Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Tide Raises All Boats: Awareness of Suicide Prevention and PTSD Treatment

IMG_0086Twelve years into combat and the feeling I get is that, worse than being judged, we are forgotten. We are killing ourselves at a rate faster than we died in combat and very few people stop to notice.

A few months ago, a college friend of mine took his own life. He served multiple tours overseas with distinction. He came home, settled down, and struggled to find normalcy outside of combat. His passing made me think long and hard about the state of care for Veterans, stigmas for treatment, and the thing that everyone knew about,but few talked about: Suicide.

I feel I have taken a head-on approach to my treatment and therapy. With deliberate thought, I reasoned I should do the same for tackling this stigma: Raise awareness, call out problems with stigmas and therapies and hopefully make enough of a difference to prevent more suicides.

My logic is simple: If we can look at the root causes of these suicides, dismantle the stigma for help, and make treatment easier to access we can interdict and stop them.

If we address, treat, and stop severe PTSD which can lead to suicide, other Veterans along the PTSD spectrum will be more willing to seek help. If more severe cases enter treatment earlier and often, then less severe cases exit earlier and more frequently.

Over our lifetime, that means healthier Veterans, healthier families of Veterans, and a stronger America. (f#ck yeah)…(yes, I went there.)

To come full circle with the title: the tide truly raises all boats in the harbor. Awareness and prevention of Veteran suicide will help everyone who suffers in silence to get healthier faster. A bonus will convince those who maybe doubt that they need any help, that maybe a little professional help is a good thing.

So, what are you waiting for? Join Team Survivor on our walk May 4th. Help us smash this stigma and raise awareness.  I set a personal goal of a team of 10.  We are three away from that goal.

Or, if you can’t walk and donate your time, you can always donate something else.  Thank you.

Look to the Vets: Bombs, emotions, and PTSD

I am sitting and watching the television as I try and work. The images streaming on the news channels are familiar. I see them and I am reminded of my other senses. Sulfur, burnt hair, melted plastic. The attacks that have just struck our society again are unfortunately more common in other parts of the world. Ironically, if you find a Veteran of the past ten years, there is a good chance they are more familiar with this scenario than most Americans.  Hell, most of my facebook friends are well versed in this drill…  I hope we can lead the country at large around the pitfalls of these types of attacks.

“Chaos” is a singularly accurate word to describe these scenes, but singular descriptions are inadequate. I have written about the aftermath before. We are firmly entrenched in a review of details as a nation.

We will watch video and listen to interviews, but I am now paying keen attention toward the emotions. The emotions that will pour out of the trauma that has now affected thousands of people will take a long while to unwind. Feelings of people who ran towards the blast, people who ran away, those who panicked, those who resolved to stay and help, anger, sadness and helplessness  will feed many nights of sleeplessness.

The images are now seared into the minds of the EMTs, the Police, the first responders, and civilians and through the television, the rest of America. Feelings of a lack of safety, hopelessness, but also hope and resolution all juxtaposition in a heap like the crowds immediately after the blast. They are battered, bloody and waiting for triage. And even without the help of the evening news, they will replay over in our minds. I feel confident about these statements because it is a glimpse into my minds eye after a few key events in my service overseas.

In my head

I am anxious, but not as I would have been three years ago. My wife came home to see me at my desk with the news on as I sifted through work emails.

“You know you shouldn’t watch that all night.” she gently told me.

“Yeah, I haven’t been watching long…” I lied.

I have lived through the aftermath of more than one car bomb. One of the most traumatic events I have ever lived through was dealing with triage for hours on end as a result of a massive car bomb in Tal’afar, Iraq.   The lines of amputees and severely burned stretched to our gates.

I am now neatly preparing my mind for the next few hours and days. I am eliminating the “stuck points” or in laymen’s terms, using “always” or “never” in my opinions or feelings. I am forcing myself to stare at the triggers. The pictures of blood stained concrete are all too familiar.  In staring at them I force myself to realize that these are low probability events. There were half a million people at the race today. Three killed and over a hundred wounded is not much more unsafe than driving and maybe safer than some parts of urban Detroit.

This is what terrorism tries to do. It tries to impact your emotions into forming unreasonable and illogical conclusions.  It plays on safety and fear and it is powerful.  I think that had we known more about the treatment of emotions I would not have been hastened back into conflict so quickly.  Today and here we do not have to rush anyone today back to work.

Stiffen and Strengthen

One more resolution is to stiffen against these attacks. I can feel the callouses return. I think this is in our nature.

F#ck me?

No.

F#ck You!

We can now replace the Brooklynese with Southie. I even looked at signing up for another marathon so I can qualify for the next Boston.

The details will unfold, but more important than the details of the day are how the details make you feel.  They will be much more telling about what is happening, and what is to come.  If you are waning or lost, and you know a Vet, look to them and reach out.  Both sides will benefit.

Triggers, The Nosedive and #PTSD

Nosedive“You dumbass.” I thought to myself as we rolled by the scene of the accident, “You had to look.”

Gently blowing in the wind was what should have been the yellow tarp that covered the body of the pedestrian hit by a truck.

The tarp did a crap job and the glance turned into just enough imagery of a misshapen pale body to set the propellers of my mind going. I rolled past further and the sun, not high in the sky, cast a long shadow on the lone sneaker in the middle of the closed highway.

“This is the Captain of your mind speaking. We are expecting some bumpy skies on our trip as we take you down out of these clear blue skies and plummet to God Only Knows Where.”

“We have plenty of fuel in the form of past engagements and anxiety, so sit back, space out and hold on tight.”

Hello Captain Saturday morning trigger. Thanks for the heads up. A$$hole.

An now, 4PM and hours later, I am sitting to try and work this out.

Evasive Maneuvers

When the triggers strike I have my in flight routine.

I immediately told my wife and let her know I was heading on my little joy ride.

I texted my best friend whom I unload this sh!t on frequently and I am extremely grateful he continually picks up the phone. He directed me back to this screen, to flush it out and take notes.

He and I talked about the particular engagement of which this poor kid reminded me. I think what connected the two was how the body was treated. I understand that there is a job to do when an accident like this happens, just as there was a job to do when we engaged insurgents in a building. But, I was mistakenly getting comfortable ignoring my past and the clean up jobs. I was(am) angry that these Police officers did not treat the victim with enough respect to cover his body adequately and spare the rest of us a potential trigger. Some people want to see it, and that is there prerogative. Nobody needs to see it. I sure as hell didn’t.

So after working through that I think I have at least some bumpy cruising altitude to spare. The descent is slower and I have a few tricks up my sleeve to finish the full pull back on the stick (my zoomie friends can correct me if that is not what it is referred to…)

Collateral Damage

Still, in my nosedive, I managed to bring down some family members. I was short and mean to my mother and I have been apologizing since it happened. I pissed off my wife by zombifying myself. And let me be clear, these are not excuses, this is what happened. I owe it to them to fix myself and this situation.

So, I huddled up the kids and released my wife for a few hours. She provides so much for my boys that it is the least I could do. I apologized to my mother. Profusely. But, I will have to pick it up a bit more before today gets away from me.

The last Trick up my sleeve

I have been exercising and getting physically right for some time now. I took yesterday off, and planned on taking today too, but I need to go and exhaust myself for a bit. Clear my mind. And I hope, that last little bit will get me back to flying straight.

Time will tell.

Hopefully the rest of today is uneventful. The sky is blue. I can hear a prop plane overhead. Time to exercise. Over and Out.

Valve, Release, 1 Each, #PTSD and #Suicide

ValveIn combat we were always provided something to release our emotions or frustrations. Missions and free time let us discharge not only our weapons, but our pent up frustrations. Yelling, shooting, driving, crying, walking and many other releases were all at our disposal.  They were standard issue. In the staccato of combat, a rhythm existed where we could gauge and guess when we needed to pull the release valve.

However, as a civilian, life is so unpredictable by comparison that we as Veterans have a hard time adapting to a continual set of challenges at irregular and less predictable intervals. We miss the neat bookends our tours provided us to bracket the ups and downs combat threw at us. At home the issues build up and we don’t have the markers set to know when to release.

Previously I have referenced the pressure that builds from within our core. I think I can describe it and it’s origin more. I think I know the sources of the outward pressure. (A pressure, mind you, that can at times seem infinitely more powerful than the raw strength of mother nature.)

I believe it lies with the emotions tied into what we witness and our participation in a war that leaves us feeling ambivalent towards our accomplishments. Our participation and witness, passively and actively, are forever in conflict. We know in our heart of hearts what is right: defending the defenseless, giving aid to the sick, serving justice. Yet in combat we see so much that is wrong or unacceptable collateral damage to our pursuit of justice. The conflicts mix together and become inseparable yet the pace of combat forces us to endure for the sake of survival.

I remember the first time I saw dead children. I remember it because I can still see it. Helpless feet dangling from bloody blankets whisked past me in a futile attempt to revive what was left. The stark splotches of thick red blood on the white canvas outlined a frail and small person.  It was winter time and cold.  Their bare feet were exposed because they had literally been blown from their shoes.  The image is always there and the emotional sorrow applies an outward pressure that is unstoppable. I cannot remove the image. I cannot stope bearing witness to those lives cut short. Looking through a narrow lens you may observe the deaths of children as merciful or sorrowful or the will of God or bad luck. But we did not fight in that narrow lens. All these years later the questions I refused to ask or logic I did not question still ring from the emotional pressures. Emotion echoes the same simple and brutal questions: why the f#ck were we there? Did we help? Did our presence here cause this? The unknowable answers feed more questions and half answers raise the emotions even further. In combat when we faced these horrors we quickly turned to an argument that was simple.

We clung to the honor bound argument that we were Soldiers and it was not our lot to question. We push the logic further that we stood and fought for our fellow Soldiers whom embody our values and reciprocate our solemn and vital duty.

Then one of them dies and the arguments erode.

From experience, I can still picture my comrade vividly. I see him mangled yet peacefully laid out beneath a flag for his final trip home. The cot he is serviced on brings together the immediate violence of death and the tranquility of his preparation for the trip to the thereafter. He is with me forever. The questions of purpose return with his imagery and the simple answers are unknowable. I, as a Veteran with PTSD, try and feel hope, but the simple fact is doubt remains. The logic of good and evil, of right and wrong, eats its way and lives at the center of the pressure. I cannot help but question, consciously or unconsciously, which side I lived on how I will be judged. So the pressure grows.

Once you have seen things so vividly and so often it is impossible to suppress the kernel of doubt that is tied to the emotion that bubbles out and into our daily lives. I live with fear and doubt and sadness and anger and I fight it with hope and optimism and determination.

How do I keep from exploding?

I don’t.

I just explode smaller and more frequently. ( Like the Hulk in the Avengers, I’m always Angry) I execute a controlled vent. To do that I take the hard look inside and I challenge myself to be true to my character and embrace what has happened.  I have found and use the new releases that I have cultivated in the years since completing therapy.  I write.  I work out.  I talk with my wife.  I space out.  Sometimes I yell.  Sometimes I yell at my dog.  Sometimes I yell at my kids.  But the negative outlets, like yelling at my kids, focus me to rethink and rework where my energy is going.  When I challenge and accept my emotions, I can release the pressure in positive ways. I can vent and I can carry on. Though too long away from addressing those emotions or simply choosing to ignore them is dangerous.  If I don’t pay attention the pressure can pile on exponentially and push me to a place that is very dark very quickly.

Insights into Suicide

I think those that choose suicide are looking for the release and are under such pressure they cannot see other ways to vent. Pressure builds in fits and starts. If you follow the news, you know that the VA, through gross ineptitude, requires us to wait for help upon our return. It requires us to endure more pressures from a society that looks very foreign to us.

I imagine that the clock runs out and the extreme pressure forces us to look at final options of survival, or an escape.

We can head these off. I am convinced. But to block this option for our returning men and women it will take a larger community, focus and effort.

Housekeeping

I am still beating this drum. Visit the page, sign up to walk, help those in need.  We are here on Facebook.

If you can spare the time to walk Team Survivor would love to have you.  If not, please consider a donation.

Thanks!