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/

 

My New VA Psychiatrist

For the few of you that are also on my Facebook page, you know I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist recently at my local VA. The reason anyone knows about it is because I posted my displeasure with the new psychiatrist there. At the end of the appointment, I left unsatisfied and wondering if she really cared or if she was just checking the boxes. I know for sure, she gets paid no matter how I feel when I leave her office. I think it was a waste of my time.

The main thing that upset me was the changes she made to how I get my medication. First, let me back up. A while back they gave me a prescription for a 30-day supply of my medications, but made my next psych appointment 50+ days out from that. I had to ration my medication so I wouldn’t be without them for too many days in a row before I could get them refilled. I would always get a paper prescription and take it to the base to be filled. It’s a process that has been working for a long time. It’s flawless. That process has never failed.

My new psychiatrist says I can now only get my medications through the VA. Well, one of them, which they keep in stock at my local VA, only comes in twice the dosage I take. Now I have to cut the pill down every night, whereas from the base, I can get it in my prescribed dosage. Not a huge deal, but still annoying, especially since I’m not fond of change when something has been working for as long as it has. That might be the PTSD coming out in me, I don’t know. The other medication is NOT kept onsite. They would have to mail it to me. I’m already out of it by the time of my appointment, and now I must wait up to ten days to get it in the mail. How does that help?

My new psychiatrist told me the reason she wants to change how I’ve been getting my medication for over a year is so that she can have control over it. She also mentioned that I would have to be at my house to sign for the medication when it arrived, although the postal service may allow another adult to sign for it, she didn’t know. It is a controlled substance. But that didn’t work. The postal service let my 13-year-old daughter sign for it. Tell me how much control the new psychiatrist has over that? Please explain to me how the way she wants it done is better than me taking a paper prescription straight to the base and getting my meds the same day, without a controlled substance being signed for by a 13-year old?

I plan on bringing all that up at my next appointment with her. And I may have already made a formal complaint about it before then. This is one of the reasons I find the VA so frustrating. Why fix something that isn’t broken when there are so many broken things they should fix? Why change something that has been working without fail and create a process that I am not comfortable with? She cared more about controlling my medications than she did about what was going on in my life, or at least that’s what I believe to be true. That’s how she made me feel.

That’s my frustration with the VA for the week. On a lighter note, the AMAs I’ve been hosting seem to be going well. I found out there was a glitch in the way they counted RSVP participants, so last week when I thought I was up to 500+, it ended up being a little more than 100. They fixed it and the numbers are now accurate. I’m still happy about all of it. I’m amazed by the number of people that take the time to ask me questions on there. The site I’m doing the forums on is still very new and will only continue to grow. And I’m getting paid to do it. I love that part. Go check out my next one if you want. And RSVP to it when you get there to help my numbers if you feel so inclined. And, ask a question. That’s the whole purpose of the AMA anyway. Hope to see you there.

https://militaryama.com/during-my-two-deployments-one-to-iraq-and-one-to-afghanistan-my-camera-took-158812/

That’s all I got for the week. Thanks for listening me to vent about the VA. I’ve said many times that all the good doctors leave the VA for better jobs. My new psychiatrist will probably be there forever. But anyway, Good day, God bless.

Dave

Lessons Learned

When I was a young teenager, probably 13 or 14 years old, I had a dog that was a master at climbing the fence and escaping the back yard to roam the neighborhood. Eventually, my dad installed an electric fence kit to the top of the back-yard fence in hopes of curbing the dog’s desire to be free and explore. It should have only taken one jolt from the fence, maybe two, for the dog to no longer try to escape. That beagle sure could climb a fence. I’ve seen dogs that could jump a fence, but that was the only dog I ever saw that could climb one that way.

I was curious about the electric fence. I tapped it with my finger. Nothing. I touched it for a second. Still nothing. I decided to grab hold of it. Not the brightest thing I ever did in my life, but still not even close the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I was “shocked” to learn that the fence worked when I grasped it fully in my hand. It was slightly painful, but a life lesson that I still remember to this day. I won’t be testing anymore electric fences. No need, I satisfied my curiosity and fully understand how they work.

Most of the things we learn in life are directly related to the decisions we make, whether those be good decisions or bad ones. Ever since my children were little, I liked letting them make their own decisions about things when they could. When my two oldest were in pre-school, I would let them choose what to wear each day. Living in Florida, they usually chose shorts and short-sleeve shirts. One morning I told them a cold front was coming through and they should take a jacket. Neither wanted to take a jacket, so I took them to school with only what they had picked out to wear.

By noon that day, the temperature had dropped to a “frigid” 40 degrees. When I picked them up from pre-school, I heard one teacher comment that I should check the weather and dress them accordingly because my children were cold. Really? They weren’t going to die from hypothermia in 40-degree weather on the walk from the classroom to my car. I promise. And they both learned a valuable lesson that day, that sometimes, dad knows what he’s talking about. On the flip-side, on a trip to Colorado in January years ago with the kids, I made sure they had more than enough warm clothes. The trick is to know when to let them decide and when to plan for them. I don’t care what that one teacher thought, I was teaching my young children by giving them all the information available and letting them make the final decision. I think using that philosophy has more than paid off with them.

But what about the times when a decision is made without any idea of what all could possibly happen? And what if a decision is made with the best of intentions, but it turns out to be a disaster? That’s a great ethical question that has been debated for centuries. I don’t have the answer to it, in case you were wondering. During an army reserve weekend years ago, a fellow Service Member found a puppy. There was no collar with identification on the dog. And after asking around, he believed it to be a stray or an abandoned pet. He went to the store and bought a dog bowl, some dog food, and a leash. He was going to give the puppy a home. Since it was a couple hours before quitting time, he put the puppy in the bed of his truck with food and water, and put a collar and leash on the dog and tied it to the inside of the bed of his truck. The puppy climbed up on the wheel well and hanged himself trying to get out of the truck. The man’s intentions were pure gold, but the outcome was tragic.

In 2007, I decided to go back in to military service in the army reserves. I wanted to serve my country again and take care of Soldiers as a chaplain assistant. Although my life does not reflect it now, it was a matter I prayed about and truly believed it was something God wanted me to do, so, I rejoined. I still believe that. I volunteered to go Iraq in 2007. Then, I volunteered to go Afghanistan in 2013. My intentions were admirable, but the outcome of my decision cost me my mental health, my physical health, my marriage, relationships, a business, my favorite job I ever had, and who knows what else. I basically lost Me, the Me I used to know, the Me I used to be. I lost my identity. I had even lost my will to live at one point.

There have been times when I would figuratively touch the electric fence just to see what would happened. There were times when I learned from my decisions like my young children did from theirs, in learning that sometimes we should heed the advice or warnings of others. And there was a time when I was like the puppy, trying to escape, even though I didn’t know it would kill me.

All the decisions I’ve made in my life make me who I am today. Same goes for you, too, by the way. I’m grateful and lucky that to have survived some of my decisions. And even knowing what I know today, I would still rejoin the military and serve again. There are definitely some things I would do differently, but I know for certain I made the right decision to rejoin the army reserves. I don’t understand some of the consequences I’ve had to endure since I believe that decision was made with the best of intentions. And I don’t care to debate it or dig into the philosophical principles of whether or not it was the right decision based on the outcome. I’m moving forward with life.

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

Dave

Other related posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/06/suicide-intervention/

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

4 Months Since Therapy

It’s been four months since the last time I’ve been to a professional therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist. I may have mentioned in a previous blog that my psychologist that I had been seeing at the Vet Center (part of the VA) moved on to a better job. I don’t blame him. I know I’ve mentioned before that all the good ones leave the VA and the ones that can’t do the job very well get comfortable at the VA because they get paid whether they do a good job or not. The ones that are worth a darn know they don’t have to put up with the bureaucratic stupidity that is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they can make it elsewhere. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen way too many mental health professionals come and go at the local VA I use.

Overall, I’ve been doing well since my doctor left. So, let me first say, to make sure there’s no confusion, I do not feel like my world is crashing down on me. I’m ok, I promise.  However, I am starting to notice some things about myself that suggest I should start looking for a new therapist. In the last month, I find my frustration with life events to be more easily provoked. My attention span and interest in things has gone downhill. I have had minor, but very noticeable, bouts with depression.  And I have not been sleeping well at all.  Again, I say, I am handling all of this. I am in no way a danger to myself or others.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/).

It was a rough week at work. Three schedule changes, a few contentious exchanges with the boss, and people not showing up to work. I actually started to wonder if I made the right decision in going back to work after taking a year off because of mental health issues. I wasn’t having bad thoughts. Not like the ones documented in my psychological evaluation from last year that the VA ordered. During that session, I discussed with the psychiatrist some of the morbid thoughts I had during my last job. This week, my thoughts were more questioning if the job was worth it, if it were good for my sanity. And with that, the doubts of me being able to function in the workforce flooded my mind. That’s where the bouts of depression came from, I’m sure.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/16/depressed-ptsd/).

I took my truck to the shop this week. I only let one shop work on my truck. I told him my budget and a few things that I needed to get worked on. Nothing major. So, I thought. The one issue I figured would be the easiest and cheapest part of my short list was twice as much as my entire budget for maintenance and repairs on my truck. I’m not good under the hood, so I’ll explain it as best I can: The fluid reservoir for the clutch was leaking and the housing for the transmission must be removed to get the root of the problem. Ouch. OUCH. My truck is 16 years old and paid for. The money I spend yearly on maintenance is still much cheaper than a car payment. But, ouch, all at once this time. Well, all at once again.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/23/448/).

These were the two highlights of my lows for the week.   I remember not too very long ago how either one of these stressful events would have derailed me. And while I am feeling the effects of these things, both financially and psychologically, I am in control. I am handling each of these things better than I did similar events in the last year and a half. I have my moments when I want to run away or simply punch someone in the throat. But I don’t. I can’t. I’ve come too far in my recovery from my own mind to go that far backwards. A few steps back on a long, forward journey are expected, but I’m not going to start over again. I can’t.

As far as the job goes, YES. I was supposed to go back to work when I did. Any earlier and I might not be handling this as well. Any later and I would have missed out on a great job that I feel at home with. I missed having a job during the year I was not working. And I’m very happy to be where I’m at now, it was perfect timing and I love what I do. I’m learning how to cope with the challenges of functioning in a work environment again, challenges that didn’t seem to be there before I went to Afghanistan. I’m doing pretty well with it.

My truck and I have a lot in common. We both have a lot of miles and wear and tear on us, and both need some maintenance from time to time. And if the maintenance falls too far behind, we run the risk of a catastrophic breakdown. In August 2015, I had a complete breakdown in life and I got “put in the shop” for a while. Since then, until four months ago, I had been getting regular therapy maintenance. Similar to checking the tire pressure or getting an oil change in the truck at regular intervals and having a mechanic check things over. Sometimes for preventative measures, sometimes for repairs, for both me and the truck. I do still take my medications daily, but I think I need some more maintenance than that right now. Nothing imperative, I just think it’s time to go back to therapy.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/16/the-pysch-ward/).

Now I have to find a new psychologist and start all over. That’s the whole reason I’ve gone four months without therapy. I don’t want to start over. But I will say that the timing for my previous doctor to move on was good for me. I had made tremendous progress with him in the 10 months we met for my therapy, and by the time he left, I didn’t really need to see him weekly. Now, because I know I need it, I have to find someone else for therapy. A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of needing therapy on a regular basis. But, like my truck that needs regular upkeep, I know I need it, too. Basically, I’m far enough along in recovery to realize that I need to go back to therapy. I think knowing that is a good sign. But it doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it.

I put links throughout this post that relate to the idea of specific paragraphs.  If you haven’t read them before, it will give you an idea where I was, what I’ve gone through, and where I’m at now.  Also, go check out my friend Frank’s blog, here’s the link.  I think most of you would enjoy it, he’s a very talented writer.  https://fnvaughn.com/

That’s what I have for the week. Thanks for taking the time to be part of my week and reading Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Mediocre Determination

I was on the wrestling team in high school. I did well. My junior and senior years I won the Regional Championship in my weight class. I had a natural talent on the mat. I also had a great coach. He was a tough S.O.B., but to this day, I still carry some of what I learned from him all those years ago. In the state tournament my senior year, I lost in the second round by one point in overtime to the eventual State Champion in my weight class. It was a hard loss. I still carry that, too.

This week I attended two sporting events that my kids participate in. Middle school tennis and track. My twin girls are each a student athlete, one in each of those sports this season. I was watching a boy’s tennis match after my daughter finished her singles match. One of the young men on the court was hustling, running, playing his heart out to make it a competitive match. The other young man, who was a little further along in his adolescence, put in far less effort and still won the match 6-5. It was a great match. The young man that lost probably played one of his best matches ever, but still fell short. As soon as he got off the court, I heard him ask the coach if he could be in the doubles match against the opponent that just bested him. He was not going to give up, even though his chances of winning were not good. I like that kid. He’s not afraid of a challenge, and not afraid to fail.

Isn’t it challenges and failures that make us better? Or at least strive to be better? Granted, you must have the desire to put in the work to get better since natural talent can only carry one so far. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, natural talent without hard work to elevate and hone those talents usually leads to mediocrity. Did you know that Michael Jordan was told his sophomore year in high school by the coach that he wasn’t good enough to be on the varsity basketball team? He failed to make the varsity team. He didn’t quit, he played junior varsity that year, worked hard, and ended up becoming, arguably, the best basketball player of my generation. Failing may have been the best thing that ever happened to him in high school. It sparked a desire to succeed. And that, he did.

michael-jordan-quotes

Sometimes I think back to the State Tournament my senior year and wonder if 10 minutes of extra practice or work a day would have made a difference. I don’t dwell on it, it’s more of a nostalgic memory, remembering good times. It was a terrific match. It was the best I ever wrestled, and I fell short. I think most of us in life have had that experience. Here’s why that loss was tough: There wasn’t a next match for me in the tournament. I was a senior and done with my wrestling career. But the kid that lost the tennis match has many games left in him. He may not have the success that Michael Jordan had, but he has the determination to keep trying.

I miss that determination in my life. I lost it in 2015 and I almost died because of it. Maybe I lost my determination before then and was just trying to survive on my life’s natural talent, whatever that is, and it finally took its toll on me. I got tired and gave up. But I’ve learned some things. There is a time and place to have the determination of the young man that lost his tennis match. There’s a time to be mediocre and survive the storm, even taking a couple steps back. And there’s a time to simply pace yourself while moving forward, with no need to be a hero and no need to keep running into the brick wall at full speed. That’s where I’m at in life right now. And I’m OK with it. I’m moving forward. I’m taking it at my own pace. And I’m going to survive.

Gone are the days that I need to go full throttle with everything in life. I’m done running into walls just to prove I can. I already know I can get back up and do it again if I wanted to. No need to keep proving it. I’m content with being mediocre because I’m still moving forward. And also because I have such wonderful memories of all the times I ran into those walls and got back up and succeeded. And I mean that. I’ve learned a lot from my challenges and failures, and those subsequent victories. Victory after failure is sweet. I hope that young man on the tennis court experiences that.

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

Dave

Other posts you might like:

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

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/01/10/what-motivates-you/