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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A Good Rant, I Guess

I had my second appointment this week with my new VA psychiatrist. It went better than I thought it would. But I guess with my imagination telling me how horrible it was going to be, it could only be better than I thought. In the end, it seems like my new VA psychiatrist and I agree that I didn’t like how she did things, and that she wasn’t going to change how she did things. I got the short of end of the stick, but the session did not escalate as my mind had led me to believe it would. I stayed calm even when I wanted to tell her to *uck off. I guess that’s a small step in the right direction.

I was able to articulate how I felt without acting on my anger. I was angry, but I kept it professional. And she knows I was angry, because I told her. I told her how I was upset about the postman letting my 13-year-old daughter (now 14) sign for my controlled substance prescriptions when they came in mail. I pleaded for her to let me get paper prescriptions to take to the base, but that fell on deaf ears. I am more comfortable going to a pharmacy than getting mail-order drugs. In addition, it takes up to ten days to get the prescriptions in the mail when I call for a refill. If I forget to call, I can just go to the base pharmacy and get it filled same day if I had a paper prescription in the beginning. I explained that this added pressure is not something I am dealing with very well. It’s causing me anxiety. Again, she didn’t budge.

At this appointment, my new VA psychiatrist seemed a little more caring than at the first appointment. During the first appointment she seemed cold, almost annoyed that I was there. I felt like she was confrontational. And I’ll be honest, I went in expecting a good experience. The last VA psychiatrist I had was good. For my second appointment with my new VA psychiatrist, she was understanding, personable, and never made me feel like I needed to be on the defensive, even when we disagreed. My first appointment with her was nowhere near that. I was upset. I was disappointed. And I was pissed off. But I guess, to add to my post from a couple weeks ago, I made a little step forward this week.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/08/19/little-steps-big-steps/

I keep asking, “Why does the VA have to be so difficult about everything?” That’s a rhetorical question. I already know the answer. I’ve written many times before that I believe they don’t have to be better or make it easy. They get paid either way. And the good doctors leave. The ones that can’t cut it in the private sector stay because they still get paid. I truly believe that for the most part. I’m on my third psychiatrist at my local VA in the last two years. And my psychologist at the Vet Center (part of the VA) left, too.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/04/22/4-months-since-therapy/

I made a comment online on an article from our local newspaper a month or so ago. A gentleman replied, in a polite way, asking me to consider how much it would cost if I didn’t go through the VA and that the services wouldn’t be much better anyway. I kept my cool. Or at least I calmed down before I responded. Let me make something clear. The services veterans receive at the VA have been paid for. We paid for them throughout our service to our country. The care we receive is NOT free. It is pre-paid and paid in full. So, when someone remarks that you get what you pay for concerning the VA, I paid for it. With my body and my mind. I paid dearly for it. And I would like to get the services from the VA that I deserve, the services I already paid for.

Well, this week’s post wasn’t supposed to be another rant about the VA, but I go where the words take me. Don’t miss my original point here, that I handled my appointment with my new VA psychologist better than my mind told me I would. I still don’t like her, but I dislike her a little less than I did after the first appointment. Here’s to hoping the appointments continue to get better.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/04/01/and-then-there-is-paul/

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

Dave

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

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).

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/