A while back I wrote a post called It's Not Her Fault. To this day it is still one of the most talked about posts I have made. It resonated with a lot of people. Yet despite all of this, I seem to be forgetting a lot of these pearls of wisdom myself.
I need to focus more on making sure my wife knows I love her, no matter how horrible I am feeling. I need to make sure that my daughter understands that daddy always loves her, even when it is hard for him to show it.
Life doesn't pause to let you catch your breath. There is always something happening that will have the potential to change your life. I know this, but I can't seem to beat it into my thick skull. I have started down the path I was treading before - getting revved up for work, making it through the day, and then gassing out when I get home. I can't live like this and I won't.
My wife has said it very succinctly: Parents never get a day off. Yet with my PTSD not being under control right now, she is left caring for our daughter, more or less, alone. How can I expect to rebuild a strong relationship with my wife when I keep on letting her down, disappointing her?
I am a naturally driven person. Driven to succeed, driven to be the best husband and father in the world, driven to be the best employee, manager, and leader...Whatever I set my mind to, I am driven to be the best at it. Needless to say, this has caused me no end to stress and anxiety in recent years. I don't have the energy to be everything to everyone else and to myself. I invariably burn out and shut down, closing myself off from success at work and shutting out my family emotionally.
I can't accept this as normal, as the status quo. I am aware that I push myself too hard, but that is my nature, down to the very core of my identity since I was young. How do you change something that ingrained? This question continues to hound me as I encounter even more change in my life that is upsetting the fragile balance that always seems to be just out of reach...
I need to think about this some more. I am going to talk to my wife and spend time with my daughter. I would love to hear from any of you out there reading this, too. CPT is helping but if I don't get this underlying drive under control, I will only be able to get so far...
It was another very thought provoking session of CPT this past Wednesday. We had a special guest: An 82 year old Korean War Veteran who was looking for help from the VA for the first time. This is a guy who has lived most of his adult life with PTSD and successfully raised a family - without any help or treatment. He made some choices he wasn't proud of and he has always had a short temper. He made it through it all, working for over 40 years with the same company, raising three kids, etc. He said there was one thought that got him through it all. Well, more of a philosophy or approach to each day:
Two things in life are free. Your love and your time. He always made sure that he gave enough of both to his family.
Can it really be that simple? I thought about what he said for quite a while. The conclusion I came to was that his philosophy offset the inherently self-centric/selfish nature of PTSD. Or at least, that's the only thing that makes sense to me. I find it hard not to emotionally withdraw from my family after a long day at work. It's not fair to them or to me and I need to figure out a way to make it stop. Sooner rather than later would be nice. So what harm does it do to try out his philosophy? Time will tell.
I was at work this weekend and I ran into my therapist from CPT group. I talked to him about having gotten the increase in disability rating. It was strange. In that moment as I was talking to him a lot of things came clear to me.
I felt guilty. I felt like I didn't deserve the rating I received. When things got really bad over in Iraq, I had a ritual every morning. When I first woke up, I asked myself whether 'today was the day that I would die'. I had to confront that fear (and likely reality) every day and accept it . I had to accept it or I wouldn't have been able to make it through the day. That's what makes all of this so hard. Guys who never accepted that they could die, never accepted their fear are the ones who didn't make it back. They were the ones who had the fire and desire to live. I was the one who 'gave up', that deserved their fate.
Because of this, I have experienced many a sleepless night since I got the decision in the mail. What is strange is that my doc told me that most veterans with PTSD that he has worked with have shared these same sentiments. How about that. I guess we'll have a lot to talk about in group this Wednesday.
OK, so we all know that the backlog on compensation decisions are fairly long. That being said, I received a decision on my new claim that I submitted in March. After years of struggling to live a stable and meaningful life with my PTSD, the VA acknowledged the challenges I face every day and raised my PTSD rating from 30% to 70%.
The first question I get asked: 'How much more money do you get every month?'
Not the point. It is the acknowledgement and validation of my struggles that are so important to me. I don't feel like I am the only one who sees it anymore. Funny thing - it never would have happened if my doc wouldn't have demanded that I get re-evaluated. I finally acquiesced. For the longest time I felt like I was a money-grubber if I asked to be re-evaluated. The docs finally broke me of that foolish pride.
So now I can finally relax and breathe a sigh of relief. And wonder how long it is going to take for it to sink in...
Once again, it is becoming harder to roll with the punches. I had an asthma attack at work on Saturday. I had to leave to come home and use my nebulizer to get it under control. It is the kind of thing I don't need to happen after all that I have been through the past few months.
I am rolling with them though. Punches that used to knock me on my ass just make me stumble now. I am slowly returning to pre-anniversary me. It has taken me longer than I would like to regain my footing, but substantially less time than I thought it would.
When everything settles out I hope that less of my time will be spent exhausted. I apologize for the gaps between posts, as I do try to write every day. I am getting there. Shooting for another post tomorrow.
On another front, I did receive some exposure in an online article. The author of that article wants to do a profile on me - and how I use technology to better the lives and health of others. Who knows what may come of this. I leave you until tomorrow with the link.
I had an interesting day on Wednesday. When I was getting ready to go to CPT my daughter jokingly closed the door to the bathroom. The lights were off and the central air was on. In that moment, I was in a state of perfect relaxation. It felt amazing.
After this amazingly relaxing episode of cool, dark, quiet, I headed out to the local VAOPC for group. This session was a little different. Doc said every now and then it was good to pause and see what kinds of issues or questions bubble to the surface. So I asked why I felt so at peace in the cool, dark, and quiet. Doc had a really interesting observation: I wasn't unsure of what was going to happen next. I also wasn't sure that whatever happened next was going to bad. Hence, the absence of anxiety.
So this begs the question - how do I recreate this feeling of blissful emptiness in daily life? How do I use this to alleviate or reduce daily anxiety? This got a chuckle from the other guys in the room. I even got a smile and a joking roll of the eyes.
The doctor came back to the topic of acceptance but in a little bit different context than last time. It was two parts:
I accept that what happened in the past can't be changed and that worrying about the past doesn't help me change the present or the future.
I accept that others will never understand what I have experienced.
Hmm. Time to think on those too. It may seems simple on the surface but many times the simplest ideas are the hardest to accept. Don't ask me why, I haven't the foggiest. I will follow up in later posts this week once I have had more time to absorb this information. I can say this for sure: CPT is making a difference for me.
This is getting ridiculous. I can't seem to break out of the funk I am in. Maybe when I talk to the guys tomorrow in CPT group I will have a breakthrough. I want so badly to be present for my family and I have been more successful today than I have been over the course of the past week, but I shouldn't have to work this hard just to show my love and affection.
Maybe I am putting too much pressure on myself. God knows, that wouldn't be the first time I have done that. Maybe I should try putting this into a little bit different perspective. Last year, my life fell apart after the anniversary. Eight months later, I was out on short-term disability - my physical and psychological health were in shambles. This year, things are starting to return (albeit slowly) to normal already after just a week.
Huh. How about that. Talk about a silver lining.
So, yeah. This past week really sucked. After the anniversary, I disappeared inside myself. I knew it was happening and felt powerless to stop it. But I am back and I return bearing a warning. Adults can handle emotional withdrawal - children can't. They think they did something wrong. Something so horrible that you are ignoring them. It is an easy road from guilt to hatred and resentment for a parent who is never accessible to you. Your child is informed on what it means to be a good husband and father by your actions. A male child will have that example. A female child will have that expectation.
As much as I am aware of this, I still fall victim to emotional withdrawal. I hate myself every day for it. That, of course, just makes it harder to get over and prolongs the agony. I see the confusion in my daughter's face and I see her withdrawing from me more and more...exactly what I worked so hard to overcome before. This has to stop. I am going to address this issue in CPT this Wednesday. Maybe the doc and the others in group will have some advice, for I am at a loss.
I have now successfully attended three sessions of Cognitive Processing Therapy. This last Wednesday gave me a lot to think about and it has taken me until now to fully think through everything we talked about. The conversation was nuanced and edgy. The fundamental question that was asked of us was this:
Is there a difference between acceptance and forgiveness? If so, why is the distinction so important?
The discussions we had were really raw. The idea was put forward that acceptance is logical, whereas forgiveness is emotional or spiritual. We all agreed that this is a good explanation of the difference between the two. The doc then asked us to think about which one of the two was more important to being able to cope with our PTSD triggers and symptoms. We all sat there for a while thinking about it when the doc asked us if we could see why acceptance was more important.
Boy did that get a visceral reaction. We all rejected that idea for different reasons, but the most important aspect that resonated with me is that while acceptance uses logic to deal with our experiences, our experiences were anything but logical. I explained that whenever someone tries to give me a logical solution to an emotional and spiritual problem, my immediate response is extreme anger. Even talking about it made me edgy. I asked how acceptance could possibly be the more important of the two.
The doc said that starting with the way we are thinking is paramount. We experienced something horrific, responded emotionally and spiritually to it and, as a result, modified the way we think. If we want to work backwards to get to the core of the issue and learn to control our reactions to outside influence, we need to accept what happened. We need to to accept that we had no control over what we experienced, that it would have happened whether we were there to experience it or not.
As I said, it was a lot to digest and is still something that I am mulling over. I don't know if I agree with the methodology. Regardless, I do feel that the group therapy is helping. It is forcing me to ask myself a lot of difficult questions that I hadn't considered before. I guess we'll see where this leads in the coming weeks and months.
Today is the big anniversary. I didn't really want to think about this today, but the intrusive recollections didn't really give me much of a choice. I have to go to work soon. I just need to make it through the evening. That's all. I have the next two days off and I will have the time to reflect and decompress. Until then...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.