Mission Accomplished

Last month I wrote about getting back in the saddle with conducting suicide awareness training with the army reserves.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/14/not-done-yet/     Last Saturday was my first time leading that training since before my failed suicide attempt in August 2015. I think, overall, it went fairly well. I was definitely a little rusty, but I’m probably the only one that noticed. My presentation, to me, was below standard, but when I conduct suicide training, I set a very high standard for myself.

My first line leader at my battalion tasked me with facilitating the mandatory suicide awareness training for one of my unit’s detachments. Friday I drove to the city where the detachment is located, made sure I knew where the building was located, and then checked into a hotel. I then went over the presentation in my mind. Then over it again. And again. Again. I slept horribly Friday night, but woke up an hour before my alarm Saturday morning so I stayed awake. My mind was racing. If you read Not Done Yet from last month, you can see the anxiety I was having leading up to this weekend.

It wasn’t decided until a week before that I would be going to this detachment, as opposed to our other detachment. That really didn’t add very much stress to me, it doesn’t matter to me where I conduct the training. Send me, I’ll go. But right before I left town to make my trip to the detachment, I found out my battalion commander would also be visiting that detachment the same weekend. That, for some reason, added pressure and anxiety to my view of the mission. I was unsure how I would I do my first time back in leading suicide awareness training and I did not want to crash and burn in front of my commander.

I was originally scheduled to give my class in the morning. But because sometimes things run long or events on the training schedule get swapped, I was pushed back to after lunch. That also added to my anxiety, if only because I was prepared to go but got pushed back. I wanted to do it and get over with. The longer I thought about it, the harder it was for me focus. I didn’t even enjoy my lunch because I was completely absorbed with the class I was to present and whether I was going to be able to accomplish it without losing my mind or breaking down emotionally. I know, I was overthinking it.

When I started the class, I was scared to death. Not of speaking in front of a group, I actually enjoy doing that. But I was uneasy with the subject matter and how I was going to respond to talking about suicide intervention and getting a Soldier or someone else help that needs it. I felt confident, but I had no idea if I were really going to be able to get through it. But I did. And I don’t think anyone could tell I was terrified of what was going on in my mind. I think I made some progress with myself.

Saturday evening I went back to my hotel. My mind had yet to slow down. It was like watching a video on an old VCR and hitting fast forward while a movie was playing. The stressful part had passed, I thought, but I was still feeling it. I laid down before 10pm, but it was after 1am before I fell asleep. I could not shut off my brain. I had to relive it all in my mind everything. The time leading up to my suicide attempt, the feelings I experienced at the time, the aftermath, the recovery process, my time in the hospital, a near relapse 11 months after my original attempt, and where I am now. Overwhelming. My little brain was having trouble processing it all. And that affected me physically, by not being able to fall asleep.

I know there will be many times to come that my brain has no idea how to deal with something. I know I will lose sleep from time to time overthinking things. But I am handling the consequences of being overwhelmed much better than I have previously. And knowing how my brain and my body deal with these matters and letting the process run its course will relieve some anxiety, I think. Or I hope. I don’t know. But I think if I know what’s coming it will make it easier.

I still have no idea where I am with my army reserve career. I don’t know if I’m coming or going, staying in or getting out. And to be honest, the uncertainty is annoying. It is very hard to find motivation when I feel like I am trapped in a broken system. I won’t get into the army process and how broken it is when dealing with a Soldier in my predicament. But I will say that sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more frustrating, the VA or the army. I just want to know if I’m going to remain in the reserves or if I’m done. Either way, I’m happy with and proud of my career.

We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. And despite the present being unclear on the issue of my army reserve career, I’m happy to be in the present. It’s better than where I was 18 months ago. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Making Progress

I have finished Chapter 5 of the book I’m writing. Finally! I took an extended break from writing and when I came back to it, I had to re-read some of what I previously wrote to get back on track. In doing so, I ended up re-writing and correcting and re-writing and correcting and…. I do a similar thing when cleaning out a closet, a dresser, or box of stuff that has collected over the years. I make a huge mess, reminisce about what’s there, then usually put it all back. It’s time-consuming and sometimes feels like wasting time. But even if slowly, I am moving forward with the book.

The word count for my book through Chapter 5 is over 45,000 words. That’s half way to my target of 90,000 words. It’s shaping up pretty nicely I think. There’s still a ton of work to do on what is already written, but I’m going to try to just let that sit so I can focus on getting the rest of the book written, and then go back and edit. But as I mentioned, when I have to go back to re-read some of it from time to time to make sure I have good flow with the story, I’ll get stuck refining what’s already written and finding mistakes. But it’s a process. And I’m feeling good about it.

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 5. In this piece, the main character, James, is still stuck on the second day of being in the psych ward after a failed suicide attempt. He has already been to his morning session with the psychiatrist, a session which was very trying on him, and is now about to get lunch. I hope you enjoy this short excerpt. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

(From Chapter 5)

James kept thinking to himself and occasionally mumbling, “This is only the second day.” He hated that he was lied to about day two being better. James was convinced there was a conspiracy against him and he had to figure out how to keep from falling into their plan. He was certain that he could not be helped in the hospital. James started having a conversation in his mind about how much worse he felt in the last two days than in the time leading up to his failed suicide attempt. The voices in his mind were reminding him that he was a failure and offering suggestions for next time. They scoffed at him for not being man enough to handle his problems and being a miserable disappointment to everyone. The voices assured him that he would be able to succeed in his quest to die once he was released from the hospital, that he only needed to be patient long enough to persuade the doctor and staff into thinking he was well enough to leave. Then he could finish the job and be free from the numbing anguish of life that he dragged behind him like a ship’s anchor.

This was not the first time James had a conversation with the voices in his head. This was, however, the first time he felt like he and the voices were on the same sheet of music, that he would stop fighting them and give in to their whims. James was accepting that the voices could help him and he believed the things they were telling him. He knew the voices were right, that he would be better off dead, that he was a burden to Kevin, that Donna could do better without him, and that his brother had enough on his plate that he would probably be relieved to not have to worry about James anymore.

In the past, the voices brought fear and turmoil to James, but now he found comfort in their existence and trusted their ideas. The voices were the only thing he trusted anymore. Since he had become unable to make decisions for himself, he now considered the voices an asset. James would now follow their lead and no longer fight or question their motives. The voices were going to lead him down the path of their choosing and he was going to follow, no questions, no resistance. He became oddly calm in accepting the fate that the voices were laying out for him. If he could only find a way to be released from the hospital, he could get a second chance at death.

That Was Funny

For those of you that know me personally, you know I like to laugh and find the humor in things. Whether it’s making fun of myself or laughing at you, if it’s funny, I’m going to enjoy it and point out the humor. Sometimes things are funny, even if they are unflattering or embarrassing to the person who is the object of the humor. We’ve all been there. We’ve all laughed at someone that has fallen down and we’ve been laughed at for doing the same.

This was a topic of discussion recently on a morning radio talk show that I like to listen to, The Rick and Bubba Show. Apparently, a picture of a woman that fell out of her scooter at a Wal-Mart was seen all over the internet. I’m not sure if it’s one I’ve seen or not, but I’ve seen plenty of “People of Wal-Mart” memes on social media. And to be honest, some of them are pretty damn funny. What seemed to be different about this one, according to Rick and Bubba, was that the woman, whose face was not visible in the photo, was distraught and embarrassed by the photo. The only reason anyone knows who that woman was in the photo, was because she came out publicly to whine about it and say that it’s made her life miserable.  (You can check out Rick and Bubba at http://www.rickandbubba.com).

How many actors or comedians have made a living off the kind of physical humor like falling down, tripping, bumping his head? A lot of them. When Chevy Chase opens the attic stairs in “Christmas Vacation” and they crash into his face and he falls to the floor, that’s funny. It’s supposed to be funny. So, why is something in real life that is the same thing not funny to some people? Of course, provided no one is seriously injured. The woman that fell out of her scooter was not injured, except for her pride. So, maybe it was funny. It probably was.

During some training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, about 6 years ago, one of the soldiers in my tent fell out of his top bunk after he had fallen asleep. I could see his silhouette in the darkness as he stood straight up after hitting the ground. I asked, “Did you roll out of your bunk asleep or did you fall trying to get down?” He responded in a groggy, confused voice as he tried to piece it all together, “I’m not sure.” Ladies and gentlemen, that was funny. I still laugh at that today. Because it was funny.

Picture this: We’re in Iraq, 2009, our last day, getting ready to load up and head south to start our trip home. To say we were all excited is understatement. One fellow soldier was a little too excited and while doing something with his weapon, smacked himself in the face with the stock of his M-4. It was bad enough that he was bleeding all over the place. Our “Doc” fixed him up and made sure he didn’t need stitches. But to add insult to injury, Doc put a Smurf Band-Aid over the cut when he was done tending the wound. That’s freaking hilarious. A combat veteran wearing a child’s Band-Aid on his face. I took video of the job Doc did on fixing him up, narrating the whole time and asking the guy if he was going to put in for the Purple Heart. He was a good sport. He was laughing and making fun of himself as well. Which was good, because all the rest of us gave him hell. Because it was funny.

What’s the difference between the examples above? What causes us to react to embarrassment in different ways? Here’s a couple of times I fell down and looked like an idiot. In Iraq, I was coming down the steps at the chapel, moving swiftly. I was in full gear. I lost my footing and took a nose-dive. I managed to fall gracefully by rolling and coming right back up to my feet still in stride. As I passed a soldier sitting outside the chapel I quipped, “that’s was pretty good, huh?” I was smiling and chuckling at myself. In my mind I did perfect combat roll, but I’m sure in reality I looked like a clumsy fool. But I laughed. Because it was funny.

In contrasts, not long after I got back from Afghanistan, I was walking through my front door and our dog at the time charged at me and laid me flat out on the ground, escaping the house. The dog then jumped the fence and ran loose in the neighborhood. I was fuming. I was beyond mad and could have strangled that dog had I got my hands on it. Just to be honest, if I had watch that happen to you I would be laughing my butt off. Because it would have been funny.

Here’s the difference. It was my mindset. It was not that I had fallen. I don’t mind being embarrassed by my clumsiness, especially if it’s funny. I make plenty fun of myself when I can. And I will laugh at you from time to time as well. But I had fallen in life. My mind was not right. My confidence and self-esteem were at all-time lows. The reality I was projecting for myself was a façade because I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on in my head. It was my view of my life and the strange things happening in my mind that I hated, and that bled over into how I reacted to things.

It was still funny that the dog bowled me over, just not to me that day. I try to see the humor in things and make the best of most situations, even if I’m the butt of the joke. I invite you to laugh at me if you see me fall off a ladder, stub my toe, or walk into a closed door. And I promise I will laugh at you as well. But if you fall down in life, I will do my best to encourage and lift you back up. I hope you will do the same for me. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

 

The Soccer Game

Somewhere around 25 years ago, probably longer ago than that, I got a traffic ticket.  To be honest, I got quite a few tickets during that time of my life.  A lot of tickets.  Most of which I deserved.  But I’m reminded of one in particular from way back then this week that was questionable whether or not I deserved it.  I was behind a vehicle going 20 mph in a 35.  It was raining, but the vehicle in front of me was being overly cautious.  If the driver was that uncomfortable, they should have pulled off the road.  I found it very annoying, so I passed.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I saw flashing lights.  I pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the police officer to come stand in the rain next to my car.

He asked for license and insurance card.  While I was handing that to him I asked why he pulled me over.  He informed me that it was unsafe to pass a vehicle in the heavy rain.  I pointed out that I didn’t even have to break the speed limit to pass because the vehicle in front of me was going so slow.  Plus, the fact that we were not in a residential area.  The police officer acknowledged that I had not exceeded the speed limit but that I would still be cited for, if I remember correctly, something called “failure to use due care.”  It’s like reckless driving, but not as bad.

I was not happy with the police officer’s decision to give me a ticket when I honestly felt like I didn’t do anything wrong.  It was a judgement call, it was his call.  And he deemed it unsafe and wrote me a ticket.  I didn’t argue with him.  I respected his authority even though I think he was wrong.  I could have contested it, taken my chances in traffic court, but just ended up paying it.  Back then that violation wasn’t a very expensive ticket.  And I’m guessing he must have really wanted to write someone a ticket that night even though it was raining fairly heavy.  He probably had rain gear on, but I’m sure he was getting soaked anyway standing there next to my car.

This week I attended my daughter’s middle school soccer game.  My girl’s team played very well in their loss.  If you are a parent of a student-athlete you know that sometimes calls on the field (or court) get missed, wrong calls get made, and the referee will hear about it from the parents in the stands.  It did seem that the majority of the calls favored the other team, but in his defense, he missed about the same number of calls for each team.  One of them he missed on our team could have drawn a yellow card.  One of our girls lowered her shoulder before plowing into her opponent.  No call.  That’s when the parents of the other team yelled at the ref.  I don’t envy his job.

During one play, a girl from each team was going for the ball as it headed towards the sideline.  Our girl (the blue team) was trailing another girl (the yellow team) to get to the ball.  The yellow girl started to lose her footing.  The blue girl slowed up and instinctively put her hands up to show she wasn’t making contact with the yellow girl.  The yellow girl eventually slipped on the ball and fell to the ground.  The referee called a penalty against the blue girl.  This happened right in front of the bleachers where all the parents were sitting.  The referee was much further away from the play.  But from his view, his angle, he saw a push that caused the yellow girl to fall.

We, the parents of the blue team, vocally shared our disdain with call.  That’s perfectly fine.  No one was ugly about it, no one used profanity, and then play resumed.  Well, except one mom in the stands.  She got a little ugly about it, but didn’t use profanity.  Once play resumed she should have let it go.  It’s perfectly fine to disagree with the call and be respectfully vocal about it.  After the ball was put back in play, the mom continued, attacking the referee’s character.  She was beginning to make a spectacle of herself.  The ref blew the whistle and halted play, walked over to the seats and asked the mom if she would like to watch the rest of the game from the parking lot.  She declined.  The ref put his hands to his chest, then extended his arms straight out as if to stay this matter is over.

I ended up talking to the referee after the game.  In the men’s room of all places.  I started by telling him not let the parents get to him, that he did a good job.  He’s a volunteer that officiates middle school and high school soccer games.  Give the guy a break.  I did tell him that I thought he got the call wrong, that the yellow girl tripped over her own feet.  He explained to me that call was pushing from behind that led to her falling.  That’s what he saw.  I was in a much better place to see it, had a much better angle, much closer to the action as it happened on the sideline.  But he explained what he saw.  I couldn’t argue with him, nor did I want to.  He’s the authority figure on the field.  It was a judgement call, his call.  He got it wrong, but it was his call to make so it counted as a penalty against the blue team.  That’s life sometimes.

All my children play or have played organized team sports in school and city leagues.  They aren’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but they compete hard.  We have had talks about “bad officiating” over the years.  I try to explain, and I think they understand for the most part, that at the middle school and high school level, the referees aren’t professionals.  I think some of them, especially the football officials, get a little something for their services.  But I believe most of them do it out of love for the sport, or for the kids, or possibly as a hobby.  They aren’t perfect.  But they are doing something that makes a difference for the young people competing.

I want my children to fiercely compete in whatever sport or academic team event they are part of.  If they win, great.  If they lose, I only ask that they gave it their best effort.  I want them to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.  And I want them to respect the officials in charge of calling the game.  If something needs to be said to the referee, let the coach say it.  Let the parents yell from the stands.  But you, my child, my student-athlete, shake it off and keep playing.  Play hard and do your best.

Life lesson:  Not everything that happens in life is fair.  God knows I’ve gotten away with a few things in my life, but I’ve also paid the price for things that weren’t my fault.  It’s a balance.  Sometimes that balance tips one way or the other.  Don’t get bogged down with the minor things in life that aren’t right, that in reality won’t matter later anyway.  There will always be a bad call or a questionable traffic ticket in life to deal with.  Shake it off and move on.  Save your energy for the battles that matter.

Thank you for reading this week’s post.  Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts you might like

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/11/hostage-negotiator-or-hostage-taker/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/01/10/what-motivates-you/

 

 

 

Not Done Yet

I’m not quite done yet with my Army Reserve career.  I am done with certain aspects of it.  I will never be able to deploy again, among other things.  But I am still in it for the one weekend a month, two weeks a year, for now.  And by the way, as most of my fellow reservists can attest, the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” thing is really more of a suggestion.  There were calendar years in the past where I logged close to 100 days as a reservists, NOT counting the active duty time for deployments.  I was gung-ho.  Now, I only do my one weekend a month.  I may or may not even do my “two weeks” this year.

As I’ve written about in previous posts, I was always the lead for the suicide prevention and awareness training at the different units I was part of.  I was very good at it.  I took the best of the best of all the resources and training materials I had at my disposal and made a presentation from those parts.  I didn’t use the standard slide show provided by the Army.  I rarely used videos from the Army’s suicide prevention website.  I wanted the training I was conducting to feel different from all the other mandatory training we were forced to sit through.  I wanted it to be real and memorable.  I never facilitated “check the box” training.  “Next slide.”

My section leader at my unit has asked me to go to one of our downtrace units to lead suicide awareness training next month.  It’s been a while.  I haven’t conducted that training since a few months before my failed suicide attempt in 2015.  I write about it here.  But I haven’t spoken to a group about it in over a year and a half.  I have a million things going through my mind about how to approach it, how to get comfortable being in that role again.  It was always emotional doing the training because I took it very seriously and had previously fought off thoughts of suicide.  I would even incorporate my personal story into the training.  But now, I’ll be doing the training after a failed attempt, not just thoughts.

That changes the whole dynamics for me doing the training.  At least in my mind it does.  Am I still qualified to facilitate suicide awareness training?  That’s a rhetorical question.  Of course, I am.  But in my mind, while I’m doing the training, what will be happening?  Will I be emotionally strong enough to talk out loud, to a group of fellow Soldiers, about the risks of suicide?  Will I be able to intelligently get my point across without becoming a complete idiot because of what I know will be going on in my head during the training?  Will I be able to focus?

Writing about suicide is easy, for the most part, compared to speaking to a group.  I can write, take a break, compose my thoughts, come back to it, write some more, change my mind and write about something else altogether.  I won’t have that luxury in front of a live audience.  Once I start, I have to see it through.  There will not be a stopping point to compose my thoughts, take a break, or change my mind.  There are many things we do as Soldiers where we sort of remove ourselves from the reality of what is going on around us.  I fear this won’t be one of those instances.

Every word I speak to the group about suicide awareness will be echoing in my mind and reminding me that I was almost a statistic not very long ago.  I fear that every emotion I felt during that dark time of my life will resurface in my mind while I’m trying to conduct the training.  My mind is a mess already, just thinking about it.  What you don’t see here is that I took a break from writing this last night to continue this morning.  I slept horribly.  My mind was going a million miles an hour.  Again, I won’t have the luxury of a break during training.

I know I’ve come a long way in my mental recovery since August 2015.  But there are situations that still bother me.  There are still thoughts in my head that make me uncomfortable.  I guess the next part of my recovery is getting back in the saddle with conducting suicide training again.  I will be mentally prepared.  I will be academically prepared.  And I will do my best to be emotionally prepared.  Before some of you give me the rah-rah pep talk of how great it’ll go, or the talk of how maybe I should avoid the situation, I got this.  I am a professional Soldier.  I am a leader.  I must always put the mission first.  This will be no different.

Until my career in the reserves is completely done I will continue to do the things I’m capable of doing when asked.  While conducting suicide training again is going to be very hard, I know I am capable of it.  I know it will be uncomfortable, but I know it’s my job.  I know I will obsess over this for the next few weeks, maybe even lose sleep like I did last night.  But I got this.  I have to, someone’s life might be depending on it

Thank you for reading.   Thank you for taking a walk through my mind with me while I hash things out.  This is good therapy for me.  Good day, God bless

Dave

Other posts related to this one:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/06/suicide-intervention/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/12/passing-the-torch/