Abstract

I fell asleep thinking about you, hoping to see you in my dreams. You didn’t show. But that’s ok, I know you’re busy. I should shave my beard since that’s what derailed the last dream and turned it into a nightmare. Even the smallest ripple can turn into a tsunami that engulfs my slumber when my dreams start to go sideways. And once it starts, there’s no stopping it.

I enjoyed a couple of naps this week. I’ve hired a nap coach so I can get better at it. I hope to turn pro at it one day. I wonder what the pay is for a napper at the top of his game. Could it be classified as a sport and what would the scoring system entail? And would the TV commentators whisper into the microphone, “Oh my gosh! He nailed it! Look at his form.” Regardless, I’m sure everyone who gets a nap is a winner. I think we should all explore this.

I’ve been wondering some things. What do the constellations look like from somewhere else in the galaxy? Or even outside the galaxy? Would Orion’s Belt become Orion’s Suspenders? Or perhaps the Big Dipper looks like a bottle of wine from opposite of where we are. Maybe a giant bottle of chardonnay? And we’ll need a colossal size bottle of booze in less than 4 billion years when the Andromeda Galaxy comes crashing into ours. That’s going to be one hell of a party. I should put a reminder in my phone for it.

Today feels like Friday. But, in fact, it is Saturday. I wrote this on Wednesday. You figure it out. Days of the week mean very little to me anymore.

I used to believe in Santa Claus. I’m trying to believe in myself again. I do believe in Jesus, so I got that going for me. But of those three, the only one I really talk to anymore on a regular basis is Me. You should hear the arguments I have with Me. But I am very happy that no one can see what’s going on inside my head at any given time. If you could, you would either be extremely entertained or terribly horrified. At least that how it works for me, having this front row seat to it.

Sometimes I have memories that I’m not sure are really mine. I don’t know how they got in my head; nonetheless, they are here. But I’m not convinced they belong to me. If you are missing some of your memories, please have your people call my people and we’ll work something out. Otherwise, the ones that go unclaimed will be put on craigslist.

I’ve had green tea in Japan, hot tea in England, chai tea in Iraq. As a southerner, you would think that I drink sweet tea. I don’t much care for it. But I like beer. The chai tea in Iraq was the best. But the grits were horrible. They definitely weren’t southern. And don’t get me started on the so-called red beans and rice they served us in Afghanistan. Not even close. Not. Even. Close.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Law of Diminishing Return is real. And the best way to counter it is to go backwards, then it can only get better. Read the previous two sentences again. It’s not confusing, it’ll come to you sooner or later.

Today’s crazy abstractness was brought to you by the number Twelve and the color known as Purple. I hope you enjoyed something a little different from me this week. I sure enjoyed writing it. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Back to School

This week, my kids, like others all around the country, started back to school. Classes officially started this week, but the kids had already gone back in some respect. Cross country practice, band practice/band camp, and swim practice. A junior, a sophomore, and twin freshman, all at the same school and all active in one thing or another. That’s only four of six. The older two have already moved out to conquer the world. And so far, they seem to be doing that. At one time, not long ago, including the oldest at college, the six kids were at five different schools. It’s nice to have the last four all at the same place for the next couple of years.

Every year about this time it’s a great time for students to start anew. Provided they take advantage of it. They really don’t know how good they have it. I didn’t know back then either. As parents, we can only say so much to implore them to make the most of this time of in their lives. Free rent, free food, little or no bills. They have no idea what’s in store for them later in life. I can say with certainly that being an adult is overrated. They won’t know that for years to come. But for now, they only have to jump through the hoops of high school and get passing grades.

I’m sure we’ve all, at one time or another, wished we could go back to those carefree years. But only with the caveat of knowing what we know now. I’m pretty sure teenagers would disagree that they are in the carefree years, but we, as adults, know better. How different would things be if we possessed all the knowledge we have now and were able to go back to our high school years? We would all be rich and famous, successful and happy. In theory. But that’s not how it works. And probably for the better.

I am not rich or famous. I’m not successful. I do have happiness, but sometimes it’s overshadowed by the PTSD, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, and life. Even so, I think I would miss out on too much if I went back and changed anything. All of my life experiences make me who I am today. If I changed one detail, I probably would not be who I am, I would be a different version of me. And who’s to say that person would be better or better off? As many hard knocks as I’ve had (most of which were brought on myself), how do I know this is the worst version of who I could have been? Everything has a trade-off.

I went to war, that changed me. I failed in business, that cost me. I’ve made a million bad decisions to become the person I am today, good or bad. And even though I struggle through life sometimes, as I wrote about last week, I don’t want to be anyone else except who I am right now. I would choose to not go back in time with all I have learned up to this point. Too much would be at risk.

To my children, make this your best school year yet. Put some effort into your studies. Go the extra mile in the sports you have chosen to participate in. Shine bright in the band. And above all, enjoy this time in your lives. You will never get this moment back. And the moments in the past cannot be changed. Period. Love y’all bunches. -Dad.

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

Dave

Struggling

I’ve been struggling lately. Bouts of depression. Anxiety. Easily irritable. Minor anger issues, not eating right, and certainly not sleeping right. Weird, vivid dreams. Some about war, some about normal everyday life, but all of them so intense they turn out to be a nightmare. My body doesn’t feel good, I’m in persistent pain. I’m always tense, I can feel how tight my shoulders and neck are. I try to relax, but it doesn’t work. My breathing is not right. My focus and attention to detail is off. Way off. And lately I speak my mind without filter more than ever now, so, I sound like a dick. But if it’s the truth, get over it. Because I really don’t care. I do not subscribe to being politically correct. I never really have.

I think one of my issues is my medications. I’m not taking them like I should. I’m out of one of them and have started rationing the other one. Hopefully, my refills will be here soon. The first refills were sent automatically. Apparently, that was a one-time deal. I didn’t know to call and get the refills sent until I was almost out. The VA is genius about that stuff. Or they’re stupid. Or they just don’t care. (I’m going with curtain 3, they don’t care). And I’m still pissed at my new psychiatrist for changing how I can get my medications. If she had just let me keep getting them at the military base like I have for more than a year now, I would not be out of one and almost out of the other. I might be able to sleep at night and not worry about if I’m going to run out of them. I might be able to wake up feeling rested. She’s an ass. I plan on telling her that at my next appointment. Anyone want to go babysit me at my next appointment so I don’t need bail money?

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/06/10/my-new-va-psychiatrist/

Another issue is work, my job. I love my job. And I love the bond I have with most of the other employees. But the drama, stupidity, and selfishness of a few of them is more than I want to deal with. I’m losing my motivation to keep being the awesome employee I have been since the beginning. I’m not really that awesome, but I work my butt off, never call out sick, and actually care about doing the job right. What I don’t understand is how some people can just stop doing their job just because they aren’t happy about something or someone. Get over it and do your damn job. Stop leaving other people hanging. I helped open that restaurant. I cleaned, I painted, I organized, I helped get the doors open. And I worked my ass off doing it. I feel like I have a stake in it. Or I used to feel that way. Not so much anymore. I told the corporate boss that I’m updating my resume, but I haven’t actually done that yet to put it out there. We’ll see if anything gets fixed soon. But I’ve already had a job offer in the last couple weeks before it got this bad at work, so maybe I won’t have to update my resume after all. We’ll see.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/04/back-to-work/

The third thing that has me discombobulated is where I’m at in the army reserves. (Yes, I used discombobulated, that’s your word of the day to use in conversation). The unit I’m part of doesn’t seem to have their shit together. Even my Sergeant Major suggested I write my congressman. He’s retiring this month, so it’s probably not a huge concern to him if a Congressional Inquiry gets opened. He wasn’t prepared for my response last month when he asked me what was going on. I think any other Sergeant Major would have done paperwork on me for the things that came out of my mouth. I won’t go into detail since I still wear the uniform, but the army (at least in the reserves), seems to not care about the fact that I’m not right since coming back from my last deployment. Both physically and mentally. I don’t care if I stay in or they put me out, I just want them to take ownership of the pains I’ve endured. I want them to acknowledge the problems I developed that are a direct result of serving my country. I’m damaged goods now, they can’t fix me. But they can take responsibility for it.

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

(Damn it, I burned my popcorn. I need a new microwave. Or maybe I shouldn’t use the one I have while drinking.) Add burnt popcorn to my list of life-crisis issues. The current reality of my life is that even burnt popcorn contributes to the funk swirling around me. And I’ve only skimmed the surface of my troubles in this post. Or at least what I view as my troubles, the things that bother me, the things I dwell on. And how did popcorn make the list? Never mind, we just covered that. I’m struggling. Everything is on the list.

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

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am struggling. But I am not in danger. I am not a threat to myself or anyone else. My outlet is here, where I write. This is my therapy. I’m ok, I promise. Thank you for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

(Between writing and posting this entry, my meds showed up in the mail, so that’s a good thing. I guess better late than never).

My Worst War Memory

WARNING  This content may be upsetting or triggering to some.  WARNING

This week, while on orders at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, I ran into a long-time army buddy. It was good to catch up with him while having dinner and a couple of beers. We reminisced and talked about the people we served with together, shared stories of what’s going on in our careers now, and had a couple good laughs. Most of my army memories are good. Most of my deployment memories are good, even if only because I try to remember the good ones. Most of the not-so-good memories can still be made into an amusing, funny story. But not all of them.

Not long ago I did some online forums where people could ask me questions about a topic I would post. One reader asked me what was my worst memory was from war. For a moment, I wasn’t sure. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the worst memories, so I had to think about it. And as discussed in a previous blog, I have memories that are hidden. One of which, not my worst, was discovered during a therapy session with my psychiatrist. And once I remembered it, it was back. My mind had hidden it for two years until my therapist walked me through it.

But my worst memory from being deployed happened while I was in Iraq (2008-09). I went a number of years with that memory tucked away, hidden from my consciousness. And I didn’t even know it. It surfaced a few years ago, hung around for a while, then was gone again. I think it’s been more than three years since I thought about it. Now it’s back. This is something I’ve only shared with very few, and even then, I generally only tell the main part of the story.

I was at Camp Bucca, Iraq. My chaplain and I were responsible for about a thousand Soldiers that fell under our battalion. The two of us went to the hospital to visit a Soldier that had been seriously injured in a motor pool accident. The Soldier was soon to be transported to Germany, then back to the States, I think to San Antonio to get specialized treatment and start rehabilitation. I never made it to the room with the chaplain to visit the wounded Soldier.

The bay-style room we walked through that would lead to a private room with the motor pool Soldier had three beds in it. In each of those beds was a child. Each child had been severely burned over their whole body. The chaplain and I both paused and inquired about the children. Their ages were approximately between four and nine years old. It was the most unexpected thing I’ve seen. I got the story from the medical staff that had accepted the children into the hospital due to the severity of their injuries.

Their father was dead. He was trying to steal fuel, propane I think, according to my memory of the story I was told, and the whole tank somehow exploded. Why he had his three little girls with him to steal fuel, I will never know. But the explosion killed him and engulfed the children in flames. They were brought to our hospital for treatment. They were almost completely wrapped in gauze, only parts of their faces showing. Only the oldest spoke while the other two whined and cried. I think the oldest was trying to comfort the other two. They couldn’t see each other, only hear the sounds of pain and anguish that filled that small part of the room.

After a couple of minutes with the staff, the chaplain was ready to move on to the injured motor pool Soldier. I couldn’t do it. I had to leave. I told the chaplain I would be out back, that he could come get me when he was done with the Soldier. I found my way to an exit, then I sat on the steps and cried. The reality and gravity of three children laying there, burned, crying, scared, barely alive– it got to me. It got to me in a way nothing else previously had in life. That includes losing a child one day after birth.

I could see that memory every time I closed my eyes, from that night on, for about two years. Then, it was gone. I forgot about it. It would reappear every 2-3 years, depress me, horrify me in my sleep, then hide again. Well, it’s back. This is probably the most details I have ever shared about this memory. I’m hoping that sharing it this way will help. I don’t remember ever talking to any psychiatrist or counselor about it. It must have been pretty well hidden since my psychiatrist last year was able to get the memory of a wrong turn in Kabul, Afghanistan to resurface, but the burned children never came up.

In preparation for this post, I reached out to a friend of mine that I served with in Iraq, Joseph Galvan. He told me that the event of the three burned children was one of his worst three memories he has of war. Being a medic, he was regularly exposed to more pain and suffering than most. He was on staff at our hospital on Camp Bucca during the time the children were there. I asked him if he would give a quote for this week’s blog about his experience there during that time. Just as I remember him during deployment, he didn’t fail to produce when called upon now. Here is what he had to say:

“As horrible as having three severely burned children was, the worst was after. The MRO (Medical Regulating Organization), who was the theater medical operations hub, ordered that we no longer accept any critically injured local national patients. The girls were in our ICU for about four months and we only had 5 ICU beds.

“’Try and imagine what that must have been like for our medics. Locals bringing their severely ill and injured to us, having heard that the Americans took care of children that were near death, only to be turned away. The begging, pleading, and crying they had to witness.”

 

 

My friend and hero, Joseph Galvan.

Galvan went on to say, “I can still hear them scream from their wounds being cleaned; there’s only so much morphine you can give a child and it’s not enough. That’s why I’d always bring my guitar to work. I knew the schedule for their wound care and I’d play for the kids after, while the nurses washed their hair. It got to be a routine. I’d even do it on my days off. The smell of burning hair and children crying or screaming in legitimate pain fucks with me pretty hard. And the burn patient smell…that sickly sweet, but acrid smell…I can’t do it.”

Maybe his sharing this with me will help him in some way. He told me earlier this week, “I just realized that I’ve never told anyone about that. The folks that were there (in the ward, on shift) knew, but I’ve never talked about it.” Joseph Galvan is a hero. His heart for those children makes him a hero to me.

This is why it’s harder to come home from war than it is to go. The memories never leave. Never. They may hide for a while, but they always come back.

Thank you for reading this week. Good day, God bless. And a special God bless to our military medics.

Dave

The 4th of July

Happy Birthday America! This week we celebrated 241 years of Independence. A lot has changed in America since we told the British to bugger off and leave us alone. The Founding Fathers of this great nation had the courage to stand up and fight for the freedoms we still enjoy today. I for one am grateful. I’m not sure I could pull off the British accent, so it’s a good thing that 241 years ago we became our own sovereign nation. LOL.

With the celebration of our Independence comes many festivities, including fireworks. And with that comes social media posts about veterans dealing with PTSD and the yard signs that some put in their yards asking people not to do fireworks around their home. That seems to be a topic of debate from what I saw on a couple of Facebook posts. I have PTSD. I served in Iraq, then later in Afghanistan. I avoid being outside during fireworks, it only for my own sanity. I don’t have flashbacks or lose my mind, but my anxiety skyrockets and some of the memories of the fear I experienced resurfaces. So, I simply stay indoors.

Here’s the debate, as far as I can tell. The post I saw states that some veterans are milking the benefits of being labeled with PTSD, which in turn is stigmatizing all veterans, also that they are looking for attention and disability ratings with the VA, and that many who post the signs never heard a shot fired at war and that the rocket impacts they heard were miles away. I think there is some validity to some of those arguments. Many years ago, I thought most people claiming PTSD were overreacting. But I don’t speculate on that anymore. It’s not for me to judge. I can’t speak for any other veteran, but I can tell you what I have experienced.

One thing I experienced were rockets landing on a base I was at. Multiple times, multiple locations throughout Afghanistan. Building-shaking, loud booms. While I handled it well at the time, I never took the time to process it all until I got home. By then it was overwhelming. I was trying to process everything all at once while trying to adjust to being home. And I wasn’t doing it properly. I wasn’t talking to anyone about my mental problems or getting the counseling that I knew I needed. I was trying to avoid the stigma that I had created in my mind of being labeled with PTSD. And I desperately wanted to avoid that label. In 2011, I talked the VA out of diagnosing me with PTSD more than a year after I got back from Iraq. I toughed it out and Soldiered on, which in retrospect was a bad idea. In 2015, there was no way to avoid it. I had reached rock bottom and was forced to get help.

During one rocket attack, I remember feeling the building shake from the first explosion. Then the second blast- it was much closer, shaking the building in a way I had not experienced before, all while grabbing my gear and getting to cover. As I sat alone in the bunker, the third blast felt like it was almost on top of me. It was loud, it was close, it was the only real time I thought I might die over there. On only two instances do I remember having that kind of fear while in Afghanistan, that attack was the worst one of them. I could hear each boom getting closer and closer to the bunker where I was taking cover. In my mind at the time, if there had been a fourth one, it would have been right on top of me, based on how each blast was clearly closer than the last. Fireworks elicit those feelings and memories in me.

Even so, I don’t want anyone to not celebrate with fireworks. This is America and that’s how we celebrate, we blow up stuff. I can stay inside and be just fine, for the most part. The noise and booms will still get to me a little, especially when there is a long pause followed by a firework that is obviously too large to be discharged in a neighborhood. As I write this, neighbors are firing off an impressive amount of pyrotechnics at almost 11pm on July 4. My anxiety is through the roof. But I don’t want them to stop. Keep celebrating. It is America’s birthday after all. I can handle it.

During each of my two deployments, I never had to fire any of my weapons. But for the more than two dozen missions I went on in Afghanistan, I was locked and loaded, ready to go every time. And on the handful of missions that I needed both my rifle and my pistol, they were both locked and loaded. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, ‘locked and loaded’ means there is a magazine in the weapon, and a round (bullet) in the chamber. I would only need to flip the switch from safe mode and pull the trigger. I was always ready. And I wonder if being ‘ready’ that many times and never getting to use my skills and training had some kind of adverse effect on me.

I’ve wondered for a while if sitting in a bunker through all those rocket attacks and never actually engaging the enemy contributed to some of the symptoms of my PTSD. Maybe because of all the adrenaline spikes without being able to release that energy right then and there. I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a study on that somewhere, I’ll just have to do some research and find it. How, or would, I be different today if I had in fact fired my weapon and directly engaged the enemy? Would I have handled post-deployment better? I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know and accept that I have PTSD. But I can’t let that stop me anymore. I work. I live. I function. But there are moments where I can’t deny that it has some power over me, but not as much as it used to.

With all that I shared here, none of it even comes close to my most traumatic memory of war. Tune in next week when I will share a story that I rarely talk about. It’s a memory that resurfaced uninvited recently and maybe writing about it in detail will help.  Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/23/ptsd-is-contagious/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/18/ptsd-moments/

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