I’ll Do My Best

I finish many of my conversations by saying “I’ll do my best.” Usually when someone tells me to have a good day, sleep well, have fun, or some other well-wishing suggestion, I respond with, “I’ll do my best.” And I mean it. It is a misnomer of sorts, in that I can’t always achieve my best, but I try and that’s the point. Sometimes my best is pretty good and sometimes it falls way short. I think “my best” can be characterized as an ultraviolet light wave. It goes up and down; and depending on where I’m at in the wave cycle depends on what “my best” will be at any given time or circumstance. And, like the ultraviolet light waves, it’s invisible to the naked eye. Sometimes I don’t even know what “my best” will be until it’s time to find out.

Doing my best isn’t always easy. And sometimes I fake it, or I realize during an event that I need to not lose my cool and adjust to a situation. That happened a couple of times last month. First, I was rear-ended on the job. I stopped at a red light, the young lady behind me did not stop in time. It was very minor, barely worth mentioning, but since I was in a city truck for work, a police report had to be made. I watched in the rearview mirror as smoke rose from the road because she locked up her brakes and the tires screeched. I prepared for impact. It ended up being just enough of a jolt to shake my truck. I was momentarily enraged. I’ve written many times here that traffic and driving are a trigger for my PTSD. But by the time we pulled off the road I calmed myself and handled the situation well.

More recently, as I had laid down one night to go to bed, I heard a commotion outside in the parking lot of the condo complex I live at. After about five minutes of listening to the yelling, I decided to go outside and see what was going on. I wasn’t happy about this. When I got outside I saw a young man holding a baseball bat and two young ladies walking away from him. At that point I went from being not happy to thinking I might have to take the bat from that guy and beat him with it. And in my mind as I saw him, I had already disabled the threat. I walked straight up to the guy staring at him the whole time. Two steps away from him, he dropped the bat and put his hands up by his shoulders. He continued to yell until the cops arrived despite my suggestions that he shut up and go back to his condo. Right before the cops showed up he bent down to pick up the bat. I was very calm and clear, but firm and direct in both tone and language, when I told him what the consequences would be if he picked it back up. Fortunately, especially for him, it didn’t come to that.

In both of those instances I did my best. I had to work on it very hard in a very short amount of time. I had only a few seconds each time to realize where my mindset was going and change course. I did good for the most part. But here’s the side effects of doing my best sometimes when I’m not ready to. After the minor wreck and all the waiting and paperwork was over, I had a splitting headache the rest of the day. Forcing myself to calm down in that situation created a lot of stress and anxiety that I carried the rest of the day. I handled the event well, but the rest of my day was horrible. As far as the baseball bat incident goes, I kept my cool enough to not harm that guy even when he bent over to pick up the bat again. After the cops interviewed me about what I saw, I filled out a police report as requested, and was free to go back to bed. The problem was I couldn’t fall asleep. My adrenaline was still going until 1 a.m. I kept replaying it all in my mind, even the part about pulverizing the guy which never even happened. I only got about four hours of sleep before I had to be back at work.

I understand why I dealt with those two events the way I did and had “side effects” afterwards. That’s how I, and many others, dealt with things at war. Focus, get the job done, keep your cool, don’t go crazy, know your surroundings, know all the rules of engagement. But when an incident or attack happens we end up with loads of energy and adrenaline spikes coupled with not knowing the outcome of a situation as it’s happening or having to be prepared to fight at any given time, whether we’re needed or not. It’s stressful. Unlike the two things that happened last month where I could process the events shortly after they happened, I waited until coming home from Afghanistan to process it all. That was dangerous, but I hardly had a choice. And the side effects of waiting until I got back from war were catastrophic. Failed suicide attempt, diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, unsociable, jumpy, anger issues. The list could go on and on.

Some days are harder than others, but I’m getting there. And I’ll end here as I do many of my conversations, I’ll do my best. Thanks for stopping by. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Welcome Home

His eyebrows sagged and his countenance fell. His lips tightened as he went into a blank stare. He wiped a tear from his eye. He was somewhere else in the world right then, a different place, a different time. He had come back from that place years ago, probably before I was born. He had to come back from it again during our conversation sitting at the bar. I wondered how many times he’s had to come back from there in the last 45 years or more.

During my last trip to Ft Jackson, I stayed for a week instead of the usual weekend. When I’m there for only my army reserve weekend, I have a routine I generally follow. I get to town on Friday, check into the hotel, then go to Sonic. And why not? They’ve gotten my order right 3 out of the last 5 times now, getting better. Saturday is usually blur, and Sunday afternoon I head back to Florida. But when I’m there for a week at a time, I usually go to a couple different restaurants instead of eating drive-thru food for a whole week.

One particular night I went to a place I’ve enjoyed a few times before. It’s a sports bar with a killer burger. Not only is it good, but it might kill you, too, at half a pound of beef. Hence, a killer burger. But I’ll take my chances. The beer is cold, there’s sports on the TVs, and the people are nice. That’s where I met Chuck.

The conversation at the bar had to the with the heat that day. Then Chuck started talking to me, saying something about a “dry heat” like in Arizona or something. I told him that only works until it gets to a certain point. I told him it was a dry heat where I was in Iraq, but once the temperature got over 110 degrees, it was just hot. Dry or not, it was hot. Side note. For the record, I took a picture of the thermometer outside our Preventive Medicine office at my base in Iraq. It was at 146 degrees. But it was a dry heat. LOL.

Then Chuck told me he had been to the two worst places in the world. The first place being Detroit during the riots in 1967. The second place was Saigon, 1968. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He told me how he went from Detroit to the jungle. Then he told me that off all the men on the plane that took him to Vietnam, only 4 came home. That’s when he retreated into his mind for a minute. I imagine he was taking a moment to remember each of them. I believe he could see them in his mind, maybe as they sat next to him on the plane or maybe as they drew their last breath, I didn’t ask. Either way, he needed a minute.

When he returned to reality, we changed the subject of our conversation to sports. But in only two minutes before that, I knew his pain. I had a sense of his war stories. I could tell where he had been in some respects. His face spoke it all very clearly. Sports brought a completely different face to Chuck. His sports stories were amazing and fascinating. The sports figures that he met over the years, the autographs he told me about, the memorabilia he said he has in his sports room. It all had me in awe. And he was happy talking sports. It’s his life now, and his job.

Everyone I went with to Iraq and Afghanistan came home. I personally knew a few people that died serving, but everyone I went with both times came home. I can’t imagine what goes through Chuck’s mind when he thinks about being only one of four surviving members of the group on the plane that took him to Vietnam. The only inkling I have of what he goes through is what I saw in his face while he revisited the fallen in his memories.

I have my moments where I get triggered to memories of war. On occasion I get jumpy because of unexpected noises. Being in traffic is hard for me. I battle anxiety and depression all the time. I’m still figuring out a lot of this since coming home from my last deployment. I don’t know his stories, but I can very much relate to how Chuck reacted when taken back to 1968. I also do that from time to time. And I wonder if years from now I’ll still have my moments like that. We’ll see.

I’ll say again what I told Chuck the other night. Thank you for leading the way with your service. And Welcome home. I’m glad you’re one of the four that came back.

Thank you all for stopping this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

The Hanging of Saddam Hussein

My deployment to Iraq (2008-09) was pretty boring for the most part. I was at a little base called Camp Bucca and my job was not very exciting, it kept me at a desk in the chapel most days. A few times a week, I would escort the chaplain to the TIF (theater internment facility) to visit our troops, medics, and command staff. Sometimes when the chaplain was counseling with a soldier, I would get to pull tower duty over one of the compounds while the chaplain and soldier walked around and chatted. A couple of times when visiting the SHU (special housing unit, where the worst of the worst were kept in solitary confinement), I was overwatch during a detainee being moved from his cell to the small fenced patio for his outside time. That was almost exciting. I held the taser for that job, just in case the detainee had the guts to do something stupid while being moved. They never did, they knew better. That was one cool thing about deploying with a Military Police battalion. I was trained on their non-lethal weapons, trained in combatives, self-defense, and other exciting things. I could have done without the required OC spray (pepper spray) followed by an obstacle course, but that was part of it.

Overall, it was a boring deployment. Nothing like my time in Afghanistan (2013-14) where I traveled all over the country escorting my chaplain. Camp Bucca, Iraq, at least while I was there, was not exciting. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Very few times was our base threatened, and even if it was, it wasn’t anything like I saw in Afghanistan. I probably saw and heard more attacks in any particular week of travel in Afghanistan as I did my entire deployment in Iraq. Boring can be good in that case. But boring can also be tough on morale. My fellow chaplain assistants and I did what we could to make Bucca a little better for those of us stuck there.

Sometime in 2008, a bootleg video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was circulated via email. It was a very different view from the official video footage released by the Iraqi government after Hussein’s hanging on December 30, 2006. That video stopped just short of his actual hanging. The unofficial video being circulated that I saw was of poor quality, obviously taken on a cell phone. Lights seemed to be flashing, but that was probably the cell phone camera not having enough light to take good video. And the picture was unstable, lots of movement. Obviously, whoever was filming the execution was moving with the action as it happened, while Saddam was being escorted to the gallows. I watched that cell phone footage of him being led to the noose. I couldn’t understand the Arabic being spoken. I watched that video as the rope was put snuggly around Saddam’s neck. He spoke defiantly, or perhaps he was praying, I don’t know, but it was no help to him. The floor dropped out from under him, and after a few seconds, he hung lifeless and still.

That was a morale boost for me. Does that make me a bad person? Nope. That’s why we were there. Do you have any idea how hard it was to be present during the times a soldier was notified of a death of a loved-one from far away, or to organize a memorial service for a fallen soldier, or to inform a spouse that her husband’s plane went down in Afghanistan and there were no survivors? Do you know how hard it was to read casualty reports on the secret-side email and see how those events unfolded? Do you know how hard it was to see those burned children? Honestly, I think it would have been easier to see corpses instead of those children in pain and suffering, crying, scared, with no chance of ever being bodily normal again. Sometimes I still see those three children when I lay down to sleep at night.

I’ve seen some horrible things and I’ve seen some wonderful things. And I can say that the only time I’ve ever witnessed a death (on video or in person) and smiled about it, was watching the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The unofficial video was a couple of years old when I saw it, but at the time, that bootleg video was new to us. To me, it put to rest any doubts. There had been talk for a while that Saddam wasn’t really dead, because the official video didn’t show his neck snapping like the bootleg video did. The official video stopped just before the floor fell out from under him. But the scratchy, unprofessional, dimly lit video from a cell phone that I, and others saw, was enough to make it a good day for me. Saddam’s neck snapped and all life left his body. I smiled. And I didn’t feel bad at all when watching Saddam die in that video. It made me happy, really happy. Once in a while, though, I do think about it and wonder if my feelings about watching that video were normal. That doesn’t usually last long. Maybe I’m demented, but I don’t feel bad about it. He got what he deserved.

I write about a lot of things here, some uplifting, some dark. When you visit Story of My Life, you agree to take the good with the bad. Thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Listen

Listen. That’s all. Not, “Listen to me” or “Listen to this.” Just listen. Sometimes the best way to help someone is to simply to listen. You don’t even need to have a solution to their problems, you just have to listen. It could make a world of difference. Aside from the mandatory, “check the box,” training we get in the army about suicide awareness and prevention, I have had plenty of in-depth training with respect to actually intervening during a serious suicidal ideation. I’m comfortable with that role. And I have done that more times than I want to remember. Not to mention, I have my own personal experience in failing at an attempt. I might not be able to relate to a person’s specific reason, but I certainly can relate to the feelings someone is going through when they are contemplating suicide. But most importantly, I listen.

Years ago, a friend of mine was going through a rough time. Not only that, he was also being moved to a different unit which contributed to his downward mental spiral. Knowing he would be leaving soon, I pulled him aside and thanked him for his impact in my army life. He was a role model to me in many ways. I was a better Soldier for having been under his leadership, and I wanted him to know that. Then, unexpectedly, he started talking. He opened up to me. He talked for about 45 minutes or so. I mostly just listened. Everything he told me is confidential because, as a chaplain assistant in the army, it stays confidential. That’s the rules. And even more so, in my mind, since he was coming to me as a friend. I didn’t think much more of it until later.

I emailed him after he left, to check on him, to see how things were going. That’s when I realized how important it was that I took the time to listen to him when I did. He made it very clear that my taking that time altered his life. Actually, saved it. In his email reply he said, “I appreciate you man because your words really gave me the chance to live another day. All jokes aside, you can really say that you saved a life man.” Funny thing is, I don’t remember talking very much. That’s because I mostly listened. Sometime later, in a Facebook message, after my failed suicide attempt, he gave me encouragement and also details about the day I stopped to talk (listen) to him. He stated, “My roommate was gone. I had all my ammo and my rifle. And I planned on doing it…I was headed to the room and you stopped me and said I love you brother… Man, I went back and loaded the weapon and cried to myself because I knew people loved me…You saved me and I am always here.” That day, the day I just wanted to let him know that I appreciated his leadership, the day that I listened to him, that unknowingly important day. I had no idea he was even considering suicide. No clue.

There are a couple of reasons this story came to mind this week. First, the son of a friend of mine took his own life recently. I’ve been messaging almost daily with that friend. And it’s been hard. I have no idea what to say. I understand the emotions my friend is going through, and it breaks my heart. But I can relate to the son that got to the point of taking his own life because I’ve been there. I tried. Without giving any details, I told another friend about messaging with the first friend, that I didn’t know what to say, that my training was in suicide prevention, and that I’m at somewhat of a loss in talking with a surviving family member after the fact. That’s when friend 2 told me I’m a good man, because I listen when people needed. That hardly makes me a good man, but I am always glad to listen when needed. That’s when I remembered my friend who says I saved his life, and I didn’t even know it at that time, all because I listened to him. That’s how this story came back to me this week. I listened. And, at the time, I had no idea how important that was. All I did was listen. That didn’t cost me anything. But it could have cost my friend his life had I not made time for him. Dear God, thank you.

Sometimes all you have to do is listen to make a difference in someone’s life. Thank you for listening to me this week. Good day, God Bless.

Dave

Milestones and Reflections

This past week, my blog surpassed 400 followers from all over the world. Granted, that’s not a huge number, but it’s still an amazing milestone to me, considering I write for my own pleasure and therapy. I didn’t set out to create any kind of following for this site, only a place for me to put some thoughts somewhere, like a way to journal. Originally, Story of My Life was a place for me to do some writing during my deployment to Afghanistan and share a few things with my family and friends. After returning from war, I took a two-year break from posting here. I then started using Story of My Life again in February 2016, as an outlet for self-therapy and recovery. Based on the number of followers, comments and likes on the posts, it seems like a lot of people can relate to what I’m putting out there.

As I celebrate a very modest milestone, I also want reflect on Story of My Life and share with some of you that might not know the progression this blog has taken the last couple of years and why I post (almost) every week. I say progression of this blog, but in reality, it’s my progression. These are my thoughts, feelings, experiences that I share here. Some entries are comical or silly. Some are dark and painful. Some are rants, usually complaining about dealing with the VA. I’ve posted poetry and short fiction stories, but mostly, real-life stories of me surviving my life.

While my first blog post to Story of My Life was 5 years ago, it’s only been in the last two years that I started a new journey of using weekly writing as therapy and sharing my story with the world. The beginning of this new journey started with me opening up about a failed suicide attempt, being taken to the psych ward at the hospital in hand cuffs by the police, and being diagnosed with PTSD and major depression. From there, I shared what I saw as obvious irony in the fact that I attempted suicide, being that I was the lead trainer in suicide prevention training in most of my army reserve units. Ironic, in a twisted way, I know.

I’ve shared stories from my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, stories about my kids, and I’ve written some entertaining fictional stories. I’ve touched a little on the end of my marriage and I’ve exposed some of the flaws with the VA that veterans have to deal with. I’ve written about the struggles I have from time to time with depression and suicidal thoughts. I’ve also written about some of the victories I’ve had the last two years, which include sharing a couple excerpts and progress from the novel I’m writing (yes, still working on that). I’ve written about the weather, traffic, youth sports, investing, the Mississippi River, and I’ve shared some about my civilian job in a few posts. I cover most everything that pops into my head in any given week. We can all see the pros and cons in that. But I do it anyway.

I write every week and post it here because it helps me. I am able to sort my thoughts and put them in some kind of order that makes sense to me. It’s a way to track my progress as well as my low points. Each post gives me a record of what I was doing or thinking and I can go back any time and see what was on my mind. I know, I can do the same thing without putting it on a blog, but I feel that making some of these stories public forces me to put more thought and effort into this project. And I know that my story helps other people, too, which is a bonus for my motivation to keep writing and sharing. Knowing there are people out there that can relate to my issues and mental illness is helpful to me as well. I appreciate all the likes and comments of support on my posts each week.

I do this for me. But I also do it for everyone else that hasn’t found their voice yet in speaking up comfortably about their own mental illness. I share it with the world so that someone that might be in the dark places of the mind, like I have been, know they aren’t alone. If you need help, reach out. If you know someone that needs help, help them find help. You don’t have to be a professional to help someone that is thinking about suicide. You only have to get them to someone that is (hospital, police, fire station, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255). Helping is easier than you think.

For those of you that might be new to Story of My Life and want to get a bigger picture of my story, below are some links to previous posts that will highlight my journey the last two years.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/06/battlefield/  (the beginning of my new journey)

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/16/depressed-ptsd/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/11/26/suicidal-anonymous/

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/07/15/my-worst-war-memory/

Thank you all for your support, I hope that I am returning the favor in some small way here. And thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave