Harder Than It Looks

I wish I could I figure out what’s going on with me. I wish I could explain how it feels. In the last month, I’ve posted how I was struggling, then how I was doing better, and then how I was struggling but handled it well. This cycle of going in circles with anxiety, depression, PTSD symptoms, and life is really wearing on me. Functioning, at least for me the last few weeks, is much harder than looks.

I am constantly on edge, which is taking a toll on my body. I feel like a giant hand is palming my forehead, applying pressure, wrapping around to the side of my head. My lower neck/upper back is tense all day, every day. I try hard to relax, but that only lasts for a minute or two. My breathing is not getting any better. I find it hard to catch my breath occasionally, even when I’m sitting still. My body hurts. And I think it has to do with how I’m reacting to my mental stress.

My right foot cramps often. I think it’s from my toes constantly being tightly curled under my feet, maybe like someone would do if riding a rollercoaster as it crested and started its speedy descent. Except that my toes are always like that. My sleep is anything but consistent. Even on my medications, sometimes I can’t fall asleep. I’ve had way too many nights lately where I would check the time and it was 2 or 3 in the morning and I was still awake. I’m tired all the time.

My attitude hasn’t been good lately. The way I react to people and situations has been horrible. Especially at work. Well, since I don’t do very much interacting with people outside of work, I guess that’s where it would be the worst. I avoid people as best I can. And when I do interact with them, I feel like I’m faking it. The only exception is when I hang out with my kids.

I feel like I’m spiraling downward. Not spiraling out of control like I’m going to crash, but falling out of the sky none-the-less. I’ve done this enough to know I won’t crash, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like how it feels. I don’t like how I handle situations. I think I’ve slipped into a serious episode of depression. I don’t know when it started, it snuck up on me. I feel like I was doing well not long ago, then all of a sudden, BAM! I’m deep in it. A few weeks ago, I was actually considering looking into in-patient therapy options. That’s how bad it was for me. But who has time for that?

I am NOT suicidal. I am not a threat to myself. I’m probably not a threat to anyone else. I’m just having a really rough time right now. And this is my outlet. I’ve found that in some of my past posts, when I share the real and the raw of what’s going on in my head, I end up feeling better about it in the next week or two. Sometimes getting it all out there like this helps me. Here’s to hoping it helps again. This really is harder than it looks. Thanks for reading this week.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Little Steps, Big Steps

I do this thing where I buy and sell penny stocks. It’s more like a hobby. I started trading stocks back in the mid-90’s, using a traditional broker. I made some money, I lost some money, I made a bunch of money (to me it was a bunch), then I lost it all. Now I do everything online in smaller dollar values, but with a greater number of shares per transaction. I like watching the stocks move. And with penny stocks, it’s anybody’s guess what they will do next. Never a dull moment.

So far, year to date, I’ve completed (bought and then sold) nine trades. I know that’s not a lot, but I don’t trade every day. I’ll go a month or two just watching, then make a couple trades in a week. Of the nine trades, seven have been profitable. That includes the fees to buy and sell. That’s a pretty good winning percentage, but don’t get too excited for me yet. Some of the trades were only minimally profitable. For example, I’ve made as little as $9.13 on a stock before. I’ve also made over $100 on a stock. Then turned around and lost almost all of that profit on the same stock. I’ve averaged a profit of about $53 for each positive trade I’ve made. Not great, but not horrible. This hobby won’t make me rich, but I’m taking a whole bunch of little steps in the right direction and I’m up for the year, even if only a small amount.

It occurred to me recently that I’m doing that in my life as well. A bunch of little, sometimes unnoticeable, steps in the right direction. Here’s the problem I have with that. My steps backwards are much bigger than any single step forward and will usually have a very negative impact. That seems to bring me down and get the depression going. When I go in reverse, I end up dwelling on it. I don’t stop long enough to realize that I’ve made far more steps forward, even if only small ones. And when added up, all those little steps forward are greater than a single big step backwards. Why do we sometimes get hung up on the one failure when we are still moving in the right direction overall? Why do we fixate on the negative like that? I don’t believe I used to be that way. I used to shake it off and keep moving.

For me, it’s probably because I’m my own worst critic. And I know I have my share of critics out there. I also rarely celebrate or “advertise” my achievements. I might mention something to a couple people if I’m happy about something I’ve done, but I don’t get too caught up in insignificant things. My little victories are not a big deal to me. Yet, my downfalls are atrocious in my eyes and in my mind. Not to mention, a lot of my forward and backward progress are just things that go on in my head, not something you can see. And let’s be honest, sometimes a small step forward is simply not smacking the crap out of someone that deserves it. I’m not sure I should share that little victory out loud every time it happens.

I will continue to take a hundred tiny steps forward and hope my occasional big step backwards doesn’t take away all the progress I’ve made, like what I’m doing with the penny stocks I trade. I have no delusions of grandeur that my stock trades are going to make me rich or that my life and mind will magically get back to where it used to be. I am content with small steps forward on both fronts. Although I’m content with just surviving at the moment, that should not be taken in a negative context. It wasn’t too very long ago that I did not want to survive at all. Another small step forward. I’ll take it, and I’ll keep surviving, and I’ll continue with my small steps forward.

Thanks for reading Story of My Life this week and being part of my small steps in the right direction. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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/

 

Memorial Day Weekend, 2017

Every Memorial Day Weekend I take time to reflect on the Service Members that paid the ultimate price. As you enjoy your long weekend, sales, BBQ’s, and family time, take a moment to remember how we got those freedoms. Men and women who willingly put on a uniform gave their lives to insure our continued freedom. Take a moment to remember them.

DSCN4755 Death Registers at Enduring Freedom Chapel at Bagram, Afghanistan. 

I invite you to check out a previous Memorial Day post I’ve made. It contains a piece of poetry about Memorial Day I wrote while serving in Iraq in 2009. https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/28/memorial-day-weekend/

I also invite you to check out another post I made while serving in Afghanistan that gives insight to the ceremony for the fallen of the NATO and Coalition Forces. https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/09/04/the-ceremony/

DSCN3370 The set-up for the weekly ceremony at ISAF in Kabul, Afghanistan that honors the fallen.  Only the countries with killed-in-action have their flag displayed during the ceremony.  The U.S. flag was displayed every ceremony I attended.  We gave a lot over there.

But most of all, I ask that you pause for a moment in your busy weekend and be grateful for the ones that gave their lives so that the rest of us didn’t have to.

Good day, God bless.

Dave