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/

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Last Weekend

Last weekend I had my army reserve training at Ft Jackson, South Carolina. I drive over 500 miles to get there and over 500 miles back home. Almost every month I make the same trip. I leave Florida on Friday morning and get back Sunday night for a regular weekend. I spend about as much time on the road as I do in uniform for my weekends each month. I’ve been in this unit for a couple of years, and despite the weekends where we don’t accomplish much, I like the unit. I don’t mind the drive.

The first few months I was in my unit, I would drive up I-65 to I-85 to I-20 to get to Columbia, SC, where Fort Jackson is located. But my disdain for driving through Atlanta got the best of me so I found a different route. Now I take I-10 across the Florida Panhandle, then go north, driving back roads in Georgia to I-75 before getting on I-20 somewhere around Augusta. It takes a little longer, but the distance and frustration is less than driving through Atlanta. And the view is much better than being on an interstate.

Most months, the drive is good. I like road trips. There’s an always an adventure out there or a new sight to view as I drive. But this trip didn’t work out that way. As it happens from time to time on the road, I became anxious and irritable on my way up to South Carolina. I don’t know which came first, but they worked in tandem to make the whole weekend stressful. Unfortunately, that happens to me sometimes. I was in a funk all weekend.

I have a theory. I used to think it was just traffic and bad drivers in Atlanta. But, after almost two years of research by driving to South Carolina every month using multiple routes, I have concluded that my frustration is with Georgia motorists in general. I’ve been in traffic in India, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and many other countries all over the world (I’ve listed the three worst). Congratulations, Georgia, you suck at driving just as bad as motorists in third-world countries.

Here’s a suggestion. Stop spending so much time trying to figure out if you should call your mom’s brother “Uncle” or “Dad” and look in your state’s driver’s manual and learn how to drive. In that manual, you might find exciting information on how to properly use the lanes on an interstate. For example, stop camping out in the passing lane. Pass, or get out of the way. As far as your inability to use blinkers, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. But here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The blinkers are operated by the stick that comes out the left side of your steering wheel. Move it UP to turn (or change lanes) to the right, move it DOWN to turn (or change lanes) to the left. You can sit in your driveway and practice if you need. Your manual might have them listed as Turn Signals. Don’t let that confuse you.

On a brighter note, after almost seven months, I finally got some paperwork from the VA that I’ve been needing to turn in to my army reserve unit. It’s paperwork from a psychological evaluation I had last year that will have some bearing on whether or not I stay in the reserves. At this point, I don’t care what they decide to do with me. I just want to know. If I’m staying in, I will continue to give it everything I have. If I’m being put out, fine. But after more than a year and a half of being in Limbo, it’s time for the army to figure it out and tell me what’s going on. Is my career still going or is it over? This has been beyond frustrating for me. Either way, I’m satisfied and proud of what I did in the army. And I’d do it all again, even knowing what I know now.

DSCN6614

(and there’s one more ribbon I still need to add).

Thanks for reading this week. And to my friends that have Georgia tags on their vehicle, sorry, but the part about most of you not knowing how to drive is true. And you know it. And before my Alabama and Louisiana friends laugh and enjoy too much what I’ve written about Georgia motorists, y’all are right behind them on my list. Ha Ha! I hope you all have a great week, thanks for letting me rant, this post made me smile.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/21/the-soccer-game/

 

Don’t Work Too Hard

My brain gets stuck on things sometimes. Some of those things don’t make any sense at all to be obsessing over. But I do it anyway. And in a week where nothing came to me for my blog, I’ll write about what’s been stuck in my brain. I have nothing profound to offer in this, but at the very least, this will be a glimpse into what goes on in my head occasionally. So, if you see me deep in thought and I look like I’m pondering some important life-changing knowledge, I might only be contemplating some trivial nonsense that popped into my thoughts and is driving me nuts. Like this….

I’ve always wondered about the phrase “Don’t work too hard.” What does it mean? Be lazy? Slack off? Don’t give your full effort? I’ve always answered that statement by responding with, “Too late.” In school, our teachers always encouraged us to study hard. In sports, our coaches implored us to play or run hard. When mowing the grass as a teenager, my dad would tell me to do a good job, or I’d have to do it again. So, why then, when we get to adulthood do we tell each other “Don’t work too hard”? Isn’t that a contradiction of everything we were taught growing up?

But I’ve been thinking about this lately because someone at work recently told me “Don’t work too hard” as they were leaving for the day. And it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I know this topic for my blog might be a little different or weird compared to most of my other posts, but that’s how my brain works. Or, in some cases, doesn’t work. It’s just a corny, cliché phrase, something to say that might be funny in an ironic way. But for some reason, my brain is fixated on it.

I have worked hard in my life at every job I’ve ever had, at least in my adult life. I pride myself on being a hard worker. I also pride myself on being a smart worker, efficient and productive. Work smart, not hard, right? Either way, I earn my pay, that’s for sure. But then I think about some of my Army Reserve weekends and wonder if I do always earn my pay. There have been a few times that I was amazed we even got paid for some of the unproductive weekends I’ve been part of at various units. In fairness, some of the boring weekends are a result of budget cuts after the wars “ended” and the Reserves was again put at the end of the money train.

And then I thought, I shouldn’t feel bad about getting paid for not doing much once in a while on my Army Reserve weekends. I’ve been on two deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, where I earned my pay ten times over. No overtime, no bonuses. Just work, every day. Long days. Hard days. Every day. I’m not complaining. I did sign up for that, and I wanted to be there. I volunteered for both of my deployments and I would go back right now and do it all again, the same hours for the same pay. This is simply a comment on how things balance out sometimes. And I don’t in the least feel bad about it.

I’ve worked with people that have taken “Don’t work too hard” seriously. It’s bothersome to me. And I’ve seen road crews where one guy is working and four others are standing around not working too hard. I’ve been in the Veterans Affairs system where it seems like only a few of the people I’ve dealt with even work at all, and even fewer work hard. Maybe this is the part where it’s balancing out for them. Maybe they already met their quota for hard work. I guess I can relate to that on some level, considering some of my Army Reserve weekends.

So, if you can get away with it once in a while, “Don’t work too hard.” But I don’t recommend that being your lifestyle or motto to live by. And I’m not sure what I accomplished with hashing this out here as opposed to in my head, aside from trying to stay disciplined to post every week. In any event, thanks for reading. I’ll do better next week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Back to Work

For the few of you that follow and read Story of My Life every week, you may have noticed that I missed two weeks in a row. I’ve been busy. A month ago, I started working again after a year of being self-unemployed. Except for my Army Reserve weekends, I wasn’t doing anything outside the home for employment. I really missed working. Now I miss being lazy. LOL. My psychologist I was seeing at the Vet Center and I discussed work and decided last year early in our sessions that I wasn’t ready for the stress of work. By the time he relocated to another job in December I had made great progress and started passively looking for work.

I had to find the exact right job for me. While I have improved in many areas in my mental health, my brain still has issues. I’m still easily frustrated, although I am dealing with my frustrations much better now. I’m getting better at not being so jumpy and anxious, but still have my moments. And I still hate crowds and being around groups of people that I don’t know very well or at all. And let’s not forget traffic. I doubt I’ll ever do well in traffic again. I know an argument can made whether I was ever good in traffic to begin with, but I see a difference between getting angry at a fellow motorist and having bad memories from deployments because of traffic. I actually don’t get angry much in traffic anymore, but the feelings I have from being in certain traffic situations can only be understood by someone who has “been there.” In my case, Kabul, Afghanistan. For others, somewhere else in Afghanistan or Iraq, or wherever.

I got hired to cook at a restaurant that was opening in our local airport. In my interview, I said I had not worked in a year and would like to ease back into things, maybe four days a week, perhaps working 30 hours or so. I let the interviewer know that I was still in the Army Reserves, that I had previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And also that I was dealing with PTSD, among other issues, but that I was capable of doing the job I was applying for. So, I went to work. First, we had to get the restaurant cleaned, painted, and set up. Then we opened. And then I cooked. And now I’m tired.

My plan of easing back into work did not work as planned. I worked over 40 hours three weeks in a row. There was a time in my life that 40 hours was a piece of cake. I was told recently that I have a history of going from one extreme to another. While that has some truth to it, I certainly didn’t mean to go from doing mostly nothing to going full speed. But I’m glad I did. I’m very comfortable where I am. The kitchen is small. The staff is small. I work with some good people. And often I’m in the kitchen by myself since it’s a small operation. And the best part? Since the restaurant closes after the last departure, I’m out of there before 8 pm on nights I close. I found my groove, my niche, and a schedule I like. For those of you that work or have worked in the restaurant industry, you know that getting out before 8 pm on a closing night is completely unheard of.

Working at the airport requires a background check, fingerprinting, and a test about airport security that must be passed to get the ID badge. No problem. And working at the airport has a few perks. I took my twin girls to the airport this week for a class trip to Washington, D.C. I parked in the employee lot, no cost to park. I was able to go to the gate with them since I have a security badge while all the other parents had to say good-bye to their kids at the TSA checkpoint. On a side note about the class trip, an anonymous donor paid for most of the kids to go on that trip. That’s the only reason my twins could go. I have no idea who that mystery person is, but a huge Thank You to him or her. I am forever grateful.

Well, I’m back to work and handling it fairly well, except that I was too tired and busy to post here the last two weeks. My body is getting used to being on my feet all the time again. That is not a fun process, but one I must go through. I miss the Me that didn’t hurt so much after being on my feet all day. And that was only a few years ago. I’ll probably never be as fast or as good as I was in the kitchen back then, but I’m keeping up. I still have some memory issues, but not as bad as it was a year ago. And lastly, I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have with the company that hired me. I feel like they have taken a chance on me and I appreciate that. It was a huge confidence boost.

I’m still here. Busy, but here. Thank you for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/11/hostage-negotiator-or-hostage-taker/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/30/recovery-its-not-that-easy/

 

Mission Accomplished

Last month I wrote about getting back in the saddle with conducting suicide awareness training with the army reserves.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/14/not-done-yet/     Last Saturday was my first time leading that training since before my failed suicide attempt in August 2015. I think, overall, it went fairly well. I was definitely a little rusty, but I’m probably the only one that noticed. My presentation, to me, was below standard, but when I conduct suicide training, I set a very high standard for myself.

My first line leader at my battalion tasked me with facilitating the mandatory suicide awareness training for one of my unit’s detachments. Friday I drove to the city where the detachment is located, made sure I knew where the building was located, and then checked into a hotel. I then went over the presentation in my mind. Then over it again. And again. Again. I slept horribly Friday night, but woke up an hour before my alarm Saturday morning so I stayed awake. My mind was racing. If you read Not Done Yet from last month, you can see the anxiety I was having leading up to this weekend.

It wasn’t decided until a week before that I would be going to this detachment, as opposed to our other detachment. That really didn’t add very much stress to me, it doesn’t matter to me where I conduct the training. Send me, I’ll go. But right before I left town to make my trip to the detachment, I found out my battalion commander would also be visiting that detachment the same weekend. That, for some reason, added pressure and anxiety to my view of the mission. I was unsure how I would I do my first time back in leading suicide awareness training and I did not want to crash and burn in front of my commander.

I was originally scheduled to give my class in the morning. But because sometimes things run long or events on the training schedule get swapped, I was pushed back to after lunch. That also added to my anxiety, if only because I was prepared to go but got pushed back. I wanted to do it and get over with. The longer I thought about it, the harder it was for me focus. I didn’t even enjoy my lunch because I was completely absorbed with the class I was to present and whether I was going to be able to accomplish it without losing my mind or breaking down emotionally. I know, I was overthinking it.

When I started the class, I was scared to death. Not of speaking in front of a group, I actually enjoy doing that. But I was uneasy with the subject matter and how I was going to respond to talking about suicide intervention and getting a Soldier or someone else help that needs it. I felt confident, but I had no idea if I were really going to be able to get through it. But I did. And I don’t think anyone could tell I was terrified of what was going on in my mind. I think I made some progress with myself.

Saturday evening I went back to my hotel. My mind had yet to slow down. It was like watching a video on an old VCR and hitting fast forward while a movie was playing. The stressful part had passed, I thought, but I was still feeling it. I laid down before 10pm, but it was after 1am before I fell asleep. I could not shut off my brain. I had to relive it all in my mind everything. The time leading up to my suicide attempt, the feelings I experienced at the time, the aftermath, the recovery process, my time in the hospital, a near relapse 11 months after my original attempt, and where I am now. Overwhelming. My little brain was having trouble processing it all. And that affected me physically, by not being able to fall asleep.

I know there will be many times to come that my brain has no idea how to deal with something. I know I will lose sleep from time to time overthinking things. But I am handling the consequences of being overwhelmed much better than I have previously. And knowing how my brain and my body deal with these matters and letting the process run its course will relieve some anxiety, I think. Or I hope. I don’t know. But I think if I know what’s coming it will make it easier.

I still have no idea where I am with my army reserve career. I don’t know if I’m coming or going, staying in or getting out. And to be honest, the uncertainty is annoying. It is very hard to find motivation when I feel like I am trapped in a broken system. I won’t get into the army process and how broken it is when dealing with a Soldier in my predicament. But I will say that sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more frustrating, the VA or the army. I just want to know if I’m going to remain in the reserves or if I’m done. Either way, I’m happy with and proud of my career.

We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. And despite the present being unclear on the issue of my army reserve career, I’m happy to be in the present. It’s better than where I was 18 months ago. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave