July 19, 2013

Thriving

My view of Acadia during a trail run.
The other day I was speaking to my friend and editor of the Blue Falcon Journal, Dan Buckman, about incorporating more of my life beyond the PTSD narrative into the blog. After discussing this further with Scott Lee, we've decided to start a new series called "Thriving" that will highlight everything positive in our lives. My part in the series will showcase the hobbies, activities and professional success I enjoy in order to challenge the preconceived notions about people with war's invisible injuries. My hope is that the combination of this series with our more typical posts about confronting PTSD will illustrate that we here at PSTD: A Soldier's Perspective are not solely pessimistic. We take the good with the bad. So in the same month I might post about suicidal idealization, survivor guilt and triggers as well as the hiking, trail running, beer brewing, publishing articles, presenting papers and other crazy things I do to make myself feel worthwhile.

In most cases, people with PTSD did everything right and they still do all they can to be happy, but continue to struggle with a very challenging condition. It is a myth that those who don't suffer are more resilient and that those who have PTSD are less mentally tough. I have certainly pushed myself to longer and tougher physical challenges after suffering PTSD than I have before. I hope that by incorporating all the positive things I do to keep myself happy, and to lead a life worthy of the gift I have in surviving in concurrence with the daily slog that is PTSD and mTBI that it will become apparent that even the best of us struggle and thrive at the same time. If we wait for all of our issues to subside, for all our baggage to disappear, and for our weights to be lifted; then our lives will pass us by before we ever move forward.

I know its blurred. I think it better captures trail running.
My greatest hope is that people struggling will realize that they can still feel joy and happiness even as we suffer from a difficult and painful disorder. We can have great days even when they are filled with triggers, panic attacks and nightmares. We won't be able to shed those issues, but that doesn't prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. The future of PTSD and mTBI is not predetermined, it is what we do that matters. If you think the groups that should help you the most, will provide all the help you need then you obviously don't read the newspaper, or haven't filed any claims. The more we do to make our own lives better the more we will enjoy our lives. We certainly can't sit on our butts waiting for the military and Veterans Administration to get better. It doesn't make it right that we have to do it ourselves, but that doesn't change the fact that we do. Thriving with PTSD and not despite it is ultimately our own choice. A choice that will bring as much pain, and more difficulty, as it does joy, but all meaningful joy comes from effort: PTSD or not.

If anyone reading this has anything great going on in their life please tell us in the comments. If you're on twitter, use the #ThrivingwithPTSD Hashtag whenever you meet with some success, or let me know and I will tweet about it for you.

7 comments:

  1. Those who've suffered the most have the highest capacity for empathy, multiple perspectives and a self awakening. Surviving the most difficult situations in combat and the military does not have to define us. Let the ideals and characteristics of a survivor become another strength. Realize that while in the military, with help from many other of your brothers and sisters you were able to accomplish multiple missions and performed at a high level. These characteristics can guide us in our recovery leading to a sustainable and productive life with our loved ones and inner circle.

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  2. Wonderful post. Thank you for your voice and sharing this.

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  3. http://livingwithptsd-sparkles.blogspot.com/2013/07/thriving-everything-positive-in-life.html I was very happy to share your heartwarming post on my blog!

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  4. Hello. I just found your blog. My son recently returned from Afghanistan. He was deployed to Iraq before that. He is out of the Army now. He was a 1st Lt (engineers - mostly doing IED location and disarming with EOD guys). He resigned his commission about four months ago as he was no longer able to perform effectively. He suffered documented blast concussion on three different occasions. One due to IED, one due to a near direct hit from an RPG that blew him off a roof top and one from a rocket attack on his small outpost which was on the Pakistan border.

    In Afghanistan with the ISAF he saw action nearly every day for nine months. He personally killed Taliban (one was up close and very personal). He came under small arms and rocket/mortar fire frequently. Many of his ANA troops were killed or maimed. Ditto a few of his fellow US ISAF comrades. Several of his buddies that made it home (Ft. Bliss and Ft. Hood) committed suicide.

    He has been home with his mother and I for almost three months. At first he slept all day every day. Maybe up for about 4 hours. We figured he needed the rest. Then he seemed to perk up for a few weeks as we helped him get connected with the VA. Then he started backsliding into depression, reckless behavior, drinking, abusing his prescription medication.

    He definitely has physical - brain - issues resulting from the blasts. His memory is poor. Bad judgment. Gets lost and confused easily. Seems challenged to form new concepts. He is basically directionless. Some days he thinks he'll go on to do this, other days it's that. No solid plans for his life. Lots of fantasy. He is obviously emotionally damaged as well. It's difficult to separate out what is due to blast concussion/mTBI and what is due to PSTD.

    I seriously think that if he hadn't come home, by now he would have gone the way of his buddies that killed themselves.

    He tells us there are things he can't talk about, but the things he has told us are so bad I can't even imagine what the unspeakable are. What he has told us includes cutting out the eye balls of dead Taliban for later retinal scan ID. Mortally wounded troops twitching in agony as they died, etc.

    We are at a loss and don't know how to help our son get back on solid ground other than encouraging VA programs which is doesn't want to do.

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  5. Thanks no one for your thoughtful comments,

    First, get him into a group with other veterans who have been there. I would be happy to correspond with him.

    Second of all your son is not backsliding and there nothing morally wrong about mental illness. Those are less than useful methods to manage what he is going through, but what is happening to him is normal. It's difficult but normal and there is nothing about his life that needs to be judged. So first thing I would do is abandoned that moral language to describe your sons normal homecoming. He is wounded mentally because of his character, courage and empathy, he just needs to connect with some better strategies. I'm sure this language is unintentional but it matters and it is hard to deal with it when you are on the other end.
    The stage of homecoming that he is in right now is the hardest. It is best that others who have been there help him. Also that he has good treatment which may include medicine.

    Those are issues that others have gotten through and he can. I would urge you to read A Farewell to Arms because it describes Hemingway's difficult homecoming and his parents inability to grasp it. You don't have to grasp it to help, but you might need to accept that it takes time. It took me about four years to even consistently do choices on a schedule, I still fail in this a lot. I seldom know what day of the week it is without a reference. That is really frightening and difficult and it takes years to get good enough to move on with your lives.

    In some ways you are never getting the same son back, but that doesn't mean he can't thrive. It takes time, I took 5 years to get here and the hardest part was the beginning because mTBI is like starting over at 5th grade cognitive level. I would try to get him into an impatient treatment center like at Richmond VA. It helped a lot, but I still have as many downs as I have ups. I've just gotten less discouraged by this over time.

    The best advice I can offer for you is patience. J. R. R. Tolkien was invalided for about four years before he started working full time again, after the Somme. Just because he is struggling now doesn't mean he isn't doing well during this very challenging time in his life. He is with you and that says something about his humility and understanding of what he is going through.

    We will always be a resource if you want to talk with us privately.
    Joe

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  6. No one,

    There are things we cannot say, it's too soon to tell. Some may be by orders, but it's the others we cannot face that matter the most. For they guide our unconscious mind and influence our behavior when we compartmentalize our war trauma. This compartmentalization is an effective tool in combat. It allows us to engage in the mission and often times survive unthinkable situations. It's difficult to let go of such an effective tool. Like turning in our weapons when we returned home, we had to release it with a signature to the master of arms. Without the ritual of release in recovery through treatment and self educating on our condition we will be led by our delusions and dissociative states.

    There are ways to manage our symptoms and you will learn those soon enough. For now learn what you can about your son's condition. Family of a Vet is national nonprofit helping veterans and families with life after war. From the VA, support, ongoing education and outreach. https://www.facebook.com/LifeAfterCombat

    Also try Coaching into Care, it's a new program by the VA on educating the family on ways to reach your veteran. http://www.mirecc.va.gov/coaching/

    And always you can reach us there at PASP if you have questions. Thank you for your families continuing sacrifices.

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  7. First of Joe. Awesome post and this is something that I wish more vets would do. The more we highlight the good things that are being done and the things you can do to help yourself the better.

    (I am a vet wife. My husband has PTSD and we have been living with it for ten years.)

    No one I wanted to tell you that the road ahead is going to be long. Not because there is anything horribly wrong with your son. But because of what your son has been through.

    Let me give you an analogy that most people get. It is kind of like scuba diving. The further down you have to go the longer it takes to come back up. The reason being is that if you come up to fast your body will get the bends. The oxygen and pressure asserted on your body will over load the system.

    When our guys are coming home they are essentially getting the "bends" for lack of a better phrasing. They need to decompress their minds. They need to decompress from how they have had to live and survive in such situations. A lot of them have been in some very deep, deep places. And they just need time for their minds and bodies to adjust.

    We will never know what it is to be where they have been. But we can give them the love and time to let the pressure come off in its own time. We can help with keeping them on track with their appointments and helping them keep their schedules. But in a loving and non intrusive way.


    And like Scott was so kind to point out. Now is a great time to join a support group that will give you and outlet and give you the tools and things you need to help him and you and your wife through this process.

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Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee