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!

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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!

Excuse or Reason? PTSD and physical abuse – Daily Prompt – Perspective

A couple days ago while my ridiculously overactive brain was wondering mercilessly at work an issue came to mind about military men/women and  physical abuse at home. The question in my head formed and I decided I really wanted my husband’s, a combat veteran and Marine, point of view so I asked..

“Obviously someone just being a straight up physically abusive spouse is NEVER ok. But what do you think of people who are just straight up abusers outside (or inside without combat experience) the military vs. someone with PTSD that blacks out or has a flashback and hits their spouse vs. someone with PTSD who does NOT black out but is dealing with PTSD and gets pushed too far, angry, and loses their cool and suddenly hits their spouse?”

Now I realize that’s a LOADED question and  mouthful. Through our discussion I also wondered and asked, “How does one (say a therapist) deacifer the difference between a man with PTSD/TBI having anger issues resulting in any form of abuse as someone who is not that kind of person and never would have been otherwise vs. someone who would have been an abuser with or without PTSD but PTSD May have just triggered it to start?”

I know the second question is a little confusing and I apologize. Im not going to write about how I feel on this issue or what my husband’s opinions were in this post because I’m still doing some more research and thinking of how I want to address that issue; however, I know you must be wondering how this pertains to the daily post prompt.

Firstly just being on the subject of perspective ones perspective on this issue will of course greatly vary based on whether or not the person has direct experience with abuse, no experience with military or ptsd, or does in fact have experience with the military and/or ptsd and veterans.

Secondly my perspective on physical abuse is in line with most of our opinions. While I think the abuser could certainly use help and counseling, I in no way shape or form excuse physical abuse and I hate it. However, when it comes to men and women suffering from PTSD/TBI and certain cases of reintegration back into society after war my perspective is a whole lot different because of someone I love and cherish. My husband.

Feel free to stay tuned for my future post discussing this issue..Also feel free to leave any insights pertaining to these questions or perspectives, I realize this is dipping into a very sensitive subject and I hope no one who has been or is linked to a victim of abuse feels I do not support you in any way shape or form or that I am trying to belittle your experiences. That is in no way my goal with this post nor my opinion. 

A Man’s Best Friend..

rhgh

I adopted my dog Ranger as a puppy about 3 years ago from the OKC shelter. He’s been absolutely AMAZING. I’ve never had to have him on a leash, he’s protective but not dangerous to be around people, loving, and incredibly smart. I can literally take him for a stroll through a busy mall off leash and never have to worry about him leaving my side. Anyways, sorry had to brag on my baby for a minute.

My husband and him have bonded really well since we met 2 years ago, they’re best buddies. One time in college I had him in my car when I forgot I had a test to take in one of my classes that afternoon. My husband was on campus too and it was too hot to leave him in the car so we asked my husband’s professor if he could hangout for just the one class period. So they snuck him in the back door and my husband took him to his history class. He did great of course, despite the girls cooing and loving all over him.

We’d already thought about trying to make Ranger a service/therapy dog but mostly just because we wanted to be able to take him everywhere with us (classes, shopping, ext) and since my husband has disability we thought hey why not? We might be able to get away with it. After my husband took Ranger with him to class though we learned that having Ranger around actually DID help. My husband has a problem with large crowds, sometimes it can be very debilitating and some days he literally just cant be around anyone. Classrooms have never really been a huge issue or anything but no matter where my husband is he’s gonna be hyper aware and at least a little anxious.

Having Ranger with him in class actually made him feel abnormally calm for that kind of situation. I know they use therapy and service dogs for veteran’s with physical disabilities as well as PTSD. They even have a few programs out there that link the dogs with the Veterans. So now we are really looking into trying to make him a therapy dog for my husband. We could of course just go ahead and get the vest off line but I’d feel more comfortable with an actual certification, just in case. My husband may have to go back to the VA and have them officially qualify him for one as well but that shouldn’t be a problem since he’s 60%. I can’t wait to see how having Ranger with him at all times might help prevent panic attacks in large crowds such as state fairs and Church, or maybe even help motivate him to go places he’d otherwise avoid.

For many men and women coming home with PTSD a dog can help not just calm them down but make them feel like they aren’t failing everyone around them. Sometimes even when we don’t try to make our spouses feel this way they feel like a burden on their families. They can feel like they are always messing up or failing them. A dog however is always happy to see you despite any kind of stress going on. A dog can also help motivate a veteran (or even a spouse or child) to keep-on-keepin-on. After all, a dog’s gotta be fed, walked, and played with. It could even help with physical therapy. Say a soldier needs to continue walking on his/her new prostetics or a healing injury, or exercise daily to keep blood flowing..a dog can help motivate that soldier to do so.

In the future I think it would be really cool to start a program where we rescue dogs from pounds/shelters/streets and make them therapy/service and/or just good pets for veterans, military personnel, and their family. I’m curious what all of you think? If you are a veteran, spouse, child or military yourself do you think it would be beneficial to your spouse to have a dog companion? Or for you and your kids to have a dog while your husband/wife is away? I’m thinking sometimes it may even just make the spouse more comfortable when they’re deployed knowing that there is a dog at home that can protect his/her family.

I may be dreaming a little for the stars here but I would love to be able to send or take dogs to miltary hospitals and veteran’s retirement homes myself just for a little animal therapy.

Please let me know what you think and spread the word to any other veterans or family members you know! I’d love as many opinions as possible.

Happy Birthday Dear Jarhead..Here’s a Nightmare for You

I open my eyes suddenly and its still dark outside, my breathing is short and my skin is damp in a cold sweat. It’s eerily silent except for the dull puring of crickets outside the window. The only light in our room is from the blinking red numbers on my alarm clock. The power must’ve gone out at some point.

My eyes quickly adjust to the dark and I can make out everything in the rest of the room. The tall dresser in the corner, the rocking chair, the chest at the end of our bed, and the scattered pictures on the wall.  My mind acutely alert as if I hadn’t  been deep in slumber just seconds earlier. I had a nightmare I’m sure, but like most of the others I can’t recall it. Maybe this was my minds way of protecting my sanity, or maybe my head really was crippled.

T-B-I … Traumatic-Brain-Injury… P-T-S-D … Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. THERE. How’s that for memory exercises doc. As if on cue the anger and resentment fills me like a tidal wave. And then washes away leaving only the broken and scattered shell of a man, a dull aching depression and numbness. Anxiety still lingering in the shadows ever present and ready to jump out and strike at an moment. The rapidly clashing emotions within me leave me feeling broken and on edge.

“Baby are you ok?” Comes a sleep heavy voice from beneath the covers and I realize I’ve been sitting up on the edge of the bed.

I slide back and lay down beside my wife’s petite frame, wrapping one arm behind her head as she snuggles into my side, already on her way back to dreamland.

“Yeah baby, just a bad dream go back to sleep..I love you.” I try to keep my voice as even as possible, trying not to give away my anxiety and keep her awake in my suffering with me.

I must’ve fallen back asleep because the next thing I know I’m waking to light and I can hear a soft familiar voice speaking my name.

“Jake..Jake, wake up baby..I have breakfast for you.” My wife is standing at the door of our bedroom in her robe with a plate of what smells like eggs and bacon, my favorite.

When she notices me stir and wake she takes that as her cue to come to me. She’s a smart and sensitive woman, she knows how to wake me up without scaring me and potentially getting hurt. Something  I wish she never had to think about.

I sit up as she crawls next to me and offers up the plate. I take it thankfully, but as I look down at it I realize I have no appetite. This was going to be a long day.

I know my wife must notice quickly when I’m having one of these days because she always does the exact right things. She doesn’t push me and she’s like an angel sent from heaven. The only person I care to have in my presence on days like today. Yet if she notices you couldn’t tell by the way she acts. She doesn’t act scared or timid around me like a lot of people, specifically significant others, might. She doesn’t push me like she might otherwise but she doesn’t act like anything’s wrong or abnormal either. She’s the only thing that makes me think I could be a “normal civilian” again sometimes. And when she acknowledges that I’m struggling with PTSD or having an episode its short simple and to the point. My wife is definitely not one to beat around the bush and I like that, especially in this situation. Other guys in my circumstance don’t always like acknowledgment of their faults or ailments but I appreciate it. Then she leaves it alone after that, she’s Incredibly caring and I know she worries, but she knows just when to keep it from me. She tells me I’m her knight in shining armor, her hero, and that I’m always there for her so it’s the least she can do when I’m going through this. But this woman is my Angel, and I know I’m lucky cause I’ve seen how other wives can react to their husband’s “symptoms”.

I set the breakfast on the nightstand and kiss her softly. Her eyes tell me she knows, and understands.

“I made you some coffee too baby it’s in the kitchen,” she smiles.

“Thank you baby. You’re amazing.” I smile appreciatively.

“Are you ok?” She asks just for clarity but already knowing the answer.

“Yeah..I just had nightmares last night,” I lean back against the headboard somehow still exhausted.

“Do you want to stay home today? We don’t have to go to church.” She genuinely offers. Always giving me the options I need on these days with no strings attached. She knows I’d be desperate and on the verge of a panic attack before Id ask for an out myself. The dull guilt still lingers but her assuring expression keeps me from feeling worse about it.

“Can we baby? I don’t think I can face the world today..but you should go, see your family,” I know ahead of time despite my wishes for her to go on with her life on these days she won’t leave me. Not unless she truly knew I needed to be alone, and today wasn’t one of those days. Today I could really use her comforting presence, but I wouldn’t tell her that. I never wanted to hold her back. The guilt crept in a little deeper.

“Of course baby. I need to run to town and get groceries later but we’ll stay home. I don’t wanna  go without you.”

It was only a few minutes later I realized what day it was. November 10th, Marine Corp birthday. Great. This was really not shaping up to be a good day. The one day a year I could count for certain on being especially difficult to cope. The one day I missed the Corp and my brothers more than ever. The day I inevitably remembered everything without fail. I remembered what I couldn’t have back, my injury, my bad dreams, and the real nightmares that haunted me. The one day I cherished deep in my heart like all Marines yet my soul could no longer bear.

My wife knew what day it was too but she purposefully avoided mentioning it every year, instead shed wait to throw in a “Happy birthday Marine” expertely disguised amongst “Happy Veterans days” and “I’m so proud of yous” tomorrow. 

Veterans day was no problem for me. And I knew my faithful wife loved to honor me and our other veteran friends and family on that day. She was probably more patriotic than all of us combined. And the first time I told her I really didn’t want any celebration on the 10th she was pretty disappointed. But she learned to understand as quickly as always.

She went back to the kitchen for the coffee, leaving me as requested for a moment to get myself together. I crawled out of bed and slumped into the living room. The depression almost too much to bear. I didn’t even want to speak, let alone eat or drink. She sat my cup of coffee next to my chair and came to comfort me. Her small frame falling into my chest perfectly. I hugged her tight, a familiar anxiety washing over me that I might lose her to death.

“I love you.” I choked out.

“I love you too Jake…You’re my hero. And I love you.”

I buried my head in her beautiful soft hair and let the single familiar tear slip out.

 

 

This isn’t a real event but a fictional example of life with a combat veteran the way it may be described from their point of view (just based on what I’ve heard my husband express).  I hope I captured what I wanted with this, and didn’t describe it in a way that made the vet sound like a broken cry baby or something. My writing is fairly inexperienced and I may have failed miserably with this one. Writing never truly captures emotions as well as real life experience. I wanted to project a wounded warrior, one of the strongest persons we are surrounded by, struggling with the war inside their head. If you have any feedback on this please share!

Anyway. My husband has a hard time with the Marine Corp birthday just as described in the passage, although not every year does it look like this. This is, however, a description of some of the things he feels on mornings after nightmares. Obviously every veteran is different, and reactions and symptoms of PTSD and TBI are similar yet varying.

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.

up and running!

Not a super in depth post here…just wanted to let people know I just finished my ‘about’ page as well as two other pages yesterday so my blog is starting to come together finally and I can now focus on some deeper posts. Check them out and feel free to let me know what you think and if I should add or edit anything! Also, I plan on having at least one or two more pages up relatively soon. One will be explaining my husband’s PTSD a little more in-depth which may help people better understand him and some of my future posts. Another page I’d like to dedicate to some resources as well as some general info on military, typical struggles, and PTSD/TBI. Thanks for taking your time to read my blog! Hope everyone has a blessed Monday 🙂