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

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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

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

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

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/