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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You Don’t See Me

I had a conversation with the new Command Sergeant Major at my army reserve battalion. It was a little one-sided. Those of you who have served in the military know what I’m talking about. I’m coming up on the end of my military career in the reserves, an ending that is not as much my choice as it is the army’s. With that said, I’m a little less likely to hold my tongue than I might have before. I’m still respectful, I just don’t pull my punches anymore, I leave no doubt as to what I’m thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I said that started, “With all due respect Sergeant Major.” But I know it was the truth. Then the Sergeant Major spoke. And what he said was also the truth. I had hoped to talk with him more that weekend, but with a busy training schedule it wasn’t to happen. So, I thought I’d write out what I would have liked to say to him.

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me, the soldier. He only sees what’s left of me, the soldier. He sees the old guy whose best days are behind him. He doesn’t see that I came back into service at 36 years old after a 14-year break, because the army needed people to do a job. They needed people really bad at the time, and I answered the call. And I would do it again.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/26/the-cost-2/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that can’t pass the army physical fitness test. But he doesn’t see that until my deployment to Afghanistan (2013-14), I was passing the PT test at the standards of an 18-year old (the standards get easier as the soldier gets older). Yeah, I was in my early 40’s passing it with the numbers an 18-year old would have to do to pass. He sees an older, slower soldier. But he doesn’t see that the last two months of my deployment to Afghanistan I was injured. I sucked it up and completed my mission. He doesn’t know the doctor at my little base over there suggested I go to Germany for treatment, then home. He doesn’t know I decided to stay, despite the pain I was in.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/18/yard-work-and-running/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that moves slowly. He doesn’t see that on my two deployments, I brought my chaplains back safe and sound. And that on my last deployment, we traveled Afghanistan extensively. He doesn’t see that in the narrative of my Bronze Star award it tells how I performed my duties under hostile enemy attacks. He doesn’t see that while I was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were soldiers that had been hiding in the instructor unit (my current unit) for a decade or longer.

Left:  Kabul, Afghanistan 2103.  Right:  Umm Qasr, Iraq 2008.

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that lacks motivation. He doesn’t see my ribbon rack on my dress uniform. He doesn’t see that if I were to update my rack, I’d have 15 different awards on my chest. He doesn’t see all the times I volunteered for different things. He doesn’t see that at a previous unit, I had used up all my allowed time for the fiscal year but still drove 50 miles to give a brief for free (retirement points only). He doesn’t see that I coordinated the suicide intervention training for a CACOM I was in, and that my CACOM was the only command in USACAPOC that met standards by the deadline. Yeah, I got an award from the USACAPOC Command Chaplain for that.

The Sergeant Major sees a somewhat disgruntled soldier. He doesn’t see that I’ve been stuck in a broken system that hasn’t fully addressed my physical and mental injuries. He doesn’t see that I never chose to be a substandard soldier, that in fact, at one time, I was a damn good soldier. He doesn’t see that the circumstances and stresses of all that I’ve gone through have made me what I am now. He doesn’t see that the weight I bear from the physical and mental issues of not being able to perform like I used to was a contributing factor in my suicide attempt in 2015. That, among other things. He doesn’t see how much this kills me inside, only how it currently affects my attitude, something I know I need to work on.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me. He only sees what’s left of me. That’s not fair to either one of us. He probably doesn’t see that I’m my own worst critic and that I absolutely hate that I’m not able to do the things I used to do or handle situations and stress like I have in the past. He has no idea how valuable an asset I can be in the right environment. I could see it in his eyes that he plans on creating the right environment. I could hear it in his voice when he spoke to me. It’s a big job he’s taking on, and I don’t think the odds are in his favor, only because the problems he wants to fix have been there for so long. But I truly hope he pulls it off. It’s probably too late for me to experience the right environment again, but perhaps it will be there for future soldiers in that unit. When my time in the army reserves is over, I will leave satisfied that I made my area a better place overall. I might limp across the finish line, or even fall short of it altogether, but I did my job and did it well. And no one can ever take that from me, no matter what’s left of me at this point.

Thanks for stopping by Story of My Life 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

10 Days to Hell

As I’ve mentioned before, my psychiatrist at the VA changed how I can get my medications. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make any sense to have get them through the mail when I can go to the local military base, or even to the local VA clinic. But for some reason, my doctor says I can only get them through the mail-order system provided by the VA.

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

I called the automated system to reorder my prescriptions on November 8th when I had about 5 doses left. It usually takes a week. It’s not a big deal if I have to miss one or two nights of medication. But the one I need has yet to show up. On about the fifth day after running out, I called the automated system. The voice said the meds were sent out on the 10th, to give it ten days to show up. Liars.

On or around the sixth day without my medication, I was noticeably becoming unwell. My focus and thoughts were not good. I was more irritable than normal, more blunt than usual, and becoming severely depressed. By day 8, my anxiety of not having my medication coupled with everything else I just mentioned was overwhelming. I could feel it physically in my body, mostly in my head and neck. My head felt like it was being crushed by pressure. The headaches were incredible and nothing helped.

By day 9, I was overly emotional. Everything set me off. I felt hungover. I felt like I had not slept in days. My entire body was uncomfortable and shaky. The pressure behind my eyes caused vision problems. It was like blurry tunnel vision. I know much of the physical manifestations were anxiety that came from not having my medication and wondering if were coming at all. I was beginning to become dysfunctional.

Day 10. I hated my life. I hated people, even more than normal. I hated my job. I hated everything. At work that day, one of my co-workers asked if I were ok. She said I looked like I wanted to kill someone. I was in a very bad place in my mind. I was scared for myself. It only took ten days to get to hell from where I started. That seems like a very fast fall to me. Ten days is not a very long time.

During the ten days I would call the automated system for updates. Each time the voice on the other end of the line told me the same thing. The medication was mailed out on the 10th and to allow 10 days for delivery. On the 21st I found a way to call the after-hours emergency nurse at a VA call center. She made notes of our call that would be sent to my local VA clinic to my primary care doctor and the psychiatrist. The next morning, the primary care nurse called to tell me I could pick up a supply of my medication.

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

I eventually spoke with the mental health nurse, days later, after the emergency had passed. I found out the medication was still in “pre-ship” on their tracking system and has yet to be sent. All the while I was holding out hope that it would show up in the mail each day, being told by the automated computer voice that it had been sent out more than a week ago, trying to keep my head above water and survive the darkness of my mind and the horrible thoughts that were taunting me. But I was being lied to.

The Department of Veterans affairs is broken system. And the face of that system for me is Dr. Elaine Ramos at the Eglin VA clinic. Dr. Ramos, you are failing at your job. You are failing me. Those little diplomas on the wall in your office are worthless if you don’t care about your patients and what is best for them. Do your job, doctor.

Dr. Ramos can kiss my ass. I hope the rest of you have a wonderful week. Thanks for stopping by. Good day, God bless.

Dave