Listen

Listen. That’s all. Not, “Listen to me” or “Listen to this.” Just listen. Sometimes the best way to help someone is to simply to listen. You don’t even need to have a solution to their problems, you just have to listen. It could make a world of difference. Aside from the mandatory, “check the box,” training we get in the army about suicide awareness and prevention, I have had plenty of in-depth training with respect to actually intervening during a serious suicidal ideation. I’m comfortable with that role. And I have done that more times than I want to remember. Not to mention, I have my own personal experience in failing at an attempt. I might not be able to relate to a person’s specific reason, but I certainly can relate to the feelings someone is going through when they are contemplating suicide. But most importantly, I listen.

Years ago, a friend of mine was going through a rough time. Not only that, he was also being moved to a different unit which contributed to his downward mental spiral. Knowing he would be leaving soon, I pulled him aside and thanked him for his impact in my army life. He was a role model to me in many ways. I was a better Soldier for having been under his leadership, and I wanted him to know that. Then, unexpectedly, he started talking. He opened up to me. He talked for about 45 minutes or so. I mostly just listened. Everything he told me is confidential because, as a chaplain assistant in the army, it stays confidential. That’s the rules. And even more so, in my mind, since he was coming to me as a friend. I didn’t think much more of it until later.

I emailed him after he left, to check on him, to see how things were going. That’s when I realized how important it was that I took the time to listen to him when I did. He made it very clear that my taking that time altered his life. Actually, saved it. In his email reply he said, “I appreciate you man because your words really gave me the chance to live another day. All jokes aside, you can really say that you saved a life man.” Funny thing is, I don’t remember talking very much. That’s because I mostly listened. Sometime later, in a Facebook message, after my failed suicide attempt, he gave me encouragement and also details about the day I stopped to talk (listen) to him. He stated, “My roommate was gone. I had all my ammo and my rifle. And I planned on doing it…I was headed to the room and you stopped me and said I love you brother… Man, I went back and loaded the weapon and cried to myself because I knew people loved me…You saved me and I am always here.” That day, the day I just wanted to let him know that I appreciated his leadership, the day that I listened to him, that unknowingly important day. I had no idea he was even considering suicide. No clue.

There are a couple of reasons this story came to mind this week. First, the son of a friend of mine took his own life recently. I’ve been messaging almost daily with that friend. And it’s been hard. I have no idea what to say. I understand the emotions my friend is going through, and it breaks my heart. But I can relate to the son that got to the point of taking his own life because I’ve been there. I tried. Without giving any details, I told another friend about messaging with the first friend, that I didn’t know what to say, that my training was in suicide prevention, and that I’m at somewhat of a loss in talking with a surviving family member after the fact. That’s when friend 2 told me I’m a good man, because I listen when people needed. That hardly makes me a good man, but I am always glad to listen when needed. That’s when I remembered my friend who says I saved his life, and I didn’t even know it at that time, all because I listened to him. That’s how this story came back to me this week. I listened. And, at the time, I had no idea how important that was. All I did was listen. That didn’t cost me anything. But it could have cost my friend his life had I not made time for him. Dear God, thank you.

Sometimes all you have to do is listen to make a difference in someone’s life. Thank you for listening to me this week. Good day, God Bless.

Dave

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PTSD Moments

For those of us that live with PTSD, depression, anxiety, or any other ‘invisible’ ailment that’s hard to describe or see, we have ‘moments.’ For me, I call them “PTSD moments.” All of us that are effected deal with them, sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes it’s not too bad. Most of my PTSD moments have to do with trouble falling asleep, weird or bad dreams, traffic, unexpected noises. Very minor stuff in the grand scheme of life. Since starting medication a couple years ago, and going through counseling, I have learned to deal with most of these things better than I used to. I have calmed down considerably compared to the time leading up to my failed suicide attempt and the few months that followed. But I do still have an overwhelming PTSD moment occasionally. This week, I had two of those moments, almost back to back.

The first of my two PTSD moments was at the restaurant I work at in the airport. I was changing out an empty keg in a walk-in cooler that has more stuff crammed into it than it should. It’s a confined space in the corner where the kegs are kept, and very difficult to change some of them. I got the empty keg pulled out with little problem, but when I was putting the new keg in its place, it slipped and slammed to the floor. The other kegs that were stacked on each other wobbled. The combination of the loud noise with the fear of being crushed by the kegs turned into a PTSD moment for me. I instantly got a headache. My vision blurred, I lost all focus, and just wanted to go home. I couldn’t even clearly vocalize my thoughts for a few minutes after that incident. It was a similar feeling to when I got rear-ended by a vehicle doing 40 mph while I was sitting still, but without as much of the physical pain.

My second PTSD moment was only ten hours after the first one, at 1:30 in the morning. My headache had finally subsided. I had gone to bed early and I was very much asleep. And sleeping well, I might add. I was awakened by a thud, loud voices, and the sound of a waterfall. I jumped out of bed, heart racing, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I was ready to throw punches, but I had no idea at whom. To make a long story short, the upstairs neighbors had a plumbing problem that caused gallons of water to make its way from the bathroom in their unit to the bathroom in my unit until they could turn off the water behind their commode. Until then, it was flowing through the vent in the bathroom ceiling all over the place.

I went upstairs and knocked on the neighbor’s door. Partly to make sure everything was OK, and partly to make sure they knew that their water was showering down into my bathroom. One of them explained, “The porcelain broke while we were going to the bathroom.” What entered my mind was “While WE”? But I didn’t say anything, just wondered why were “WE” going to the bathroom? I don’t about you, buy the porcelain in my bathroom is single serve. Perhaps they exceeded the weight limit on their porcelain by trying “WE”. Yes, even though what happened next is not funny, I still try to find the humor in most everything, even with the upstairs neighbors raining toilet water into my bathroom. On a side note, that was the first time I met my upstairs neighbors.

After the commotion, I went back to bed. But I could not fall asleep. It was after 3am, probably closer to 4am when I finally dozed off again. And when I did, I had horrible, dark dreams. Very demented stuff going on in my subconscious while I tried to slumber. I won’t go into detail about what I dreamt about after waking up in full adrenaline and defense modes, but it was very disturbing to me. It was the kind of stuff my previous therapist would spend a whole session on. My dreams that morning had lots of death in them after I finally fell asleep after the waterfall incident and I’m still bothered by what my mind had going on inside it. I know I can’t really control what I dream about, but it is still unsettling.

Life went back to ‘normal’ after the two PTSD moments, whatever ‘normal’ is. But while dealing with those moments, it was tough. And not just the specific moments, but the aftermath of each moment was somewhat overwhelming. Debilitating headache, horrible dreams, brief loss of mental functions. It’s what I live with. All the progress I’ve made in the last year and a half doesn’t matter sometimes. I know I’m still, and forever will be, on a recovery road with PTSD and my PTSD moments. It’s uncommon for me lately to have a PTSD moment as severe as the two I’ve written about here. But they will still happen to me none the less. And I have little, if any, control of how I or my body and mind react to them when the moments seem severe. I think that bothers me just as much as the moments themselves, not being able to control it.

But I’m always making progress, even if I take one step back to my two steps forward. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts related to this:

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

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/23/ptsd-is-contagious/

 

Road Trip

I’m on a road trip. When I post this, I’ll be somewhere on I-20, probably in Louisiana. While I have covered several topics on my blog during its existence, I usually focus on PTSD, serving in the Army at war, and surviving suicide. And occasionally I bash the VA because they suck. For example, Friday morning I waited an hour at the VA to be told they couldn’t give me a print out of a recent evaluation I had. Today’s post will be a little different from the more recent ones.

There are certain things about my home life that I have tried to keep off the blog. In a few posts I have mentioned some of the marital problems at home. There are no more problems. I have moved out. And now I’m on a road trip, heading to my sister’s house in Louisiana. I will most likely stay there until the new year sorting through my thoughts, decompressing, writing, and relaxing. I don’t get back to my old stomping grounds very often, so this will be nice.

I moved out because she wouldn’t. I had hoped she would move out and I could stay with the kids, but that’s not a fight I want to take on and make things worse than they should be for the kids. In retrospect, I should have filed for divorce when she moved out in March instead of waiting. Then there wouldn’t be anything to argue about. But I chose to pay the bills instead of hiring an attorney. That’s life. And I expect some negative feedback from our mutual friends. Be careful if you don’t know the whole story.

I left the house around 6 p.m. local time. I made it Jackson, Mississippi, before I needed to stop and get a hotel room, where I am composing this. I’ll get up in the morning and finish my trip to northwest Louisiana. I have no set plans and am not on any schedule. I hope to find the motivation to diligently work on my book. I have neglected it for too long now. I’m sure I’ll see some old friends and catch up on all the years gone by. I’ll spend some time with my dad. I’ll get some rest. I’ll miss my kids.

I talked with them earlier in the week and explained that I would be moving out this weekend. They knew it was coming since last month they were told that I had in fact filed for divorce. But that conversation was still hard. Thankfully, they are all very well-grounded and are old enough to have some understanding of what is going on. I feel like a complete schmuck that I didn’t call my two grown children that are out in the world making great lives for themselves. This whole thing happened a little quicker than originally planned and I was focused on getting my stuff together and making sure the school aged children were okay and getting a grasp of all that was going on. My children know that I love them with all my heart.

There’s a lot in my life that I’m not happy about currently. However, in my life as a whole, I am happy. I believe things are going in the right direction for me. I am not happy that I won’t see my kids for a few weeks. I am not happy that I will be going through a divorce. But I am happy to be starting the next chapter in my life. There was a time not long ago that my mind would have put me through some horrible, dark thoughts concerning the prospect of being away from children under these circumstances. Not now. Yes, my kids are my life. But if I can’t be in good mental health for them, things will get bad, like they were before. So, I guess it’s better to be away and in good mental health than to be in a bad marriage and lose my mind.

I have no idea what all this road trip entails, but I am looking forward to it. I’m in a good place in my mind. I am looking forward to the future. I don’t have all the answers and I have no idea where I’ll end up after this little sabbatical. But I am confident in myself, in ways I haven’t been for at least a couple years. The past is the past. And my future looks good from where I’m sitting. Thanks for reading my dribble drabble this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Suicidal Anonymous

What if there were a meeting to go to for those of us that have attempted suicide, or been stopped just in time? If I went to that meeting would I stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Dave. It’s been 4 months since my last debilitating bout with suicidal thoughts.”? Would I have to go into what brought me to that point? Would I have to disclose all the stuff about my PTSD and depression and fears and general weirdness that I deal with in my head every day? Would anyone go to such a meeting and share their innermost thoughts? I have compared recovering from suicide to alcoholism more than once. I think both are a lifelong recovery process. Both need a support group of some sort. And both require the person to be completely honest with himself. Suicidal Anonymous? We might need a better name for our group.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a fellow Soldier talking about things in life. Like many other fellow Soldiers I talk to and share my story with, she was intrigued that I was so open with something so personal. Many of the people I talk to one-on-one have gone through a situation similar to mine, or have other behavioral health issues that I can relate to, not just suicidal thoughts. The most asked question of me during a conversation about my story is, “Aren’t you afraid people will look at you differently if you share that stuff?” Actually, there was a time I did fear that.

In the military, there has always been a stigma placed on those who sought help for mental health issues. Granted, it is more accepted now to seek help than when I came in in 1989, even encouraged now. The Army has come a long way in the last couple decades in dealing with the matters of mental health concerning Soldiers. But it’s that first step a person has to take to get help that is by far the hardest. Asking for help or sharing the deepest secrets of your mind can be very uncomfortable. And you can’t make someone get help until they’re on the verge of it being too late, especially if that person doesn’t want help. Or at least, that’s my personal experience.

Back to the question, “Aren’t you afraid people will look at you differently?” I have accepted that I need people to look at me differently than they used to. I am different now. I see myself differently. My brain doesn’t always process things rationally anymore, although I am making progress. But I still cannot be expected to perform on the level I did before my brain changed and I got diagnosed with PTSD and other things. Therefore, I need people to understand my situation and see me for who I am now. And I need to share my experiences because it keeps me in check with myself and allows others to keep me accountable to continuing my recovery.

We don’t have a Suicidal Anonymous group for those of us recovering from our own dark thoughts and actions. Even though I went to group therapy after my hospital stay last year, in the beginning of my recovery, it felt like each one of us was our own solitary group, an island, alone in the waves somewhere. I intend to change that, and I have for myself. I tell my story. I read some of the blogs posted by others on the topic of their experiences with suicide, some posted anonymously, some with a name. I make myself available to those that need to talk about it. And I connect with all those people as if they are in a group with me, going to our anonymous meetings, whether they know it or not.

I imagine I will be in recovery for the rest of my life. Just the fact of how close I came to dying, I know it will always be somewhere in my mind. I know there are experiences that will trigger my PTSD and drive me to being severely depressed or having anger issues. But I am choosing to not be anonymous about it. I am choosing to share my story even if people look at me differently. I am choosing to be better. Not because it’s easy to choose to be better, it’s actually very difficult. But because I want to be better, choosing to be better is now a viable option.

I’m bringing this meeting to order. Hi, I’m Dave, it’s been four months since I last seriously thought about suicide, 15 months since my last attempt. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad you’re here, too. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts of mine related to this one:

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/16/the-pysch-ward/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/06/battlefield/

 

Rest In Peace, Laptop

Well, I went a couple weeks again without posting. I’ve received a few messages asking about it, checking on me. Thank you to those that noticed and reached out. I’m doing well for the most part. Much of life is falling into place, or at least I feel good about life lately. It’s been a while since I could say that. It’s all a process, and I’m accepting that it all takes time. I have made progress in some areas and still have a ways to go in other areas. But I’m getting there.

 

I have no excuse for two weeks ago, but the reason I didn’t post last week was because my laptop died. Not just died, but DIED, all caps died. Services to be held at a later date, I’ll keep you posted. I took it to a local computer shop and the look on the guy’s face told me that my laptop had already crossed over to the hard drive in the sky and there was nothing to do to save it. He couldn’t promise that the data could be retrieved and saved, but that he would try. It took a while, but he saved most of my data. Thank you to The Tech Center on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, you did a great job.

 

About a dozen pictures from the laptop were not salvageable, but here’s some of what I could have lost. The first five chapters of the book I’m writing. 4,000 or so pictures I took in Afghanistan. My writing, my poetry, everything I’ve ever written for my blog. Years and years worth documents I’ve been collecting from my army reserve career. All my medical stuff I had on the laptop for the VA. The only things completely irreplaceable, were the pictures. I have all the paper documents somewhere. I can rewrite the book, though I think it would be lacking since it was written with such passion when I started. I think I’ll start backing everything up on my next laptop. Currently, I have hijacked my kid’s desktop to get this done.

 

My laptop served me well. It was a gift sent to me while at Fort Hood by my parents after my laptop I had at the time died, very similar to the way the current one went, quietly, in it’s sleep. And where I was, on North Fort Hood in the summer of 2013, I was not able to just go shopping for a new one. For those of you who might have been to North Fort Hood, you know it’s a wasteland of Hell with very little in amenities. And it’s possibly home to the worst chow hall in the army.

 

My laptop was a low-end Toshiba that didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but was perfect for taking to Afghanistan. It did everything I needed and allowed me to stay in touch with the outside world. Every time I escorted the chaplain on a multi-day mission, I took it with me. I kept a journal of our trips on that laptop. I would log were we went, with whom, what we did, where we ate, how many times we heard the thunderous booms of the incoming enemy rockets. The most booms we heard were at Bagram, but the ones that got closest to us were in Kandahar. I logged every helicopter, plane, and convoy ride. I even noted the one or two times we walked from our base to another.

 

For being a low-end laptop, I would say it held up very well considering it went to war, traveled to and was used in six different countries, was dropped more than once, and exposed to extreme weather conditions. The casing is broken, some of the plastic is cracked. The actual laptop will never be what it once was, but it didn’t lose the important information I had on it. It needed some help from a computer expert, but the data was still retrievable. I have access to it again and can continue with the things I was working on. This ordeal was actually a wake up call for me to get my butt in gear to work more on my book and other writings.

 

In the last couple months, despite some things just not going well, I think I’m doing pretty good, or at least better than I have in a long while. I came to the conclusion recently that I should not be content to be miserable in life. If given the choice between happy or not, choose happy. I choose Happy. I can see a huge difference in my relationship with my children. I can see some improvement in my attitude and reactions while driving. I have become more patient in general with most things. I still have many PTSD issues, but I’m making progress. My sleep doesn’t always go as planned, my dreams are actually getting worse and more vivid. I still have too many days where I am unmotivated and lack energy and don’t do anything. I’m still very hyper vigilant to my surroundings. But overall, I see progress.

 

I think in some ways I’m similar to my laptop. There’s nothing hugely special about me, I’m kind of low-end, but I did the job required of me and then some. I served my purpose, I served my country. I’m broken and falling apart and I will never be what I was before, but I still have most of the information in my head. I can still access so many things I have learned in my life. The data in my brain doesn’t flow like it used to and often times gets out of order. I get confused sometimes and frustrated with how my brain works. But I have my weekly visit to my psychologist at the Vet Center, I have my medications, and I have a friend that keeps me smiling everyday and helped me realize that I do not have to be miserable in life. I’ll be ok, sooner rather than later, I think.  I know.

 

I do plan on going back to posting weekly, every Saturday. But if I miss a week here or there, I’m ok, I promise. As important to me as my writing is, I think I’ve moved past it being a necessity for my own personal therapy. I think I’m working through life’s situations better than when I started writing here again back in February. I’m certainly doing better than I was a couple months ago. I will keep doing what I’m doing, keep moving towards that light at the end of the tunnel, keep hoping for the best and believing it will happen.

 

Thanks for reading. Choose Happy! Good day, God bless.

 

Dave