I had a bad moment at work yesterday and the night was followed up with repetitive dreams of the soldier that died...go figure. I never would have seen that one coming. The end result: I slept in really late, screwing up my sleep schedule and I have been grumpy all day. What a way to spend a day off. The worst part is, I know it's the PTSD making me feel this way and I STILL can't stop it from making me feel out of sorts and grumpy. The only two solaces I have had today are the wonderful antics of my wife and daughter. They at least distract me for a little while.
I was at work and I saw someone who looked a lot like a soldier I knew from Iraq that didn't make it home. I don't know how I didn't lose it right then and there. I was hyper vigilant for the rest of my shift, checking my corners and evaluating everyone that came through my area for threat level. It was ridiculous. I work in a freaking grocery store! I don't know how my co-workers didn't notice my change in demeanor. Well, maybe it did and it scared them. I guess time will tell. It's hard for me to ascertain for myself how my PTSD affects others in a situation like that. When I got home, I took an extra dose of my anti-anxiety medication. I was so amped up I couldn't sit down for the first 30 minutes I was home. I did eventually calm down, but thinking you're seeing a ghost doesn't help your mental stability. But hey...I made it through and tomorrow's a new day, right?
I had an amazing day today. I went down to Kutztown University as a guest speaker. I talked to the Finance Club and had a blast talking to all of the engaged and eager students. It almost didn't go that way...When I got to the building where I was going to be talking, I noticed everyone on cell phones. When I got to the room where I was going to be speaking, everyone was on cell phones. The first thing that went through my mind was, "The kids had better put their f**king cell phones away or someone's phone is going to have an intimate meeting with the cinder block walls..." I knew right away that I was annoyed by this from the get-go and worked to keep myself calm and to not judge anyone until such time that a student started using a phone during the presentation. The second that I was introduced and started engaging the students, all the cell phones went into pockets and I didn't see one or hear one for the duration. I was pleasantly surprised (and a little shocked) by the level of attention I was given by the students. It was gratifying to know that they were listening. It also made me feel incredibly guilty for even thinking that they would be disrespectful. I got home from the event (after being taken out to lunch) and thought this all through. Why was my response so instantaneously enraged? I recognized, after a lot of introspection, that I don't like anyone messing with something I am passionate about - especially when it involves getting in front of a large group of people I don't know. That's where the PTSD kicks in. I love giving presentations to groups large or small. My PTSD is diametrically opposed to being anywhere near crowds of people that I don't know in an environment I can't control. Is it any wonder that the anger came to the forefront of my thoughts when I was in this situation? No. Is it gratifying to know that the PTSD didn't win and make me say something I would have regretted later? Hell YES!
In short, no. When I first got home in early 2004, the system hadn't seen many or any invisible wounds of war yet - it was too early into the conflict. Because the VA wasn't overwhelmed, my claims process was only two months long. I was assessed with a rating in short order. As more and more veterans have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA quickly became overwhelmed. Seven years later, I get to see a doctor every four months, if I am lucky. Here's the catch: So many people blame the VA for not caring. I don't think that this could be further from the truth. I know that all of the doctors and social workers that I have talked with are incredibly frustrated by the lack of staffing and funding the VA is getting to contend with this ever-growing issue. Granted, no system is perfect. The biggest issue I have is with the bureaucratic oversight. Just like every other government agency, there are a ton of superfluous jobs. It's incredibly difficult to fire someone from a Federal job, so people in unnecessary 'fluff' positions keep their jobs while the VA continues to be run into the ground. I think that government agencies should be run like businesses. Cost savings and improved efficiency in operations would equate to more jobs where they are needed and less waste. It's time to separate the wheat from the chaff or all of the veterans returning home are going to lose their trust for the government and country they swore to uphold and protect. What message is being sent to the youth in our country when they witness the general apathy that veterans get treated with upon returning home?
OK, I've said my piece. Down off the soap box and back to talking about other issues...
I am back and posting on my personal blog again. Stay tuned - big blog updates to follow. Sorry for being out of touch for so long!
I have been over-thinking things that are going on around me too much over the past few days and I didn't realize that I was doing it until I started getting annoyed at 'my situation'. I didn't even realize I was in a situation. I took a step back and I thought about it and recognized that it was the PTSD talking. The thing that grates on my nerves is the fact that I didn't realize I was going into that paranoid spiral. How the hell can you not realize it? GAH! So now I am beating myself up over the fact that I didn't see it and am getting wrapped up in my head again. I can't afford to let this happen. Yet another issue that I have to figure out the trigger for and learn how to cope with. yay.
I wrote this paper in the fall of 2004 for a Short Stories class. I really struggled with this assignment. I had yet to reconnect with who I was. This was a particularly painful period for me and it shows in the writing. Warning: This is some very visceral and raw writing. If you are easily disturbed, please read when you are in the right frame of mind!!
The metallic tang of blood clouded the pavement like a thick fog. Rising bile is swallowed down as eyes are drawn inextricably to the red-black blood pooling under the wounded and dying. Glistening wetly in the moonlight it slowly flows in tiny rivulets away from them to collect in the dust on the sides of the road. An old man groans weakly reaching out for help, skeletal fingers arched in what can only be excruciating pain. His right leg is bent at an unnatural angle from the middle of the thigh down, held together by the smallest strips of skin. Hunks of muscle and chips of bone float in the blood squirting from his femoral artery. Strands of muscle twitch feebly contracting and relaxing, making the wounded leg pulse with a life of its own. Hands reach out to stuff a bandage in the wound and to apply pressure until the medic can get there to clamp the artery.
The medics relieved me and I looked wearily down at my hands and uniform. Bile rises up once more…I think I hear the choppers coming.
Bothered by memories I can’t shake, it has been hard to find something that I can write about. Everything I think about causes my mind to return to those horrible memories. Ever since we received this assignment, I have been searching in the archives of the KU library for some literary criticism that would spark my interest and divert my mind from less pleasant thoughts. After days of looking, I became ever more frustrated with the tired, old, boring criticisms available in the library. It was at this point that I decided to look online via other channels than the library mainframe. After two days of searching websites, I found the official Updike webpage. The website is a veritable gold mine of reader commentary written by the average, everyday people who have read his works. I had finally found something that I could relate to and delved deeper into the website. I found a very touching story that has changed my view of Updike’s writings. For the sake of expediency, I chose one reader commentary that really hit home with me. The commentary was written by Christopher R. Brochon.
I had the dreams again last night. Afraid to go to sleep, I decided to occupy my mind by reading and rereading the commentary by Brochon. I found myself compelled to go back and read A&P (Fiction: A Pocket Anthology, 3rd Ed. R. S. Gwynn. Penguin; New York, 2002 ed. pp. 297-303) all over again. It still seemed superficial and trite. I began to become frustrated that I couldn’t see what resonated so heavily with Brochon. I returned to the website and read his commentary again. This time, a few things jumped out at me and I concentrated on those things that Brochon had written. Here is what he wrote:
“My father died when I was nine and I closed myself off to most of my family as I tried to understand why he had been taken away from me. I began to question everything that I was raised to believe in, as I charged up the proverbial ladder of guilt to place the guilt in Gods lap. During the year of my life for 9 to about 18, I fully trusted only one man; Dick. He was a very close friend of my fathers, and he was the most intellectual person that I have ever known. It was he who, during those most troubled times I turned to for answers that made sense…Among the many works of classic literature and philosophy that I read during that time only of the few fiction authors was John Updike. The first book of his that I read was Couples. I was enamored by how on target he was about all things. The way people spoke. The way they tried to hide from commitment, not just to others but to themselves. But mostly I could always find a character that I could relate to, be it a book, or a short story.”
I think that these lines portray the deep, emotional impact that Updike had on Brochon. Concerned that I still couldn’t see what Brochon did in Updike’s writings, I took a break for a few days to let my brain cool down. I hoped that taking a step back would help provide me with a new perspective on what I had already read multiple times.
The old man has finally been stabilized enough to transport. The medevac grabs his feet. Hands dark with blood and grime reach out and slide underneath the old man’s shoulders.
The right hand is suddenly warm and wet, enveloped in the pulsing of a weak heart beat. Reflexively, the hand jerks back
Eyes jerk away from the old man to the hand. With a quick jerk, the bits of muscle and viscera clinging to the hand fly to the pavement with a wet splat.
Jerking awake, I scramble from my sweaty sheets. Sobbing, I run to the bathroom and scrub my hands under hot water until the blood is gone and that horrible metallic smell dissipates from my memory…
I think I have finally come to realize what has blocked me from gaining insight from Updike’s story: fear of making a personal connection with the characters in the story. Ever since I got home from Iraq, I have felt disconnected from everything and everyone in my life. After all that I had been through, I had cut myself off from the emotions that allow me to relate to others personally and truly experience the wonders of living. Determined, I read the story again replacing scenes depicted in the story with experiences from my own life. The story began to take on a whole new meaning for me.
Yesterday was cathartic and exhausting. I discovered many things in Updike’s story and I now understand why his writing resonated so profoundly with Brochon. I had forgotten how good it felt to feel that way. I remembered the first time I stood up for something that I believed in. Looking back, making that stand had an exceptional effect on how I acted from that point on. I had come to the conclusion that standing up for what I believed in had to be conscientiously pursued. I could not stand by as a spectator anymore and watch the world pass me by. It truly galvanized my will and determination. Every time I stood up for something I believed in, I felt liberated. I began to look around me and explore every source of knowledge that I could get my hands on to better understand what I believe and what ideals I represent.
For the longest time, I had been so caught up in all of the horrible memories of what happened to me in Iraq that I had completely forgotten how to live, how to feel. I had lost my identity in Iraq. I came back an empty husk of the man I was before. Needless to say, this scared me witless. How could I have been so blind? How could I have let myself forget everything that makes life worth living? Brochon lost his father and lost sight of himself for nine years. I do not want that to happen to me. I do not want the next few years of my life to be bereft of meaning. I am making myself this promise: Every day, I will remind myself that I am a part of the here and now. I will not forget what I have been through, but I will not lose sight of who I am or where I am going ever again.
Thank you, John Updike. Thank you for helping me see past the black and white photograph. I can see the simple, yet beautiful brush strokes of life that surround me every minute of every day for the first time in well over a year. I had forgotten how wonderful life can be.
I have to keep reminding myself that people don't know me or my expectations in my new position. I caught myself getting mad over things that seemed like the ultimate in common sense. They apparently weren't. I don't know people well enough yet to try to set those expectations and I don't want to alienate anyone right out of the gates. I am in learn and observe mode and it's driving me batty! I can't wait until I know the department and the folks working there know me better so that I can convey to them just how much there is to improve upon that I see already. This is the hardest part of assuming new responsibilities with a new team: Anger management!
This is new functionality that I am testing. If you see this on the wall, follow the link and follow the blog!! It will help get the word out!
I have absolutely no reason to think that tomorrow is going to be a bad day. I am starting something new. The people I will be working with respect me. So why do I have this nagging feeling like I'm walking into it tomorrow? It's not a pleasant feeling. I am hoping it's just the jitters. I fought hard to get this position, so maybe I am just putting undue pressure on myself. I'll have to see how it goes and report back after!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.