This past Wednesday, I met with my individual therapist. She was concerned about what had happened over the course of the previous week and told me she wasn't sure what to expect when she showed up. After I left her a message in distress last week, she thought I would still be really banged up emotionally. She told me she was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't a hot mess.
She said, "Feeling less is not a sign of emotional growth: Feeling just as much but returning to emotional stability faster is." It made me feel really proud of myself. She was acknowledging that even though I had been through a gauntlet of emotional pain over the course of the past week, I was focused and calm. It was not at all what she was expecting and was happy that I was able to return to stability so quickly. I told her a large part of it was that I have had to grieve for too many people in my short life. I have grieving down. That was never the issue, in the first place. The real issue was being prevented from getting closure. That triggered me something fierce. Closure was the one thing I never got to any of the deaths I witnessed and experienced over in Iraq. This past week brought it all back.
And living to honor Doc's work and his memory has motivated me to move on and fight. So fight I will.
The conversation then moved on to how I handled the anniversary of crossing the berm into Iraq. I told her it really didn't affect me too much other than to give me pause. It took a little bit to really absorb the thought that a decade has passed since that fateful day. I decided to go out to lunch with my daughter and we had a blast all day long. It was great.
Then my therapist asked how I felt in situations where parent stand or sit around and talk while their kids play.
I shifted uncomfortably. I told her that I tried to avoid conversation as much as possible because I don't want it to come out that I am a combat veteran with PTSD. It's not for my sake, it's for my daughter's. I don't want other parents to not allow their children to play with Caley out of misplaced fear that I'll go nuts. Caley is at a fragile age where she will think that she did something wrong. I don't want to visit that stigma upon her life. My clinician asked me if I identified myself that way when someone asked me what I do. I said that I do because my advocacy work is what defines me, not my job.
Well, she told me in no uncertain terms that I need to work on my ability to engage in safe and meaningless small talk. It's what most people do when they are standing around while their kids play. She asked me to think about how else I could answer the question: 'What do you do for a living?'
Still working that out. But, for my daughter's sake I better figure it out and fast. She starts learning day care in less than two weeks.
I hope that other veterans that are reading this ask themselves that question, too. I know that I have a tendency to be blunt. Not only that, but I also believe that a lie by omission is still a lie. So vets out there, think about it. How to we engage in small talk? Is it something we are comfortable with? Or do we just avoid those awkward situations entirely. I know I have done my best to avoid those situations. I guess now I can't. Time to step outside my very small comfort zone and re-learn something new...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.