WAKING UP TO ANOTHER DAY WITH PTSD.

Sometime I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “Yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.”

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I was pretty critical about the diagnosis. I thought the diagnosis was just a convenient way for my treatment team to wash their hands of me. It seemed in my mind; by labeling me with PTSD, they could resolve themselves from the responsibility of actually helping me through my problems. I did not believe I had PTSD, I had not engaged in combat, I had not been “blown up” or received any type of physical injuries. I was a chaplain, a non-combatant; I did not even carry a weapon of any kind. There was no way I could have PTSD.dejection 2 What right do I have to claim such a diagnosis when so many others have a legitimate reason for having PTSD? For years I struggled with the question “Do I actually have PTSD or am I just making all this up?” To be honest, there are still times I wonder if I really have PTSD. I often feel guilty about being labeled with PTSD when there are others that truly suffer from PTSD. Sometimes, I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.” What I really wish for is some traumatic story of a horrific event that I survived, so I can look back and say, “This is the event that triggered my PTSD.” But my PTSD did not come from one event alone, it came over many events. For me, it is like I have to string together all these “little” events to somehow form a reasonable justification for having PTSD. I think some of the feelings come from Hollywood and the string of Iraq war movies that are coming out. Some films tackle the issue of PTSD. Pretty much all the movies are based on the Service Member going through a horrific battle or ambush where they survived while others died. The other scenario that seems to get a lot of attention in movies is a Humvee being blown-up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). All this leads to a sense of guilt for me. I often feel as though I’m playing a game and one day the truth will come out that I never had PTSD. Then I will be exposed as a fraud, a dirtbag, and a lazy bum just trying to get one over on the government.

“Sometimes the Greatest Wound a Soldier Suffers from is the Wound No One Can See”

It is hard some days to deal with my PTSD. There are days when I want to wake up and say “It’s all a lie, I’ve been duped by all these doctors and counselors who just threw this label on me.” Sometimes, I want more than anything to tell myself “Get over it and stop acting like you have PTSD, start living your life like a normal person.” There are other days when I wake up, and I tell myself, “Its all over, I no longer have PTSD, I’m cured, and I have conquered it.” Then a memory creeps into my mind, I have disturbing thoughts and dreams, I hear a loud sound, I see something that reminds me of Iraq, a car speeds up behind me on the freeway, I get lost and end up on a narrow road that I don’t know where it goes. So I become hyper-vigilant, I get scared; I have the urge to defend myself or run away from danger, I’m overcome with an urge to hide and disassociate myself from the world around me. When I first went through treatment for PTSD, I heard people say “I would never wish PTSD on anyone.” To be honest, I thought they were melodramatic; they were simply seeking someone to feel sorry for them. I know better now, and I understand what it means to “not wish PTSD on anyone.” Yet despite my desires and wishes that my PTSD would just go away, I still wake up each day facing another day with PTSD.  Some days I am very good at it, other days not so much.

50th Birthday Musings And A Tragedy

 

perfect 10sToday marks my 50 years here on planet earth, the “big 5 oh”, “the over the hill” birthday, the “your eligible for AARP birthday,” the “your half a century old” birthday. I suppose most people approach their 50th birthday the same way I have. I am looking back on my fifty years, and I am thinking how different my life would be if I had the wisdom, understanding, and experience I have now when I was 20. To have what I have gained in 50 years and still have my youth, to be in shape and have all my hair would be tremendous. I imagine many of the decisions I made would be greatly different. I imagine I would accept those opportunities that were presented to me instead of passing them up, only to later regret not taking them. I wonder if I would still have made some of the same dumb decisions I’ve made over my 50 years of living? Hindsight allows me to look at the good choices I made and the bad choices I made. I am able to take pride in the many accomplishments and good choices I made as well as recognize the bad choices I made. As I look back on my life thus far, I realize hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight makes it easy to ask myself “what was I thinking.” It allows me to feel both regret and delight in the decisions I made over the last 50 years. It also allows me to play the “what if game” What if I had said no instead of yes, what if I had gone to another school or college? What if I had accepted or stayed at a particular assignment? While hindsight can give us a better appreciation of our past experiences and decisions, it cannot answer the “what lays ahead” questions that I am now faced with.

 

funny-50th-birthday-gift-straight-outta-1967-adjustable-apronWhen I went to bed last night, I thought about how different my life’s course has taken. I had many plans for this time of my life. On my 50th birthday, I expected to have reached the golden milestone of military service, 20 years on active duty. I assumed I would stay on active duty for another five years and retire at 55. Our goal was to retire and live in our RV full-time traveling across North America. What I did not anticipate was the results of spending two years at war. I went to war knowing  I could be killed or even come home with serious physical injuries. I was ok with that, and I freely took my chances and went to war. What I never thought about was coming home with the unseen injury of PTSD. I was unprepared for the emotional and spiritual struggles that go along with having PTSD. I did not anticipate the years of depression, hopelessness, suicidal tendencies and gloom that would follow me years after returning from war. I did not predict the extended psychiatric hospital stays, the treatments I would undergo and the medications I would end up taking. When I went to war, I never anticipated that soon after returning from war I would lose my military profession at the very pinnacle of my career. It never crossed my mind that going to war would cost me the opportunity to continue my lifelong love of being a full-time minister.

These were the thought I had last night when I went to bed. Then this morning I woke up and saw for the first time the horror that took place in Las Vegas. I was shocked and horrified by what I saw as the news was unfolding before me. I felt the same sense of disbelief I experienced when I turned on the TV on September 11, 2001. I watched about an hour of news this morning when I left for a doctor’s appointment. As I drove to my appointment I took the time to rethink my thoughts from last night in light of what happened in Las Vegas. I did not come up with any life-changing insights or ideas, I merely reflected on the fact that for many people life does not go as they plan. Not one of the 22,000 plus people who were at the concert last night had any expectations the night would turn out the way it did. Over an extended ten-minute period, the lives of tens of thousands of people changed forever. Hopes, dreams, and expectations all vanished in a hail of fire. Lives were lost, people suffered horrific injuries, while others suffered less threatening injuries. Some escaped the shooting with little or no injuries at all. Some will bear the hidden emotional and spiritual wounds of PTSD. In light of this terrible event, my life story seems small; my struggles don’t look as bad as others. My complaint of how my life is different from what I had planned, really does not seem all that important. My experiences, twists and turns and where I find myself today is just part of life.

My story is not unique; I’m not the only one whose life has taken a traumatic turn. I do not stand alone as an example of how life can unfairly mess with someone’s dreams. Although my life has taken a different course than I had anticipated, I still have my life. I still have those who love me, and I love them. I still have a future before me. I still have years of living before me, if God so chooses to grant me more days on this earth. I still have opportunities that lay ahead of me. I have no idea of what the rest of my life will look like, all I know is, I have this very moment in time, and it is my choice on what I will do with it.

 

God Our Refuge

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

While not my favorite genre of movies I do enjoy a good natural disaster movie from time to time. I think the last one we watched was San Andreas and to be honest we basically went to see it because of the cruise ship scene. Being that we love to cruise, we were eager to watch a cruise ship get carried away by a giant wave and end up in downtown San Francisco. At least for me that was the best part of the whole movie.Cruise ship wave

Almost all of the natural disaster movies I’ve seen are basically the same. Someone has the inside scoop of an upcoming disaster and although they try to warn every one of the impending doom no one is willing to listen. As the impending disaster finally occurs it is left to the one who gave the warning to save all mankind or at least their family from the devastating tragedy that is accruing. The majority of these movies depict building crashing down, dams breaking, and massive fires rising from the ground. There are always people running everywhere only to have buildings fall on them Lavaor overtaken by a mile high wall of water or worse yet a rapid flow of hot scorching lava. The movies seem to always end with the one who gave the initial warning surviving with their family, while countless thousands of people perished in the midst of this unprecedented and unparalleled disaster.

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Faced With Three Choices

When I Woke Up This Morning I Had Three Choices And I Could Only Choose One 

Yesterday I was going through our closet as part of our ritual spring-cleaning event. As I was going through our “hopeful” section of the closet; this is the area where we put the clothes we like but have somehow shrunk on us. The cloths in this  section are the clothes we hope to one day be able to wear again.  However, we never seem to enjoy that experience. So from time to time reality sets in and we go through our “hopeful” section. As we are faced with reality, we finally relent and get rid of our “hopeful” cloths. However, we always make sure we leave some “hopeful” cloths to motivate us until the next onset of reality hits us. IMG_0518The far right corner of our hopeful section is where I have hung my Army dress and mess uniforms, they are in garment bags and simply occupy their space in the dark corner of my closet. As I was going through the hopeful clothes, I ran across one of my dress shirts and a pair of my dress pants for my dress uniform. They were on separate hangers so I combined the two and hung them next to the two garment bags that held my full dress uniforms.

As I looked at the garment bags I decided to unzip one of the bags and take a look at the uniform. I was greeted with my dress uniform, everything was in its proper place, my awards, my combat identifier badge, my name badge, my chaplain crest and all the other items I have on my dress uniform. The uniform was just the way I left it. I gazed at the uniform for just a few seconds and immediately felt a deep sense of sadness. So I quickly zipped the bag back up and walked out of the closet. For the remainder of the day I felt sad, I felt a little depressed, as the day wore on my feeling of sadness and depression grew. By the time I went to bed I was feeling pretty sad and went into a little funk. I told my wife that I was feeling down and she asked my why, my response was “I’m not sure.” Then I remembered how I felt after looking at my uniform this morning and it made sense why I was feeling the way I was. Those few seconds when I was looking at my dress uniform, I was reminded how much I miss being in the Army. It reminded me that at one point in my life, I woke up each morning with a plan and ended each day knowing I had accomplished that plan. I miss having that feeling of significance.

This morning when I woke up, I had a few decisions to make. Was I going to spend the day feeling depressed and just sit around the house all day doing nothing? Or am I going to sit around the house living in a “could have been” world? Would I spend the day imaging what my life would have been if I had not been medically retired due to PTSD? Was I going to imagine what my assignment would have been? Where I could be living and wondering what my promotion packet would look like. I also had a third and more difficult choice available. Will I get out of bed; appreciate the opportunity I had to serve in the U.S. Army for 21 years? Will I be thankful for what I have? Will I focus my day on the here and now and plan for my son’s arrival tomorrow from his first year of college? Will I prepare for and be busy getting ready for our family cruise on Saturday? Choices one and two are the easiest choices; I’m very good at sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and being depressed. I’m even better at choice number two. I have spent many days, weeks and months over the last few years living in my “what could have been” world.

The hardest choice is choice number three; it is the one that demands the most from me. It is the one that requires the most energy and the most commitment. It is also the one that has the greatest reward, the one that will continue leading me doIMG_0525wn the road of healing and overcoming the debilitating symptoms of my PTSD. It is the one that will allow me to enjoy the day, prepare for the homecoming of my son and the one that will move me a step close to living the life I truly want to live.
I loved my time in the Army, I am proud of my service and what I accomplished over the 21 years of my service. I am proud of the way my dress uniform looks. I am thankful for what I have now.

So I choose number three, the hardest choice of the three.

 

 

Ironhorse Fallen Heroes

IMG_0386Last Monday 01 May I drove to Killeen, Texas for some business. While I was there I made a stop at Ft. Hood, where I visited  my old chapel the Ironhorse Brigade Chapel. From May 2005 to July  2008  I was the chaplain in charge of the chapel while serving as the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Chaplain. Inside the fellowship hall is this memorial to the 49 Brigade Troopers who died in combat and the 4 Brigade non-combat deaths. We lost a total 53 lives between October 2006 and January 2008. While I was viewing the memorial, I though about our deployment, about our troopers who died, I thought about those of us who returned home. I thought about those who suffered the physical and non-physical wounds of war. I thought about our families and how this war in Iraq had forever changed our lives. I  thought about my own journey as the Brigade Chaplain and my struggles with PTSD. I don’t have any insights to offer today, no profound thoughts or spiritual lessons. I just have my thoughts.

Finding Reconciliation

Webster defines the word reconciliation as “the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement”

6a00d8341c500653ef012877186c7e970cIt is common among those who deal with PTSD to find themselves in conflict with those around them. Whether it is among family members, spouses, friends, co-workers or neighbors. Conflict seems to be an issue that comes up frequently as we deal with our PTSD symptoms. Conflict happens. Some conflicts are resolved quickly and are forgotten. Other times conflict goes on for a while but at some point there is a resolution to the conflict. Then there are conflicts that take place and the result are long-lasting and may even bring relationships to an end. I call these conflicts devastating conflicts. These are the worse conflicts as they destroy the relationship between two people and bring pain and hurt to all involved. These devastating conflicts can last for years or even a lifetime. They have the real possibility of bringing so much pain and hurt that there is no probability of reconciling. Even in the best of relationships there are conflicts that happen. Conflicts are not reserved just for veterans or those who suffer from PTSD. However, devastating conflicts often take place within the relationships of those who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD. Some of the reasons are we have a tendency to hide and cover up our emotions. Some do so to “protect” those around us. We do not want our families and friends to know the horror we went through in war. Other times we are focused on self-medication as we try to forget the trauma we witnessed or were involved with. As we focus more and more on self-medication whether it be substance abuse, risky behavior, withdrawal and dissociation or other forms of self-medication. We pull further and further away from those who love and care for us. We freely give up the love and concern of our loved ones and friends to embrace our own self-medication as a way to cope with our PTSD.

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Good Friday Reading From Mark 15

I have thought about doing some video recording to add to my blog and I finally decided to give it a try. I thought since today is Good Friday it would be a good day to try my first video by reading the crucifixion account from the Gospel of Mark and providing a few comments after. The ending is a little rough, but as I continue recording they will become smoother. Please let me know what you think and if I should continue to add videos to my blog. Thank you so much for your support, please feel free to like and pass the website onto your family, friend and veterans you may know.