Update and Excerpt

If you saw my post from last week, here’s an update: It hasn’t gotten any better. Basically, if it can go wrong, it has. On the flip side, a lot of things have also fallen into place. Don’t patronize me with, “Oh, good, look at the positive.” The only things that are falling into place are a direct result of things that have gone wrong. I’m not making any forward progress, actually, going in reverse lately. It is not exactly balancing out. The bad is outweighing the good to me this week. The low point was last Friday. It was the lowest I’ve been since my failed suicide attempt last year and many of the same thoughts about death ran through my head. I spent about 10 minutes on the side of the interstate with my broke down pickup truck debating life and death before I called for a tow truck.

I blew a tire. At 75 miles per hour. Front driver’s side tire. It messed up the wheel well, the bumper, the hard-plastic mud flap behind the tire. And surely messed up the front end alignment, as one tire was facing straight and the other tire was off at an angle. Somewhere around Tuesday I realized how lucky I was that I maintained control of my vehicle at that speed and didn’t get myself killed. It sounded like an explosion and felt like I had run over something. The weird thing is, it was just the steel belts that flew off. The tire still held air, but the truck was not drivable. The tow truck driver said he had never seen a tire do that before and still hold air.

Whatever. I’m alive. Moving on to other things. Last week I mentioned that I might do an excerpt from the book I’m writing. I think I’ll do that since I don’t much feel like writing more about my week. Let me set it up for you. First, this is fiction. Yes, I use my life experiences and those of others, but the characters are fiction, this is not an autobiography. The main character, James, is a young war vet trying to figure out life after he failed to kill himself. The story I am writing will take you through the process and days that follow his attempted suicide and him coming to terms with the fact that he is indeed still alive. This excerpt is from Chapter 3.


James laid down in his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was restless and rolled to his side. He saw the dresser and remembered thinking about what reason they would want him out of his room earlier. He jumped up and opened the top drawer. It was still empty. He proceeded to check the rest of the drawers. Nothing. He was still paranoid. He looked under his bed, around the sink, peeked inside the shower room. He looked around the other side of the room where a roommate would be if he had one. He found nothing to confirm his paranoia but also found nothing that would put him at rest. He laid back down and tried to figure out the dream from last night. Perhaps he was dreaming within his dream and all this was just still a dream. But he knew this was real. And he knew he was really losing his mind.

James went back to the bed and laid down. In his head, he recounted the story he told to Dr. Andersen. Every detail. Every word. Every moment from last night that he could remember, he told the doctor. He hated that he survived, that he was still alive. He wondered what he did wrong, it should have worked. Or at least he thought it should have. He was becoming upset that the doctor didn’t fix anything for him. All that talking James did and Dr. Andersen didn’t fix a thing. He pondered the motives of Dr. Andersen. Was her plan to get him to talk, tell his story, and admit that he wanted to die, just so they have a reason to keep him longer? He realized that he got suckered into talking. How could he not see that coming? It was a scam and he fell for it.  James was angry with the doctor, the cops that brought him in, the paramedic that checked him out, and everyone he encountered since his incarceration to the psych ward. But most of all, James was angry with and hated himself. All James wanted to do was die. He couldn’t even do that right. And since his best effort had failed, he was now stuck in the psych ward.

James did not trust anyone in the psych ward, except maybe Nurse Angie. But even his trust in her was conditional and almost nil. He was paranoid of everyone and their motives. To make matters worse, he was now becoming paranoid of his own mind and thoughts. He wasn’t sure he could trust what his own mind was thinking or if it was even real. The dream he had was all too real. What if he did in fact venture to some other hidden place in the mind and that’s where his truth was hidden. What if he had become immortal and could not kill himself? Just thinking about these things, James felt crazy. He felt he had no control over his thoughts. And he certainly wasn’t free to have control of leaving where he was. He was trapped in his mind and in the hospital.

A nurse he hadn’t seen before showed up in the doorway to his room. She scanned the clipboard she was holding. “Hello,” she said, looking up “you must be James. How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I want to get the hell out of here,” he said in a dry monotone.   “Where’s the other nurse that was here earlier? From when I woke up?”

The new nurse looked down at her clipboard for a moment then asked, “Was it Angie? If that’s who it was, she’s checking on some patients in the other ward. But we’re all here if you need something and we’ll all be checking on you.”

“Great,” James said, showing no interest.

“Did you get shown around? Did you see the daily schedule? Were you shown how to use the phones when they’re on between group sessions?”

“I’m not going to group sessions,” James said. “I already told the other one. Ok? I really don’t want to be around anyone, thanks.”

“Well,” she started, “going to group sessions will be a way to show that you can function around other people so that you can get out of here. I highly recommend going. The better you do in groups and the more you go to, the quicker you get out. Why don’t you go down the hall and at least be around the other patients and get comfortable. There’s a group session starting in 10 minutes. You can make a good start on the road to getting better and out of here by going to it. It’s not as bad as you think. Let me know if you need anything, I’m Sue. I’ll be here until y’all go to dinner.” Sue smiled at him and left the room to continue her rounds that required all patients be check on every 10 minutes.

James laid there thinking about life and about how much easier it would be had he succeeded in his suicide attempt. He had no desire whatsoever to go to a group session. He also had no desire to be stuck in the hospital. He had no desire to be alive. How did he get in this situation? Could he find a way to escape or would he have to wait until they decided to release him? And how long would that be? He was frustrated and hated his life. He tried hard to figure out how he went from being a warrior to the sorry excuse for a man he was now. He didn’t even recognize himself anymore. He was a Soldier, or at least used to be. And he was good at it. He never feared anything and now he was scared of himself. “Who am I anymore?” he asked out loud as if someone or something could magically give him the answer he wanted.


It’s a work in progress. I know it needs some work, but it’s coming along. Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Hostage Negotiator or Hostage Taker?

This week my twin girls participated in the local Sheriff’s Youth Week. It’s a program for middle school students that want to learn more about how the sheriff’s department operates and all the different jobs within the department. They learn about detective work, physical fitness, tools of the trade, and a host of other things. The week culminated Friday with a field day style event with all the parts of the sheriff’s department, the fire department, and EMS team, a helicopter, horses, and military representation from the local Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard bases. It was quite a show, a very impressive set up. My girls visited all the displays with their friends while I watched from the tables in the shaded area, occasionally talking to a fellow parent about the heat or the annoying noise of the sirens from the different police and military vehicles at the event.

On the drive home my girls told me how much fun they had. One of the twins was very excited about the hostage negotiation set up. They took turns being the negotiator and being the hostage taker. She went into detail about both parts and finished up by saying, “Dad, I was a lot better at being the hostage taker than the negotiator.” I don’t know if I should be pleased that she’s a badass or scared. Haha. She’s youngest of six (technically only by one minute to her twin, but still the youngest). At the bottom of that totem pole, I would imagine that negotiating doesn’t come near as easy as taking hostages would. My twins are some of the sweetest, kindest girls you could meet, but they are both competitive and into athletics. And apparently, they can flip the switch when needed.

The last couple of years I have felt like a hostage to my mind. I used to be more of a negotiator in life, being able to handle things and finding resolutions to conflicts. Now I negotiate with my mind by going to therapy, taking my medications, and writing. It’s a slow negotiation with some days making good progress, some days going in reverse, and some days not wanting to negotiate at all. But it’s a negotiation I have to stay in actively. It’s a negotiation I have to win. But I am both the hostage and the negotiator. I am on both sides, trying to figure out how win.

Part of my issue lately is the things I need to do well at, I’m getting better at. The things I need to change, I’m doing worse at. It’s like I’m going in opposite directions from myself. I’m doing better with taking care of myself and my kids. I’m doing worse with dealing with society, stupid people, and my anger. I’m trying to negotiate with myself to be better when I go out in the world, to be able to be better sociably. I’m not there yet. I’m still trying to figure out how to negotiate that. I want to be better, but I want to protect myself. If I negotiate with myself to something out of my comfort zone, I leave myself vulnerable. If I stay in my own little world, I won’t get better.

I am the negotiator and the hostage, stuck in my own mind. But unlike my daughter, I don’t much care for being either one right now. But I will continue to figure it out. A couple steps forward, a couple steps back. One day at a time.

Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

The Irony of Life

It’s incredible to me how far-reaching my last blog post (Battlefield) made it.  The response was overwhelming.  Not just from people I know or talk to on a regular basis, but from people I haven’t talked to in twenty or more years and even from people I’ve never met.  From the comments on my Facebook of the link to my blog, to the private messages, texts, phone calls, emails, and even the comments I saw from others that shared the link to their page.  I made a few new friends that I otherwise would have never known.  Thank you.

 

I write for my own therapy.  But it is very nice to have the positive responses I received.  It is encouraging and motivates me to continue to tell my story.  I expected to have maybe a hundred views total when I published “Battlefield.”  I had over 400 visitors to my blog on the first day.  “Battlefield” is up to almost 800 views in a week. Incredible.  I never expected it to be shared as far and wide as it was.  But it’s an important story.  Suicide, specifically among veterans, is real.

 

Both my deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, were as a chaplain assistant in the army reserves.  It’s not the hardest job, but it does come with certain stresses.  Obviously, like my job title suggests, I assist the chaplain. Appointments, travel arrangements, meetings, security (U.S. military chaplains are non-combatants and do not carry a weapon), and so many more tasks.  Although I do not do any counseling to individuals, I have always played the role of go between for a Soldier and the chaplain.  Many, for whatever reason, do not want to talk to the chaplain about their problems. There is a stigma to it.  I can’t even think of the number of Soldiers I’ve talked with over the years because they felt more comfortable with the assistant as opposed to the chaplain.  Hundreds.

 

In addition to my regular duties, I have taken it upon myself the last five or six years in all the units I’ve been in to take the lead role on suicide prevention and awareness.  I have had specialized training in the subject of suicide prevention. I have conducted and facilitated more training sessions than anyone else that I personally know.  I have intervened with Soldiers with real suicidal ideations, some that had a plan in place, at least one in particular that was on his way to carry it out.  I know the warning signs.  I know the risk factors.  I know how to help someone get through it or to get the help they need.  And I’m very comfortable doing it.  It is something I have always taken seriously.

 

With that said, the irony is not lost on me that I attempted suicide.  How could I get to that point knowing what I know?  Why in the world would I not use my own teachings?  For a short time after my suicide attempt I felt like a hypocrite.  I tell you what you should to do help yourself or others, but I don’t follow my own advice.  Then it hit me. A dentist doesn’t fill his own cavities.  A heart surgeon does not cut open his own chest.  I was not capable of fixing or helping myself.  And I was too stubborn to let any one else help me.  In addition to that, I was not doing anything for self-care. My self-care for now is writing and sharing it with you.

 

While in the hospital after my attempt I was diagnosed with PTSD and major depression.  These are both things that I knew about in myself but tried to cover it up and deal with.  For a while I fooled everybody.  But as time went on it became more evident that something was wrong with me.  But I felt that if I knew I was “crazy” then I must be sane enough to realize that, so it couldn’t be that bad, right?  However, if I break my leg, and I know it’s broke, that doesn’t mean it’s going to heal itself.  I would still need treatment, I would need a doctor.  Mental illness needs to be looked at the same way physical problems are looked at.  It’s the same concept.  If something is wrong, fix it.  But for some reason with mental illness, it’s always viewed differently.  It’s a catch-22.

 

One of my favorite books that I’ve read is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  The title of the book is actually where the phrase originates. Here’s an excerpt from that book:

 

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern

                for one’s own safety in the face of danger that were real and immediate was

                the process of a rational mind.  Orr was crazy and he could be grounded.  All he

                had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would

                have to fly more missions.  Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if

                he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them.  If he flew them he was crazy

                and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.  Yossarian

                was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22…”

 

The American Heritage Dictionary defines Catch-22 as “a situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.”  So, in my mind, as I dealt with what was happening to me, I thought that since I knew it was going on, I must really be ok.  If I were to go to counseling and tell the therapist that this is what’s wrong with me and I know it, and they agree, that I must be fine.  That actually happened to me shortly after returning from Afghanistan.  I was so in tune with my flawed mental state and what needed to be fixed, that the therapist said he thought I was good to go, as long as I worked on those things.  I didn’t need to see him anymore after only three visits.  The problem was I stopped working on those things. I fell into a hopeless mindset.  I spiraled out of control in my emotions, thoughts, and actions.  All the while, thinking to myself, that I’m ok simply because I know what’s wrong.  If I know I’m crazy, I must be sane.  That train of thought almost cost me my life.

 

The irony of life, or at least mine, is that I had all the tools to help someone else.  I just couldn’t use them on myself.  To further turn my life into irony, I spent the first few months after my suicide attempt mad as hell that it didn’t work, yet still making plans for the future.  The thoughts of not wanting to live still hit me once in a while, but there is no plan to take such actions.  I promised a number of people that I would let them know if I needed that kind of help again.  I intend on keeping that promise.  I know I have a long road to go and I know that I will never be the person I was before. I’m not a big fan of the person I am now, but I’m getting better.  Slowly but surely.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  Please feel free to share it and get this message out.  An average of 22 veterans a day take their own lives.  Maybe this story will help even one person change their mind about committing suicide or the stigma of getting help.  Or it might help one person understand what some of us go through when we battle our demons and nightmares.  I’ll keep writing for my own therapy and also in the hopes that it makes a difference to someone.

 

Good day and God bless.

 

Dave