“Call it (post-traumatic stress disorder), call it whatever you want. But it’s still a war.”

article http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2014/mar/28/farrell-gilliam-marine-suicide-amputee/

 

He rarely spoke of it. Not to his family or best buddies, fellow Marines or medical staff watching over him.

But Cpl. Farrell Gilliam had endured far more by the time he died this year at age 25 than most people could comprehend.

The Camp Pendleton infantryman survived three months of combat in 2010 with the “Darkhorse” 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan — one of the deadliest battlegrounds of the war.

Amid firefights and insurgents’ bombs, Gilliam saw limbs strewn across the ground. He loaded broken, bleeding bodies for medical evacuation, and grieved for the friends they could not save.

Gilliam’s tour ended early when his legs were blown off by an improvised explosive device, or IED. “Farrell’s Fight,” his struggle on the homefront that his big brother helped him chronicle online, included more than 30 surgeries and three years of rehabilitation.

It was a story of triumph over wounds that would have been fatal in earlier conflicts. A story that was coming to an end, but not how anyone who knew him expected.

Gilliam was months away from a medical discharge from the Marine Corps and a new life as civilian college student. Physically, he had one surgery left to remove hardware in an arm. Psychologically, he was suffering from invisible wounds he hid behind smiles and upbeat banter.

Or so his family discovered on Jan. 9, when Gilliam committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in his barracks room in San Antonio.

Gilliam finally succumbed to his battle wounds, said Sgt. James Finney, his former squad leader in Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger — to him Gilliam was killed in action just like the other 25 from their battalion.

“It was an 8,000-mile sniper shot,” said Finney, 27, now an infantry instructor. “His passing was directly due to a situation because of his wounds received in Afghanistan. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

The suicide rate for active-duty troops spiked in 2012 to nearly one a day, a record during this era of warfare and twice as high as a decade before. At least 350 took their lives that year, more than the number of service members killed in combat. (Final numbers for 2012 and a year-end tally for 2013 are pending, a Pentagon official said.)

Last year, 45 Marines committed suicide and 234 tried to. It was by far the highest number of suicide attempts for the service since at least 2003.

Among veterans of all the armed forces, at least 22 commit suicide daily, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gilliam’s death blindsided his family and friends. Amid their raw first waves of grief, anger and irrational guilt, they pray that sharing his story might inspire others to stop suffering silently. Or spur a family to intervene. Or close a gap in support or education.

“I want no family to have to go through the pain that we are going through. If there’s just one person who gets that help that saves them … then it’s worth it,” said Gilliam’s brother, Daniel Lorente, 30, of Palo Alto, who cared for him full time as his non-medical assistant early in his rehabilitation.

“My little brother would be next to me right now if it wasn’t for what happened to him in Afghanistan,” Lorente said. “It’s all a tragedy of this war. Call it (post-traumatic stress disorder), call it whatever you want. But it’s still a war. It’s still going on. It’s on our own soil, with our own soldiers.”

 

 

Read the rest of the article here… http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2014/mar/28/farrell-gilliam-marine-suicide-amputee/

 

 

 

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The glass is always half full over here..

First off I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Like many of you I probably won’t be “blogging” for the next couple days…

It’s recently come to my attention through a couple different conversations with people that some may be concerned for my husband and/or I. Because of the nature of my blog I realize it may portray my husband’s and my life as very negative and harsh. Since none of you know us personally and I’ve not really posted anything involving “good days” I can completely understand how our life may come across and I truly appreciate the concern!

I want to put the record straight real quick that while there are some “symptoms” that are daily and constant, the more intense things that happen in the stories about my husband are not typically a daily occurrence. In fact “good days” occur far more often than “bad days” for us personally. Most of the time my husband is completely functional, and if you didn’t spend as much time as I do with him you would never even know he had these struggles. (This goes hand in hand with ‘Why Heroes Hide‘).

Heightened awareness, needing to sit/stand facing the whole room, and needing to be woken gently and not startled awake are some of the constant daily things that will never change. While sometimes frustrating, really nothing debilitating. Nightmares, severe depression, and panic attacks are some of the things that can sometimes happen often and can be triggered on “good days”, but are not constant.

One other thing I want to set straight real quick, and I appreciate that none of my followers have ever judged us like this, but I want to say that PTSD is not scary. Or rather, people with PTSD are not scary. PTSD is very serious, but my husband and those like him are not “dangerous” and I for that matter am never in danger nor “scared” of him.

I want to apologize if my writings have made either of us come off as being in search of pitty, angry, bitter, or that we are not happy or positive people. I want to assure everyone who has expressed care that my husband has sought and used counseling in the past and he is not opposed to it in any way.

This blog is meant to help some people see into a world they may not know or understand and to be a safe and supportive place for those who do understand. If anyone ever has any questions pertaining to anything related to this blog, including my husband’s or my life personally I want you to feel free to ask and I would be glad to answer the best I can 🙂

On a side note, it’s been a wonderful holiday vacation here in Oregon 🙂 and I truly appreciate all my followers! You’ve made this a very humble blogging experience. God bless you all!

Out of Place, Out of Culture – My Holiday Season

For those who follow you may have noticed I haven’t posted much in the last several weeks and I apologize for that! I have been pretty busy with the holidays and traveling but admittedly I have actually started several posts but ended up deleting them. I don’t feel I’m really suffering from “writer’s block” per say as I have many ideas and things I want to write about and discuss, but I’ve been having a hard time putting them into words. I have also been struggling a little bit personally with something I’m not sure how to describe; confidence maybe?

This pretty much started when I left Oklahoma to spend this month in Oregon with my family, the first two weeks of which my husband wasn’t with me. I didn’t realize it at first but this has been the first time in a little over two years that I have ever been completely without any military culture surrounding me. Now my husband is a veteran, and I am in the Guard so we don’t live actively on a base. One may not think at first glance that I am really surrounded by the military culture. However, I am with my husband on a daily basis, and all but one of our close friends are either current military or veterans, the only one who isn’t grew up an army BRAT. We have many coworkers, friends, and family that aren’t military of course but the friends we see on a daily basis and would consider our closest pretty much are. Our church consists of a lot of veterans as well, and Oklahoma is also a very military friendly state.

When I came to Oregon I was suddenly surrounded by my family which consists of no military or veterans (save for my Grandpa in Washington and my cousin’s husband who lives 4 hours away from my family in the Portland area), I had no friends that could relate, and was in a state that literally has no military presence save for a couple small Oregon National Gaurd posts.

This doesn’t seem like a huge deal but I started feeling very out of place and basically lonely. No one could relate to me in any way here. No one understands my culture. The jokes I make, the sides I take on issues, the reasons for my opinions and views, or even just the way I talk and think. I felt like I was in another country almost. (Well, the Southern/Midwest culture and the West Coast practically are two different countries…but I grew up in Oregon so that shouldn’t have mattered ha).

One of the first times I felt this was during a very heated argument I got into with my father in the first few days of my trip. Because of his experiences (or lack there of) his outlook on PTSD and issues of military were a far cry from my viewpoint. He wouldn’t believe that the military would or could ever mess up on the level that they do. Screwing up pay for months, CO’s abusing their authority against personnel they don’t like, or the endless cases of paperwork screw ups that can result in anything from promotion rejections to combat award rejection are some of the things he can not even believe to be possible.

He, like many, doesn’t think bureaucracies like the military or VA could ever do any wrong, or even see the harm the government can and has done to veterans. Because he was surrounded by a different culture, he simply could not understand or relate.

Another time was while shopping with my cousin. She asked me how much someone gets for the GI Bill because she saw an old high school classmate post on Facebook after getting out of the army that he was choosing from a couple Ivy League schools to get his degree. While she believes military deserves something she was worried the government was “paying all this money for them to go to ANY school they want…if you think about how many military people there are and how much top schools like that costs then that’s TONS of money being handed out if they just pay for anything and everything.” I kindly told her that there were a few different types of GI Bills, but that none of them simply allowed you to go to just ANY school in the country at no cost. She thought that was quite a relief.

The feeling of how out of touch and frankly uninterested my own family is to the military and it’s people was overwhelmingly strong.

I actually ended up leaving a dinner early one night and visiting my ex boyfriend (still a close friend) a few times simply because he was the ONLY person, being fresh out of the military, I could find that I could feel comfortable around. We didn’t have to talk about anything related to military, in fact I mostly played card games with his young niece and mom when I was at their house. But simply being around someone who understood where I was coming from in all directions, felt like finding another American in the midst of a foreign country.

Thank God my husband is here now. The past two weeks experiences have made me second guess myself a lot. I’ve thought that I may not be able to be the “bridge” between military culture and civilian culture that I thought I could try to be for some people. I’ve started second guessing my ability to help and my ability to open any minds to the people I am passionate about. I guess I never realized how ingrained and comfortable I have become in my own environment surrounded by so much military culture. I raised the doubt in my mind that I could ever convey the struggles and this culture to others who have no relation to it.

Anyway, I apologize for being so self deprecating on here. I know that this experience is meant to teach me something, and it already has taught me a lot, but I just wanted to share why I haven’t posted much and what’s been going on. Don’t think I forgot about the blog! I am so thankful for all of my followers and I truly appreciate you! Any words of encouragement would not go unappreciated either! I hope everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season and I hope you all have a Merry Christmas! God bless!

DAILY PROMPT: You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch – Catch .22

The quality in others that bugs me the most has to be ignorance and lack of care for others. On a more biased note it REALLY bugs me when people do not even attempt to understand, tolerate, and/or genuinely care about veterans, military, and their families. Being that I am surrounded by the military culture everyday these peoples have not only become my family (quite literally) but have also become my passion. So it is only natural that I be a bit biased towards everything pertaining to them. Ironically one of my least favorite characteristics in people may also be one of the least desirable characteristics in myself. While I try my best (but can always do better) to be understanding and caring of others I too am not always great at this. There are many things I am ignorant about myself. I have actually thought quite a bit about this contradiction and how to solve it in myself as it both frustrates and confounds me. 

It can be really difficult, especially if you’re an over thinker like me, to both be passionate about something and unbiased about it at the same time. In fact, I’d venture to say that it’s basically impossible. One can surely work to understand and listen to opposing sides of something, but by human nature we are biased. Period. It’s also pretty impossible as humans to know and care deeply about any and every cause out there. We can support all the causes we find “good”..cancer, veterans, abused children, AIDS awareness, ext….however being active and genuinely passionate (in the word’s deepest form of meaning) of so many things is simply impossible. And what I’ve learned over time is that is OK. In fact, this kind of biased can be a GOOD thing.

If we were all passionate about everything we thought worthy of our passion then we would never get anything done (as funny as that sounds). It’s the same idea that if EVERYONE was an amazing football player, then essentially NO ONE would be a great football player because we would all be equal. Or the fact (yes I said it, FACT) that not EVERYONE can be a winner, otherwise NO ONE would win. 

We are all good at certain things because if we were all good at the same thing we would never accomplish anything. Society and life requires that we all be better at different things. We all have our unique gifts and likewise we all have our unique passions. If everyone was passionate about fighting cancer, then who would be left to stand up for abused children? If we were all passionate about teaching, then who would there be to invent advancing technology?

In realizing this I have also formed the opinion that I believe counseling would be so much more productive and helpful if we didn’t have just “general psychologist/counselors/ext” but if each psychologist/counselor worked specifically with the issues they were most passionate about. Of course a theory like this requires a perfect world where we would never be short of counselors for every kind of issue/peoples. But hear me out. If I am most passionate about military, veterans, and other service workers such as police and firefighters then I am naturally going to be much better at helping them and listening to them than I would be at listening to someone, who say, suffers from multiple personality disorder. However someone who is very passionate about families and children and keeping them together are going to be much better at marriage, family, and child counseling. 

This is not to say that I don’t care deeply about all kinds of people and issues, but we all have specific passions. And even as someone whose passion is to help people through counseling, generally speaking they will also have a more specific passion for certain types of issues. I think by focusing on our passions this would not only make for better counseling and help, but also less burnout for counselors and psychologists/psychiatrists.

So I guess to get back to the point of this whole rant. While we all have our pet peeves and dislikes, we are all just as guilty of distasteful characteristics to others. However I think that, like our differences in passions, our differences in personality go hand in hand. We are all different, and we cannot expect to like everyone around us, but through our differences comes the success and beauty of mankind.

Just a little FYI…

…I just created a couple more pages containing and organizing previous posts so that they are easier to find and don’t fall through the cracks. Maybe one of these days I’ll upgrade my WordPress and make my blog more customized but for now I think this makes it a little better….So feel free to check them out if you haven’t been following my blog for long or seen some of my previous posts I think you might like them and always love feedback! Have a blessed day all!

Moral Of The Story Is…

I wanted to share a little something that doesn’t necessarily have to do with my husband’s PTSD, but more to do with his feelings on losing his dream. Many veteran’s who were forced out due to injury or something else honorable may feel the same way. Before his knee injury in Iraq he planned on being a lifer in the Corp.

First a little background..Before I met my husband I fell for another man in the Marine Corp. I was a senior in high school and it was my first “true love”. He was a couple years older than me and also a grunt (infantryman) in the Corp. I’m not gonna get into the details of our relationship but we dated for about a year, and stayed pretty good friends afterward to this day. The biggest difference between him and my husband is that he hated the corp, and my husband loved it. He wasn’t a shitbird, he did his job, and he did it well. But his heart was never in it, he was a pretty negative person all around. My husband on the other hand loves the corp to this day, he never complained about it, was a great Marine, and misses it everyday.

So to the story..

Last night I received a text message from my ex, which isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Like I said we are friends, we still talk, and he just got out of the corp and has been dealing with the transition back into the civilian world. My husband and I have a pretty awesome line of communication in our relationship and he knows that I am still friends with him. He saw the message pop up on my phone and handed it to me..

“You got a text from Zach,” he said, an ever so slight look of disgust on his face. He always had a little bit of something in his expression when he said my ex’s name. Anger maybe, resentment? Whatever it was was very very discrete, I wasn’t even sure I was seeing it. But we had talked about my and my ex in the past and my husband has always said he was ok with me talking to him.

Don’t worry this story isn’t going where you think it is..

I was curious so I asked him..

“Babe..I know I’ve asked you this before but does it bug you at all that I talk to my ex?”

“No baby, it really doesn’t,” He seemed genuine enough.

“Well I just notice something in the way you say his name sometimes..I know you probably don’t like him..”

“No baby, I really don’t mind that you talk to him. That doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t like him because he’s a whiny bitch..he doesn’t know what I would do to have back what he hated so much,” he replied simply. He wasn’t angry, or even sad, just to the point.

“If I sound short or angry or something when I say his name it’s not because I don’t like you talking, trust me I would tell you that baby, I just don’t have any respect or time for guys like him.”

He went on to talk more about how it makes him feel when people complain or give up what he had. I’ve seen it tear him apart before, I see how losing his dream and having to build a new identity left a deep scar on his soul. It made him stronger in many ways but it’s also something he’ll have to think about for the rest of  his life. To hear someone complain and throw away the opportunity to take advantage of the many experiences and bonds that the military can bring them is basically an insult to him.

He’s told me before and he told me again, “The military is what you make of it. Most of life is.” He told me about the differen’t veterans he’d seen who were just like my ex. They always regret it. Not right away, maybe not even the first 5 years they’re out, but eventually they will regret not trying to enjoy their military time. They will meet another vet who loved the Corp (or Army, Airforce, ext.) and when they ask them why? their answer will be, “Because I chose to make it a good experience.”

Something my husband has always taught me is that you can always find the positive in everything you go through in life. There’s a reason for everything, and you don’t want to look back and regret not experiencing all the things you could have been enjoying while you were complaining and/or wallowing in self pity.

Moral of the story is…for many of the situations you may find yourself hating, there’s always someone else who would give up everything to have what you have.

 

FYI: the names in this post have been changed for privacy.

Daily Prompt – First Date with PTSD

I woke up just like I would any other Saturday. Well rested and happy to have the whole day free of work. To my right was a wall and to my left lay my handsome strong man, still sleeping in. I smiled thanking God for my luck and climbed over him and outta bed. I fumbled my way into the bathroom and then down the hall to the living room/kitchen of our two bedroom apartment. I wasn’t one to put breakfast off for very long after waking up.

I started some bacon, let my dog Ranger out to go to the bathroom, and went back into our bedroom. My boyfriend was awake, but still in bed, trying to soak up as many extra minutes of sleep as possible I’d guessed. He seemed groggy and still exhausted. Like he’d only gotten a couple hours of sleep instead of nine. I kissed his forehead and told him I was making breakfast. The response that came next was completely unexpected..

“Im not hungry baby don’t worry about it.”

To anyone else that might not have been a big deal, but for him it was. He was never one to turn down a meal, especially not breakfast in bed made by his favorite cook. Something wasn’t right. But maybe he was just tired, maybe feeling kinda sick. So I let the first wave of concern cruise through my mind without a second thought. I went back to working on breakfast and checked on him again.

“Are you sure you don’t want breakfast baby?” I asked coming back into the bedroom.

“Maybe later. Im just not hungry right now.” Came his voice from deep beneath the covers. He had turned toward  the wall and wrapped himself into a tight caccoon, his face barely uncovered.

I knew something wasn’t right then. I grew up in a completely dysfunctional family. My mom a mental case, with severe depression among the list to go along with her frequent emotional crisis. My father with anger issues. It was the perfect brew for daily blowups and conflicts. There were a few things I learned to do very well from my childhood. One was how to make myself blend into any situation, the other was how to let others depend on me, rather than leaning on them. The third was probably the most healthy and invaluable lesson of the the three. I learned how to pick up on changes in people sooner than normal. I knew this was more than just him being tired or not feeling good, at least in the sense of being sick. I crossed the room and sat next to him on the side of the bed placing my hand on his shoulder..

“Baby whats wrong?” I asked.

“I just don’t feel like getting out of bed today, I don’t wanna deal with the world.” He almost cried out, not angrily, but his tone somehow urging me desperately to understand. Something was definitely not right. “…Im sorry..sometimes this just happens.”

I sat his breakfast on the dresser next to him ten minutes later. He never touched it. I had no idea what to do. I knew this had something to do with his PTSD but I still didn’t understand what was going on. Why was he feeling like this? What triggered this? What I didn’t realize then was that there wasn’t always a “trigger” for days like these. Or rather there isn’t always a trigger for the nightmares that caused these days.

He finally emerged from the bedroom late in the afternoon, only to replace the bed with the couch. He walked up to me slowly, shoulders uncharacteristically slumped, and hugged me close to him for a long moment before falling into the couch and turning on the tv. He seemed a little better, but not much.

In reality this event wasn’t as bad of a day as I thought when compared to what future “bad days” would hold. He watched the tv with an expressionless stare, occasionally closing his eyes and tensing his face in a grimace. His thoughts having wondered away from the cartoons displayed on the screen. He didn’t speak to me unless I talked to him first. He wasn’t rude or angry, but his answers were short and forced.. Like the mental energy it took pained him to speak. The way someone whose sick or hit rock bottom might respond. He didn’t feel better until the next morning. It was as if he had simply slept it off.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Like I said in reality this was an easy day. In retrospect it probably only seemed as difficult as it was because it was the first time it happened since I’d been with him and I didn’t know exactly what was going on. I felt worried, anxious, and confused. I felt more helpless and useless than I had ever felt before in my life, a feeling I would quickly become familiar with. Days like this come as frequently and infrequently as my husband’s brain dictates. It is almost always caused by nightmares the night before. Those nightmares can be triggered by something obvious or be seemingly random.

Sometimes I can sense these days coming on even before my husband realizes it, other times it doesn’t take long to pick up on. There are fortunate days where my husband has nightmares but doesn’t fall into such a deep depression that he can’t function. Other days he can’t even muster the will to get out of bed, many days he can’t be around people. I can’t do anything to change this. I can’t “fix” it because there is nothing to fix. The war is a part of my husband and will be forever. My duty is only to support and love him while he carries this heavy burden for the rest of us.

I am working on a page that describes my husband’s PTSD and symptoms personally. I will also continue to post more about our experiences and struggles through this battle.