Well, I had another session with my individual therapist today. We did a lot of talking about my recent realizations about being black and white about everything. We still haven't come anywhere close to a work around or work-through. One realization that I did make was that survivor's guilt plays a huge role in setting the standards I hold myself to (and my inability to forgive myself for not being good enough) and why I can't forgive others for disappointing me (well, violating my trust is more accurate). There's a lot more to this that I still have to work through, that's for sure. One of the things she told me is that she's concerned that because I need to have people fall into one category or another (Trusted or Not), I may try to force people to fit into those narrow categories, even when they don't belong there.
We talked about this for the vast majority of the session and she asked me if there was anything else bothering when I unintentionally dropped a bomb on her. I could tell it concerned her greatly because her demeanor went from relaxed and attentive to focused and intense. Here's the situation:
Last week, Thursday night into Friday, I lost a day. What do I mean by that? I went to sleep a little after midnight and the next thing I remember coherently is waking up and realizing I have to be at work in 45 minutes - work started at 2PM. I slept for over 12 hours. I remember nothing in the interim. The next thing I remember clearly from that night is helping to clean the slicers at the end of the night. I know interacted appropriately with my coworkers, but I have absolutely no sense of the passage of time for that night. None. I have no idea whether I was asleep all that time either.
I drove home that night wondering whether I was going to be walking into a shitstorm at home. I had no idea. After talking about this with my therapist today and seeing how concerned she got, it raised some alarms in my head and I ended up not working on the newsletters I wanted to send out today - I could barely concentrate on writing this blog post. So I decided to take a break and watch a movie or two. I couldn't concentrate on anything and it was starting to ratchet up my anxiety something fierce.
What I thought was strangest was the timing. Everything was going well. My PTSD symptoms were wll-managed. The only thing I can think of is that it happened the night after I talked to the consultant about incorporation and foundation documents for the non-profit and I had a funding proposal that I put before a local veterans group for consideration. I was extremely excited. I was thinking that maybe my body doesn't know how to tell the difference between excitement and fear. I know my adrenalin was pumping like crazy.
Unfortunately, the end result was the same - I lost a day.
So now, I have to track when this happens to see if there is a pattern. I did some looking online and the specific information about the symptoms of TBI seem to fall in line with some of the issues I have with short-term memory, loss of sense of time, anger, etc. Anyone out there know more specifics or resources online that articulate this better? I don't want to pee up a tree and send doctors looking for ghosts if there's nothing to this.
OK, a few months back, I made a concerted effort to get into the gym for cardio and weight training as often as I could with my work schedule. Due to the limited hours at the gym I was attending, that happened to be once, maybe twice, per week I was able to get there. I had read a lot about how everyone was saying how much exercise improves your mood and can help to stabilize your mood.
Hmm. What I discovered was something very different. When you are only able to go to the gym once per week, your mood is a little better that day. The other six days, you feel worse. I don't think I was necessarily feeling more depressed. I think it was because I had gotten a taste of what a good mood feels like and my body was seriously pissed that I wasn't feeding the hunger. It made me very frustrated and exceptionally demoralized. I thought about the trade-off. Was one day of a better mood worth six days of 'meh'?
Um...No. It sure as hell wasn't and it made me feel trapped in a body I hated to see in the mirror. I didn't feel like there was anything I could do to make a real difference, what with my retail work hours and such. Well, early last month, I had finally had enough. I started looking for ways that I could work out consistently and maintain a better mood. It was not an easy thing to do. I felt myself getting more and more impatient and frustrated as the days passed and I wasn't able to find any kind of workable solution.
Then, over this past weekend, it finally hit me: I need a gym that's open 24/7. After a little bit of digging on the internet, I found a gym that fit the bill. I visited the gym on Saturday and loved it. I signed up the same day. I know I feel better about myself when I don't see a fat guy staring back at me in the mirror. I am dedicated to this. I have already been exercising and it has improved my mood a bit. It also helps that I can work my exercising in wherever it happens to fit into my schedule on any given day.
It's been incredibly empowering and I just started. I am having fun and, for the first time in a long time, I feel like there's still a chance to get thin and happy again. I just need to make sure that I send the warning out there to all my fellow community members - If you can't exercise on a regular basis, things could get worse, and quickly. Please make sure you've talked to your doc about this concern. If you are prone to severe depression, please think this through and make sure you are committed to improving your mood. After feeling my mood get progressively worse with sporadic training, I know from first hand experience how negatively it can affect you.
So here goes nothing. I hope this word of warning gets to the people that need to hear it the most. Get up, exercise and take very careful stock of of how you are feeling. If it is affecting you, don't let your motivation stagnate. Caregivers, talk to your vets about their mood and find out how they are doing. Communication is key. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but trust your instincts and your vet's gut. You know as well as I do how low our self-worth can be. Throw the listlessness of the medications we take and it can be very easy to convince ourselves it's not worth the effort. So...Support your veteran and do what you can to keep them motivated. I know it's not easy, but the rewards are worth the risk if you can help them get in shape.
Good luck out there and happy lifting!!
This past Monday, I met with my individual therapist and we talked about how I feel trapped by my current situation: I am not able to make a job change easily because my family depends on my income and health insurance. I can't get to the gym consistently because my work schedule is erratic and I come home from work emotionally spent. I don't have the time I would like to pursue my advocacy endeavors because of my work schedule making it nearly impossible to meet with my colleagues. It has made me feel more and more depressed and more and more demotivated.
When I explained all of this to my therapist, she understood how this could adversely affect me but brought up one point that stuck with me and made me think: It is your choice, whether you realize it or not, to stay in that job. It is also your choice to put all of your emotional energy into your work even though you don't get paid to be emotionally invested in it. She asked me, "What do you think would happen if you chose to save that emotional energy for the other things in your life?"
Why is it the simple things that always seem to be the hardest to change? Being emotionally invested in my work has been ingrained in my since childhood. I told my therapist that and she came back with, "No, that's your job. Advocacy is your work. Put your emotional energy into that and I bet you will feel better and have more energy to find a way to get to the gym and to be there for your family".
It's a foreign idea, but makes a weird kind of sense to me. She followed this up by explaining to me that I have the ability to choose what I devote my energy to. I can't control the fact that I am currently unable to change jobs because of my financial responsibilities. What I CAN control is who benefits from my energies the most - my job or my advocacy for veterans. I have felt trapped because couldn't see any way to take control of the situation and it was causing me to become extremely depressed and unable to see any positive outcomes.
So now comes the hard part. I have to change my behavior - a behavior that has been an integral part of my professional identity since I first started working. I have to learn how to redefine what my work is so that I can devote my emotional energy to my advocacy, my health, and my family. It is definitely not going to be easy but it will be worth the effort.
It's amazing how being laid up for a week can adversely affect your outlook. Even though I am feeling physically better, I am feeling progressively more depressed and that concerns me greatly. People who are ill for prolonged periods are prone to mild depression. When you add PTSD into the equation, thinks spiral down a whole lot faster and a whole lot farther.
What's frustrating as hell is that I KNOW this and I can't seem to snap out of it. I am doing everything I can to stay focused on doing things that are productive and fulfilling for me and it seems to be helping a little bit. While I know I focused a lot on the things I am dissatisfied with over the past few days, I haven't come up with any good plans to address those issues. I am going to read over everything I wrote in my last blog with my wife and see what we can come up with. Sometimes I get my thoughts out on here and forget that I haven't shared them with my wife.
All I know is that my wife's love and support mean everything to me and help me regain proper perspective when I get in these funks. Maybe, if I remembered to share with her all that I blogged about she would be better equipped to deal with me.
Yep, still in a funk. At least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. My ear is finally healing better and as soon as I am allowed to go back to work, I think that the majority of my depression will lift. If it doesn't lift, on to plan B. When I figure out what plan B is, I'll let you know.
Introspection...Ally or Enemy? It's a question I have been asking myself a lot over the past few days. It seems that every time I have too much time on my hands to sit and think, I get evaluate everything that's going on in my life. I look at my home life, my work life, being a husband, being a dad. I examine every facet of my life, ad nauseum. In some cases, in excruciatingly fine detail.
I have to wonder how healthy this is for a person like me to do. I seem to get less and less out of it the longer I look. While, I know that there is a lot that makes me very happy in my life, there is also a lot that has left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I wonder if I will ever be able to realize my full potential, and sitting on my duff recuperating from a physical health issue doesn't lend itself to feeling positive about what the future holds.
What I have begun to realize is that I desperately need more out of my professional life - and soon. I think about all of the things I could be doing with my time to advocate for changes in behavioral health care, to educate people about PTSD, to work to reduce the stigma associated with PTSD. It makes me sick to my stomach that I am spending my time in customer service in a grocery store. It's depressing and demotivating. I am an accomplished speaker, an even better writer. Yet, here I sit, wondering how I got myself stuck where I am. I constantly think about hunting for work in Veteran Advocacy. I look online all of the time. I think about the good I could be doing and I feel trapped by the need to make a living to support my family, unable to get out from under the thumb of crap wages and a shitty economy.
Yep, that's introspection for you. It allows me to make important realizations - realizations about things I need to change in my life. Yet, when I am in a position where I don't get to choose when the introspection ends, I get caught in the quagmire of depression and catastrophic thinking. I am on pain meds, so I can't drive anywhere, I can't work. I am stuck here at home with one of two options: sleep or think too much.
So I sit here and think. And contemplate the edges of a sword that never get dull from overuse.
This is the danger of isolation for veterans with PTSD. It suffocates our will, douses the flame of hope. Too much introspection is not a good thing. It's like painting yourself into a corner, with no one around to notice you have until the last stroke has already been painted.
Boy was that a depressing trip. I think I need to make sure that I get to CPT group tomorrow, despite my inability to drive myself. I need something to shake the cobwebs loose, something to turn my sight outward. I need to focus on getting a hold on the depression as it sinks its claws ever deeper into my psyche. I need to focus on my wife and my daughter, how much they need me to be here for them. I'll find a way, I always do. I think I just needed to get those poisonous thoughts out of my head. To rattle those insidious doubts from their nesting places in my mind.
I know I can make it until tomorrow, and that's all that truly matters when the going gets rough.
So, yeah...I started working out again this past week. I have realized that the only way that I am going to be able to stay committed to working out is to go all out. What's odd is the way that I came to this realization: I have been in a funk for the better part of the past week. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why in the hell I was feeling so down. I started putting it together after I had worked out last night after work. I had been starting slowly and letting my muscles get reacquainted with weight training. I hadn't added cardio into the mix quite yet. When I got home from from the gym last night, I was almost instantly grumpy and withdrawn.
And then it clicked.
I wasn't fully committing to working out and I wasn't kicking the endorphins into high enough gear for the 'feel-good' to affect me. I thought about it a lot. I felt good while I was working out but it immediately started to fade as soon as I was done. It kept on leaving the gym feeling faintly dissatisfied. I knew that you had to attain a certain level of physical activity for the endorphin release to sustain itself for any length of time. With this in mind, I decided it was time to throw in a half-hour of cardio today. My body felt good and I wasn't sore, so I figured I might as well.
So today, I got out of work, headed to the gym, did 30 minutes of cardio and then weight training. My hunch appears to be correct. When I finished my workout, the good mood was still there and I felt good. I still felt a little out of balance after a week of 'I feel good, I feel like crap'. I liked the way I felt today. I was more aware and focused at home. I wasn't withdrawing from my wife and daughter.
So let this be a lesson to everyone else out there: When your doc says you need to exercise, take it seriously. I feel so much better when I am working out. I am more alert, more engaged. *so tired - going to bed and finishing tomorrow...*
Ok, to finish up:
The word of caution I have for all of the others out there that are feeling balanced on their medication: Exercise releases a lot of chemicals into the brain that cause feelings of happiness and contentedness. It might be a good idea to pay a little closer attention to your mood while you are getting into the habit of exercising consistently. Any time you drastically change your brain chemistry, it can change the potency, duration, and effect of the medications we are on. Please don't take this as an excuse to avoid exercising. Trust me when I say that the difference is wonderful. Just don't do it half-way. You'll thank me later.
Well, my last CPT session went really well. I was talking about how I had gone into a funk over the holidays and how I was trying to eliminate stressors from my life. It was an interesting conversation. We talked about how my lack of regular schedule at work was keeping me from being able to get into a routine. Routines are important to me. When I have a consistent schedule, I am able to get to the gym and workout. When I am able to work out consistently, I feel better and look better. I expressed how frustrated I was that I couldn't seem to find a way to get myself on a routine. What I realized is that having a job in retail doesn't exactly lend itself to maintaining a low stress lifestyle.
I was all down on myself and one of the guys from group and pointed out to the doc and me how much progress I have made. I thought. What Progress!?! He went on to explain that when I first came to group, I was a hot mess. All of the problems I had been trying to find solutions for were intangibles - worst case scenarios, even though they had little chance of ever occurring. I stressed out about all of the things that were out of my control. What he told me was that I need to keep a proper perspective. What he sees is a guy that is focused on addressing tangible problems that will lead to an improved quality of life.
It goes to show you how incredibly important objective validation can mean to a vet with PTSD. The progress I have made was so gradual that I didn't notice any change in my perspective or any changes in the way that I address problems. I really couldn't see the forest for the trees. My perseverance has paid off, yet I was still the last one to know!
It truly floored me. I sat back and absorbed it for the remainder of group and felt something I hadn't dared feel in a really long time: hope. If I persevere, stay the course, can I really make a more fulfilling and happy life for myself and my family? Maybe I can. Maybe I can.
As always, the post-holiday funk lasted longer than I expected it to. I have been trying for over a week to write something meaningful for my blog, but have been dissatisfied with what I had written and deleted a total of seven drafts before finally figuring out what was bothering me so much.
I was depressed, severely. I had no idea why and it was frustrating as all hell to find a way to articulate why being depressed made me feel annoyed and angry with myself. After all, the rest of the holiday season went pretty smoothly. I didn't have any major issues with my PTSD. I didn't have any anger issues with family. I really enjoyed my time that I did get to spend with family, despite my standing desire to avoid large family gatherings out of fear of my PTSD getting the better of me in those situations. I refused to let my fear of the PTSD keep me from enjoying the company of family I don't get to see very often.
So, imagine my surprise when I woke up on January Second, depressed as all hell and fighting the urge to hide in a deep, dark hole for the better part of the month. Why the hell am I still depressed? It doesn't make any sense. Why would I be depressed when everything went so well?
It took me until tonight to finally put two and two together. It was the release of pent up stress from working in a store that experiences extremely high customer traffic. Having to contend with large crowds, disgruntled and stressed co-workers, demanding customers, and substantially less sleep ratcheted up my stress level substantially. It was the release of this pent up stress that triggered the depression.
So now, I have to claw my way back out of this funk so that I can focus on all of the things that matter to me most: Family and Family. I am thinking that the break from blogging, while necessary, deprived me of an essential release valve for my stress.
I have my first individual and group therapy sessions of the year tomorrow and I am really looking forward to getting back into that groove as well. Maybe other reasons will present themselves during therapy. I am certainly hoping that I can make a breakthrough tomorrow. This depression is sucking the motivation out of me faster than I can recharge my batteries.
Am I the only one experiencing this? I doubt it. It would be very helpful to hear from you all on this matter.
When this first happened, I wanted to write something immediately. I felt compelled to write from the heart on this, but I waited. This incident devastated too many lives to be written off the cuff. I decided to look into some background information so substantiate my views and in the course of doing that research became more and more disturbed, more and more concerned for the direction our country is headed. So, here goes.
- Firearm Deaths in the US in 2003: 30,136 /// Total US Military Casualties in Iraq in 2003: 486 That's more than 70x the number of total US Military deaths in a WARZONE over the same period.
The proliferation of firearms in the United States has reached critical mass. Industry lobbyists in Washington have worked tirelessly to pave the way for almost anyone to be able to purchase and own firearms. While I believe in the Second Amendment, I think it's time we actually looked at what the Second Amendment actually says.
- The overall firearm-related death rate among US children younger than 15 years of age us nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized nations COMBINED.
- For more stats, go here.
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Well, this seems pretty damn black and white to me. 'If this criteria is met, then this holds true'. Is the United States general public now considered a 'well regulated militia'? Is owning an automatic rifle 'necessary to the security of a free state'? Unequivocally, NO. We have local police, state police, the National Guard, and more. There is absolutely no reason for assault rifles to be available to the general public.
Before any NRA sycophants get on here and rant, you better think carefully about what you say. I fought to protect the ideals of this country, so don't you dare impugn my intentions. You want to argue your 'right to bear arms'? Last time I checked, this right is an AMENDMENT. First and foremost we have a duty to uphold the core tenants of the Constitution. Let's visit the core tenant of that wonderful document:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness."
It is not a coincidence that Life takes the spot as highest in precedence. When others' rights to bear arms encroaches on another citizen's right to live a life in pursuit of these three basic tenants, I draw the line. No parents should have to live in fear of sending their children to school. They shouldn't have to fear a phone call telling them that their six year old was murdered in cold blood by an assault rifle toting psychopath.
I thought deeply about the philosophy that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' While semantically true, this is a delusional rationalization. Yes, guns don't kill people. Someone has to pull the trigger and we, as a society, have made that insanely easy to accomplish. It's time that we held ourselves to a higher standard.
Special Interests and Politics:
While the above incident is horrible, it is a symptom of a deeper malady - a cancer that has spread insidiously into every facet of National Governance. Special Interests, working to promote specific agendas have taken our political system hostage. Special interest groups have taken over policy making so completely in Washington that the average politician can't get elected without taking money from these groups and offering policy reciprocity in return. We supposedly elect these politicians to office out of a belief that they will do what is best for their constituencies. Now, campaign platforms are empty words designed to keep power-hungry 'public servants' in office. Special interest groups are the ones that facilitate this. Their money buys influence and power in Washington, drowning out the voices of the average American who doesn't have millions of dollars to throw at corrupt politicians. The firearm special interests and the NRA both tout deep and abiding beliefs in God. Unless God is now synonymous the almighty dollar, these folks and the politicians that support them are the most profound of hypocrites. Last time I checked, avarice was one of the seven deadly sins. The firearm industry and their cadre of bought policy-makers have sold the lives of our children out of a desire for more money and more power. So I say this to those policy-makers and lobbyists - HOW DARE YOU.
It's time that we take back our power from these elitists. I didn't go to war to protect and uphold the Constitution of the Unites States just to watch it be slowly subverted to fit the greed and need of a select few.
Ultimately, it is these lobbyists and policy-makers that have supported lax firearms policies that I hold accountable for what happened in Connecticut. If I had my way, they'd all be brought up on charges of Negligent Homicide. Take what you will from this, but my stance will never change. Policy-makers are given their power by us. We can just as easily take it away. It's time they start advocating for us and not the special interests.
Mental Health Care in the United States:
Since I was diagnosed with PTSD, I have taken a keen interest in the state of the mental health care system in our country. Bluntly, it's embarrassing. So little education is out there about mental illness, mental disorders that those with these issues are viewed by many as second-class citizens at best and a danger to the general public at worst.
News Flash: My name isn't Rambo. I will not go on a murderous killing spree because of the horrific things I witnessed in a Combat Zone.
PTSD, Depression, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia. People hear these words and become fearful. Thousands and thousands of people never come forward for treatment out of fear of being shunned by a society that holds no place for them. Whatever happened to compassion for our fellow man? Not surprisingly, those sufferers with the most understanding families that actively support their treatment, that show them unconditional love are substantially more successful in mitigating the effects of their illness/disorder on their lives. It's time that we, as a nation, worry more about others again. Where is our heart? Our nationalism? Our pride in what it means to be truly American? Since when did ignoring or marginalizing a portion of our population become acceptable?
The only way to fix this is to get rid of the vast bureaucracy that overshadows our efforts to provide for our citizens with mental illnesses and disorders. In the case of Veterans, the system is so cumbersome that they have to file with one organization (the VBA) in order to be provided with free health care from the other (VA Medical). It takes days, months, and sometimes years to get the help we need. And the first solution given by most psychiatrists? Medication.
There's another special interest that disgusts me. Pharmaceutical Companies. The FDA approves these drugs when the side-effects are worse than the malady they are addressing. I saw an add for Cymbalta on the TV in the work break room the other day. The first 15 seconds were about what it addressed: Depression. The last 45 seconds addressed all of the possible side-effects. By the end of the ad, I couldn't even remember what the hell the drug was for until they flashed the name back up on the screen.
Do you know what has been most helpful to me in coping with my PTSD? The compassion of others and finding therapists that help me learn to identify and cope with my symptoms. It took me EIGHT YEARS to finally find this kind of help. And I'm one of the lucky ones with a supportive and loving family.
So, have I gotten your attention yet? Please don't let this issue pass you by. I hope to hear from everyone on this issue, for and against the view I have presented. Discourse is the only way we can get to where we need to be. It's a topic of discussion that hasn't been addressed in way too long. Let's find our hearts again. Let's work to hold our public officials to a higher standard. And for Pete's Sake, get these weapons out of the hands of the general public.
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...