Lessons Learned

When I was a young teenager, probably 13 or 14 years old, I had a dog that was a master at climbing the fence and escaping the back yard to roam the neighborhood. Eventually, my dad installed an electric fence kit to the top of the back-yard fence in hopes of curbing the dog’s desire to be free and explore. It should have only taken one jolt from the fence, maybe two, for the dog to no longer try to escape. That beagle sure could climb a fence. I’ve seen dogs that could jump a fence, but that was the only dog I ever saw that could climb one that way.

I was curious about the electric fence. I tapped it with my finger. Nothing. I touched it for a second. Still nothing. I decided to grab hold of it. Not the brightest thing I ever did in my life, but still not even close the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I was “shocked” to learn that the fence worked when I grasped it fully in my hand. It was slightly painful, but a life lesson that I still remember to this day. I won’t be testing anymore electric fences. No need, I satisfied my curiosity and fully understand how they work.

Most of the things we learn in life are directly related to the decisions we make, whether those be good decisions or bad ones. Ever since my children were little, I liked letting them make their own decisions about things when they could. When my two oldest were in pre-school, I would let them choose what to wear each day. Living in Florida, they usually chose shorts and short-sleeve shirts. One morning I told them a cold front was coming through and they should take a jacket. Neither wanted to take a jacket, so I took them to school with only what they had picked out to wear.

By noon that day, the temperature had dropped to a “frigid” 40 degrees. When I picked them up from pre-school, I heard one teacher comment that I should check the weather and dress them accordingly because my children were cold. Really? They weren’t going to die from hypothermia in 40-degree weather on the walk from the classroom to my car. I promise. And they both learned a valuable lesson that day, that sometimes, dad knows what he’s talking about. On the flip-side, on a trip to Colorado in January years ago with the kids, I made sure they had more than enough warm clothes. The trick is to know when to let them decide and when to plan for them. I don’t care what that one teacher thought, I was teaching my young children by giving them all the information available and letting them make the final decision. I think using that philosophy has more than paid off with them.

But what about the times when a decision is made without any idea of what all could possibly happen? And what if a decision is made with the best of intentions, but it turns out to be a disaster? That’s a great ethical question that has been debated for centuries. I don’t have the answer to it, in case you were wondering. During an army reserve weekend years ago, a fellow Service Member found a puppy. There was no collar with identification on the dog. And after asking around, he believed it to be a stray or an abandoned pet. He went to the store and bought a dog bowl, some dog food, and a leash. He was going to give the puppy a home. Since it was a couple hours before quitting time, he put the puppy in the bed of his truck with food and water, and put a collar and leash on the dog and tied it to the inside of the bed of his truck. The puppy climbed up on the wheel well and hanged himself trying to get out of the truck. The man’s intentions were pure gold, but the outcome was tragic.

In 2007, I decided to go back in to military service in the army reserves. I wanted to serve my country again and take care of Soldiers as a chaplain assistant. Although my life does not reflect it now, it was a matter I prayed about and truly believed it was something God wanted me to do, so, I rejoined. I still believe that. I volunteered to go Iraq in 2007. Then, I volunteered to go Afghanistan in 2013. My intentions were admirable, but the outcome of my decision cost me my mental health, my physical health, my marriage, relationships, a business, my favorite job I ever had, and who knows what else. I basically lost Me, the Me I used to know, the Me I used to be. I lost my identity. I had even lost my will to live at one point.

There have been times when I would figuratively touch the electric fence just to see what would happened. There were times when I learned from my decisions like my young children did from theirs, in learning that sometimes we should heed the advice or warnings of others. And there was a time when I was like the puppy, trying to escape, even though I didn’t know it would kill me.

All the decisions I’ve made in my life make me who I am today. Same goes for you, too, by the way. I’m grateful and lucky that to have survived some of my decisions. And even knowing what I know today, I would still rejoin the military and serve again. There are definitely some things I would do differently, but I know for certain I made the right decision to rejoin the army reserves. I don’t understand some of the consequences I’ve had to endure since I believe that decision was made with the best of intentions. And I don’t care to debate it or dig into the philosophical principles of whether or not it was the right decision based on the outcome. I’m moving forward with life.

Thank you for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other related posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

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4 Months Since Therapy

It’s been four months since the last time I’ve been to a professional therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist. I may have mentioned in a previous blog that my psychologist that I had been seeing at the Vet Center (part of the VA) moved on to a better job. I don’t blame him. I know I’ve mentioned before that all the good ones leave the VA and the ones that can’t do the job very well get comfortable at the VA because they get paid whether they do a good job or not. The ones that are worth a darn know they don’t have to put up with the bureaucratic stupidity that is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they can make it elsewhere. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen way too many mental health professionals come and go at the local VA I use.

Overall, I’ve been doing well since my doctor left. So, let me first say, to make sure there’s no confusion, I do not feel like my world is crashing down on me. I’m ok, I promise.  However, I am starting to notice some things about myself that suggest I should start looking for a new therapist. In the last month, I find my frustration with life events to be more easily provoked. My attention span and interest in things has gone downhill. I have had minor, but very noticeable, bouts with depression.  And I have not been sleeping well at all.  Again, I say, I am handling all of this. I am in no way a danger to myself or others.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/).

It was a rough week at work. Three schedule changes, a few contentious exchanges with the boss, and people not showing up to work. I actually started to wonder if I made the right decision in going back to work after taking a year off because of mental health issues. I wasn’t having bad thoughts. Not like the ones documented in my psychological evaluation from last year that the VA ordered. During that session, I discussed with the psychiatrist some of the morbid thoughts I had during my last job. This week, my thoughts were more questioning if the job was worth it, if it were good for my sanity. And with that, the doubts of me being able to function in the workforce flooded my mind. That’s where the bouts of depression came from, I’m sure.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/16/depressed-ptsd/).

I took my truck to the shop this week. I only let one shop work on my truck. I told him my budget and a few things that I needed to get worked on. Nothing major. So, I thought. The one issue I figured would be the easiest and cheapest part of my short list was twice as much as my entire budget for maintenance and repairs on my truck. I’m not good under the hood, so I’ll explain it as best I can: The fluid reservoir for the clutch was leaking and the housing for the transmission must be removed to get the root of the problem. Ouch. OUCH. My truck is 16 years old and paid for. The money I spend yearly on maintenance is still much cheaper than a car payment. But, ouch, all at once this time. Well, all at once again.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/23/448/).

These were the two highlights of my lows for the week.   I remember not too very long ago how either one of these stressful events would have derailed me. And while I am feeling the effects of these things, both financially and psychologically, I am in control. I am handling each of these things better than I did similar events in the last year and a half. I have my moments when I want to run away or simply punch someone in the throat. But I don’t. I can’t. I’ve come too far in my recovery from my own mind to go that far backwards. A few steps back on a long, forward journey are expected, but I’m not going to start over again. I can’t.

As far as the job goes, YES. I was supposed to go back to work when I did. Any earlier and I might not be handling this as well. Any later and I would have missed out on a great job that I feel at home with. I missed having a job during the year I was not working. And I’m very happy to be where I’m at now, it was perfect timing and I love what I do. I’m learning how to cope with the challenges of functioning in a work environment again, challenges that didn’t seem to be there before I went to Afghanistan. I’m doing pretty well with it.

My truck and I have a lot in common. We both have a lot of miles and wear and tear on us, and both need some maintenance from time to time. And if the maintenance falls too far behind, we run the risk of a catastrophic breakdown. In August 2015, I had a complete breakdown in life and I got “put in the shop” for a while. Since then, until four months ago, I had been getting regular therapy maintenance. Similar to checking the tire pressure or getting an oil change in the truck at regular intervals and having a mechanic check things over. Sometimes for preventative measures, sometimes for repairs, for both me and the truck. I do still take my medications daily, but I think I need some more maintenance than that right now. Nothing imperative, I just think it’s time to go back to therapy.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/16/the-pysch-ward/).

Now I have to find a new psychologist and start all over. That’s the whole reason I’ve gone four months without therapy. I don’t want to start over. But I will say that the timing for my previous doctor to move on was good for me. I had made tremendous progress with him in the 10 months we met for my therapy, and by the time he left, I didn’t really need to see him weekly. Now, because I know I need it, I have to find someone else for therapy. A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of needing therapy on a regular basis. But, like my truck that needs regular upkeep, I know I need it, too. Basically, I’m far enough along in recovery to realize that I need to go back to therapy. I think knowing that is a good sign. But it doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it.

I put links throughout this post that relate to the idea of specific paragraphs.  If you haven’t read them before, it will give you an idea where I was, what I’ve gone through, and where I’m at now.  Also, go check out my friend Frank’s blog, here’s the link.  I think most of you would enjoy it, he’s a very talented writer.  https://fnvaughn.com/

That’s what I have for the week. Thanks for taking the time to be part of my week and reading Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Mediocre Determination

I was on the wrestling team in high school. I did well. My junior and senior years I won the Regional Championship in my weight class. I had a natural talent on the mat. I also had a great coach. He was a tough S.O.B., but to this day, I still carry some of what I learned from him all those years ago. In the state tournament my senior year, I lost in the second round by one point in overtime to the eventual State Champion in my weight class. It was a hard loss. I still carry that, too.

This week I attended two sporting events that my kids participate in. Middle school tennis and track. My twin girls are each a student athlete, one in each of those sports this season. I was watching a boy’s tennis match after my daughter finished her singles match. One of the young men on the court was hustling, running, playing his heart out to make it a competitive match. The other young man, who was a little further along in his adolescence, put in far less effort and still won the match 6-5. It was a great match. The young man that lost probably played one of his best matches ever, but still fell short. As soon as he got off the court, I heard him ask the coach if he could be in the doubles match against the opponent that just bested him. He was not going to give up, even though his chances of winning were not good. I like that kid. He’s not afraid of a challenge, and not afraid to fail.

Isn’t it challenges and failures that make us better? Or at least strive to be better? Granted, you must have the desire to put in the work to get better since natural talent can only carry one so far. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, natural talent without hard work to elevate and hone those talents usually leads to mediocrity. Did you know that Michael Jordan was told his sophomore year in high school by the coach that he wasn’t good enough to be on the varsity basketball team? He failed to make the varsity team. He didn’t quit, he played junior varsity that year, worked hard, and ended up becoming, arguably, the best basketball player of my generation. Failing may have been the best thing that ever happened to him in high school. It sparked a desire to succeed. And that, he did.

michael-jordan-quotes

Sometimes I think back to the State Tournament my senior year and wonder if 10 minutes of extra practice or work a day would have made a difference. I don’t dwell on it, it’s more of a nostalgic memory, remembering good times. It was a terrific match. It was the best I ever wrestled, and I fell short. I think most of us in life have had that experience. Here’s why that loss was tough: There wasn’t a next match for me in the tournament. I was a senior and done with my wrestling career. But the kid that lost the tennis match has many games left in him. He may not have the success that Michael Jordan had, but he has the determination to keep trying.

I miss that determination in my life. I lost it in 2015 and I almost died because of it. Maybe I lost my determination before then and was just trying to survive on my life’s natural talent, whatever that is, and it finally took its toll on me. I got tired and gave up. But I’ve learned some things. There is a time and place to have the determination of the young man that lost his tennis match. There’s a time to be mediocre and survive the storm, even taking a couple steps back. And there’s a time to simply pace yourself while moving forward, with no need to be a hero and no need to keep running into the brick wall at full speed. That’s where I’m at in life right now. And I’m OK with it. I’m moving forward. I’m taking it at my own pace. And I’m going to survive.

Gone are the days that I need to go full throttle with everything in life. I’m done running into walls just to prove I can. I already know I can get back up and do it again if I wanted to. No need to keep proving it. I’m content with being mediocre because I’m still moving forward. And also because I have such wonderful memories of all the times I ran into those walls and got back up and succeeded. And I mean that. I’ve learned a lot from my challenges and failures, and those subsequent victories. Victory after failure is sweet. I hope that young man on the tennis court experiences that.

Thanks for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

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

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

 

Last Weekend

Last weekend I had my army reserve training at Ft Jackson, South Carolina. I drive over 500 miles to get there and over 500 miles back home. Almost every month I make the same trip. I leave Florida on Friday morning and get back Sunday night for a regular weekend. I spend about as much time on the road as I do in uniform for my weekends each month. I’ve been in this unit for a couple of years, and despite the weekends where we don’t accomplish much, I like the unit. I don’t mind the drive.

The first few months I was in my unit, I would drive up I-65 to I-85 to I-20 to get to Columbia, SC, where Fort Jackson is located. But my disdain for driving through Atlanta got the best of me so I found a different route. Now I take I-10 across the Florida Panhandle, then go north, driving back roads in Georgia to I-75 before getting on I-20 somewhere around Augusta. It takes a little longer, but the distance and frustration is less than driving through Atlanta. And the view is much better than being on an interstate.

Most months, the drive is good. I like road trips. There’s an always an adventure out there or a new sight to view as I drive. But this trip didn’t work out that way. As it happens from time to time on the road, I became anxious and irritable on my way up to South Carolina. I don’t know which came first, but they worked in tandem to make the whole weekend stressful. Unfortunately, that happens to me sometimes. I was in a funk all weekend.

I have a theory. I used to think it was just traffic and bad drivers in Atlanta. But, after almost two years of research by driving to South Carolina every month using multiple routes, I have concluded that my frustration is with Georgia motorists in general. I’ve been in traffic in India, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and many other countries all over the world (I’ve listed the three worst). Congratulations, Georgia, you suck at driving just as bad as motorists in third-world countries.

Here’s a suggestion. Stop spending so much time trying to figure out if you should call your mom’s brother “Uncle” or “Dad” and look in your state’s driver’s manual and learn how to drive. In that manual, you might find exciting information on how to properly use the lanes on an interstate. For example, stop camping out in the passing lane. Pass, or get out of the way. As far as your inability to use blinkers, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. But here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The blinkers are operated by the stick that comes out the left side of your steering wheel. Move it UP to turn (or change lanes) to the right, move it DOWN to turn (or change lanes) to the left. You can sit in your driveway and practice if you need. Your manual might have them listed as Turn Signals. Don’t let that confuse you.

On a brighter note, after almost seven months, I finally got some paperwork from the VA that I’ve been needing to turn in to my army reserve unit. It’s paperwork from a psychological evaluation I had last year that will have some bearing on whether or not I stay in the reserves. At this point, I don’t care what they decide to do with me. I just want to know. If I’m staying in, I will continue to give it everything I have. If I’m being put out, fine. But after more than a year and a half of being in Limbo, it’s time for the army to figure it out and tell me what’s going on. Is my career still going or is it over? This has been beyond frustrating for me. Either way, I’m satisfied and proud of what I did in the army. And I’d do it all again, even knowing what I know now.

DSCN6614

(and there’s one more ribbon I still need to add).

Thanks for reading this week. And to my friends that have Georgia tags on their vehicle, sorry, but the part about most of you not knowing how to drive is true. And you know it. And before my Alabama and Louisiana friends laugh and enjoy too much what I’ve written about Georgia motorists, y’all are right behind them on my list. Ha Ha! I hope you all have a great week, thanks for letting me rant, this post made me smile.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/21/the-soccer-game/

 

And Then There is Paul

I was sitting in the patient waiting area at the local Veterans Affairs Clinic to get refills written for my prescriptions. They were getting low and I didn’t have enough to make it to my next appointment. They have always been good about writing refills for my drugs between appointments, even when I wait until the last minute. Of course, I had to sit and wait since I didn’t have an appointment, which is fine. I have to do it this way a couple times a year. No big deal. One day, maybe I’ll get my medications and my appointments synched up and not have to get refills written between appointments. I’m sure that takes more planning than I want to do right now, though.

While waiting, I watched a number of patients get called for their appointments. The nurse that was in charge of doing their vitals, as well as height and weight, seemed to have a chip on her shoulder for some reason. Her demeanor and body language actually made her seem like she was in a pissy mood. She just didn’t look like she wanted to be there. But for those of us that deal with the VA regularly, we know all too well about those people.

From where I was sitting, I heard a Viet Nam-era veteran complaining to a clerk about that nurse. He went on about how he shouldn’t have to be treated like that. I’m not sure what she did or said to him, but he was not happy. Another patient, a man closer to my age, in his mid-40’s, was also offended by the cantankerous nurse.

I heard the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran tell the clerk as he checked in that this was his first time going to the VA and that he didn’t know what to expect. All I could think was, “Welcome to the VA, buddy. Get used to not knowing what to expect.” But I digress. Shortly after he entered the secured door where he would have his vitals checked, the door re-opened and he was coming out, seemingly trying to ask the nurse a question. Her response, which she said twice while pointing down the hall, was “Someone else.” He turned back to her as he exited the door and said, “Kick rocks.” I’m not quite familiar with that term, but I believe it’s a politically correct way to say, “Go **** yourself.”

I watched the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran go to the opposite side of the waiting area away from the door to Nurse Difficult’s chambers. I recognize the look on his face and the stare in his eyes. He was wondering if she was worth jail time and also trying to calm himself down. I know that feeling all too well. A minute or two later he came back and approached the clerk, explaining again that this was his first visit to the VA and he didn’t know what happened, that she had simply become problematic during his check in. Welcome to the VA, buddy.

Not all VA employees are like that nurse. But it only takes one or two people like her to make the whole VA experience an appalling reality. And then there is Paul. Paul is the clerk that helped me this week to get my prescriptions refilled and was also the clerk that checked in the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran for his appointment. I remember the first time I met Paul. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me since he deals with hundreds of veterans a week. But I will never forget the day I met him.

I had two main conditions when getting released from the hospital in 2015 after my failed suicide attempt. One, to go to a specified local mental health outpatient clinic to sign up for six weeks of group therapy. And, second, to go to the VA for ongoing treatment. I pulled into the parking lot of the VA at 4:28 PM. They hadn’t locked their doors yet and I was able to get inside. If you are familiar with the VA, once 4:30 hits, you can forget it. The world for them stops and you no longer matter or exist.   However, Paul apparently didn’t adhere to that train of thought.

Paul was the only clerk at a window that day. I approached him and briefly explained my situation. I’m sure I sounded like a nut-case, and maybe that helped in this instance, I don’t know. But Paul stopped what he was doing and made sure that I could get my medications and set up an appointment for me with Mental Health. First, he called the psychiatrist’s office to make sure the prescriptions could be transcribed to VA prescriptions so it could be filled on the spot. Then he made sure someone would be in the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions. After that he made a future appointment for me to see the psychiatrist. All of this was done after Paul was supposed to be able to tell me they were closed and I should come back the next day. Paul didn’t care about what time it was. Paul was helping a veteran that had just been released from a psych ward. To him, that was far more important than quitting time. Or at least, that’s how he made me feel.

In my dealings with all of them, there are only a handful of VA employees that are like Nurse Difficult. But like I said, it only takes one or two of them to ruin the whole experience and give the veteran a feeling of hopelessness when dealing with the VA. And then there’s Paul. Paul is the personification of what a VA employee should be. We need more people like Paul. I’m thankful I met him. I’m thankful he was working at the VA the day I got out of the hospital. He made a difference in how things could have gone that day, which, at the time, made a difference in my life. And he probably has no idea.

To Nurse Difficult, kick rocks, bitch. To Paul, thank you, keep doing what you’re doing. And to those of you who are going into the VA system for the first time, be patient. I know it’s hard. I really do. I almost got removed by security once a while back at the VA. It wasn’t pretty. But be calm and outlast them, like we did the enemy. And to the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran who was there for the first time, good job, bro. You handled it well.

Thanks for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

related posts to this one:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/10/08/the-va-is-killing-me/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/