Monthly Archives: October 2010

Background Noise

One of the most difficult things about life after combat is the background noise. Its those constant mental processes that make it nearly impossible to be fully present in the moment. It requires so much effort to keep all the back ground noise in the background that it distracts us from the current events, conversations, or work.

The white noise is responsible for many of the issues that combat veterans face, like irritability, memory problems, and occasionally the thousand yard stare. It is this incessant sapping of focus that leads to many other complications like drug and alcohol abuse and depression.

So what is the background noise. For me its all the little processes like scanning, looking for threats, and trying to remain in control of the adrenaline and  breathing. This however is not the greatest sap of my focus. The big drain is the blockade that runs on all of the memories from combat. It is a really bad blockade but it is there none the less. The memories tend to get the best of me when I am sitting idly. The 2 points in time that i find my mind traces back to those memories are when I am a passenger in a car or plane and right before I go to sleep. I figure thats because I am alert but not doing anything so my mind wonders and without me trying to block out the memories thats where my mind settles. You might say well thats dumb just don’t think about it. There is a very real biological reason why my brain would focus on those memories. Its the same reason as to why your adrenal responses are hard wired into your bad memory section. Its because the things that were usually bad memories were things that threatened your life or forced you to fight. So your brains keeps those memories on the forefront of your brain so that it can identify a possible threat that much faster. Good idea if something was always trying to kill me, but not necessarily the case.

To give a better example of why the background noise sucks, I will use an analogy. Take your computer for example. Open up a bunch of windows and minimize them and then open up another window and try to do something. Computer is going to lag or ding at you annoyingly. Its going to take twice as long to do a simple task and probably burn through your patience. This is essentially what is going on when I am talking about the background noise. Your brain is good at doing some pretty amazing stuff but when its distracted like that, you aren’t running on full steam and things suffer. I hate that feeling of not being present. I don’t like how I feel when I suddenly do become present and realize I have no idea what the person is talking about or where the lecture is. This whole autopilot thing is not  fun way to go through life.

How do you stop the background noise. I don’t know the answer to that one. But what I do know are a couple of tricks to make it less noticeable. Get yourself a little notebook and a little pen that can slide into it, keep it in the opposite back pocket of your wallet or in your purse. When you are told something or think about something you need to remember write it down. Good for two reasons one, it is a written record of the thing you need to remember and you can go back to it. Two, the act of writing something down requires your brain to process that information and hopefully store it in the long term memory. Another trick I have started recently is at the end of a conversation ask yourself a series of questions about what just happened. What was the individual’s name? Are there any tasks I incurred from that meeting? Is there another date for another meeting? What was something memorable from what they said? What were they wearing? Yea something as simple what were they wearing can actually be a difficult question. These are just some of the things I try to do to make it a little bit more bearable, until I don’t hear that background noise anymore.

The interesting thing is that the background noise is so incredibly distracting and yet if you do not look for it, you won’t know its there. You will just not be present in everyday life, you will struggle with your memory, and be irritable for an unknown reason. Recognize and acknowledge it and you can do something about it. So now that the background noise is brought to the front of your mind, do something about it.

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Fortune Cookie

May you live in interesting times and May you find what you are looking for.

This is a quote that is often portrayed as some sort of ancient Chinese curse, but it actually first came into writing in the 1930’s or so, in the US. Its value still holds though as a curse. There is actually a third line that goes, may you come to the attention of powerful people.

At first read, you consider how this could possibly be a curse. Sounds like everything any ambitious person could ever desire. I was one of those, still am, sad how I haven’t learned my lesson yet. Luckily through my travels my memory is short now, which aids in my stupidity. I lived in interesting times when we were in the desert and the mountains.

That’s one heck of an understatement. For such a short time it is so completely packed with stories of every color and amplitude. It was something that defined me, something that aged me, something that has forever dated me. It was a difficult and hard time. It has forever changed me.

May you find what you were looking for. This is the real rough part of the curse. When I signed up for the military, it was a time a war. I was signing up for that adventure. I was signing up to prove myself. I was signing up for the war I thought I wanted to go to. Well, I found what I was looking for, too my amazement it was a whole hell of a lot more than I thought it was going to be. I found every bit of what I had been looking for and then the first week was over and I still had 51 more to go and then a 15 month tour later to make it through.  What the hell was I thinking, go to war it will be cool. Holy crap if I could teleport back I would kick myself in the head for joining for that reason. That said I would have still joined, just not for some damn adventure.

And so the made up Chinese curse goes. It’s interesting just how little I have learned. I am always looking for that adventure, that adrenaline, that challenge, and more often than not when I find what I am looking for it’s like sticking my tongue in a light socket.

Case in point a triathlon: I thought I wanted that challenge, about 200M into that open, choppy, salt water bay, I just wanted to be on the beach with a beer. Then there was that half-marathon, lol, mile 9 I seriously considered getting a cab. There is always some satisfaction at the end. Always some joy mixed in with the pain, I guess that why I never learn.  But I think it goes deeper into that messed up thing about being an adrenaline junky.

So what am I close to finding, marriage. I am about to get married in about half a year. I finally found that one for me. We live a really interesting life, filled with tons of stuff to do and responsibilities. We are starting to have a really good network of friends. That’s right we have filled out all 3 rites of the made up freaking curse or at least in progress to that last thing. And you know what, I couldn’t be happier about it, so to hell with it. I think it’s just something kind of funny. We as former military don’t really bother to heed warnings, and don’t panic when our make-shift raft capsizes in the middle of a hurricane. So this little Chinese curse is actually more of a set of instructions to live by. It’s like the adrenaline junkies manifesto. If by living on this it allows me to live my life to the fullest and find those little islands of fun and happiness in the ocean of junk, it sounds about right to me.

So I issue this Chinese curse(that Americans made up really turns out to be a blessing if you just stop dwelling on the hard side of it), may you live in interesting times, may you find what you are looking for, and may you come to the attention of those in power. Kick some ass and embrace the suck. You want egg-roll with that.

 


Pitfalls and Punji sticks

Here on this little site, we tend to focus on the aftermath, dealing mainly in those that are already SOL or already dealing with PTS or PTSD or Life after combat whatever clever way we phrase it. But this time, I would like to try to impart my experience in falling into this. What lead to me being so colossally jacked up, and how perhaps one might be able to avoid it all or at least cushion the blow.

One of my best friends sent me a message a while back (he is currently in Afghanistan), in no uncertain terms he asked, what made me go crazy? He said he felt like he was having a hard time and just wanted to make sure he wasn’t on course to become that thing I was when I got home from the last one. I explained a couple of things and I figure they are worth sharing.

I bottled everything that happened, every emotion and stuffed way down deep in my mental ruck sack. I never processed anything. I was so good as this I actually believed I was dealing with it. I never allowed any of the emotions to surface but anger. I used the anger in the gym and occasionally on mission, but there was so much that I was barely scraping the surface. What I should have done was find an outlet to give my mind time to process the junk, lifting weights, playing video games doesn’t work. Needed to be something like drawing or writing or something to give me time to work over and through everything that happened. Instead I allowed the wound to fester and grow septic. With that I compartmentalized a lot of stuff. I ran on auto-pilot for most of the stuff we did. I really only was running 100% when we were doing the mission stuff. Its good to compartmentalize, allows you to do your job in combat….. oddly I was really bad at it when we were in mission, I would get so pissed when someone would get smoked, so mad at myself for making a mistake. Thats leads us to the next pitfall

I literally blamed myself for every bad thing that happened to our squad and then to my protection detail later on. I blamed myself for not protecting the ones I served with on the streets and the ones that were in my AO later on when I was near command. I blamed myself for missing the IED’s and EFP’s, I blamed myself for not training others better, I blamed myself for not being closer to them when they were hurt, I blamed myself for not being the one that got injured. I arm-chair general-ed my every action, I would find things that I could help but smack myself in the forehead for doing. I still do occasionally. I could list them out, but it will just piss me off and this entry will go down hill fast. I think the reason I blamed myself is that I had an unreal belief of what my abilities were. I am not god or whatever force that is that goes through the CZ deciding who gets their ass blown off. I am not a superhero, not bullet proof, or travel at the speed of sound. I should have had no expectation to do anything other than what I did. I still feel guilty. I feel guilty for the guys that lost their lives and I feel responsible for the guys that got wounded. I feel like I betrayed their trust. Avoid this by having a real understanding of war, its freaking chaos. The biggest game of russian roulette, you can be totally on point and ready to go and still get your ass blown off or you can roll through buttoned up listening to your ipod and they won’t even pop off a round. I am not advocating the second way just saying. You are just a pawn in a big game that nobody has much control over, do your job, train your troops, be ready in the chute when the shisse hits the fan and thats about all there is to it. Never blame yourself, never even think for a moment, “Was that my fault?” Thats been one of the most corrosive thoughts for me in the past couple of years. You did what you could and thats all there is to it.

Now for some returning issues. When I made back home, I went straight to drowning it all out. I drank like a fish and was being a real

http://www.diving-industry.com/2010/06/10/diver-base-jumps-largest-underwater-sinkhole/

Underwater basejumpin

dumbass. I never allowed myself to even start dealing with it, I figured I was back and it would all just go away. Here I sit 2 years later…. worked out real well huh? Avoid the alcohol when you first hit the US, have a beer or two, get a buzz, have a buddy watch your intake and feed you water. Trust me getting nasty drunk a couple of hours after making it home…… bad idea. The sooner you look at whats going on in your head and how to fix it the better off you will be. If you had a gunshot wound spurting blood, would you kill some beers and hang out with the guys before deciding what to do with the massive sucking chest wound? Thats strange because it is exactly what most of us do, and if you look around, the mental health stuff is killing about as many as the warfare. Pay attention, man or woman up to whats going on and deal with it accordingly.

Finally, I never changed my attitude. I came home with the combat mind-set. Always scanning always looking always on edge. If you decide how you are going to be, you can prevent a lot of the BS I went through. Decide on a ROE essentially. Decide that you can be relaxed and comfortable but still aware of your surroundings, decide on times when to tone it down and when to amp it up. For example, you can turn it down when you are sitting at your dad’s dining room table, no one is gonna kill you but you might need to defend your food. Walking through a dark parking garage, crank that bad boy up to kill mode. There is a time and place where the skills you learned in combat are useful and a time when they are hurtful. Learn when to employ and when to put away, it will save you a lot of heartache and trouble.

This is not something I went through. Never felt much of the urge to kill myself. But its real, it happens to many if not most. This is a permanent solution to a very temporary discomfort. I have a serious problem with service members who take their lives, here is why. Most of the time they do it I feel its because of the pain and sorrow of losing a buddy. How in the hell does killing yourself make any damn sense. So you think your buddies’ sacrifice is some how honored by you kissing your beretta. I don’t think so princess, I think you just throw mud on the tombstone when you do that. Would your buddy be happy that you gave up, or would he be pleased that he or she gave their life so you could waste yours. Negative. For those that are doing it for other reasons, there are about 4500 reasons you should never consider it. There are 4500 fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, grand babies all around that can not live the life they wanted. You are responsible not just to live your life but to make it worth their freaking sacrifice. You have no excuse, no excuse whatsoever that you feel its necessary to kill yourself. It is an insult and truly sad mark on their sacrifice and frankly that just down right selfish. If you struggle, reach out, if that person drops the ball do it again and again until you find the help you need. Its temporary, and killing yourself is the easy way out for you not for your family and friends. It is a horrible way to end a honorable and proud life. 4500 so far, and more coming, don’t you dare ever consider for a moment that it is your life to take.

I got serious there, but its just the simple truth. These are the pitfalls I fell in, avoid them at all costs. Use good techniques to save your ass from them. Be smart about your mental health and for those still in the CZ be smart about the guys around you’s mental health. Take a no bullshit approach, seriously make them understand what to do and what not to do, make them talk it out with you when you get engaged. If you are a leader and you are not head-checking, you are so wrong. Ok I will put the four-finer knife hand away. Pay attention to yourself, check your buddy and don’t be stupid and not get help. If you have questions or anything like that, hit me up beastmonkey@gmail.com .


Not a Disorder

I recently started to notice people dropping the D from PTSD.   Now, it is just Post Traumatic Stress.  Im actually impressed.   This is a step at least.   Removing the word Disorder also removes some negative connotations from the stigma.

Here is an example:

Not a disorder

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Peter Chiarelli believes post-traumatic stress is a chemical injury, not a disorder.

He does not like the stigma often associated with calling it a disorder. Some people can view PTSD as a weakness or a sign of weakness in a person, he said.

“PTS is real; it is an injury,” Chiarelli said. “It should be treated as an injury.”

The first step, Chiarelli said, is in helping to eliminate the stigmas about behavioral health and treatment.

Soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTS require treatment focused toward their injury, he said, the same way Soldiers with physical injuries receive care.

“No one is complaining about the way we are treating Soldiers who lose arms or legs,” Chiarelli said.

Brain injuries are different from physical ones, he said, and brain science is more complicated than mending a wounded limb.

Soldiers with brain injuries can be more prone to high-risk behaviors and activities, he said, either because of the injury or out of frustration from symptoms.

Chiarelli wants TBI and PTS to be treated as medical conditions caused by injuries. He wants Soldiers to get the help and treatment they deserve.

“We have put many of these Soldiers in this position,” Chiarelli said. “We owe it to them to make them well.”

Read the full Article:
http://www.army.mil/-news/2010/09/23/45556-vice-chief-army-needs-to-address-pts-tbis/

http://www.health.mil/News_And_Multimedia/News/detail/10-09-28/Vice_chief_Army_needs_to_address_PTS_TBIs.aspx

http://www.forthoodsentinel.com/story.php?id=4882


AWOL

Where have all of those “patriotic” Americans gone?

They were so quick to stand up and wave their flags after September 11th.   Every car you passed on the highway had an American flag waving from its window, and then they had the yellow ribbon magnets on the trunk.  Where were they the month before?  Where are they now?   I almost titled this post. Patriotism: Flavor of the month.

Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.   This is going to be one of those big topics we still discuss as old people.  Do you remember where you were?  I do.  I had already been on active duty for 5 years.  My unit was conducting a FTX outside of Grafenwoehr, Germany.   I didn’t get to see any of the pictures or news videos until at least two days later.    I actually remember thinking that it was part of the scenario for the FTX at first, it just didn’t seem possible or real.

A month and a half later I PCS’d to a stateside assignment.   I took a few weeks of leave in between assignments to visit my family.   I remember getting so pissed off at all of these patriotic pretenders when I was home.  Since I was already in the service, I knew the indifference most people have for the military.   Unless they have a family member serving, they probably don’t give the military a seconds thought.  Consider serving?  NO WAY, NOT ME, NOT MY CHILD!  Like military service is undignified or is something that someone else is obligated to do for them, so that they can drive to their yoga class, in a $40,000 car, talking on their blue tooth, sipping on a venti mocha latte, while someone else is watching their children.

Do you know how  many people ever shook my hand, said thank you for serving, or maybe offered to buy my meal before September 11th?   Only WWII and Vietnam Vets!   When was the last time someone shook your hand recently?  Do they even realize what Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day stand for?

We just observed the 9th anniversary of the events that happened on September 11th.    I checked the internet and television on September 15th, and the news had returned back to normal.  Football Season.  Video Music Awards.  Reggie Bush loses his Heisman.  The petty Bullshit games that the Democratic and Republican Parties are playing with each other.   Which celebrity is in rehab.   Michelle Obama’s 20th vacation this year.  Oh, How soon we forget!

Does anyone know that there were two more Medal of Honor recipients this month?   One of them is the first living service member to receive the award since Vietnam.

There are some people out there who truly show appreciation for the Soldiers and keep this continued war in their minds.   I truly appreciate the efforts that some of these actors, singers, and professional athletes show the military.

Those who volunteer to tour the base camps in Iraq and Afghanistan visiting the Soldiers:
The Athletes and Cheerleaders of various Professional Sports teams.
People like Robin Williams, Leanne Tweeden, Gary Sinese, and Kid Rock have all been on multiple USO tours.
Nobody beats Toby Keith…Man what a guy!!!
World Wrestling Entertainment has not only visited the Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but puts on a televised wrestling broadcast EVERY year.

The Anheuser Busch company has offered FREE admission to Busch Gardens and Seaworld theme parks for Soldiers and family members since 2002.   Walt Disney World only started offering a DISCOUNTED rate after the economy dipped in 2009.

How about those two “kissin’ grandmas” at the DFW airport?   These two ladies are out there practically everyday greeting Soldiers returning on EML.   Those ladies are the real Americans.

So besides releasing a little frustration you may wonder if I have a point?   If these people aren’t able to look past their own self-absorbed lives, are we ever going to get the attention we need for veterans?   Think about it.  These are the voters.   These are the ones pushing for free health care and gay marriage.   We are the 1%.   That is the percentage of the American population to serve in the military.  We need to be active in making our voices heard.


Eeyore is a jackass

Winnie the Pooh’s little down trodden donkey was certainly suffering from some hard core depression. He was slow to move and always unsure of himself. The only thing a veteran might have in common with the donkey is the internal struggle. We are fast to move and often time too sure of ourselves. We dwell on things for only fractions of a second before moving to the next target or mission. The difference and the problem are one in the same. Eeyore was able to sit back and introspect, figure out what was making him feel that way, able to rationalize, able to appropriately address the issue. He also only had that one emotion. We as veterans find that the depression junk is at the bottom while whats on the surface can be any spectrum of that emotion. It can be rage, anger, silence, being hyper, overly happy, thrill-seeking, promiscuity rarely is it your overt signs and symptoms of depression. Interestingly enough, most of the times someone commits suicide it is attributed to depression not any of the other signs. Leaders often times blame themselves for missing the signs, they go back and look for those tail tale signs of a suicidal person. Strange thing is, you sometimes don’t find them. In my experience we found the other reactions, quick to anger, abnormal behavior, overly happy (upon further examination fake). With the ability to arm chair general it, you see that those were obvious signs had we just noticed, but why would you? The guy was happy or hyper or in a bad mood. Another big issue is that the cry for help in the army doesn’t often exist, we are self-reliant and embrace the suck. But one of our greatest attributes has quickly become the military’s Achilles heel. Our people push to hard until the break alone in a room with bad intentions and devastatingly efficient results. It is never a good thing when a trained killer decides to end their life, they often do not fail. So how do we combat it, with knowledge, with intelligence, and with bit of reality.

This is just my humble opinion, but this is what I think would work for the ones that are still in. While yes it is good to have an involved chain of command, it is more important that the individual feel free to get help. Essentially an amnesty box, for a the combat veterans mind. An offsite facility where the veteran is assessed by not just a mental health professional but trained combat veterans who are taught to be mentors. The vet gets asked the tough questions and they figure out if he is an immediate danger to himself, if he is, then the bells and whistles go off and he or she are dropped into a place where it feels like a safe environment for them but where its safe for themselves to be there. If not, then they get issued their veteran mentor, their battle buddy for lack of a better term, what would be even better is if these guys were graduates of the program or at least on the rebound. The guy that’s been there, ready to shut up and listen. All the while none of this goes to the chain of command unless it is necessary, unless they are a danger to soldiers, unless they are a threat to themselves. While this brings an immediate worry about having leaders in a compromised position, if you believe for a second that a junior trooper is unaware that their leadership is struggling then you missed something during your time in the military. Troopers are more attuned to the leadership than the leadership is to the troopers.

This idea would allow for amnesty, no judgement, just a simple process, they assess you, they ask you how best to treat you (counsel, coach, medicate, or just allow you to observe others), they make their recommendation, together the veteran and care team figure out the treatment plan. Before they go home or back to the unit, they are given the list of numbers to call and then meet in person the first few on the chain. They are suggested, instructed, and ordered to call when things get too heavy and a body will find its way to his doorstep to tap the forward assist or remove the temptation of eating a bullet. Then they do the group stuff it helps or they are taught to write it out or taught to exercise it out. They are taught the simple tools to fix themselves, simple mental first aid. How is this some revolutionary idea? why is this not in place already? Who knows, but I wish it was when I went through it.

So Eeyore is a jackass, so is the veteran that fails to get help, more so the leader that admonishes the ones that do. The real jackass, is the powers that be that fail to see keeping the course is only going to stack the bodies. But hey I am just one veteran who has a hard time shutting his mouth.