This question was a serious gut check this past weekend. After my last blog post where I explained my struggle to stay motivated to get healthy, I talked with my mom about it. She said that one of the things she has always loved about me is my gentleness. I only become a fighter when absolutely necessary. While I don't entirely agree with her assessment, it did turn a different light on:
I can fight for a cause. I can fight for my loved ones. I will fight for ideals worth fighting for. But me? Am I worth fighting for?
Yeah...as is said, gut check. I realized immediately that survivor's guilt had a big role to play in this story. The guilt eroded my self-confidence and self-esteem. I have a very low opinion of my self-worth. On top of that, I have stumbled and fallen down a lot as I learn to effectively cope with my PTSD. I think that I am afraid to even try most of the time because I am afraid of failing again. My lack of confidence turn this fear into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how do I get past this? How does a person learn how to value himself again? I should have a better opinion of myself. The PTSD has tried very hard to destroy my life and my family. Yet, I have persevered and held it all together. What I realized is that I thought THEY were worth fighting for despite my inability to fight for me.
What a mess. I literally hate the image I see when I look in the mirror and I wonder how much of that hatred stems from my guilt for having come home from Iraq when other I knew didn't. Am I punishing myself? Is that what's going on here? I don't know. I do intend to figure it out. This may take more hand-holding than I thought, though. The only way a person can truly improve their self-image is by having their worth validated regularly by those who love and care for him.
I don't want empty compliments and platitudes. I need the people that love me to demonstrate to me why I am a good person. Maybe I should talk to my parents, my sister, my wife, and others about having them write letters to me. The idea would be explaining to me why they love me. What they love about me. That way, on a down day, I could pull out the letters and remind myself of how my family views me each and every day. Hmm...
I hate how I look when I see myself in the mirror. I want to lose weight, get back in shape, live a healthier lifestyle. I have wanted these things for a long time. I have accomplished none of these things. For a long time now, living healthy and motivation have been mutually exclusive concepts despite my best efforts to the contrary.
I so badly want to feel motivated to do this and intellectually and emotionally I AM. Every time I try to set something up, I sabotage myself. It's getting really old. My wife deserves a husband who enjoys the active lifestyle we both once cherished. So I am reaching out to all of you for advice, suggestions, anything. Maybe we can all learn something from this and grow together in learning to cope with PTSD.
Is there anyone out there that is interested in getting back into shape and living a healthier lifestyle? Maybe we can do it together. Maybe, just maybe, we can be the motivation for each other that we lack for ourselves.
I wanted to thank all of you for reading my blog. You have no idea how much it means to me to be able to reach out to you all and be heard. For almost two years now, I have been blogging about my struggles and getting these troubled thoughts out of my head. I truly hope that this endeavor has been as helpful for all of you as it has been for me. Let's keep on spreading the word and educating the masses on the struggles we all face every day, veterans and loved ones.
Where to begin...
My wife and I have seen our ups and downs as I have learned to rein in my PTSD symptoms and harness my drive to succeed, both personally and professionally. It has not been easy and we recently made some realizations about why our relationship has a tendency to get tense - even when it doesn't need to be.
What Relaxing Means to Me:
Sitting on my duff playing video games, blogging, writing the next installment of my serial novel, watching a movie, snuggling into the corner of the couch with a good book. You'll notice that my idea of relaxing involves taking a load off my feet. I would love to do this with my wife, cuddled up on the couch.
What Relaxing Means to My Wife:
Going outside for a walk, run, bike ride. Going to the mall and walking around with Caley. Going out somewhere and doing something...anything other than sitting on her duff. My wife loves to go for walks in the evening with our daughter and me.
Do you see where the problem is? I like to NOT do anything. My wife likes to DO anything. Sedentary relaxation versus endorphin release from exercise. I don't need to tell you which way is healthier in the long run. What we have been doing is this: My wife takes our daughter for a walk while I sit in my chair and read something, write something or watch something. We relax apart after a day apart working apart.
Not exactly ideal for our intimacy or our relationship. We never made time to spend together because neither one of us was willing to do what the other found relaxing - mostly because I hate going for walks and she hates sitting for long periods of time. So how do we meet in the middle. Do I recognize that always sitting on my duff after or before work isn't healthy and change my routine? Nope. If I did that I would be grumpy all the time. I can't be the only one to make concessions. So where is the happy medium? What do I do to meet my wife half-way?
I am going for a walk tonight with my wife to discuss this. We'll see what happens.
Sometimes I wonder how I get through the weeks in one piece. This past week I interviewed for a new position at work that would limit my exposure to mold so that I could have a healthier working environment. My employer has been incredibly supportive through this whole process.
The part that has been hardest for me is how it affects me at home and my past ability to contribute there. I have really thought long and hard about what my wife needs from me. The biggest thing that she needs from me is help around the house and with our daughter. While I recognize that I do sometimes need time to be alone and decompress...
As a husband and a father, sometimes I just need to suck it up for a little until my daughter is asleep and the chores around the house are done. As I said, I thought about this for a long time and I have wanted to commit to being that man again - the man she fell in love with. I had PTSD when I met her, so I know I am capable of being that man again, in spite of everything. I have wanted to do this for a while, but I wanted to make sure that I was emotionally stable when I verbally made that commitment to her. The last thing I wanted was to set myself up for failure and hurt and disappoint my wife. She deserves so much more than I have been giving her.
Yesterday at work, I suddenly realized I was ready to commit. I called my wife on lunch and told her not to make plans for the evening. I made reservations at our favorite restaurant and I talked to Dani about my thoughts and renewed my commitment to her.
Last night was good for us both. My parents were watching Caley so that Dani and I could get an adult night out. It was wonderful and we talked about all of the obstacles we had overcome in the past year. When everything was said and done, Dani recognized that there was something different about the way I was committing this time. I think we both felt it. Like we were finally closing the door on everything that has happened the past few years.
So no all that is left is to follow through. And I am. I will. If I have a bad day, I wait until everything is taken care of for the day and then I can take my 'leave me the fuck alone to decompress' time. Being there for my daughter and my wife make this all worthwhile.
*NOTE* I know I have a lot of people to write back to via email. I apologize for the delay and will write responses as soon as I am able.
I woke up this morning and found out a reader was concerned that she made the wrong decision in leaving her boyfriend. She writes:
I just ended a relationship with my then boyfriend who has Combat PTSD. He has done three tours in Afghanistan. He told me in the beginning of our relationship however being naive I thought it was just flashbacks (which i never saw). Anyways fast forward...we have been on a roller coaster relationship with him....when he pulls away again!
I have left him be this time, and doubt I there will be any reconciliation because I will not go through the heartache again unless I know he has been in therapy.
Is this the right thing to do? I am beginning to think I am going crazy.
OK, first things first. It sounds like you had no idea what you were getting yourself into, which is very common. It doesn't make you a bad person. A lot of people think they know or have heard others talk about PTSD and think the stereotypes are true. One of the major challenges Combat Veterans with PTSD face is a lack of education on the part of the general public. I don't say this to assign blame. It is what it is.As you all know, I try to stay away from offering advice or passing judgement on other people's actions. What I can do is draw off of personal experience to flesh out a given situation with the hope that added insight will allow a person to make an educated decision. So that being said, here goes:You want to know if you did the right thing or if you are going crazy? One thing I can tell you for certain, you are not going crazy. You are facing the dilemma that so many have faced before you:
Is It My Fault? Am I Causing Him to Pull Away?
In short No, and No. This is not your fault. Not even remotely. As for pulling away, it's a classic PTSD move. Traditional PTSD symptoms also happen to cohabit the same space as depression. Depression can cause people to withdraw emotionally from those who love them. I am guilty of this. I have done it on numerous occasions and it has been very difficult for my wife and I to manage. I go into this in a whole lot more detail in a previous post, It's Not Her Fault. I encourage you to read it. It is written to a veteran who recognizes that his wife blames herself for everything. It may be insightful for your ex to read as well.
Does Saying I Can't Handle the Heartache Make Me a Bad/Weak/Selfish Person?
Being with someone with PTSD, combat-related or not, is very difficult and heart-wrenching. Not everyone can do it. It takes a massive amount of intestinal fortitude. You are the only person who knows if you've reached your limit. It doesn't make you a bad person for looking after your own emotional needs. How can you care for someone else if you can't care for yourself? It sounds to me like you have a healthy sense of self-worth. Don't let that change.
Can His PTSD Get Better Without Therapy or Am I Just Second-Guessing Myself?
Possible? Yes. Probable? Not even remotely, from my experience. The human mind doesn't just flip a switch and everything is, all of a sudden, OK. It sounds to me like you have established that his refusal to get help is a deal-breaker for you. If this is the case, it sounds like a decision made rationally. From my experience, emotional withdrawal is a constant threat. Even for folks who have been in therapy and are fairly well equipped to cope with their PTSD. For the untreated, it's near unmanageable. I know it was for me until I got help and I still struggle with it every day.
I hope this helps answer your questions. If there are any points of clarification you need, please let me know. I also encourage the community to chime in on this post and offer support. As always, I wish you the best and hope you find the answers you are looking for!
Yours in Health,
Recently, I have been talking to a lot of folks online and off about the struggle of getting veterans with PTSD to come forward and start getting help. The major struggle is that many can't even leave their home. So how do you reach people that only really interact with others online?
For those of you who may fit this category but don't feet comfortable talking unless you know you are anonymous, I want to educate you on what I offer in this blog and on my website.
I cannot express to you enough how important this is. We need to afford people the opportunity to come forward for help anonymously and without the fear of recriminations from family, friends, or employers. My goal is to be the life preserver you need and the rope that draws you to shore. Start taking control of your PTSD and start living with it, not in it!
Recently it has been brought to my attention that more people would join in discussion if they could be anonymous. When I brought up people can comment on this website and is can be anonymous, I was told that the name field was required. This is true. BUT...you don't have to put your real name. You could put "A Concerned Veteran" if you felt like it. I say this because there was an incident recently where someone put their real name on a post and after posting it, he realized what he had written could potentially get back to family. He asked me to delete it and I expeditiously obliged.
In this day and age, social media and online connectivity provides us with the unique opportunity to reach out for help and reach out to give it. A desire for privacy is the one part of the equation that is missing in this country. A little while back I learned about a website in Britain called the Big White Wall. I encourage you to look over this site. It provides true anonymity to those who are looking for support online. This is what we need more of in this country. I am hopeful that the new initiative being taken by the VA and Volunteers of America will have a positive impact, but they specialize in real world services. The real challenge is creating an online presence that veterans with PTSD can trust to maintain their privacy. Facebook is definitely NOT it.
If you were to create an online service for veterans with PTSD, aside from anonymity, what other services would you offer? Feedback in this area is really important if we want to be able to really make a difference for those veterans who are reaching out online. I really encourage people to leave comments so we can discuss this.
Yours in Health,
As many of you may know, I attended a webinar today hosted by the VOA Director of Communications, David Burch. The purpose of the webinar was to present VOA's vision of the future and get grassroots feedback from the Veterans they hope to serve even better. To achieve this, they invited a group of independent bloggers and authors to discuss the big issues that are facing all veterans of every generation. Other than myself, two other invitees were able to attend today:
We were joined by Executive Vice President of Veterans Affairs for the VOA, John Sherin, who presented the history of the VOA and their vision of where they would like the VOA to head moving forward. Right now, the VOA is very focused on providing housing for the homeless. That being said, they have identified a substantial need to expand veterans services to include mental health care, drug counseling, job training and employment, women's veteran issues, etc. They have partnered up with the VA and plan on supplementing/augmenting the services that are already provided by the VA.
The VOA has a great system set up: They set strategic goals at the national level but they work through affiliate organizations at the local level. What does this mean? It means that the money and resources that are getting sent out to different communities around the country are being utilized efficiently and effectively because the local affiliates are plugged into the needs of the local population. The biggest problem they appear to be facing: Organizing this same type of affiliate program for veterans services. Their biggest concern is that implementing this plan incorrectly will only confuse and alienate more veterans. With this concern in mind, John Sherin expressed a desire for the VOA to act as a gateway to local services, ensuring that the funds and resources are being utilized by those local organizations that can do the most good.
I expressed the concern that there are a lot of great federal programs for veterans that aren't utilized by veterans because there is no local outreach. The VOA acknowledged this concern and said it was on their radar. I also stated that there needs to be a shift in perspective - that these services are not being offered by the government. Many veterans, especially older ones, have been ill-treated by the existing government social welfare programs set up for their benefit.
Lastly, I espoused the use of social media as the vehicle to achieve maximum reach with veterans. Many veterans want help, but can't force themselves to leave their home to find help. With the advent of social media and the security/anonymity it can provide, many more veterans are reaching out for help and taking a step to connect with other veterans that wasn't possible before. We cannot squander this opportunity.
OK, I think that's pretty much everything. I just wanted to reiterate, it is not too late to be heard. Sound off and express concerns and opinions in the comment section of this post. Find your voice and make a difference for those who can't.
Yours in Health,
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.