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

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My GPS Needs Therapy

My GPS needs therapy. Or some kind of addiction intervention, or something. I think it’s high, or maybe bi-polar. And it definitely needs help. As I’ve mentioned before, I drive 500+ miles once a month to Ft Jackson, South Carolina for my army reserve training. And then, 500+ miles back home. It’s a grueling drive some months, depending on what time I get on the road, traffic, weather. It takes at least 8 ½ hours one way. It’s taken as many as 10 hours.

When I started going to this reserve unit in 2015, I drove from where I live in the Florida Panhandle up through Atlanta, then took I-20 across to Columbia, where Ft Jackson is located. If you’ve ever driven through Atlanta, you know why I desired to find a different route. Now I take the Georgia backroads from Mariana, FL (after a short drive on I-10 from where I live) up to just west of Augusta, GA. I call it backroads, but it’s not as bad or stereotypical as it sounds. However, the first few times I didn’t go through Atlanta, it was almost all backroads. Some of which seemed barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic. And one road that might forever be imprinted in my mind is Old Balls Ferry Road. You can insert your own jokes here.

I don’t need my GPS for directions anymore, after almost three years of taking the same route, but I do use it for traffic updates and to see my travel time. Traffic updates have come in handy more than once. And we all know that when plugging in the destination, the initial GPS estimated time of arrival is really just a challenge to see if we can beat it. I usually do.

Here’s the deal with my GPS. I plug in my destination. It usually gives me two routes to choose from, with one of the routes having a variation somewhere in it. Basically, my options are the shortest time or the shortest distance. The shortest travel time would be to go through Atlanta, which I hate. The shortest distance (at least when I first started doing this) was literally through some of the weirdest backroads I’ve ever been on. It was the shortest distance, but without using any common sense. Of course, it’s just a GPS, it probably doesn’t have common sense, although I talk to it like it’s a real person. But eventually, I refined that route with one that is both shorter in distance and makes sense. But most importantly, keeps me out of Atlanta traffic.

My GPS also gets confused. I’ll glance at the screen while driving (the onscreen display is wonderful for seeing how the road ahead is laid out). There, on the screen, is a suggestion of a different route with a little arrow pointing to a display that reads “32 minutes slower.” Or “54 minutes slower.” I’ve seen it up to an hour and 10 minutes slower. Why? Why would I want to go that far out of my way? The other thing it does is gets stuck in rerouting mode because I go the way I want to, a way that makes more sense. That’s actually amusing to watch it tell me for 10 miles to make a U-turn until it finally gives in and changes to my new route. I imagine the GPS getting frustrated with me as I drive down the highway passing on its suggested turn. And there’s one small stretch of road on my way back home that my GPS won’t even recognize. And what’s funny is, that’s the way it takes me on the way up! Did it completely forget that road? And why only on the way back? I seriously think my GPS is stoned sometimes.

Either I have some cool life-lesson to offer with this story, or I’m just a sad, bored soul that enjoys pissing off his GPS and then writing about it. Well, today’s your lucky day. It’s both. It is probably a little sad the enjoyment I get from knowing that if my GPS could cuss at me, it would. Is there an app I can download for that? “I said turn left you M#@&$er!”  (In the voice of Samuel L. Jackson).

But seriously, find your route that you’re comfortable with in life. There are a million ways to get where you are going. Some of them will take less distance but more time, some might be quicker but a longer distance. Only you can decide which is more important, which route is better for you. For me, not dealing with the stress of driving through Atlanta was important to me on my monthly trip to South Carolina. As with driving, you can change your route in life anytime you want. Whatever your GPS is (family, friends, coworkers), it might not understand where you’re going, or tell you to turn around, but as long as you know your destination, it’s all good. Go, explore, and enjoy your journey. Take some new roads, get lost, and do a U-turn if you have to. Just make sure you know where you’re going.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

What Did We Learn?

“What did we learn?” I might be the only one I know that liked the movie Burn After Reading. And that was my favorite line in the movie, “What did we learn?” At the end of the movie, J.K. Simmons, who plays a CIA superior, asks that question. You might recognize him and that line from the Farmers Insurance commercials from a while back. In Burn After Reading, Brad Pitt was excellent as a goofy, idiotic fitness center employee. John Malkovich was superb, as usual. Tilda Swinton perfectly plays a woman you want to hate. And some guy named George Clooney was in it also. Really, why am I the only one that likes this movie? It’s on Netflix. Y’all should check it out.

But this isn’t a movie review, per se, but more of a reason to ask ourselves, “What did we learn?” Throughout the whole movie, there is a comedy of errors with the CIA, other branches of the government, and even the Russian Embassy at one point. Nothing seems to be going right for anyone involved in the plot. It’s a hilarious mess. And at the end of the movie, the CIA superior (J.K. Simmons) simply asks, “What did we learn?” No one in his office had a good answer. Even though he had no idea what had happened to cause all the craziness he had to deal with, he answered his own question by saying something along the lines of, “Let’s not do that again.”

As I mentioned last week, I recently changed jobs. On a shift before I left, I was talking to my buddy I worked with in the kitchen. The lack of hours was the only reason I left that job, one of the points of our discussion. We had both been frustrated with the cut in hours. I mentioned to him that I learned a lot during the year I worked there. That upset him, at least that’s how I took it with his response of, “I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t get anything from this.” I guess I see his point. As a cook, I got very few new lessons from that job to add to my skill sets of working in a kitchen. So many people, like my friend, fail to see the bigger picture. I did learn some things, albeit, not much related to cooking. But I did learn.

I’m 47 years old. There is not quite as much new stuff for me to learn as when I was in my 20’s, and there’s even less desire to learn some of it on purpose. I doubt I’ll learn Mandarin at this age. I’m probably not going to learn how to rebuild a car engine at this point in my life. And I’m certainly not going to learn how to perform brain surgery. There’s a ton of new things I’m not going to learn as a whole, and I accept that. However, every day I can find something to add to what I already know. I think that’s why I’m so engaging with people, because I might learn something. And I’m always open to new experiences and adventures, and the lessons that come with them.

I’ve learned a lot of important things in my life. I’ve learned there’s plenty more things that I don’t know than what I do know. I’ve learned that listening can make a world of difference for someone. I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to sound smart is to say less. I’ve learned that others can make me happy or sad, or elicit other fleeting emotions, but that I am solely responsible for my own happiness in my life. And that starts with me being happy with myself. Which I’m not. At least not completely, but I am working on it. It’s hard sometimes with periodic bouts of depression, some of which last for weeks. But I’ve learned it doesn’t last forever. I’ve learned to keep moving forward.

While I might not learn something new like how to navigate a ship using the stars, I will continue to take each day as an opportunity to add to myself and learn something. What did we learn? It doesn’t have to profound or life-changing, or even a good lesson for that matter. Because even in the craziness of life, no matter what the lesson is, you should be able to give an answer at the end of the day when asked, “What did we learn?” Even if the answer is, “Let’s not do that again.”

Thanks for stopping by this week. I hope you learned something. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Change

I just finished my second week at a new job. I’m no longer working in the airport, although I may or may not fill in a couple shifts a week as needed. I really liked that job. I miss most of the people I worked with. Unfortunately, I needed more hours than they could give me. The bills have to be paid. With the new job, getting 40 hours a week, that will be much easier now.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/04/back-to-work/

With every change there is an adjustment period. My new hours are later in the evening than I’ve been working the last year. I’m off around 10:30 each night, but I still need a couple hours to unwind. I’ve been staying up too late at night, I think because, before, I would have a few hours after work to relax and still get to bed by midnight. Now, a few hours after work takes me to around 3am. That’s a big adjustment, but I’ll get used to it.

Another change with the new job and hours is that I don’t get to see my kids as much. This is the hardest adjustment so far. I go to work about the time they are getting out of school and I don’t get off until after they are in bed. But we’ll make it work. I will have my boys spending the night with me tonight and since school is out Monday, I’ll have my girls Sunday night. Once summer break gets here, I’ll get to spend more regular time with them. This is only temporary.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/12/23/my-hardest-job/

My writing has also suffered. This new schedule has me way out of whack as far finding the time to write. When I wake up in the morning (sometimes not until noon), I don’t write. I need some time to fully wake up, eat, shower, and whatever else I need to do. Then, before I know it, it’s time to go to work. After work, I’m tired and don’t feel like writing. Granted, working on my novel has been hit or miss at best the last couple months anyway, but I always made time for my blog posts. This is the second week in a row I’m writing on Saturday instead of having it ready to go Saturday morning. I fell asleep the other night with a great post in mind, wrote it and rewrote it in my head. I couldn’t wait to put on paper the next day. I spent the whole next day trying to remember what that post was going to be. It’s probably gone forever.

I’m adjusting to my new job and the hours. I didn’t think it would be a huge adjustment, but I should have known better. I’ve always had some resistance to change, but the last few years, with the PTSD and depression diagnoses, change is much harder now than it ever was before. That’s why I didn’t seriously look for a new job when our hours first got cut. I liked where I was. I get into a routine, get comfortable, and I go with it. Now I’m getting into a new routine and it will be fine. I’m already comfortable in my new job surroundings. I guess I’m half way there, as far as adjusting

My goal for next week is to have my blog post ready in advance, like I used to do. And to have something a little more meaningful. This week is more of an update on me instead of some insightful discussion (at least to me some of my posts are insightful). If there was a price for admission, you’d be entitled to a refund this week. But thanks for stopping by anyway. I promise to do better next 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