Losing touch.

I am a pretty guarded person. It’s easy for me to keep everyone at arms reach. I’m not sure why.

Maybe I am. I don’t think I mean to do it. Maybe forgetting people is easier than missing them. Every now and then I realize how out of touch I am with everybody.

So I start trying to tell myself that I am going to message a few people. Catch up on a few conversations. I start with the people who fought the hardest against my wall building. My best freinds. Friend… I’ve let it come to this.

A day goes by than a week and a month. Than I’m wondering if it’d be weird now. If I’ve finally let too much time elapse. If I’m finally left inside these defensive walls I’ve built. If they’ve finally become my prison.

Than I make a phone call. Shoot a message. It’s never akward when I do get back in touch with people. Not in anyway I’d expect it to be. Only when I find out the milestones I’ve missed. The life opportunities the moments I didn’t share. It probably comes off that I’m indifferent, but that’s not the case.

Now it seems like old friends are dropping like flies. The reunions we keep putting off are getting smaller and smaller. I’m so caught up in the struggle I’m losing what I should be struggling for.

Between starting this and finishing I have started the contact cycle again. I am trying to sustain it here goes everything.

I’m not bitter

You might get the impression I regret my service. Not the case. I volunteered, I reenlisted, and I’d do it all again. If I didn’t have the physical issues I’d of probably kept things bottled and still be going. I even liked the deployments. No bigger rush than a gunfight or being the first man through a door.

I’d like to say I was a born patriot. Joined the army to defend my country. Reality is, I was running from problems.

In a lot of ways the army saved my life. I didn’t have a lot of positive things going in my life when I joined. I was on the death or jail route. At the time it was an escape and something to make my Mom proud. My rational was no matter how far off the rails I went. She could say at least he served.

Joining and seeing the 3rd world, seeing a country either 1st or 2nd world prior to shock and awe, and bringing that perspective back home made me appreciative. Appreciative of the lucky dice roll I had being born in North America.

That appreciation turns to guilt when I think about my issues. No matter the problems I have they could be worse. I know that first hand. Sometimes I have to step back and be appreciative. I’m grateful for many things.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow in life. To start my journey in one place and have the option to succeed or fail. I’m appreciative of the fact my children can grow up to be anything they want to be. When I was young I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. I would have to work hard, make the right decisions, and perhaps make some sacrifices; but I was free to make those decisions. That’s not the reality for a lot of people in the world.

I wasn’t exactly making the most of my opportunities. I was busy reveling in chaos. The military gave me some discipline. A little order to my chaos. I got the chance to work with some of the best men I’ve ever known. I’m a member of the infantry brotherhood. Saying I made some friends would be a shameful understatement. It gave me the opportunity to get an education without the debt. It gave me the opportunity to meet my wife, and start my family.

I can’t say where my life would have wound up. The universe has always tugged me along. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine this.

Opening old wounds.

So this is gonna hurt a little. No matter how hard you tug it’s not coming off fast. I been picking at these scabs awhile.

Every now again I’d get good and drunk and start walking down memory lane with someone. Enthusiastically recalling my glory days. By the end I’m half (maybe a lil more) crying about how I shouldn’t have come home. The enthusiastic civilian is a little jarred and probably walks away questioning my sanity. I go to sleep and shove all those little demons back into their cage. Rinse and repeat every few months or weeks depending on my drinking cycle.

The first time I reached out for help it was because I was being pushed to do so. It was after a compensation and pension appt. with Veterans Affairs. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but something along the lines of needing some mental health support. I ended up waiting several hours after my appt. to speak with a nice lady who may not have been prepared for what I had loaded up.

I told her about a gentleman in Ghazaliyah. He crosses my mind more often than I’d like. I think partially because I understand, as a father now, the calculated risk he took. I wasn’t a leader at the time, and during my deployments only led a fire team. So my knowledge of what was said is nil. Plus I’ve been blown up a few times so it can get a little fuzzy up there.

I know he had spoken to us at some point and we returned to speak with him again. When we got there his wife informed us he had been drug out into the street in middle of the night. He was doused in gasoline and set ablaze. It was our job to police up any bodies in our sector. We did so. When I finished telling this nice lady my story, with some of the finer details intact, I looked her in the eyes. The expression there, I’m not sure if it was disgust or horror, but I ended the session than and there. It was over 5 years before I’d reach out for help again.

In all honesty her being a mental health professional at a VAMC (veterans affairs medical clinic), I’m sure she has heard some horrible things. She very well may have been a vet herself. I wasn’t ready to tug at those wounds. Saying it out loud, sober, hurt me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I probably rationalized to myself she didn’t want to hear what I was saying. I knew I didn’t want to do this at that time. I was still trying to figure out life. I had a young family, and was trying to use my GI bill. I had to put the lid back on things, and keep myself together for my family.

I still felt like nothing bothered me than. Being hyper alert is something I don’t think I’ll ever let go of. To quote General Mattis “be kind, be courteous, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Just in case they try to kill you, you can be ready. Knowing where the exits are isn’t a bad thing either. In case of fire. At that point in my life I didn’t feel I had too many issues. Underneath though were things that I hadn’t even put words to yet.

One of the issues I have to put behind me the most. One of the ones I know is less rational. Is this survivors guilt. I was fortuante in my tours. Only one soldier from the two platoons I was with didn’t come home. From the trips with me anyway.

He was my team leader before I deployed to Afghanistan. He picked me up as a soldier at a rocky time. A time when I had just gotten UCMJ and he could have wrote me off. He dusted me off along with my platoon sergeant and taught me to drive on.

When I got in country I moved over to the weapons squad. When the incident happened weapons squad was rotating with the squads on local patrols.

I’m going to digress. I was going to explain some of the ways it could have been me. I have sliced it up so many ways in my head. I’ve tried to think of ways I could have been there and he could have come home. None of them work. They just eat me up. Make me feel like nothing I’ll ever do will be good enough to justify the life I still have.

That fucking hurt to write. It’s a Thursday Monday it’ll be 4 weeks I vape not smoke. I could use one now. I try to honor him. The other soldiers we lost along the way. Rational me knows there was nothing I could have done. E-I owe you one, I was where I was told to be. Sorry to any of my Outlaw brothers reading this. I know we all have some version of this wound. Scar or scab. Hope I didn’t get yours. Wasn’t my target when I started.

Honestly when I started writing this I was just gonna talk about how when you start to address it, it’s gonna hurt. It might seem like it’s getting worse, but it has to come up before it comes out. I’m hoping that making this journey will be worth it. That I’ll be able to control my panic attacks and let go of my guilt.

They say insanity is doing the same thing repeadtedly while expecting different results. Bottling and repression just lead to explosion. So I guess I need to try something new.

Thank you to those of you who have taken the time to read. I hope your journey finds you well.

Cagey

Sometimes I feel like the walls are closing in

Like the air is made of cinnamon

The gravity that weighs upon me is like jupiter

Not room to do poop in here

If I don’t escape make a break what’s at stake is no less than my mental state pas procrastinate… I guess there’s time to wait

PTSD on the Smaller Scale

This is my second post, but it’s actually the first one I wrote. As I was writing I thought there might be more people feeling like I was. That’s what took this from me thinking I’d keep a journal to sharing it as a blog. I’ve been putting off writing this blog, blurb, or essay. Much the same way I put off acknowledging my PTSD, or how it was affecting my life. My wife was aware, depsite my mean poker face. Part of me knew something was wrong. I was content to act like nothing was , and hope that everything would work itself out. I was afraid of what might happen if I acknowledged it. One of my fears was somehow accepting that I was having issues would give those issues credence. In some ways it has. I felt if I continued to deny my mood swings, hyper vigilance, and panic attacks that I was maintaining some sort of power over them. A second issue that has kept me from confronting my issues was the incredibly complex beauracracy that is the Veterans Affairs. VA is difficult to navigate and even more so to get results. I convinced myself that bringing my issues up would somehow make it more difficult for fellow veterans to get the support they needed. The final concern I’d like to discuss is the stigma of being a veteran with PTSD. Many people assume every veteran has PTSD, and those preconceived notions added some hesitance to my desire to seek help.

A little introduction. I joined the U. S. Army Infantry at 17 in 2002. Oct. 2003 a month after turning 18 I deployed to Afghanistan. It was a physically demanding deployment. We lost a good man, and most of the squad I was in prior to deployment was injured during a local patrol right outside of our firebase. For some rational and irrational reasons I brought some survivors guilt home from Afghanistan.

In July of 2005 I deployed to Baghdad Iraq. While in Iraq we hit a lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Close to a dozen struck vehicles I was riding in. Sometimes I was driving, and sometimes I was the gunner. Towards the end of the deployment I took over a fire team and had the pleasure of hitting a few IEDs as the truck commander (front passenger seat). During my year in Iraq there was an unhealthy amount of sectarian violence. I was prepared for war, but sometimes it felt like we were bystanders to the real war going on around us.

I included these blurbs about my deployments so my fellow grunts and soldiers understand where I’m coming from. I was not on the toughest, highest casualty deployments. Both the units I deployed with had good leadership who were focused on doing the job while bringing everyone home. When I think of crazy deployments the battle for Fallujah and the Korengal Valley come to my mind, and I have to tip my hat to those men. My grandfathers stories of Vietnam and Korea put my deployments into a certain perspective for me. That perspective made it difficult to see that the issues I am facing are still valid. I still needed to face these issues for the sake of my family. The reason I wanted to put this out there is to help somebody suffering in silence. If your using reasons like mine to justify not getting help, remember this, our mental state doesn’t just affect us. Our families suffer along with us. Whether they’re suffering vicariously or directly, getting help and improving our quality of life can have a butterfly effect throughout our circle.

A lot of things I thought I was internalizing were written all over my face. I thought I was sparing her. What I was actually doing was, putting her in the uncomfortable position of knowing something was wrong; but not knowing what if anything she could do.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was this incident: I was driving with my wife and 2 sons in the car. It was a normal clear day. I observed some innocuous piece of garbage in the grassy median. I was in the left lane with a bus to my right. For some reason I thought to myself “that’s not an IED.” I immediately after that thought began to have a panic attack. This was not the first time I have had a panic attack while driving. It was however the first time with my family, or anyone else for that matter, in the car. I thought I was controlling myself and playing it off. Meanwhile trying to catch my breath and not pass out. Feeling stiff, but trying to maintain control of the vehicle. My wife asked “babe are you ok”? I choked out a “yes” and continued on. We spoke later that night, and I realized I needed to confront it. I have made strides. Still much in need of growth and acceptance. Not an acceptance from others. An inner acceptance of what is, was, and still can be. Cue the meditation music.

I don’t know if anything here hasn’t already been said before. As much as I’d like to be inspiration or motivation for someone to seek and find help. I probably find organizing and getting these thoughts down on paper therapeutic in it’s own right. I will say this though. Step back and look at the reasons you use to justify not getting help. Acknowledge whether they’re valid or excuses. If they’re excuses move past them. We must do so, if not for ourselves, than for those sharing our lives.

Transitioning.

My life after door kicking. I’ll be coming up on 10 years post military life. I thought I made the transition within a few months of seperation. Now, almost 10 years out, I have realized that in some ways I am still transitioning. From my expectations of co-workers, the way I attack both my personal and professional problems, and my recent diagnosis but obviously not recent development of PTSD. In these ways, and many more, I am still trying to carve out my place in the world.

I have come to gain some appreciation for my position in life. Partially because I’ve realized that while I am not where my civilian counterparts are (in some respects that may not be a bad thing) but my journey has taught me to weather the storm. I can say I am not where I thought I would be, in almost every aspect of my life. Adapt and overcome is still the motto, and most of my plans to this point haven’t survived first contact.

Selfless service is one of those core army values sometimes during our service we start to become a little cynical about. How ingrained these values become inside of us and our work ethic is something I was somewhat oblivious too until I transitioned. My first experiences post military were in the educational environment as I tried to use my GI bill. I had some expectations as to the level of investment some of my fellow students would have. Some of them impressed, while most showed that they weren’t bankrolling their education. Most of the ones who were clearly devoted to their education were later in life students. This level of enthusiam and investment continues to show itself in the professional world. A world in which I can’t say I excel to be honest.

I have found that the problem solving skills I aquired in the military have left me better prepared than most of my peers to deal with problems. Whether it be backwards planning or just simply attacking problems head on, I seem to be on a different wavelength than most of my coworkers. Many problems I see as easily accomplished my coworkers would find them insurmountable. Running off to find the boss for guidance. Somethings however aren’t A to B. Addressing some problems with the “soft knock” have side effects not easily apparent.

Trying to figure out how I fit in this civilian world has been a challenge. There is quite a few reasons why it took me this long to get a diagnosis of PTSD. I will get into some of these issues in a future blog. For the purposes of this blog though I am addressing some of the issues that have made me feel like somewhat of an outsider amongst the civilian population amongst whom I now reside. I have some issues in crowds that make me uncomfortable in normal social settings. Places like concerts, movies, and to some extent even shopping malls while social hubs for some people are places of discomfort and paranoia for me. My issues with driving cause me to minimize my involvement with other people. I have obliviously become more and more of a recluse over the past decade.

I am now making strides towards getting help. I have always found writing therapeutic. Getting things out of my head and onto paper. So while I work on the professional end of things I thought I’d share some thoughts. Feel free to reach out with your comments or questions.

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