Monthly Archives: January 2012

Booth Bunnies Make Me Nervous: Revisiting Crowds and #PTSD

If you have ever been to a trade show, the vendors always hire beautiful people to stand in the aisles and shuttle in business.  Fit, glowing and most importantly, persistent, the “Booth Bunnies” are the equivalent of the opposing forces setting up an ambush, and at times that involves breaking into your personal space.  I understand it is their job, but getting to the level of understanding has made me pause more than a few times.

Hi Ho

I have not blogged much about work and PTSD.  Truth be told, I can work from anywhere I can get internet access.  My house has internet access.  You do the math.

For my PTSD treatment it has been an invaluable asset to be able to work from home most days.  I can clip along getting work done from my computer, meet with my team through web conferences or video chat, and feel safe and secure all day long.  I have my routine down for being productive.  (A similar routine, when I started therapy and took my first shot at going back to work, kept me going… but I digress)

The past two days I have been trekking into Manhattan to meet with industry folks face to face.  I used to dread leaving my house and driving.  Now, while I don’t like it, I can manage it.

Prolonged Exposure Tool Kit

Since completing Prolonged Exposure, I have been able to ride the subway, drive around in rush hour traffic, and manage being in crowds.  I have been able to do all of this with lower levels of anxiety and less emotional swing than before I started the therapy.

A key to achieving the lower SUDs (Subjective Unit of Distress) levels is to ride out the uncomfortable peak while taking copious mental notes.  The more you do it, the better you get at riding the wave.   When I started PE and listed out my SUDs for different activities, I was a cranky (an understatement) homebody who avoided any place that exposed me to uncomfortable situations.  Now, I am still cranky, but I get out more.  At the completion of my PE training, I confidently relisted my SUDs at less than half the previous level.  Prolonged Exposure worked for me.

Back to the Convention Floor…

I am a fast walker, or at least, I walk with purpose.  Even when I wander it is usually from point to point.  If I stop, I try and get close to a wall that can stop a bullet with nobody behind me.  Habit?  Ummm… yeah.

Approaching the convention center I began to feel uneasy.  There were a lot of people outside and it was raining, so I surmised that inside was going to be a mad house.

It was.

Car Bombs in the Square

Thinking like a terrorist is unfortunately part of the training.  I look at a group of people and I think about the bomber wearing a vest of C4 and ball bearings.  I look at most things as targets.  Unfortunately from experience, large groups of people equal easy soft targets.

I have mentioned in the past (the Aftermath) that one particularly grueling event was a suicide carb bomb that detonated in a market square.  We opened our gates and a flood of wounded Iraqis swamped our camp.  I have experienced first hand the effects of a suicide bomber.  I don’t want to a repeat encounter.

In Iraq, we also had a main gate where we hired locals to work on our camp.  Each morning they would crowd and we were constantly shifting and spacing to minimize the effectiveness of an attack on a soft target.

For more reasons that this, I still look at groups of people as dangerous.  I look at the subway the same way.  When I first got back I did not want to go near crowds because it seemed probable that the only thing that would result from them was bad and I had no way to control it.  As my exposure and treatment has progressed, I have been able to assimilate back into accepting crowds.

But, I still go through my mental checks of exits, preparedness of an emergency and with the conclusion of Prolonged Exposure, riding that initial wave of uneasiness and getting back to business.

Booth Bunny Bombardment

As I traversed the main floor of the convention center I moved from place to place dodging the distracted cell phone walkers and avoiding the booth bunnies.   The uneasy feeling came and I embraced and explored it.  Since this was a work call, I had to take the time to get right and get focused.

I am proud to say that I leaned heavy on my therapy and made it through.  I was able to be productive, meet with the important clients and vendors, and had a successful convention.  But those booth bunnies, with their hand barcode scanners like phasers from Star Trek, still caught me once or twice.

 

 

On Handling Dead Bodies… and #PTSD

No shit there I was, a freshly minted Executive Officer for an Infantry Company.  I had reached the big time.

Iraq, since the national Army evaporated leaving behind piles of unguarded ammunition and weapons, was the wild west.

We rode fast with our doors off.  IED?  What the f*ck is an IED?

The rules of engagement were just starting to get attention.  We were pretty much weapons free for anything, and I mean anything, that looked like a threat or suspicious.

Hearts and Minds? Not at this point.  We were still waiting for the Iraqi people to rush the streets and throw flowers at us…

Where was I?  Oh yeah, my big time job.  X to the mother f-ing O.

“Hey Sir, Red platoon just engaged to suspicious characters.  They had weapons and started to run.  Two KIA. Battalion wants us to pick them up.”

“XO.” My commander boomed.  “B-team.” He shouted.  The code word for a crappy mission.

Yep. The big time.

I actually had to hear the first part a second time because I was made awake from a heavy sleep by the midnight to five shift Radio Telephone Operator (RTO).

“Huh?”

“We need you to take the 5-ton truck and pick up the bodies.”

Always bring bags

I have retold this story to my therapist hundreds of times.   In my Imaginal Exposure, this was one of my events.  For the sake of time, I will abbreviate.

I grabbed a medic another Soldier from the HQ Platoon and we drove out to the bodies with an escort section of Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

No moon, no up-armor, just night vision and the hum of Armored vehicles.

The first KIA was a little ways up the road.  He had bullet holes from head to toe and was in a large pool of thick red blood.

(Did I mention we didn’t have body bags?  Oh yeah, that.  We ran out a few months back and were forced to use tarps…)

The few ground troops got with the HQ guy, wrapped up the first KIA, and put him on the back of the truck.

The second KIA was a little farther up the road.  He was a big man.  Had to be two hundred and fifty pounds.  He was hunched over and also lying in his own pool of blood.

[Quick Aside]

Under the laws of the Geneva convention (I am paraphrasing here) , once you engage an enemy and they are wounded and you take their weapon, they are now an enemy combatant and subject to medical treatment and POW status.  You own them.

Back to business

We roll the giant man over to get him ready to put on the tarp only instead of being dead, he starts screaming, moaning and gurgling.

Like many times in combat, the initial report was wrong.

He was not going to live.  One third of his head was missing.  The horror is of this realism of war is still with me to this day.

I wanted nothing more than to finish him.  It would be easy, just cap him.

So there I was, new XO, with everyone looking at me.

What did I do?

I turned to the medic and said, “I don’t care if you have to scoop his brains back in his head.  Put a bandage on him; we are taking him the to the aid station.”

I was the beginning of a very long day.

Marines and Urine

If you have seen the news today, you probably saw the outrageous and despicable conduct of Marines urinating on the dead bodies of Afghan insurgents.

This whole scenario makes me sick.  The story above was my first encounter with the dead, but it was certainly not my last.  I have to think hard to remember all of my encounters handling bodies.  I lost track.  At one point that very five ton was nicknamed “The Hearse”.  Think about that for a second…

Deceased insurgents, civilians, and a fellow Soldier all came under my guidance at one point or another.

Many still stop in from time to time.

I have been enraged at the loss of a comrade.  On one raid we discovered a cache of beheading propaganda videos and the knife used to execute a civilian.  It made my blood boil that these men were terrorizing the local population.

But, we were the role models to the population.  The shining beacons on the moral high ground.  This behavior is beneath us.  They dealt in terror.  We dealt in justice.

This is a sad day for our Armed Forces.  There is no good reason for any of this.  The damage these Marines have caused is great and will shake out over the coming weeks, months, and even years.  I hope they all receive the sternest discipline available.

We all know how high the stakes are in combat.  This is a failure in leadership and should be dealt with swiftly and strongly.

New Years Resolutions are for Suckers… My Goal Setting and #PTSD

A Ranger School Student conducting a tactical crossing during Jungle Phase, courtesy Stars and Stripes.com

To get off my absentee blogging snide I am going to bang out this quick post and share some of my goal setting for this New Year.

My philosophy of goal setting was shaped by the Center for Enhanced Performance and their curriculum. The CEP is now Army wide and expanded their message to help Soldiers, Officers and DA Civilians at all levels.

So, here are a few points of the philosophy:

1. Write ‘em down. My head has been a mine field for the past six years. Any goal that I think I set, and is not written down has the potential of being warped or forgotten.
2. SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action focused, Realistic, Time Bound. All of these help shape the statement so that it if I ask a question when in a few months “Did I do this?” it is a Boolean response. Yes or No.
3. It is a living document. If you write a whole bunch of stuff down, tuck it in your bookshelf and look at it next New Year’s save yourself the time and paper and just don’t do it.
4. Be brutally honest with yourself and your capabilities. It is my document. If I write down a whole bunch of stuff and a) I don’t believe it and b) it is unrealistic, I am just wasting my time. Stand naked before the Gods and look deep within yourself. Reach far, but keep your feet on the ground. There is nothing that says you cannot pull yourself up to the next level, plant your feet, and reach again.

An Example: My New Years resolution was to be lighter on New Years Day than I was at Thanksgiving.

See how that works? I did not wait until New Years to set a goal. I have been setting goals all along. I just used New Years as a milestone. Also, I can answer the question “Was I lighter on New Year’s Day than I was at Thanksgiving?” with a resounding “Yes.” (pretty proud of that… btw.)

So, here are my goals under the Mental and Physical Health Section of my priorities. These will be posted in my office and periodically evaluated ( I like to do quarterly.)

A Veteran who is Mentally and Physically Strong

Action Statements
I eat healthy controlled portions keeping my caloric intake under 2300 per day.
I exercise everyday for at least 30 minutes.
I attend group at least twice a month and take my medicine daily.
I weigh 195 pounds by August 19th 2012.
I write in my blog at least once a week.
Believe Statements
I have the strength to stick to my diet and exercise plan.
I am determined to maintain my healthy lifestyle.
I have the necessary mental skills to maintain a healthy and positive outlook.

I will revisit this in a later blog post in a few months

If you are interested in reading more about the process or downloading a Goal Setting worksheet, visit http://csfprep.army.mil/home.php/Home to learn more about ACEP and http://csfprep.army.mil/home.php/Resources for the MRT-C workbook.

Happy New Year… Suckers. ☺