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

Advertisements

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

Get Philosophized

Philosophy says that the early bird gets the worm. Ok. But the early worm gets eaten. I guess timing is everything. And it is. I used to drive a box truck for a produce company. If my truck wasn’t ready to go when I showed up for work at 4 a.m., I would be running late getting my route done. It was at least an hour drive from my starting point to my first stop. I needed be ahead of the morning traffic. Between Pensacola and Ft Walton Beach, there must have been 372 school zones (I exaggerate, of course, but it sure seemed like it). And if I didn’t leave on time, I would undoubtedly catch every one of those annoying school zones, one of which was less than 100 feet. If I didn’t leave on time, I would be at least an hour late just a few stops into my route. And my leaving on time was contingent upon the night loaders getting their job done and getting the trucks loaded.

On the flip side, when I did leave on time, I would have about an hour wait by my third stop. Nap time! The cab of the truck wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep, but a couple times a week, when the loaders got my truck ready on time, I would enjoy a short cat nap while waiting on the manager of that restaurant to show up and accept the delivery. Sometimes I was early, sometimes I was late. Being the early bird that gets the worm, or the worm that got told by customers he was late, all depended on someone else doing their job.

I really miss that job.

And on the subject of being early, why does my GPS offer me slower routes when I’m driving from Florida to South Carolina and back every month for my army reserve duty? It shows “This route is 34 minutes slower.” “This route is 15 minutes slower.” I’ve seen it give a slower route by an hour and 15 minutes while driving. Why? Why would I want a slower route? If I didn’t care what time I arrived, I wouldn’t be using my GPS. But honestly, I mostly use it for traffic updates and an estimated time of arrival. But really, why try to sell me on a slower route? It’s more than an 8-hour drive one way. I don’t want to go slower. I just want to get there and take a nap.

Another philosophical anomaly is seeing a glass half empty or half full. Who came up with that? I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but that’s just ridiculous. Let me explain. I’m a very analytical person. I need more information than just a cylindrical container being at 50% capacity. The truth is, if you are filling the glass and stop halfway, it’s half full. If it’s full to start with, and you drink half of it, it’s half empty. This same equation works for beer, except that with beer it’s always half empty. No one starts out with only half a beer.

Lastly, let’s look at “I think, therefore, I am.” I like that one. But I still have questions. Do I exist because I think? Or do I think because I exist? What about some of the people we deal with on a daily basis that make us scratch our heads when they think? Come spend a day with me at the airport I work at and you’ll see what I mean. I guess when Descartes came up with “I think, therefore I am,” he didn’t add an addendum that it has to be intelligent thought. I guess his glass was half full.

Thanks for stopping this week and getting philosophized. And since I skipped last week, Happy New Year. May your 2018 be as good as you make it. Well, that statement is an interesting bit of philosophy. Think about that for a while. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Hit By A Bus

For the first time in almost a year and a half, I was ill enough to seek medical treatment. It’s not often, but when I get sick, it seems to hits me pretty hard. I’m not a man-baby when I get sick, I work through it, and do it very well most of the time. That’s probably why it feels as bad as it does when illness finally catches up to me, because I don’t take the time to rest and get well when I need to. Why can’t I just be sick on my days off? That would make life so much easier.

Basically, my kids make me sick. Wait! No! They got me sick, they don’t make me sick. I love them to death. And they love me so much, they shared their little germs with me. And now I’m sick. It started last weekend when my boys spent the weekend with me. Wait, no. It started two weeks ago, far from where I was. They passed it around to each other for a while until it finally caught up to me. They have always shared their things nicely, even being sick.

My two high school band kids had a band trip two weeks ago. Five hours each way, on busses, close quarters, lots of breathing on each other. Probably sharing drinks, perhaps some public displays of affection, or at least hugging and hand-shaking during the weekend trip. All those germs getting spread around just waiting for prey. Some of the band kids came home sick, at least one of mine at first, then the other to follow. I confirmed this with one of my co-workers who also has a child in the band, who also was sick. I think we have enough evidence to say that the high school band is at fault for me feeling like I got hit by a bus load full of viruses.

When I finally couldn’t take it anymore, I still made it to work but left two hours early to go see the doctor. And then I left early the next day as well. A big shout out of thanks to Cody for covering for me at work. And thanks to my boss for letting me go. Although, my boss might have just been trying to avoid the paperwork that comes from an employee dying on the job. LOL. Apparently, dying on the job is frowned upon and creates an abundance of paperwork that no one wants to do. But I wonder if they would clock me out or call 9-1-1 first, after I collapse. Hopefully, we won’t have to find out and the medications will start kicking in and making me well again.

I can probably count on my ten fingers how many full days I’ve missed of work in the last twenty years from being sick. And the last time I felt this sick was 2013 at Fort Hood getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. In retrospect, it was good that I got sick there in 2013. The hospital did a chest x-ray, which showed my lungs to be clear as a bell. After deployment, a chest x-ray shows that my lungs are no longer clear. Much needed evidence in my continuing fight with the VA. But that’s a different story.

Back to my kids and them getting me sick. It doesn’t bother me, it’s not like I have a choice. This has happened dozens of times over the years. It’s one of the less-than-spectacular parts of being a parent, but it is part of it and usually not a big deal. Although, this time it felt like the Grim Reaper might be following me around to remind me that I am still just a mortal man. I already know that, so back off Mr. Reaper. We got nothing to talk about, this isn’t an episode of Supernatural.

As for my kids, they will continue to go on band trips, and to swim meets, and cross country meets, and all the other activities they are involved with in and out of school. And even though they will occasionally bring back the plague of death with them and share it with everyone else, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. They are active, talented, athletic, involved, and have wonderful, busy lives doing things they enjoy. That’s a fair trade. Go and have fun my kiddos, I love watching you all do what you do. And I love you bunches.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

Wired Differently

Way back in high school, what seems like a thousand years ago now, I was on the wrestling team. I enjoyed it and I was pretty good at it. Two-time regional champion in my weight class. In the largest tournament I ever wrestled in, with over sixty schools represented, I took third. Not too shabby. And my senior year at the state tournament, I lost by one point in overtime to the guy that would go on to win the state title in my weight class.

At the beginning of one wrestling season, one of the football coaches made some of the football players go out for the wrestling team. I think officially, it was strongly encouraged to those players, but they knew they had to go to wrestling practice if the coach told them to. About a week later, they were all gone except for one or two guys. Most of them couldn’t do it. Coach Downey ran a grueling wrestling practice, mostly on the mats in the cafeteria, but sometimes running stairs in our three-story main building on campus. If someone puked while running, he kept going, and the rest of us simply ran around it, lap after lap. Up three flights, down the long hallway, down three flights, and back. And again. For a couple hours. I guess this is my proof that wrestlers are tougher than football players.

Although… I went out for football in junior high school (yeah, I know it’s called middle school now, and whatever, I don’t understand why they changed it). I lasted one practice when I decided it wasn’t for me. Not having become very athletic by that time, my young body was in shock at what it was having to do. I lacked the talent, desire, and commitment it would have taken to be on the football team. So, maybe football players are tougher.

OR, perhaps, we are all just wired differently. Conditioned differently. Have different goals and strengths. Different talents. Some of those guys that couldn’t make it on the wrestling team were a force to be reckoned with on the football field. Brute strength and hard hits. And while I would have likely gotten run over by them on their field, they were no match for me on the wrestling mat. I had balance, technique, and leverage. That’s what I brought to the table that they could not compete with.

The hardest thing I’m working on in my life right now is realizing that we are different from each other, in more than just our physical abilities. Mentally, we have different strengths and weaknesses. We each react to situations differently. I know that some people can’t relate to what I go through, especially when the depression gets ahold of me or my PTSD symptoms show themselves. And, on the same token, I don’t understand some of the things other people go through. I have to catch myself once in a while so I don’t say out loud, “Get over it,” or “Why do you let that bother you?” or “It’s not that hard.” And I know people think that about me as well. And I understand.

We’re not just different from each other, we, ourselves, also become different. Age, trauma, and stress transform us on a daily basis. Even though I try very hard to not show it, I am my own worst critic about the person I have become. I ask myself all the time, “Why does this bother you?” I reminisce about all the things I used to be able to do physically, long hours of physical labor or running a half marathon. Or even passing an army physical fitness test. None of that used to be hard. I tell myself to get over it, but it’s not that easy. That’s usually when the depression flares up.

I’m not wired like I used to be. And I’m not able to recondition myself to be the old me. Not physically, not mentally. I’ve said before that the physical issues I brought back from Afghanistan contributed to my mental collapse. And to be honest, if I could just get the army to take responsibility for those issues, that would be a huge weight off my back. And what absolutely kills me is that at one time in the life I used to live, again what feels like a thousand years ago, much of what makes me “crazy” now barely phased me back then.

I am struggling quite a bit lately with self-criticization (and yes, that’s a word, I just looked it up to make sure, consider it your word of the day). I am depressed more often than usual and it’s becoming harder and harder to work through. As a high school athlete, I looked forward to getting pushed to my limits. I wanted to know what I could handle and how I measured up to others. It made me better. I don’t enjoying being pushed to my limits anymore. Especially mentally. And I reach my physical limits after just a few hours on my feet at work. And I hate it. But I’ll bet if Coach Downey barked at me to run stairs, I probably would, until it killed me. You know, since wrestlers are tougher than football players I would have to. LOL.  🙂

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

Dave