Recovery, It’s Not That Easy.

I received a lot of feedback from last week’s post. A lot of it came in private messaging and email asking how I was doing. Last week was rough and I openly shared about how bad it was for me and of the things going on in my mind at the time. It was not pretty. But I’m ok. I promise. I think I will have those kinds of thoughts once in a while, from time to time, perhaps for the rest of my life.

Let’s see if this analogy makes sense. I think I will battle suicidal thoughts the same way a recovering alcoholic battles his demons. This friend of mine that I’ve known for half my life now is a recovering alcoholic. I asked him one day how long it took for his urge to drink to go away. He had already been sober for 10 years at the time of that conversation. He said, “Never.” He told me that every day he thought about and missed drinking, but most days the thoughts were just in passing and barely noticeable. But every once in a while, he said, it was hard.

I think I’m in that boat with my mental illnesses and suicidal ideations. Honestly, most days are pretty good. But I will always know in the back of my mind that I tried to kill myself. I will forever know what it felt like to be that low and the possibilities of what could happen if I get that low again. I will always be at risk. I know that. I accept that and I do what I can to make sure I protect myself.

Most days are normal, whatever ‘normal’ is. Most days I look at my past in a way that I cheated death, a battle in which I won. Well, I haven’t really won yet, it’s an ongoing fight. Because every once in a while life becomes so completely overwhelming that I slip into the dangerous darkness of my mind. Even though the thoughts of a couple weeks ago were horrible, I ended up not doing anything to harm myself. I just needed some time for the process to run its course in my head.

One question that stands out from some of the responses last week is, “How are you able to share things so personal and put it out there for the world?” That’s a good question. It wasn’t easy at first to be able to put all the words together in a way that would make sense to more than just myself. Even in my own mind I had great difficulty trying to figure out what the hell I was saying and thinking. But once it started flowing I became very comfortable with it. I decided that I would write about my life because it is great therapy for me and I would share to the world in case it helps someone else.

I fully understand that not everyone can do that. I get it. There are a million things going on in my life that I don’t share here. There are some things I will never share here. But some of it I need to, I have to. I have to get it out and try to make sense of it. When I post to my blog every Saturday it helps me, whether people read it or not. I get considerable satisfaction in being able to put my thoughts in order to be able to share stories of my PTSD, attempted suicide, the occasional dangerous mindset, highs and lows, depression and anxiety, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All the things that are The Story of My Life. Many things that others can relate to, but can’t share themselves.

Two very stressful weeks are behind me, but I wouldn’t say that life is all that great right now. And to be honest, I don’t see it getting any better any time soon. As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that it will get worse before it does gets better. You think I would be used to it all by now, but I’m not. I hate it. I hate the situations that I’m in. I hate that I’m not capable of doing the things I used to do. I hate that I have little motivation, low energy, and almost no desire to interact with the outside world. I don’t even want to write much anymore.

Even though I know it can’t happen again, I miss being deployed. I miss being in Afghanistan. For many of us, that is a normal feeling after coming home from war. We miss the camaraderie. We miss the feeling of knowing that someone always has our back. I know for me, I miss the chaos, the danger, and the excitement of being there. There is a weird high from being surrounded by the unknown that each day offered over there. Maybe I’m crazy, but I miss it. And I know that I’m not alone. I keep up with many of my friends I deployed with and many of them feel the same way. There was a strange level of comfort that I just don’t have anymore.

I’m sure all of that contributes to what is going on in my brain right now, this feeling like I don’t belong here, that I can’t adapt, that I can’t find a normal that I’m at ease with. I know my past experiences do not cause the bad or uncomfortable things in my life today, but I certainly do not deal with said things like I used to be able to. Not coping well is simply compounding everything. One thing after another, each making life worse than the one before. Or at least the feeling of life being worse. And I hate it. At some point it has to get better.

Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Thanks for reading this week. Hopefully, next week’s post will be more positive. But no promises. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Update and Excerpt

If you saw my post from last week, here’s an update: It hasn’t gotten any better. Basically, if it can go wrong, it has. On the flip side, a lot of things have also fallen into place. Don’t patronize me with, “Oh, good, look at the positive.” The only things that are falling into place are a direct result of things that have gone wrong. I’m not making any forward progress, actually, going in reverse lately. It is not exactly balancing out. The bad is outweighing the good to me this week. The low point was last Friday. It was the lowest I’ve been since my failed suicide attempt last year and many of the same thoughts about death ran through my head. I spent about 10 minutes on the side of the interstate with my broke down pickup truck debating life and death before I called for a tow truck.

I blew a tire. At 75 miles per hour. Front driver’s side tire. It messed up the wheel well, the bumper, the hard-plastic mud flap behind the tire. And surely messed up the front end alignment, as one tire was facing straight and the other tire was off at an angle. Somewhere around Tuesday I realized how lucky I was that I maintained control of my vehicle at that speed and didn’t get myself killed. It sounded like an explosion and felt like I had run over something. The weird thing is, it was just the steel belts that flew off. The tire still held air, but the truck was not drivable. The tow truck driver said he had never seen a tire do that before and still hold air.

Whatever. I’m alive. Moving on to other things. Last week I mentioned that I might do an excerpt from the book I’m writing. I think I’ll do that since I don’t much feel like writing more about my week. Let me set it up for you. First, this is fiction. Yes, I use my life experiences and those of others, but the characters are fiction, this is not an autobiography. The main character, James, is a young war vet trying to figure out life after he failed to kill himself. The story I am writing will take you through the process and days that follow his attempted suicide and him coming to terms with the fact that he is indeed still alive. This excerpt is from Chapter 3.


James laid down in his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was restless and rolled to his side. He saw the dresser and remembered thinking about what reason they would want him out of his room earlier. He jumped up and opened the top drawer. It was still empty. He proceeded to check the rest of the drawers. Nothing. He was still paranoid. He looked under his bed, around the sink, peeked inside the shower room. He looked around the other side of the room where a roommate would be if he had one. He found nothing to confirm his paranoia but also found nothing that would put him at rest. He laid back down and tried to figure out the dream from last night. Perhaps he was dreaming within his dream and all this was just still a dream. But he knew this was real. And he knew he was really losing his mind.

James went back to the bed and laid down. In his head, he recounted the story he told to Dr. Andersen. Every detail. Every word. Every moment from last night that he could remember, he told the doctor. He hated that he survived, that he was still alive. He wondered what he did wrong, it should have worked. Or at least he thought it should have. He was becoming upset that the doctor didn’t fix anything for him. All that talking James did and Dr. Andersen didn’t fix a thing. He pondered the motives of Dr. Andersen. Was her plan to get him to talk, tell his story, and admit that he wanted to die, just so they have a reason to keep him longer? He realized that he got suckered into talking. How could he not see that coming? It was a scam and he fell for it.  James was angry with the doctor, the cops that brought him in, the paramedic that checked him out, and everyone he encountered since his incarceration to the psych ward. But most of all, James was angry with and hated himself. All James wanted to do was die. He couldn’t even do that right. And since his best effort had failed, he was now stuck in the psych ward.

James did not trust anyone in the psych ward, except maybe Nurse Angie. But even his trust in her was conditional and almost nil. He was paranoid of everyone and their motives. To make matters worse, he was now becoming paranoid of his own mind and thoughts. He wasn’t sure he could trust what his own mind was thinking or if it was even real. The dream he had was all too real. What if he did in fact venture to some other hidden place in the mind and that’s where his truth was hidden. What if he had become immortal and could not kill himself? Just thinking about these things, James felt crazy. He felt he had no control over his thoughts. And he certainly wasn’t free to have control of leaving where he was. He was trapped in his mind and in the hospital.

A nurse he hadn’t seen before showed up in the doorway to his room. She scanned the clipboard she was holding. “Hello,” she said, looking up “you must be James. How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I want to get the hell out of here,” he said in a dry monotone.   “Where’s the other nurse that was here earlier? From when I woke up?”

The new nurse looked down at her clipboard for a moment then asked, “Was it Angie? If that’s who it was, she’s checking on some patients in the other ward. But we’re all here if you need something and we’ll all be checking on you.”

“Great,” James said, showing no interest.

“Did you get shown around? Did you see the daily schedule? Were you shown how to use the phones when they’re on between group sessions?”

“I’m not going to group sessions,” James said. “I already told the other one. Ok? I really don’t want to be around anyone, thanks.”

“Well,” she started, “going to group sessions will be a way to show that you can function around other people so that you can get out of here. I highly recommend going. The better you do in groups and the more you go to, the quicker you get out. Why don’t you go down the hall and at least be around the other patients and get comfortable. There’s a group session starting in 10 minutes. You can make a good start on the road to getting better and out of here by going to it. It’s not as bad as you think. Let me know if you need anything, I’m Sue. I’ll be here until y’all go to dinner.” Sue smiled at him and left the room to continue her rounds that required all patients be check on every 10 minutes.

James laid there thinking about life and about how much easier it would be had he succeeded in his suicide attempt. He had no desire whatsoever to go to a group session. He also had no desire to be stuck in the hospital. He had no desire to be alive. How did he get in this situation? Could he find a way to escape or would he have to wait until they decided to release him? And how long would that be? He was frustrated and hated his life. He tried hard to figure out how he went from being a warrior to the sorry excuse for a man he was now. He didn’t even recognize himself anymore. He was a Soldier, or at least used to be. And he was good at it. He never feared anything and now he was scared of himself. “Who am I anymore?” he asked out loud as if someone or something could magically give him the answer he wanted.


It’s a work in progress. I know it needs some work, but it’s coming along. Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Depressed

I’ve been battling my depression the last couple weeks. That sounds funny to me, “my depression.” Like I have any control over it or can say when it comes and goes. Do I own it? If I still have the receipt, can I return it? Can I trade it in for something more fun? When I say “my truck,” “my kids,” “my house,” “my recliner,” it sounds normal. Tangible things. Things I can recognize with my senses. I can’t see my depression with my eyes. Or taste it, smell it, hear it. I can feel it, but not in the traditional sense of feel. If I could feel it, I imagine it would feel something like a sticker burr in my foot or a splinter in my hand. Or it could possibly feel like a tank tied to my waist and tossed into the ocean. Lately, it’s felt much more like being tied to a tank.

I have no motivation. No energy. No desire to do anything. I recognize this and have been doing some self-reflection to see if I can figure out why the last few weeks have been seemingly hard for me. I know life is up and down. I just don’t know why this down time is longer and harder right now. I don’t like this. I don’t like how it feels.

But here’s what I know. In the last month or so, the kids have gotten out of school for the summer, the lot behind my house is being built on, there is construction on my street, and I got a dog. Getting a dog was a good thing. More on “Gumbo” later, but he is a perfect addition here and a great dog. But the other things I mentioned, and some things I haven’t, seem to be having a negative influence on me.

I had no idea the old house behind mine was even going to be demolished until one morning my house shook from the slamming of a backhoe into the old house. That was a rude awakening. It was two days of demolition and noise. And with that house gone, I felt exposed to the world. My area safe, confined area on the back porch now felt wide open. I could see down the street that runs behind my house. That means I could be seen from down the street. Eventually, a new foundation was poured and construction on the new house began. More noise, equipment, and strange people practically in my back yard for weeks now. I guess the upside is that my property value will go up with a brand new house right next to mine.

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The kids getting out of school for the summer is a good thing, but it changed the schedule I had been on, that I had become used to. I’m staying up later now and sleeping in longer. My sleep schedule is messed up and that’s causing me to not sleep as well at night, even when I take my medications. This might be why I lack energy, have become more irritable lately, and just don’t seem to want to do anything anymore except watch Netflix and play stupid games on Facebook. I’m in a rut. A deep and wide one.

The construction on my street, actually in the whole neighborhood, is annoying. It’s loud. They’ve closed the road a few times which bothers me. What if I need to escape? I know, that’s not likely, but it did cross my mind. It’s a local government doing the work so it’s taking longer than it should and half the workers stand around and do nothing. I’m sure it’s also costing twice as much as it should as well. I haven’t done yard work in three weeks since all the noise and commotion started.

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On a more positive note, I got a dog last month. A great dog, a Golden Doodle. His name is Gumbo and the kids love him. He gets so excited in the mornings when it’s time to wake up the kids. He loves playing fetch with the Frisbee and chasing squirrels. He doesn’t like the nail gun that’s being used to roof the house behind mine. He doesn’t like thunder. One night he jumped up in bed with one of my kids during an exceptionally rough storm. He hates fireworks and jets flying overhead. But he is so gentle and friendly and smart.

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Also, I’ve started working on my novel again. It has been a work in progress for few months now. I’m almost half way through writing it, over 40,000 words so far. I’m going for somewhere between ninety and a hundred thousand words. I might take an excerpt from it for next weekend’s blog to see what everyone thinks. Maybe it will never get published, but I’m going to keep writing it anyway. But who knows, maybe it will get picked up by a publisher. And become a best-seller. And turned into a motion picture. And, and, and. Not likely, but it is a fun thought. And I’m enjoying writing it.

So for now I’m depressed. I have anxiety. I’m not dealing with my PTSD triggers very well. The VA is annoying and slow. Physically I hurt. I’m running out of shows on Netflix that I find interesting. But I know it could always be worse. I know I have been worse before but I’m not there now. I’m still moving forward and getting better, this is just part of it. Sometimes things just suck, this is one of those times.

Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

What Time Is It?

I’ve made a number of new friends in the last few months since I started blogging again. Friends from all over the world. Recently I was chatting with one of my new friends that lives in Australia. We determined that she lives fifteen hours ahead of where I live. That brought back a childhood memory of when I lived in Japan as a military dependent. If I remember correctly, I was sixteen hours ahead of where home was in the United States. I remember thinking that if we were almost a day ahead of back home, why couldn’t we just call and tell them what was going to happen. The illusion of living in the future I had as a child didn’t quite work the way I thought it should back then.  Check out my friend’s blog, it’s pretty entertaining:  https://katemeyer.org/.

Now as an adult, time is still an illusion to me. Where has the time gone? Why can’t I remember a timeframe of certain things from the past? I don’t have time for this. This is taking too much time. Time, time, time. In a previous blog I wrote about not even knowing what month it was at the time when filling out paperwork at my child’s school. Even now, multiple times a day I have to ask or remind myself what day it is. Has time stopped working for me in some respect? Is that part of my PTSD, depression, anxiety illnesses? Sometimes I feel like the deployments I went on were a million years ago, sometimes I feel like I just got back. I’ve been back from my final one for two years.

There are periods we’ve all felt that time stood still. Also, moments that time seemed to fly by. Emotions, surroundings, and other tangent factors give each of us the feeling of how time flows for us, “fast” or “slow”. The fact is, a day has twenty-four hours. Every single day. The same. The sun may shine longer in some days than others, but the length of each day is still the same. Then why is it that we have times that drag on and times that zoom by? How can some events or periods in life have aspects of being both slow and fast?

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Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory

 

During each of my deployments, I was gone from home for a year. During the time I was gone it seemed like it was lasting forever. After returning, it didn’t seem like a year at all. How is that possible? I can tell you with certainty, the slowest a clock will tic-toc is when there’s only a few days left of deployment. That span of time feels like an eternity. But I think the slowest that time ever dragged for me when we were on our way back from Afghanistan.

On the first leg of our trip home we flew in a C-17 from Bagram Air Field to Romania. We were supposed to land at a base called MK, but weather dictated we land in Bucharest. We sat on the tarmac for hours while waiting for busses to take us on the three or four hour drive to MK. That period of being stuck on the plane seemed like days instead of hours. We were not allowed to disembark. We were not allowed to go into the airport and stretch out and get food. We could only stay on the plane and sleep uncomfortably until the busses arrived. Sleep if we chose to. It was hard to sleep, so some of us just stayed awake. I’m sure that contributed to time going so slow.

I didn’t sleep on the bus ride either. I had never been to Romania and didn’t want to miss anything. I wish I had slept though. When we got to our destination the commanding general of our unit had flown in from the States to meet us and wanted a re-patching ceremony. That was to happen before we could sleep. What an ass. Long-winded, boring, knowing we had been up or had little sleep the last thirty-six hours or more, he still chose to make us stand in formation while he spouted out whatever it was he was saying. Fuck off, Sir, we’re tired. That’s part of what’s wrong with the army, selfish leadership.  It was all photo ops and ego for him.

One night in Romania turned into two. But eventually we were on our way home. The trip from Romania to Maine, with a stop in Germany, was on a commercial plane. It was much more comfortable than a C-17, easier to sleep in the seats, and we got airline food instead of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). There was a layover in Maine before flying back to Ft. Hood. That layover might be ranked second on my list of time standing still. I think we landed around 2 a.m. to a welcoming committee of local military supporters. They opened all the shops in the small airport for us and made us as comfortable as possible. But time stood still. Even with their wonderful hospitality, those few hours in Maine seemed to last forever.

We are obsessed with time. Everything has a clock, everything has a schedule. Maybe it’s my military upbringing and time in the Army, but I have to be on time for things. It makes me crazy to be late. And what’s worse? Watching people consistently be late and not care. That shows lack of character. (I hope some of my fellow Soldiers from my reserve unit read this and take note). I know sometimes we run late. It happens. But if you are always late and aren’t even making an effort, you suck. (My rant about slackers is over).

Time doesn’t feel the same to me as it used to. It doesn’t seem to matter to me anymore. The American rock band Chicago asked it best, “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” (Now that song will be stuck in your head the rest of the day, you’re welcome). I don’t think I care anymore about time. I’m tired. I don’t see much use for it now. Of course I’m lying. I am a slave to time, I can’t help it. But I do wish I could see the future like I thought I could as a kid. That would be nice.

Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

I don’t know the route we took, but we finally made it to ‘MK’.  You try to pronounce it.

Crowded on the C-17, but looks like this guy got some sleep on the bus.

 

Tourist at War

During both my deployments I took a bunch of pictures. Between Iraq and Afghanistan, I think I took around 9,000 pictures. Most of what I took were pictures to raise morale. I would post them on Facebook for all our families to see that despite being at war, we could still manage a smile or have fun when permitted. I think most of the people I deployed with can attest to the fact that I always made the best of any situation and tried to help others feel at ease or make their day better. One way I could do that was to share ‘happy’ pictures. It was good for the troops and good for the families back home.

Sometimes during my time in Afghanistan, even though we had jobs to do and missions to take care of, I felt like a tourist. I was fortunate to get to travel extensively throughout the war torn country. I met forces from at least a dozen countries and saw many amazing things, including some remnants from when Russia invaded Afghanistan. I ate at the United States Embassy. I flew on a British C-130, that was an amazing ride. I walked in the streets of Kabul from my base to ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces). At one base, my partner in crime and I found our way to the extreme perimeter where the towers were. We hung out with the South Korean troops doing tower duty. Even though there was much danger when we traveled, I found it exciting. I miss that excitement. I miss the adventure.

As it turns out, the pictures were not only for my fellow Soldiers and families, but they are helping me with my memory. When I look through my pictures I can remember a story or mission, or even how many times we got bombed at a particular base while visiting it. I can look at some pictures and remember details that can’t even be seen in the pictures. I can remember people I met. Sometimes I can remember what I had for lunch that day, just by looking at a picture. The memory is a funny thing sometimes.

Here’s a few pics from Afghanistan and a little caption to go with each.

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Being in the mountains, we got our share of snow.  We got together during our lunch break one day, made snowmen, slid down a hill using cardboard boxes as sleds, and finished with a snowball fight.  It was an hour of forgetting where we were and having fun.

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On the western end of Afghanistan are remnants of a previous war.

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My roommate getting a much deserved promotion.

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Our fearless drive team.  Consummate professionals.

Running flags up the pole after the duty day to send home to our families.

On the left, we visited the South Koreans in a guard tower.  On the right, always great to run into good friends while I traveled around Afghanistan.

These pictures are a small sample of the people I served with and places I visited on missions all over Afghanistan.  These pictures are good for helping me remember things from deployment.  More specifically, it helps me remember the better things from deployment.  I have enough things I remember that weren’t so good.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post.  If you want to see more pictures you can find me on Facebook.  Thanks for checking out Story of My Life.  Good day, God bless.

Dave