a good father and attentive husband. What ended up happening is that my reliability at work and my availability suffered greatly. It was made clear by my employer that they needed a level of reliability that I have not been providing over the past few months.
This raised my stress level at work, making work a 'non-permissive' environment - a place where I was at risk of losing my job or benefits or both if I couldn't sort this out. It made me realize, regress my performance to a mean over time and it is readily apparent that retail work is grinding me down and taking a long-term cumulative toll on my performance at work. That toll has sped up since I swore to always put my family first.
So now I have some hard decisions to make. The only work I find fulfilling is being of service to others. I have to balance what is best for me long-term with the welfare of my family. It's not a fun place to be, but one I am confident I will work through.
I know I haven't been active recently in the community I created. I know I haven't blogged as much. For that I am sorry. I needed to set myself in motion and resolve this issue with employment. Now that I have the short-term leeway to figure it out while ensuring the welfare of my family is giving me the time and space I need to figure all of this out.
I want to thank all of those people who have reached out to me via email to express concern over not hearing from me and from my readers who reached out to ask how I was doing. I truly value your compassion and understanding!
In the future, you will see blogs entries from guest bloggers who have a message or mission that I think is relevant and worth supporting. First Up: Natalie Cramer of the Blue Star Family Platoon!
Max, thank you so much for offering me this great opportunity to guest blog for you today! I'm much appreciative for the chance to share my project with your readers and followers and friends.
With me going through the mess I went through over the past month, I hadn't seen my individual therapist for a while. We caught up on all that had happened and she was relieved that I was relieved. She was concerned with how quickly my ability to manage my PTSD deteriorated during this trial. We got to talking about it and about my support networks and it became abundantly clear that the only support network I don't have is the spiritual one. It took a lot of explaining to fully articulate what I find spiritual. I don't believe in God, at least not an anthropomorphic one. Attributing humanity to a being beyond our comprehension smacks of hubris and I just don't buy into it. That was the easy part to explain. The hard part to explain was what I DO find spiritual - connection with nature. Connection with the natural world around me - especially water. It is one of the major reasons that Native American beliefs resonate so strongly with me. On the flip side, I am not interested in visiting a 'retreat'. I would want to learn the culture so entwined with the beliefs. The reality is that Native Americans are reticent to share what is sacred to them with outsiders - if you weren't born into it, you wouldn't understand is a common sentiment I have found online.
She asked me to think back and describe to her the last I felt truly at peace - spiritually whole. I thought about it for a while and I told her it happened on my honeymoon to St. Croix. I was out in the ocean with my snorkel and fins on while my wife was taking a nap. I just closed my eyes and let the current take me for a while. The weightlessness of my body, the fell, smell, and taste of the ocean, and being surrounded by teeming sealife. I felt at home in a way that I hadn't felt since before I went to Iraq. It was a glimpse of 'wholeness' that I haven't felt since. I had to explain that it's not that it paradise - it's that there is no pressure to be anything other than who you are. No masks, no responsibilities, no obligation to others. I have always found the life on St. Croix to be healing in a way I can't describe. I used to visit my grandparents down there almost every summer as a kid. So, what to do? The reality of just picking up and moving to paradise is slim to none. How to I recreate the essentials of that spirituality that heals me so completely? I feel spirit yearning to be whole and the source of my healing is far removed from the world I inhabit.
Well, at least I have something to think about now.
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,
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.
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.
I met with my prospective clinician today at a local diner. I wanted to meet on neutral ground first to see if we had compatible personalities. As it turns out, we do. I will be moving forward with individual therapy with this clinician that was provided, free of charge, by The Soldiers Project.
What an organization. I was skeptical when I first heard about this organization. They ask for no compensation. They have a heartfelt desire to help veterans. You can tell that the desire is genuine. I have done more research on them and I found out that they require that all of their volunteers be trained on how to communicate and treat veterans.
I have spoken with my wife and I will be working with the clinician on a week-to-week basis. I will do my best to schedule a time to meet with her once a week. Her schedule is flexible and I look forward to finally receiving the intensive one-on-one treatment I think I have been in need of for a long time.
I need this. I really do. The PTSD symptoms I have been experiencing recently have been morphing into a new variation of intensity that I haven't had to contend with before. There is one thing that she has brought up already that I am looking into and doing research on (yeah, you know me...gotta learn all I can): The idea that the emotional/psychological/spiritual trauma I experienced may have diverted that natural development of the adult brain and arrested any further development. At least that's the gist of what she was saying. So needless to say, I am quickly drilling down into this subject matter.
I wanted to send out a special thank you to Rod Deaton (Blogger, Paving the Road Back) for informing me of this wonderful organization. I appreciate all that you do, Rod. I consider you a true friend, a man of limitless compassion. Would that there were more like you.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.