Bottling Tears, Venting and #PTSD

I’m a crier

As anyone in my family will tell you, I get chocked up pretty easy.   My increase in water works has been tied (surprise, surprise) to my deployments to Iraq.   I wouldn’t say I have always been a crier.  I think a primer to stronger feelings of grief in my life was September 11th.   That day, along with subsequent events have me more in touch with my feelings of grief.  However, the Army, and the Infantry, kept me from allowing that grief to be displayed in a public sense.  I often found myself going someplace alone and out of the public view.  In moments where I was able to let the tears run, I took advantage.

When my cousins perished in the World Trade Center, I bottled that up pretty good, and found quite moments by myself to let them go.

When I was in Ranger school and my Grandfather passed away, I found the time to grieve over my Red Cross message, again in private as I couldn’t make it back for the funeral.

In my first deployment to Iraq I learned that a Great Uncle, a WWII Veteran and POW, passed away.  I took my time one afternoon on a pile of ammo boxes to say my goodbye.   Tears were there that day.

On my second tour, with a private room and my wife’s shoulder to cry on, after some horrible missions where we lost Soldiers, or civilians or children, I would save my grief, and again, I would weep.

When the catharsis was over, I wiped them off and went back to trying to do my job.

I needed that vent.

I still do, even more so now.

Tough Guys

When I was a full tilt Infantryman, I used to try to be a tough guy.  I would choke tears back or avoid conversations all together.  That act grew tiring.  My style of dealing with emotion, and the expectations for being a role model in the Army did not effectively allow for me, in my opinion, to” be all I could be.”  I feel only certain emotions are allowed to be shown to be considered a warrior.  I needed them all.

Towards the end of my Army tenure, when I was really struggling in theatre, I’m sure I was pretty transparent though I was trying hard not to be.

The Strangest Cup of Coffee

I am much more likely to let’em fly now than I was, especially when I was in the Army.   I am much more comfortable letting myself go.  My therapy, especially behind the closed doors, is my way to work on allowing the tears to clear my mind and process the grief that comes with the tears.  Depending on my stress level, from all stressors, not just PTSD, I can get welled up pretty easy if I touch on topics related to grief.

Last week, I met a woman standing in line at a Starbucks.  As I stood waiting for my coffee, I showed her one of my tweets about “#caffeination.”  We got to talking about twitter (@mikeypiro in case you didn’t know) and the conversation led to sitting and talking about our respective professions.  We pulled up a set of chairs in a quiet corner of an outdoor café.  The conversation led down many paths but we talked about the Iraq deployment, job hunting as a new civilian, and my PTSD recovery path.

As I explored the loss of my Soldiers I broke down in the court yard in front of this total stranger.  She was extremely polite and shared a story of her own as I gained my composure.  The conversation for me was very exciting in that this total stranger out of the kindness of her heart was willing to listen.  I felt I could open up to her on a number of topics, so I did not let the previous anxiety of crying get in the way.  Talk about an In Vivo exposure!  Normally, medicine helps me keep those tears in check.  Alas, I was on the tail end of my cycle and I have found that holding tears back is more exhausting than just letting them go.

The conversation ended with a great tone and I walked away feeling good.  It was the strangest cup of coffee I have ever had.

Still have work to do

I still have more work to do with being able to talk about parts of my time in Iraq.  When I started my last round of therapy in Prolonged Exposure, one of my specific goals was to be able to talk about my time in Iraq with anyone.  I am still not at the level I desire.  But, keeping in mind the vents I have at my disposal (exercise, talking, crying) and not being worried about using them is a great tool in my arsenal.   To say I absolutely don’t care what people think of me is a farce.  I care about what some people think of me, but the majority of this world is not in that group.  Coming to grips with how I am best able to work through my grief, along with my desire to share has gotten me to the point I am now.  I still have work to do, but it is not the only thing to work on.

  • @PTSDWife

    The military breeds such emotionless stoicism. Between that and the fact that it feels like civis just can’t handle the “truth” the “reality” of what is happening over there, it makes more sense to keep it to yourself, right? Besides isn’t that what good soldiers do? Protect us? These are the things my husband has said to me over the past 5 years since he returned from Iraq. He’s working on talking about his deployment and his PTSD. But sometimes it’s easier to let the civilian “missions” of work and video games numb it into silence.

    I think the biggest thing for him, for us, has been to accept the fact that civilians and military families CAN handle the details and what’s more they MUST handle the details if they expect their veterans to heal. Soldiers have already taken on such a physical burden — the deployment itself, the time away, the terrible food, the heat, the long hours, the horrific tasks of war — the least we can do as citizens of this country is to share in the psychological burden. The price of war should be paid by everyone, not just a few devoted patriots who give everything. The Rosie Riveters and Victory Gardeners of the WWII generation would agree.

    A week ago, we talked about him talking to someone. I have always pressed for a professional, but no go. We brainstormed friends and family members to bring into the fold, but it seemed too much to dump on one person. We finally decided to do basically what you describe in Starbucks. If the subject comes up, the person is going to get an earful, a way of spreading the load around if you will. A few days ago, my husband came home from work and told me he had a two hour lunch with two coworkers. They asked why he was so tired. He told them he had nightmares from Iraq, which of course they had no idea about, which led to many more details being shared which he had never talked about before.

    After years of working there, I think there will no longer be any more jokes about how many people he killed in Iraq (yes, apparently that is funny to people who don’t realize the pain veterans go through).

    And that, true understanding, the venting of that bottle that the emotions are so pressurized into, that realization that people will listen, that they can handle it, and that they care — that is when the healing begins.

    -@PTSDWife

    • Anonymous

      @PTSDwife, you are much more in synch with how it should be than how it is. Unfortunately, a great many America wants to bury their head in a bucket of chicken while watching The Jersey Shore and have no more burdens than they ask for. Not that all are that way…

      We all bear our own issues and you cannot compare one to another because each person handles what life puts in front of them differently. A friend of mine in was going through a rough stint of depression. He did not serve and he would often say, “Well, its nothing, I shouldn’t even feel this way.” I would reply, “Not true, we all feel what we feel. There is no comparison and this is not a contest.”

      I encourage your spouse to talk as much as possible. It helps to get it out. But I am fearful that without a professionally trained ear, there are certain issues that may go unresolved, or even worsen.

      Your burden is great. Caring for someone who has PTSD is documented to have impacts over time. I am always here to listen should you want to chat or vent.

  • http://twitter.com/PTSDWife PTSD Wife

    Thanks Mikey! Your blog has been super helpful. I’ll stick around and add my 50¢ here and there. ;-) I agree that a pro would be helpful and that things can get worse. I’ve seen it in the last 5 years. I feel out of my league sometimes listening to him. We’ve talked about seeing a professional many times but he’s resistant to it for personal and professional reasons. I have to respect that and try to help him in as many other ways as I can until he IS open to it. I’ve read a couple books on PTSD and that’s helping me help him a lot more. And he’s now using the phrase “PTSD” to refer to what he’s going through, which is a huge step for him. Like your friend, he didn’t believe for a long time that he was able to call it PTSD — he was not infantry. He didn’t feel like what he was going through was legitimate.

    I truly believe that talking to other people in his situation will help him and that’s why I’m reaching out to people for him. I know, he should do it, but the work of it all is a lot; what matters is that when I show him your blog or some tweets I made, he listens and is open to it and talks about things. I cannot do a lot, but I can find resources for him.

    Every day as it comes.

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