Yeah, you read that correctly. I recently met someone. She's intelligent, passionate about languages and culture, and attractive as hell. I had a blast speaking with her about cultural experiences and could have talked for hours more.
I have zero expectations and I think we could become good friends. The problem is, I can also see the potential for something more and it scares the living shit out of me. I just got through this divorce and I'm not ready for anything else, but...
I find her intellect and her kindness incredibly appealing. She hung on my every word with keen interest and it's been so long since someone outside of my family or work did that.
My emotions are a jumbled mess. When she finds out about the PTSD, will she think me irretrievably broken? Do I have it in me to be a good friend?
I never thought that meeting someone who shares so many interests would trigger my PTSD, but there you have it. The old PTSD fallbacks are pushing to the forefront. All I want to do is withdraw into myself and avoid the uncertainty. In my mind, it's also fear of 'inevitable alienation' that's twisting me up in knots.
The catastrophic thinking has me on my heels. When she finds out I have PTSD, will she think, "I could be friends with this guy, but boy is he a mess. Do I want to invite this drama into my life?"
This is what I was talking about in my previous post - I've grown in so many ways...but at times, I'm still crippled by low self-esteem, self-doubt, and fear hurting others and getting hurt in return. So, this is apparently my latest struggle. I don't want to spend my life alone. I want to meet and be surrounded by friends who love and respect me. I want to find someone who's committed to me for the long haul, someone who I can be committed to in return.
And I have no freaking clue how to take that first step.
Don't get me wrong, I've found a great community at my temple that makes me feel included and respected, but this is something else. After everything that I've been through, I'm not in any rush to jump into anything. I just wish I knew how to take the first step without tripping over my own two feet.
I'm a single dad with an energetic almost five year-old. I have PTSD. I'm a very busy entrepreneur and I have a non-profit to revitalize. I know I need to make time for myself and I can't put my life on hold but when am I supposed to find the time to relearn how to socialize?
If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears. I haven't been in the right frame of mind or situation to even think about this when the divorce was still in process.
Still, it feels good to be back and blogging and getting this all out.
Hello all. I'm so sorry to have been gone so long. It's been a very challenging past few months in some ways and a revelation in others. This is going to be a pretty long blog post, so hold onto your hats. I have a lot to talk about and it's been too long.
Why I Haven't Blogged in Such a Long Time
With everything going on with the divorce proceedings, I needed to disconnect. It was killing me not being able to blog about what I was going through. You see, the thing is, my blogging about my PTSD has always been about sharing what I've learned and what I'm struggling through. With the divorce proceedings, it wasn't about just me - it was about my ex and about my daughter. When going through a divorce, there's no possible way to separate the personal from the interpersonal and I had to seriously think about how what I might possibly write might unintentionally negatively impact the outcome of of the divorce.
More importantly, I was seriously concerned about my daughter. Some day she's going to read this and I don't ever want to write something that could confuse or hurt her. She loves her mother and she loves her father. Nothing should ever change that. Our daughter needs to know that, despite the divorce, she still loved just as much.
I think that the biggest thing is that this divorce was emotional hell. To be there for my daughter, my everything, I had to compartmentalize what I was feeling until the divorce was official. Now that the decree has been officially signed by the judge, I can talk about how this has impacted my life, and just mine. It's a complex mess of emotions and they're coming down on me like a ton of bricks right now.
Which, of course makes this the perfect time to talk about all of this.
So, here goes...
Where Things Stand Now, Personally
For those of you who know a little bit about my story, you know that July 30th is the anniversary of the friendly fire incident. Well, now it's also the anniversary of the official divorce decree - the ignominious end to my marriage. Well it's also the birthday of Caley's brand new cousin, born last Thursday, to Caley's aunt on the other side of the family. What does that mean for me? It means that I will never get to know him, love him. I will never get to see him grow up and I'll never have the opportunity to share in the joy that this baby has brought into the world.
Pardon my French but...talk about a mindfuck.
On top of all of this, I had compartmentalized the biggest emotional hurt in all of this - the fact that I am now going to miss out on half of my daughter's childhood is really screwing with me. The emotional devastation just the thought of that could cause is terrifying to me and, now that the divorce is final, the box surrounding that wonderful little tidbit of joy is spontaneously combusting.
To say that the next few days are going to be rough would be a bit on an understatement.
With all of this, I've still managed to make some positive changes. I've managed to make some friends, one of whom is a fellow combat vet. The other, his father. Both of them accepted me as I am, no judgement. It's a feeling I haven't had in a very long time. I've even reconnected with a friend I knew back in 2006 and lost contact with.
For the uninitiated, this is big stuff for me. I had somehow managed to alienate pretty much all friends I had due to my inability to put up with outside bullshit. My strained marriage was all I could take at the time. When the marriage effectively ended last August, I couldn't handle the prospect of losing even a distant friend and closed myself off from everyone except for my family.
And then there's my family. Oh, God, my family. If they weren't around to shower me with their love and support, I can't even imagine where I'd be right now. Since the separation, I've grown close with my parents in a way that I didn't think was possible. With everything going on, we were able to completely look past old hurts and 'circle the wagons', so to speak.
My parents have been amazing. Their only concerns in all of this were my welfare and the welfare of their granddaughter. This divorce could have emotionally devastated my daughter. Instead, she's well-adjusted and emotionally healthy. A part of that is due to the love my parents made sure to shower her with. That may sound weird but when all of this was new and confusing for Caley, my parents were there to give her all of the love and support possible to give. And they were there for me when I didn't have Caley and needed to just cry or vent my anger (the healthy, grief-related kind). Through everything I went through to get through this past year, good and bad, my parents were there - every step of the way.
And then, on top of all of this, my sister moved back to NYC from Syracuse. Caley and I have been able to spend more quality time with her in the past year than we have been able to in the past few. Again, more love and support from family, when we've needed it most.
The biggest positive change has been in how I see myself. I know I'm a good guy and a great father. I want to be even better in both of those categories and that's something I'll never, ever stop striving for again. For the longest time, I'd lost sight of who I was and what I'm capable of. Being able to feel deep hurt also means you're able to feel deep love and joy and I wouldn't have it any other way. Some people think showing emotion and feeling deep emotions is a liability and a weakness, but I think it's just the opposite. My ability to feel everything in my life, unflinchingly and without reservation, is where I derive my strength. If I wasn't in touch with what I feel, I shudder to think how difficult it would be to cope with my trauma. The faster you feel what you need to, the faster you confront your trauma, the faster you learn to cope with your trauma.
And. That. Is. COURAGE.
It's a kind of courage that few understand, most either don't or won't acknowledge. It's what gets me through the rough days and makes the good ones even better.
Where Things Stand Now, Professionally
After years and years of struggling with employment for a decade, I can honestly say I am now living the dream. I am Chief Business Development Officer of a veteran-owned Cybersecurity startup and I love every minute of my work. I've really thrived in this new environment and I now have very clear insight into why. Entrepreneurship is, counterintuitively, a perfect environment for veterans with PTSD. Here's why:
Needless to say, alleviating workplace stress has had a huge impact on my personal outlook and by ability to cope with my PTSD.
My Spiritual and Emotional Reclamation
After ten years, I have finally gotten to the point where I was ready to explore my emotional and spiritual health. For the longest time, the only place where I felt like I belonged was in the military. In the civilian world, I never felt like I had 'people', either before or after my time in the service. When I started thinking about what to do to re-engage spiritually, I started by looking at where I came from.
My dad's side of the family is ethnic Jewish, but I knew next to nothing about my Jewish cultural heritage. Well, I became curious to explore my heritage and reached out to a local rabbi. He told me about the different Jewish denominations and how they believe, without telling me what they were called and asked me which belief structure rang most true to me.
After sharing which denomination resonated with me the most, he referred me to another rabbi. Well, I met him and discovered that he was a retired Navy chaplain. My first time attending Shabbat services was Veterans Day last November. The experience was unbelievable. The entire service was dedicated to making sure everyone understood the depth and seriousness of the sacrifices made by our service members. It was surreal. I felt like I was home, that I belonged somewhere, that I had a people.
I've continued to attend on Fridays when I don't have my daughter and it's helped to make me feel more connected and engaged. I finally feel ready to reconnect and take the risk to make new friends and meet new people. How about that?
Post-Traumatic Growth: Why It's Not Mutually Exclusive from PTSD
I always hated the term. It's sounds so cliche and for a full decade seemed unobtainable. I think, on some level, I hated the idea of Post Traumatic Growth because I couldn't imagine that I'd ever experience it for myself.
Well I was wrong. I've been thriving and growing and becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin, asserting myself more and more.
I've been reticent to acknowledge the idea that I may be experiencing it because so many people equate it with, CONGRATS, you're HEALED!
Ummmm, No? That's not how this works. While I am experiencing a personal and professional renaissance, it doesn't mean I don't still have to content with my PTSD. I still get triggered and I still battle with hypervigilance, depression, insomnia, low self-esteem, and more.
It's confusing as hell. How can I be experiencing growth and still struggling with PTSD every day? When I figure it out, I'll let you know. I'm at a total loss right now.
So What Next?
I know this is a lot to absorb and I'm still working through all of this myself but there are a few things I do know for certain. I'm free to blog again and I won't be stopping again if I have any choice in the matter. I took a lot of time this past week to write this post and it's amazing how much this writing process has cleared up my head.
Thanks to everyone for sticking around. See you in the next blog post!
First off, I wanted to thank everyone who has continued to show their support and the overwhelming response to my last blog post. I know I still have a lot of comments to respond to and I fully intend to respond to them, but I had to get this off my chest.
For those of you who know me, you know that separation and divorce has been particularly hard on me. I've continued to fight, but I've been weary to the bone of fighting to keep moving forward.
That being said...
There have been some major milestones this past week. The last of my ex's things are out of the apartment. I have spent a lot of time cleaning and reorganizing the apartment to turn the page and get a fresh start.
I had no idea how emotional that would be.
I also had no idea just how much of my identity I had sacrificed over the last few years.
As I pulled out statues and figurines, reorganized my bookshelves, and thought about where I wanted to rehang things that haven't been on the walls for quite some time, I came to the very hard realization that my guilt had caused me to make sacrifices I never intended. Over time, I slowly carved away pieces of my identity and put them, literally, in boxes. Physical things that reminded me of who I am. And I did this because I was trying to mold myself into who I thought my ex wanted me to be. (No, I'm not blaming her. I need to be clear here.)
I was really pissed at myself at first. I didn't understand how this had happened.
Then I made the second hard realization in as many days: The writing had been on the wall in my marriage for a long time and I was sacrificing my identity out of vain hope it would salvage my relationship.
It was quite a gut shot to come to these realizations, but this weekend wasn't done with me quite yet.
As I continued to reclaim those pieces of myself that I had packed away, I started to feel an incredible sense of relief. I felt a vastly increased sense of security in my home. Most importantly, I started to remember the thing I used to love about myself that I haven't allowed myself or anyone else to see for way too long.
The ultimate realization came earlier today. There's something a lot of you don't know about me:
I've been singing since I was three years old. Music and, more importantly, SINGING has been central to my identity my whole life. I've won over $4,000 in karaoke contests. I've had people tell me I should try out for American Idol or the Voice. I don't normally bring any of this up. I'm not the type to brag and my singing has always been about the music, not the accolades.
I wouldn't have brought it up at all if it wasn't important.
Why, you ask?
Because I realized that, with the exception of singing with my daughter, I HAD STOPPED SINGING.
Talk about a bombshell of a realization. I haven't been doing something for YEARS that is central to my physical, spiritual, and emotional identity. I finally realized just how much of myself I have lost in the last few years, how out of touch with my own health I had become.
I made this realization this weekend of all weekends because the latest season of GLEE came out on Netflix and I had some free time to watch. That's right, GLEE. I was singing along with almost every song and something amazing happened.
It was like someone parted the curtains to let the light into my soul. In that moment, I was truly happy.
I wasn't just satisfied. I wasn't just less depressed than usual. I wasn't just pleased with the turn my professional life has taken.
I was uplifted. Emotionally and spiritually fulfilled.
Why? Because I was creating my own harmony to Beatle's 'Yesterday'. I was adding my flavor to the song, directly and freely sharing the deepest and truest part of myself. I was singing for the pure joy of it.
So what now? I have a choice. I can beat myself up over the mistakes I've made and continue to hide myself away and joy I can bring to myself. I can hide myself away and lose the opportunity to share my joy with others.
I can reclaim the life and vibrance music and singing has brought to me and hopefully lift others up to share in my experience through song.
I'm going to start by making sure I make time to sing every week. I'm going to go out and find a venue to sing and reconnect with that part of my that I didn't realize I had lost.
I might even eventually record some of it and share my joy with you all. Who knows.
All I know is that I need to raise my voice. To sing and to be heard.
Music adds so much context to the tapestry that is my life. Just like writing my blog, it allows me to freely express what I'm feeling.
I intend to reclaim it.
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.
It's been a while since I've written a blog post. For that, again, I am truly sorry. I never intended to go this long, but one of the first things to go when PTSD and depression are starting to get away from you is your accurate sense of the passage of time.
When the holiday season started, I thought I was dealing well with the end of my marriage. I was focused, motivated, and very dedicated to my daughter. I was going to the gym and training in MMA twice per week. I was enjoying my job and thriving.
Things changed so subtly that I only noticed how depression and PTSD had started creeping in on the edges until things were dangerously close to a tipping point that would have seen me spiraling back into a very dark place.
On Christmas Eve, I had to take my daughter to her mother's house. Caley was communicating effectively how much she was grieving that mom and dad were no longer together and it hit me like a ton of bricks. When I woke up on Christmas day, I could feel the depression pushing the walls in. I closed myself into my apartment and pushed back with all of my might.
I thought about everything that I have been through over the past few years. I focused on how much progress I've made. I looked at what I have been able to accomplish, despite the PTSD. More importantly, I focused on how I have managed things since my wife said she wanted a divorce.
Logically, I knew I should be heartened by what I have been able to accomplish. So why didn't my feelings match what I have been able to provide for myself and for my daughter? For those of you who are familiar with my blog, you know by now that blogging helps me to articulate what I am feeling and why. Writing out how I am feeling, in general, has that effect.
Well, on Christmas Eve, I had received a Facebook message from a friend, sending me best wishes and hoping that I was doing OK. I responded with an outflowing of emotion and then, because of the nature of PTSD, summarily forgot that I had written her back until half way through the day on the 26th. Here's what I wrote her:
thank you for reaching out. It's been a bit dark for me in recent weeks, since the holidays started. I'm really struggling. I just want to curl up in a hole and I'm fighting the depression with everything I have. The sad part: it's been a slow creep. A death by a thousand cuts, emotionally. I have so much to live for and be proud of but I can't see the forest through the trees right now. I'm about to step into my parents' house to fill them in. You have no idea how much it means to me that you checked in. I hope you have a very merry Christmas. I'll be sending out an email to fill everyone in, since I've been silent for a bit. I am going to need support getting through the next few months, as the divorce gets finalized. I know I can be honest with you so I'll say it. I'm ashamed. Ashamed my marriage failed. Ashamed I can't keep the depression in check. Ashamed I haven't kept up with my blogging. Ashamed. Ashamed. Ashamed. I shudder to think where I'd be right now if it wasn't for my amazing family and friends like you.
The crazy thing is that I barely remember writing this or discussing what I wrote in it with my parents until I saw the response from my friend on Facebook.
You are right Max you do have so much to live for and be proud of, a great deal, more than most! I wanted to check in several times but at the same time want to respect your need for space. You may always reach out anytime you need someone, even if it's just to listen, share a meal, walk and talk, whatever... YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF, trust me when I tell you that forgiving yourself is a must, you need to allow yourself forgiveness because we are all only human trying to get through what can often be a hard and difficult path, it's ok that life doesn't work out like we thought, or that the path we were on changes, as hard as it is for you at this moment I promise you that you will understand at one point in your life and you will know you went through all of this to get through it, I know you will because you didn't get this far without having that courage and strength. I can not ever say I understand what you are dealing with because I have not lived your life, but I can tell you that you don't ever need to go through any of it alone, you have too many people Max who care... Please enjoy the joy of your family, of your daughter and have a blessed Christmas. 2015 is a year for opportunities and growth and love... Merry Christmas!
Sometimes, all you need is a little validation from a friend. If you are a friend of someone with PTSD, please read what was written by my friend above. She never claims to understand what I am going through but she validates my emotions while gently reinforcing the positive and forcing me to evaluate the truthfulness of the negative emotions that I was feeling.
Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. It allowed me to safely distance myself from the volatility of my emotions and figure out what exactly had transpired over the past few months that had landed me on the cusp of full-blown despair.
Here's how insidious PTSD and depression can be, even when they are being well managed:
What's so frustrating is that, in 20/20 hindsight, it's all so clear. Why couldn't I see it when it was all happening? I mean, I was in a good place. I effectively managing my PTSD triggers and was devoted to my daughter (still am). So why, WHY, am I sitting here writing this blog post? How did I get here?
Well, I have a choice to make. Learn from this and move forward to correct all of the things I am not doing to effectively cope, or I can disappear again.
Not much of a choice if you ask me.
I'm spending the rest of the holiday season resting and relaxing and relishing every moment I have with my daughter. Once 2015 begins, time to rededicate myself to doing the things I need and love doing.
All I know is that I have never been so grateful for the amazing family and friends I have in my life.
It's time to focus on the things that are working and fixing the things are aren't.
Here's to the New Year...
When I woke up on Veterans Day, I was really looking forward to it, as I always do. I was going out to enjoy a free breakfast at the local Friendly's with my dad (who is also a veteran). After that, I was going to a promising meeting for work and then the Netizen Crew (all veterans) were hitting Texas Roadhouse for a team lunch. Then, that afternoon, I had another really promising meeting for work.
I started off the day full of vim and vigor, ready to seize the day and enjoy the company of my fellow veterans.
To say that the day proceeded a little differently...well, that would be an understatement.
When I arrived at Friendly's, I met my dad and we went inside. The place was packed. There was one cook in the kitchen, one very stressed waitress, and ZERO management. I looked around the seating area and saw a lot of disgusted faces. To attract veterans (yes their food is free) and their families (their food is NOT free) with free food to honor their service and then not staff up was a complete failure on Friendly's part. It wasn't the fact that I wasn't going to get free food that really rankled me. What really angered me was that now, because of the absolute ineptitude (and apparent apathy) of Friendly's management, I no longer had time to find another place to eat breakfast with my father and was denied the opportunity to celebrate our service and spend quality time with my dad.
That was TRIGGER#1
I walked out into the parking lot a little edgy. I saw my dad off and as I was walking to my car, I witnessed a lady t-boning another lady in parking lot adjacent to Friendly's. I didn't think, I just reacted. I ran over to check on the two drivers. The lady who was t-boned was standing outside of her car next to the open driver-side door, visibly shaken and wobbly. I quickly instructed her to sit down, as I was afraid she was going to pass out. She complied and I asked her how she was feeling, whether she had any medical conditions and told her I was going to call 911. The lady said she had hypertension so I again reassured her that I was calling 911 and that everything was going to be ok. I called 911 and when the cop arrived, gave my statement. While we were waiting for the police, I helped the lady to call her husband so that he could come and pick her up - her car was totaled.
After my information was taken and I was released by the police, I went back to my car and was shaking from head to toe with adrenalin. I didn't need to remain calm anymore, as the welfare of the accident victims was now in the hands of the police. I had to consciously focus on slowing down my breathing. I was having intrusive recollections of the aftermath of an IED attack in which I was one of the first responders. I felt like I was a hot mess, so I swallowed my memories, bit my lip and drove to my first business meeting.
That was TRIGGER#2
I arrived at the first meeting feeling like I must appear outwardly to be a hot mess. Somehow, I got through the meeting without imploding. I even asked our CEO, who I was in the meeting with, if I looked visibly shaken or distracted. I felt like is had to be obvious to everyone that I was a hot mess. He reassured me that it didn't show and I started to relax a little bit.
After the meeting, we headed to lunch with the team. Texas Roadhouse was packed. I was still on edge, so I was really hoping that the staff was on point and that I would be able to sit with my back as close to the wall as possible.
Thankfully, the staff was amazing (Texas Roadhouse, you ROCK!) and I was able to sit where I could see most of the people coming and going. The lunch and the company was great. I was starting to relax and decompress as I was finally getting to celebrate the day and enjoy the company of my fellow veterans.
I headed home to check on a few things for work and to prep for my afternoon meeting when I got notification that an article that had been written about me and the nonprofit work I am doing had gone live. My stress level went up instantly. They hadn't afforded me the opportunity to fact check what they had written and had not notified me that it had been published. I quickly checked the article on their website and I almost put my fist through the wall. They had gotten every fact about my service wrong. They had the wrong suffix for the nonprofit's website. They screwed up the name of the entrepreneurship initiative I am working to roll out. They directly attributed quotes to me that were such poor grammar that they made me sound like an uneducated idiot.
To say I was furious would be an understatement. I immediately called their managing editor and chewed him a new one. He took down all of the fallacies that needed to be corrected and told me that he would correct the article online, but there was nothing he could do about the print version.
That was TRIGGER#3
Before anyone jumps the gun and comes to the conclusion that this is about my ego, let me clarify a few things:
After all of this went down, I had to get back in my car, again, and head to my last meeting for the day. The meeting went well, but it was exceedingly hard to keep the agitation and adrenalin in check. I was a hot mess.
I got out of the meeting and met my parents for dinner at Red Robin. I ate quickly and departed quickly. I just wanted to get home. I changed clothes and headed over to the Yoga Lab to take advantage of a free mat yoga class. I figured doing some yoga would help to work out the adrenalin and anger and allow me to focus on my breathing.
The class was intense and I struggled to maintain the motivation to finish the class, but I was able to purge a lot of the anger over the course of the class (Thank you, Yoga Lab!)
I went home and putzed around, desperately hoping that my body would allow me to actually lay down and get some sleep. I went to bed and closed my eyes, desperate to put this day behind me. I tossed and turned for hours and finally fell into a fitful sleep around 2 in the morning.
I woke up a few hours later when the alarm went off, feeling like I'd swallowed a cup of sand. My eyes were gritty and blood-shot, my tongue was swollen, and my lips were stuck to my teeth. The bed was soaked with sweat. I looked in the mirror and my lips were literally glued to my teeth in a grimace.
I didn't remember any nightmares, but they must have been intense.
My body ached from head to toe. I let my boss know that I was going to be working from home today and explained that I was a bit worn out from being triggered yesterday.
His response? "No sweat, take the time you need".
I've never been so grateful to be working for Netizen as I was this morning.
I'm feeling a bit more like myself, but it's going to take a few days to come down fully off of this. I hope I recover sooner, rather than later, though. Startup Weekend is this upcoming weekend and I'm one of the organizers.
As always, the timing couldn't be better...
So, Veterans Day is this coming Tuesday. I've asked around and spoken to a lot of different veterans over the past few weeks and have asked one question:
"What Are You Doing This Veterans Day?"
In every instance, the response I got was the same:
"I'm going to 'so and so restaurant' for free food."
When I followed up that leading question to find out if they were getting together with fellow veterans to enjoy a free meal with brothers and sisters in arms...Not a single one of them said they were planning on going with anyone.
I asked these same questions last year and the year before. Too many vets go out on Veterans Day just to enjoy the free food and don't have any desire to congregate with their fellow veterans.
As a result of this, I started thinking about what would make the day more meaningful and whether there were different activities to explore that would offer veterans a different way to celebrate their service.
On October 20th, the Yoga Lab opened up on Lehigh Street in Allentown, PA. Last week, the owner, Kristine, reached out to me with an offer: Free mat yoga for veterans on Veterans Day and discounts all month long, starting on the 10th of November. When I dug in a little bit, I discovered that yoga studios all over the country, independent of one another, are offering similar opportunities for veterans.
So, why yoga? Why now? I have heard that many veterans have found yoga to be extremely helpful in coping with PTSD. Then I read that one of the Yoga Lab instructors is an Iraq veteran with PTSD who has found yoga to be very therapeutic and wants to share its value (and the culture of healing that surrounds yoga as a whole).
When I read through her offer, I realized that this was a beautiful example of someone providing a venue for veterans to congregate in a meaningful manner, with a purpose. I have attached their flyer to this blog post. I will be attending mat yoga Veterans Day evening and am hopeful that I will be able to attend the Veterans Workshop on Saturday the 15th.
I encourage our veterans to extend themselves a little bit, especially those with PTSD, and take the Yoga Lab (and other yoga studios around the country) up on their generous offer.
I wish you all a great Veterans Day and hope you spend it in health and happiness!
The Top Five Reasons why Veterans Interested in Entrepreneurship Should Attend Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend.
For those of you who don't know, my passion for entrepreneurship was born at the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend in 2012. It ignited a passion that still motivates me today. It motivated me to pursue social entrepreneurship and to found my nonprofit.
One of the things that I have noticed, though, is how few veterans I run into at these events - and that really confused me. According to the SBA, approximately 40% of returning veterans would prefer to start their own business or 'not work for anyone but themselves'. Veterans who start businesses are twice as likely to grow a successful business when compared to those who have never served.
So why do so few veterans participate in Startup Weekend? I have my theories, but they're not substantiated by any research and fact. Instead of focusing on why veterans don't attend, I thought I'd present my top five reasons why our local veterans SHOULD attend.
So Here Goes...
1. Startup Weekend is a Great Way to Test Entrepreneurship Waters
I know there are a lot of veterans who consider starting their own business or have great ideas but never test the waters because they are too risk averse or don't know if an idea is value-added and marketable. Startup Weekend is an opportunity to test ideas and test the waters, with no strings attached. You get to learn about the culture, the energy, and can discover whether entrepreneurship is something that kindles the creative fire inside you. At the end of the weekend, even if your team wins the competition, you can walk away if you find that the environment doesn't work for you. The only thing that is asked of you is that you focus and dedicate your time for one weekend. Where you take it from there is completely up to you. The worst that can happen is you find out, one way or the other, whether entrepreneurship is right for you.
2. The Positive Environment Helps Transitioning Veterans Connect with Like-Minded Professionals
Startup Weekend has an amazing energy. A very talented pool of people get together for a weekend to generously offer up their talent to develop new applications, manufacture revolutionary new products, and more. It provides a natural feeling of camaraderie that will feel very familiar to veterans. This makes Startup Weekend an ideal environment for veterans transitioning out of the military. It's non-threatening and everyone appreciates what you can contribute, regardless of your level of experience. Not only that, participants break out into small teams of competent people to work on separate projects and depend heavily on each other to work autonomously on their portions of the work. Talk about an ideal setting to soften the cultural blow for veterans just transitioning back into civilian life. Additionally, veterans will meet like-minded people that they can relate to and share their passion with, making it that much easier to overcome the cultural divide between military and civilian life, allowing civilians and veterans to better understand the value inherent in their respective backgrounds.
3. Companies Are Starting to Recognize that Startup Weekend is a Treasure Trove of Hidden Talent
Very early on, organizers recognized that getting local companies and highly visible large enterprises (think Google and Coke, for example) had a vital role to play in supporting and sponsoring Startup Weekend. Successful local entrepreneurs were enlisted to be mentors and judges for the events. What those sponsors, mentors and judges discovered in short order was the inordinate amount of hidden and grossly underemployed talent attending these events. Over time, Startup Weekend has become not only an event celebrating the entrepreneur in all of us but a hotbed for hiring talent. I'll extend it a step further and tell my story. In early 2012, I attended a hackathon organized by a local teach group called LV Tech. It was there that I was first exposed to the generous and lively spirit common at other entrepreneurial events. While there, I started talking to a guy that I quickly found out was a fellow vet. He spoke very highly of hackathons and especially Startup Weekend. After the event, we kept in touch and that fall, I attended the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend. It was an amazing experience and our team came in third. The team that won later became one of the most promising startups in the educational space, by the way. Well, over the course of that event, I'd proven myself to be adaptable, reliable and motivated. I made connections there that I still maintain to this day. Time passed and the guy who had introduced me to Startup Weekend back in 2012 reached out to me earlier this year. He had started a business. He had a need for someone with proven writing skills and the ability to learn quickly on the fly to help with technical writing. What started as a trial run for ten hours a week quickly morphed into a full-time transition. He brought me on as his first W-2 employee just a few months later and I am now the Capture Manager for the company. He saw my potential - a potential in the intangibles that never get seen when large companies are screening thousands of resumes. And it all started with an innocuous conversation and a Startup Weekend.
4. Veterans Provide Skills and Valuable Lessons Learned Stemming from Military Service
Veterans have a very valuable set of 'soft skills' that have been ingrained in them as a result of their military service. Among these skills are adaptability, autonomy, teamwork, professionalism, decision making, and laser-like focus on task and mission. These skills are a value added proposition for any team or company and especially valuable in the accelerated setting at Startup Weekend. I have yet to run into a team that hasn't found working with veterans extremely rewarding and productive. Many have come to realize this and have openly lamented the limited participation of veterans at these events.
5. Veterans in Attendance Help to Break the Stigma Surrounding PTSD
The stigma surrounding PTSD affects all returning veterans. About five years ago, there was a concerted effort to dramatically increase the awareness of the prevalence of PTSD in veterans returning home - approximately one in five veterans of the current conflicts is returning home with some degree of PTSD. This was done very irresponsibly. They succeeded in raising awareness but never followed up with educating people on how PTSD impacted our veteran community. As a result, the prevailing stereotypes about PTSD that dated back to the Vietnam War are what the uneducated ended up believing. The stigma has become so strong that they have actually given this PTSD-specific stigma a name - 'The Rambo Effect'. As a result of the increased awareness, this stigma now negatively impacts the lives of all returning veterans. Employers don't want to hire young veterans because they fear that they may be introducing a destabilizing element into their workforce. All of the positive qualities I spoke of in the previous point are either forgotten or summarily ignored as a result of this stigma. Veterans, with and without PTSD that attend these types of events, demonstrate the positive qualities that employers used to highly value. By just being themselves veterans can prove just how wrong the prevailing stereotypes are - without ever even mentioning PTSD.
So There You Have It...
Veterans have a lot to offer. I hope that the reasons I have listed above are motivation for more veterans in the Lehigh Valley to attend this year's event. Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend takes place this November 14th - 16th. As one on the organizers, and a fellow veteran, I'd love to see you out there. For more information please visit their website.
I'd love to hear feedback from anyone reading this. If anyone has any questions or comments, don't hesitate to reach out to me!
It's been a very long two months. I didn't trust myself to blog about what I was going through, so I haven't blogged about what has transpired. I know I've always been very open about what I am going through, but sometimes you just need to take the time for yourself.
So here's the short of it: My wife and I are getting divorced. I know we said in earlier posts that neither one of us would take that precipitous step until we had been separated for six months, but things were just not working.
We didn't come to this decision lightly. We committed to everything that we said we were going to commit to. We have been giving every consideration to the impact this has on our daughter, went to marriage counseling, everything.
We attended multiple counseling sessions, together and individually. What became very evident to both of us is that too much water had passed under the bridge. I can't be to her what she needs and she can't be to me what I need. Our life paths had diverged too much and there was no foundation of trust or communication for coming back from the precipice.
So...we talked. A lot. About a month ago, we mutually agreed to move forward with divorce. It happened on a Thursday. That Friday, Saturday and Sunday that followed were the most emotionally intense days I have gone through since returning home from Iraq. I completely imploded that weekend. Emotions overwhelmed me. The grief was intense. I talked about it with a friend who has gone through divorce and when I told her that it felt like I was grieving for a death in the family, she told me something that I'll never forget.
To me divorce was more emotionally intense than losing a loved one. When a loved one dies, there's closure - it's final. With divorce, you don't get that luxury. You don't get closure ever - especially if you still deeply love your partner. Especially when there's a child involved.
Well, how about that. It definitely put what I was feeling into perspective. While it helped, I still had to confront what was happening to me and I had to do it quickly. I didn't have a lot of time and I had to be functional for work. Somehow I managed to pick myself up and dust myself off by the end of the weekend.
And then something amazing happened.
I found hope in a blunt assessment of my recovery from that weekend: That was the most intense emotional episode I have gone through since I came home from Iraq and I'm still standing...I didn't disappear down the rabbit hole again. I didn't let the depression consume me.
Don't get me wrong, I feel the depression and anxiety 'banging on the windows' trying to get in but I have held onto everything that I have learned, and held on fiercely. I have now, at the core of me, a steely resolve - to do right by myself, my family, and my daughter. The inner fire is burning bright.
Just for clarification, no I don't like that I'm getting divorced. It's had quite the impact on my self-confidence and my focus. I think about my soon-to-be ex every day. I worry about the long-term impact this is going to have on my daughter, despite our collective best efforts to soften the blow. It's impacted my ability to focus on work and has caused me to question my ability to perform the tasks I have to do at work every day.
I continue to struggle every day with this whole mess, but every day is another day I prove to myself that I have the strength to endure this and come out the other side, still capable of loving and laughing.
So, what now? Where do I go from here? That's the trick. I don't know. But I'm looking forward to the journey. I want to turn the page and start a new chapter in my life, but I really have no idea where to start. One thing I know for certain is that I will be sharing that journey with all of you.
Yes, my PTSD has taken its toll on my life but life didn't end when we decided on divorce. All I know for certain is that I don't want to take this journey alone. I just need to figure out what the hell that means for me and what I want to do about it.
It's been a long month. I have had to get used to things I never wanted to have to get used to again. The house is empty for at least half the week. I never realized how much it scares me to be alone and the nights when I don't have my daughter have been the hardest. I can count on one hand how many times I have seen my wife since she moved out and every time I see her, I feel like I have lead in my stomach. It hurts my heart to see her so distant, and closed off from me. Yes, we're on the same page when it comes to parenting, but I fear that the hurt I caused her when I was depressed is too much to overcome.
I wish that there was something that I could do to help her see that I love her beyond words and that I have stayed strong through all of this. I haven't disappeared back down the rabbit hole. I'm still working out and still going to MMA. Work continues to be a revelation.
So, what to do? Where do I go from here? The only thing I can think to do is just stay steady and continue to do what I have been doing - Living my life as best I can for me so that I can find fulfillment. So I'm going to keep on making the most of my workouts, MMA, and work. The biggest thing is keeping busy, especially as the major holidays approach. There's always the temptation to stay in and not go out at all. I swore that I would never go down that road again. It's the first time in my life where I have been thankful for hypervigilance. I've been able to repurpose it to help me keep from going down that road ever again.
I have been afraid to sit down at the computer to write any of this because is makes it real...Does that make sense? Acknowledging my new reality is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. It's one of the reasons that I haven't been blogging that past few weeks. I had to come to terms with how things are and fight my fear and the anger.
It took a while...
But I'm getting there. Bit. By. Bit.
And I'll keep on fighting to make the most of my life for as long as it takes and as long as I live. I never really thought that Post Traumatic Growth was really a thing. When I was in the throes of my PTSD, it seemed unattainable. I don't think that it's the bright, shiny future that they make it out to be in the press, but I do believe it's real. So, no matter how things turn out, I'm going to learn to be happy - with someone or by myself.
But that's a subject for another post...and one I'm working on writing as we speak.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.