Monthly Archives: April 2010

Longing for the cz

    You ever feel that desire that hunger to go back? I find it will creep around in my mind. Sometimes it goes dormant and I won’t think about it for a while. Sometimes its all I can think of. I miss the purpose, the drive, the fight, the adrenaline, most of all I think I miss the challenge. War was a proving ground for me. It taught me more about myself in a little more than 2 years than I had gained from my entire life. I learned I could be strong, I learned that breaking points were only imaginary barriers that we placed in our heads. I learned what pain and fear were and how little they matter. I learned friendship and brotherhood. I learned that adrenaline is the strongest drug on the planet, not to mention the endorphin rush you get after surviving an attack. I long for that palpable air of fear, sweat, anger, and danger. I once lived on the edge of dying on a daily if not hourly time frame. And now I sit on a couch or at this desk chair. It’s like going to solitary confinement for a crime I did not commit.

     Oddly enough, I feel guilty for missing the combat zone. I feel guilty because my family and friends who weathered my 2 all expense paid trips to the middle east did their time. My longing to go back is something that they will never understand because in truth I don’t really understand it myself. The feeling of belonging and the responsibility that was laid on my shoulders while I was with a squad in the combat zone is something that I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to find again.

I even miss the rockets. That vibration you get in your chest when they thump into the ground, I can feel that fiery rush of adrenaline even now. Something about nearly dying everyday makes life so beautiful. With your mortality so vehemently shoved in your face you have no choice but to enjoy the little things, like strawberry ice cream after being on mission for a couple days and only eating MRE’s in 150 degree heat. Even experiences are enhanced. Think back to your time in the combat zone, how many times did you laugh until your sides hurt? How many times have you done that since? Was it that everyone was running around high on the fact they were still alive or so fried from the stress of combat that our emotions had gone hay-wire. It didn’t matter cause it was all funny. I suppose I am finding the little shiny things in a big pile of shit, but I guess I really liked those shiny things and I find myself missing them. I am curious to know if I am alone in this or if there are others like me that miss being out there, roughing, living in the shit, and making it out. It’s like a challenge placed before all Americans and I made it and I look around and see that I don’t belong here at the finish line but back somewhere in the middle of the race. Kind of like the rat that actually managed to live through the mouse trap and get the piece of cheese. Do you miss it? Did you learn how to get over the feeling? Am I just completely crazy?


The room assessment

This may sound familiar…

Step into a restaurant and the wheels begin to crank. Immediately 3 sets of eyes find me, I scan through them. Checking hands for threats and weapons and faces for signs of intent. There is a big guy leaning on the bar, looks like he has had  few but could still handle himself, a kick to the knee would slow him. There is a back exit and that waiter’s shoe lace is untied, damn civis. There is one guy on my six I can feel him looking over my shoulder but he is just checking out the little girl behind the podium. A TOUCH at my elbow, move move move, no slow down its your girlfriend, breathe, act normal. The waitress will seat you now. Moving into the main room, those walls look solid probably could take a couple rounds good for cover. Haircut on the guy in the back corner with his back to the wall makes me think military or cop, he’ll have a gun if something goes wrong, I will take it from him. There are steak knives on the tables and plenty of bottles. Know from experience a full bottle does more damage, not to mention mythbusters proved it. Steak knives are unbalance bad for throwing but I am not all that good at it anyways. Ah finally at our table. My back is exposed but only to three people, I use my toes to feel the floor shudder when their seats move and I use my girlfriend’s eye reflection to get glimpses of them. The kitchen swinging door bothers me because I can’t see who or what is behind it nor can I tell what is going on in there. The guy at the table across from us is pissed, his eyebrows are down and he stabs his food and cuts angrily glaring at the woman across from him, If he moves fast and doesn’t stand up I could boot him in the ear, before it goes wrong, if he does stand kick the back of the chair take his knees out chop at the throat shouldn’t be a threat. Back window best exit, my steak knife first weapon, shiner beer bottle secondary, hard wooden chair good for defense. She looks at me, can tell I am scanning the room, I stare at the menu, try not to think about it. But the wheels continue to spin.

Wanna go stand in there without hurting someone?

Sound familiar? Lets talk about what you can do with this. The process of threat assessment, analysis, and role play is built into us at this point. If you don’t think you do it to that extreme you still do it even if its subconscious. It makes you anxious, angry, and distant to anyone who is with you. Your brain is processing so much information in a crowded restaurant and your body stressor mechanics are in freak out mode. This process of breaking down a room isn’t just for people with PTSD, I would venture a guess that just about anybody that did anytime in Iraq or Afghanistan outside the wire does it. I bet Vietnam and WWII veterans still do it. You are in a confined place with a large number of unknown people speaking and moving in different directions. Its the perfect place for anybody who’s life once depended on being able to break down minute details on peoples’ faces or how their body language read, to freak completely the hell out in. So what do you do? You make it more efficient. Thats right, I said more efficient. You practice making it a secondary thought process that only requires a few sweeps every 30 seconds or so. This allows you to relax and eat or to engage in conversation with others, or just be able to sit in a crowded room and not sweat.

We can do this by prioritizing what we look for and then setting them in our heads as variables or constants. Constants- exits, floor patterns, wait staff, tables, chairs, and most of the stuff on the tables like knives, bottles, so for the most part weapons are a constant. The variables are the people cruising through the restaurant. The way I do it now is like how most people scan their mirrors when they drive. Its second nature and everything is fine until that mini cooper pops up in the very tip of my mirror and causes me to glance over my shoulder. Same concept, do a focused sweep when you come in the door, as you walk to the table and when you first sit down. Get your exit paths and most likely weapons you would use. Then scan the room for anything that might look like trouble. If you catch a guy that looks like a problem mental note to break his knees and keep scanning. Then every 30 seconds or so look up sweep subtly with your eyes, note any major changes or anything out of place go back to chow or conversation or beer. At first this is rough and it doesn’t work well, eventually with practice you get damn good at it. It will make you more relaxed because you have a system and will also allow you to not look like a sociopath as you mean mug every person in the building. Give it a shot, develop your system, and start out small. I started out working the kinks out of my system in a small bar and then built up to standing in the middle of a busy shopping mall. Let me know how it works or other ways you have conquered the crowded room.


Heather’s Fight

What follows are a series of letters that have found their way to our site, What I think we can all do is relate. We can share stories and show how we have weathered the storm or are dead smack in the middle of it. So read on, lend your thoughts to Heather and her family and lets all try to help.

Hello
I hope this message finds you well. My name is Heather xxxxxx and my husband is a Combat Veteran, he served in OEF VII. He is currently suffering from PTSD, Personality Disorder, Severe Depression with Substance Abuse, and is being tested for ADD. Right now, he is sitting in the Milwaukee County Jail. On April 6th, he was sentenced for his 2nd DUI to spend a minimum of 45 days in Huber. Since he has been there on Thursday, April 8th, he has not been given any of his medication and only yesterday did they take his paperwork to prove when he needs to be released for childcare, school, and counseling appointments. I found Patricia Clason on the Dryhootch website and read more about the Listening Sessions and weekends away. I have been Jason’s primary advocate through all of this and have found out how horrifying the system is for Veterans returning home. I am utterly disgusted with how they are treated. I went County yesterday trying to figure out why Jason hadn’t had any treatment yet and the nurse told me, “well, he didn’t complain.” Only after I spoke to someone did they say they would set up a medical appointment for him today. I am hoping once Jason is out of the system and done with everything that he will be willing to share his story of mistreatment and injustice. I guess I am writing to try to find more support for not only him, but myself as well. It is very difficult to navigate the system and it has been a constant struggle to even receive any kind of help. Many of the resources are very disconnected. I am trying to activate as many resources as I possibly can to fight for the mental health of my husband. I can only imagine how many individuals and couples are lost and suffering through all of this because of the difficulties. I am going to visit Jason today, we’ll see how he is holding up. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Heather

Thank you for letting me know. I did not have the capacity to do any extra thinking yesterday…I have been so utterly tired and just exhausted. I don’t think I have had restful sleep in a long, long time. Between Max waking up at night, me being sick, worrying. I fight to get out of bed everday to get up and go to work. I have been seeing a psych myself for about 2 months now and things have started to become more intense in my own life, at work, and just everything around me. I was in the quiet of the storm for a long while and now it has been non-stop intensity for the past month. I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Sometimes I wonder if PTSD is contagious and if I have caught it, so to speak. I continue to hope that I will be able to cope and get through it all. I have off this afternoon so I plan to make some follow-up phone calls, etc. Let me know if you hear anything.

Also, Jason and I had an appointment today at 2pm with Roberat at the Vet Center, but from the sounds of it, Jason will not be able to go today. I’m going to get in touch with him today and reschedule. Hopefully we can work something out. I’m having a hard time keeping track of everything on paper and in my mind. It’s overwhelming. I will be in touch.

What she has shared with us is incredibly powerful, please share with her and attempt to help her and her family through this rough time.


Perseverance

PTSD is a hell of thing. (understatement I know) It has broken men and women who were much stronger than me. So who am I to think that I can take it head on. Quite frankly, I can’t. There are days when the struggles of just dealing with life after combat will hand me my ass on a platter. I will drink myself into the bottom of a bottle or lash out at people I care about for no reason. The truth is that you can’t take it on all at once. You have to kill the mountain one rock at a time. Obviously you have to face the demons and work through the issues but along with that is a little thing I like to call, arming yourself with perseverance. I kind of touched on it when I talked about how PT is helping me deal. But this is a broader concept, the idea is to find something to strive for, struggle against, desire, drive to, something attainable but still difficult. This thing should be just tough enough to get you shaken and when you come out on the back side you’ll be smiling. Not because you succeeded but because it was tough and you had the brass to even take it on. This has such a tremendous impact on your view of yourself, it boosts that self-esteem, gives you the right attitude to keep moving forward, to keep fighting, to keep healing up the wounds.
When you get caught up in the fray, you fight, you learn an immeasurable amount about yourself and you realize, I GOT THIS! To hell with my own doubts, I don’t give a damn what I have been told or how I feel, I will get over this thing called PTSD, just as I have succeeded in this challenge I will crush the next.
These little challenges that build your belief in self, your strength, your energy, your intensity will only be contained to their little confines for so long. Soon the same benefits you have gained just by making it through the little struggles will propel you through to the big struggle, taking away a rock or two from that mountain and giving you the energy to move a hundred more.
So what’s a challenge? Anything you choose as long as its positive, i.e. challenging yourself to floating a keg alone is not a good idea. It could be as simple as reading a book every 4 days or as mentally unstable as completing an iron man triathlon. Its whatever you think is a good positive FUN challenge for yourself. Finish a couple mile run, learn how to cook well, finish a college course, just find your little corner of the struggle market and kick its teeth in for all your worth. You will come out smiling and a whole lot stronger. It also gets you moving or thinking about something other than the things you saw and went through over there. It gives you an outlet to put the stress and a positive place to put the adrenaline in certain circumstances (dunno about you but reading doesn’t make my heart pound). It also allows for connections to made to new friends and support networks.
Finding the perseverance to keep fighting is just as much of a struggle as the fight itself and should never be over looked. So add challenging yourself to the small scale to your tool belt and keep moving little rocks until the mountain starts to shrink.