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

Back to School

This week, my kids, like others all around the country, started back to school. Classes officially started this week, but the kids had already gone back in some respect. Cross country practice, band practice/band camp, and swim practice. A junior, a sophomore, and twin freshman, all at the same school and all active in one thing or another. That’s only four of six. The older two have already moved out to conquer the world. And so far, they seem to be doing that. At one time, not long ago, including the oldest at college, the six kids were at five different schools. It’s nice to have the last four all at the same place for the next couple of years.

Every year about this time it’s a great time for students to start anew. Provided they take advantage of it. They really don’t know how good they have it. I didn’t know back then either. As parents, we can only say so much to implore them to make the most of this time of in their lives. Free rent, free food, little or no bills. They have no idea what’s in store for them later in life. I can say with certainly that being an adult is overrated. They won’t know that for years to come. But for now, they only have to jump through the hoops of high school and get passing grades.

I’m sure we’ve all, at one time or another, wished we could go back to those carefree years. But only with the caveat of knowing what we know now. I’m pretty sure teenagers would disagree that they are in the carefree years, but we, as adults, know better. How different would things be if we possessed all the knowledge we have now and were able to go back to our high school years? We would all be rich and famous, successful and happy. In theory. But that’s not how it works. And probably for the better.

I am not rich or famous. I’m not successful. I do have happiness, but sometimes it’s overshadowed by the PTSD, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, and life. Even so, I think I would miss out on too much if I went back and changed anything. All of my life experiences make me who I am today. If I changed one detail, I probably would not be who I am, I would be a different version of me. And who’s to say that person would be better or better off? As many hard knocks as I’ve had (most of which were brought on myself), how do I know this is the worst version of who I could have been? Everything has a trade-off.

I went to war, that changed me. I failed in business, that cost me. I’ve made a million bad decisions to become the person I am today, good or bad. And even though I struggle through life sometimes, as I wrote about last week, I don’t want to be anyone else except who I am right now. I would choose to not go back in time with all I have learned up to this point. Too much would be at risk.

To my children, make this your best school year yet. Put some effort into your studies. Go the extra mile in the sports you have chosen to participate in. Shine bright in the band. And above all, enjoy this time in your lives. You will never get this moment back. And the moments in the past cannot be changed. Period. Love y’all bunches. -Dad.

Thanks for reading this week. 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).

My Worst War Memory

WARNING  This content may be upsetting or triggering to some.  WARNING

This week, while on orders at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, I ran into a long-time army buddy. It was good to catch up with him while having dinner and a couple of beers. We reminisced and talked about the people we served with together, shared stories of what’s going on in our careers now, and had a couple good laughs. Most of my army memories are good. Most of my deployment memories are good, even if only because I try to remember the good ones. Most of the not-so-good memories can still be made into an amusing, funny story. But not all of them.

Not long ago I did some online forums where people could ask me questions about a topic I would post. One reader asked me what was my worst memory was from war. For a moment, I wasn’t sure. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the worst memories, so I had to think about it. And as discussed in a previous blog, I have memories that are hidden. One of which, not my worst, was discovered during a therapy session with my psychiatrist. And once I remembered it, it was back. My mind had hidden it for two years until my therapist walked me through it.

But my worst memory from being deployed happened while I was in Iraq (2008-09). I went a number of years with that memory tucked away, hidden from my consciousness. And I didn’t even know it. It surfaced a few years ago, hung around for a while, then was gone again. I think it’s been more than three years since I thought about it. Now it’s back. This is something I’ve only shared with very few, and even then, I generally only tell the main part of the story.

I was at Camp Bucca, Iraq. My chaplain and I were responsible for about a thousand Soldiers that fell under our battalion. The two of us went to the hospital to visit a Soldier that had been seriously injured in a motor pool accident. The Soldier was soon to be transported to Germany, then back to the States, I think to San Antonio to get specialized treatment and start rehabilitation. I never made it to the room with the chaplain to visit the wounded Soldier.

The bay-style room we walked through that would lead to a private room with the motor pool Soldier had three beds in it. In each of those beds was a child. Each child had been severely burned over their whole body. The chaplain and I both paused and inquired about the children. Their ages were approximately between four and nine years old. It was the most unexpected thing I’ve seen. I got the story from the medical staff that had accepted the children into the hospital due to the severity of their injuries.

Their father was dead. He was trying to steal fuel, propane I think, according to my memory of the story I was told, and the whole tank somehow exploded. Why he had his three little girls with him to steal fuel, I will never know. But the explosion killed him and engulfed the children in flames. They were brought to our hospital for treatment. They were almost completely wrapped in gauze, only parts of their faces showing. Only the oldest spoke while the other two whined and cried. I think the oldest was trying to comfort the other two. They couldn’t see each other, only hear the sounds of pain and anguish that filled that small part of the room.

After a couple of minutes with the staff, the chaplain was ready to move on to the injured motor pool Soldier. I couldn’t do it. I had to leave. I told the chaplain I would be out back, that he could come get me when he was done with the Soldier. I found my way to an exit, then I sat on the steps and cried. The reality and gravity of three children laying there, burned, crying, scared, barely alive– it got to me. It got to me in a way nothing else previously had in life. That includes losing a child one day after birth.

I could see that memory every time I closed my eyes, from that night on, for about two years. Then, it was gone. I forgot about it. It would reappear every 2-3 years, depress me, horrify me in my sleep, then hide again. Well, it’s back. This is probably the most details I have ever shared about this memory. I’m hoping that sharing it this way will help. I don’t remember ever talking to any psychiatrist or counselor about it. It must have been pretty well hidden since my psychiatrist last year was able to get the memory of a wrong turn in Kabul, Afghanistan to resurface, but the burned children never came up.

In preparation for this post, I reached out to a friend of mine that I served with in Iraq, Joseph Galvan. He told me that the event of the three burned children was one of his worst three memories he has of war. Being a medic, he was regularly exposed to more pain and suffering than most. He was on staff at our hospital on Camp Bucca during the time the children were there. I asked him if he would give a quote for this week’s blog about his experience there during that time. Just as I remember him during deployment, he didn’t fail to produce when called upon now. Here is what he had to say:

“As horrible as having three severely burned children was, the worst was after. The MRO (Medical Regulating Organization), who was the theater medical operations hub, ordered that we no longer accept any critically injured local national patients. The girls were in our ICU for about four months and we only had 5 ICU beds.

“’Try and imagine what that must have been like for our medics. Locals bringing their severely ill and injured to us, having heard that the Americans took care of children that were near death, only to be turned away. The begging, pleading, and crying they had to witness.”

 

 

My friend and hero, Joseph Galvan.

Galvan went on to say, “I can still hear them scream from their wounds being cleaned; there’s only so much morphine you can give a child and it’s not enough. That’s why I’d always bring my guitar to work. I knew the schedule for their wound care and I’d play for the kids after, while the nurses washed their hair. It got to be a routine. I’d even do it on my days off. The smell of burning hair and children crying or screaming in legitimate pain fucks with me pretty hard. And the burn patient smell…that sickly sweet, but acrid smell…I can’t do it.”

Maybe his sharing this with me will help him in some way. He told me earlier this week, “I just realized that I’ve never told anyone about that. The folks that were there (in the ward, on shift) knew, but I’ve never talked about it.” Joseph Galvan is a hero. His heart for those children makes him a hero to me.

This is why it’s harder to come home from war than it is to go. The memories never leave. Never. They may hide for a while, but they always come back.

Thank you for reading this week. Good day, God bless. And a special God bless to our military medics.

Dave