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PTSD Support Give-Away from Quynn

ashes cover phoenixIt has been 11 years since I wrote “Accepting the Ashes- A Daughter’s Look at PTSD”. Unfortunately, the situation for veterans who have returned from war has gotten worse, not better. Many men and women who have served the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan for one, two, five, or more deployments, are suffering from PTSD, and every day we are losing valuable citizens to suicide.

Iit is now time to share the audio version of my book.
I have uploaded the full 58 minute book (narrated by me), with music by Rainbow Didge, into YouTube.  If this story helps one more person understand that they are not weak, they can ask for help, and they are a worthy part of our community, I am grateful.

Please share this story with anyone who might benefit.

The Bombs Bursting in Air…

The 4th of July is here. Americans want to celebrate national freedom, and many will. Barbeque, family, friends, and fireworks are the national tradition.  However, the last part, FIREWORKS, are not easy for our country’s veterans to handle each year.  My father used to dislike fireworks.  I never really noticed while growing up, because he wanted to be a good dad and be festive with us.  I imagine that he would have an extra glass of wine to help him ‘take the edge off’ before the exploding festivities would begin. He later said he would wince every time he heard a loud sound because it reminded him of the warzone.   http://www.columbian.com/news/2012/jun/27/when-fireworks-stir-memories-of-war/

Two years ago on July 4th, I heard from a friend who is a two tour veteran of the Iraq war, and he ‘joked’ that he was going to spend the evening under the bed ‘comforting his frightened dog’. I remember him saying how ironic it is that the tradition created to honor our freedom, freaks out the same people who have fought for that freedom.

For those who have experienced personal loss due to war, as a veteran, family member or friend, A “patriotic” day such as July 4 can trigger mixed emotions, including sadness and anger. This morning I heard from “The Waiting Wife”, the wife of a 4 tour veteran of the Iraq war. She has had an extremely hard time of it since her husband returned from the warzone a year and a half ago. Her sad and angry tone this morning was noticible when she txted “Somehow, I don’t feel the same about this day.  I don’t feel freedom at all.”

The link below describes how PTSD is very treatable.  Part of healing from PTSD (learning to deal with it more effectively) is to create a New Normal after deployment. So, as an American, honor this day in the ways that you enjoy, and, please be respectful of the very people who have sacrificed for this privilege.  If there is a veteran or family member in your circle for today’s festivities, ask him/her how they can feel most comfortable.  They are not likely to speak up themselves, so be a good American and offer to adjust the fun so they can be ok. http://www.stripes.com/news/va-s-message-ptsd-is-very-treatable-1.182113

Strangely, due to the extreme heatwave for much of the country, apparently many towns and cities have cancelled their firework festivities.  I can only imagine that a number of veterans are secretly relieved.
http://www.examiner.com/article/july-4-fireworks-cause-fire-worry-amid-heat-wave-wildfires

On this day I think of my veteran father.  I remember his nervousness on this holiday.  And, I apologize to all those American veterans who feel they want to hide under the bed today. Personally, I will not be exploding fireworks.

Anger Breaks Things.

A couple of days ago I got angry.  I felt a kind of anger I hadn’t felt in quite a while.  I have worked very hard over the last decade to not let myself be triggered into the the kind of anger that causes damage.  As a teenager, when my family was breaking apart due to my father’s alcoholism and PTSD, I was so angry I would yell at my mother that “I didn’t ask for this s*!t”.  I would blame her for my confused feelings. One time I was so angry at my fighting parents in the other room, I went to my bedroom, and kicked a hole in the wall.  The strength I felt surprised me, and took me aback.  My anger turned into sadness and drinking in my twenties.  As my relationship with my father (two tour combat veteran of the Vietnam war) was at this low point, I too felt so low that I sought out counseling.  In my early and mid twenties I had hit bottom.  I could barely go to work and I certainly couldn’t feel open hearted in any way.

That was twenty years ago, and over twenty years after my father came home from the war and had me in 1967.

It has been a hard road of healing.  In my 30s I had made progress enough that I met someone and we began a relationship.  However, I found that being with this man triggered me in many ways.  He was, and is (we are still together after 13 years), a good person, and yet the intimacy of relationship brought up much anger in me. I didn’t like the feeling of my rising anger, and yet it came from somewhere that felt old and deep.  Over the years, and much attention on my part, I have been able to tend the parts of me that were hurt by the many aspects of growing up with a combat veteran, and watching his life, and my parent’s marriage, fall apart in front of my eyes.

So, a few days ago I found myself in a situation with a person that really got to me.  The relationship had somehow moved into a feeling of ‘family’, the triggering, dysfunctional kind. Over the past few weeks I would catch myself feeling similar feelings, saying to myself “if only he/she would change”, “maybe this will change it”, and ultimately trying to “fix” the long standing situation of this other person’s life.  I felt hopeless watching someone I care about going downhill, behaviors and attitudes worsening, self-punishment getting stronger, denial continuing.  I am a warrior’s daughter, and my warrior self felt angry that I could not “help”.  However, I kept trying until I got a clear sign.

I woke up the other night with the revelation of what I had allowed back into my life.  I remember lying awake in bed, running over all the parts of our recent interactions in my head, and realizing that I recognized this combination of feelings (irritation, frustration and anger), as an energy that I could not let “move back in”.  I had agreed to help this person the next day, and so I would…but I would have to “take a break” from being emotionally tied to the relationship.  I have learned that behavior can certainly change, even if it isn’t as quickly as I would like, so rather than cut this person off completely, I felt I needed a “time-out” for my own mental health.

The next day I helped like I said.  I also emoted a lot in the car.  I shared my frustration, irritation and anger.  I was careful not to be mean, but I felt I wanted this person to know how I felt. I felt I had earned the right to be honest, even if it wasn’t “nice”.  At the end of our daylong interaction in my van, I heard, “Look”…Sigh. I saw leaking radiator fluid on the floor of the passenger seat.  I knew immediately my mistake.  It may sound strange, but I have learned over the years that my anger affects things. I have had numerous experiences in the past where my overt anger immediately breaks something in my vehicle.  Some may think that is impossible, and I might even logically agree, yet I have watched it happen in front of my eyes.  I had forgotten, and this day I was made to remember.  I had overheated, and now I would have to fix something related to my radiator.

Angry outbursts are a symptom of PTSD , and while my father numbed his anger with alcohol, I have often wondered if I got part of his anger that he never expressed. Either way, this moment of losing my cool was going to cost me money. I immediately resigned myself to this fact.  I was grateful that I had not had such a feeling in so long, and that now I was capable of dealing with it, and soothing my own feelings appropriately.

There is an interesting twist to this story, which is why I am writing about it here.  The overheating incident occurred on Memorial Day 2012.  The next morning I took my van in to an auto shop.  The Heater Core was busted.  (My partner lovingly laughed at my ability to break my own van).  The shop had a shuttle service to take me home while they fixed my emotional mistake. The older mechanic started the drive to my house when I asked him if he had a good Memorial Day.  By the time he drove me home I learned that he is a Vietnam war combat Marine with 60% VA disability and his own battle with PTSD.  He told me how he was a war photographer and got so irritated with people when they figured he never saw any combat. He said “I saw it all”. In 2002 his second wife became overwhelmed with his anger, and his violent nightmares, and told him that if he didn’t do something about it, she was leaving. He also has a son-in-law who has completed multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I told him about my father, and my book, and we connected our stories quickly.  I told him about my anger the day before and he said  “Gotta watch that”. Yes.

When my van was fixed he came back to pick me up.  I gave him three copies of my book and asked him to give them to his son in law and whoever else needs them.   He was much more animated than earlier in the day, and he even smiled.  There must have been a reason for connecting.  It did show me that we are all connected, and our moods and emotions do matter, because they affect many people and things around us.

Later that night, I heard from the Waiting Wife.  On Monday evening she had told me that she read my previous blog post about their family to her two boys.  By the end of the night they had both told her they loved her, and gave her a hug.  This was good progress.  After coming home from my van/veteran experience, I got a text from her that her oldest son signed up for the Marines that day.  This young man knows anger, and he will probably know it more intimately upon deployment.

To all men, warriors of both sexes, and especially future service members, you cannot ignore your anger.  At some point, anger must be looked at squarely, and dealt with honestly.  It is not pretty or easy, yet anger ruins relationships of all kinds, always.  Even if you can manage to put your anger in a box for 40 years, eventually the box decays from the poison it contains, and anger must be tended.  Anger can break many things.  Don’t let it break you or the ones you love.

Giving It All

It is Memorial Day, a day when we remember American service members who have died while in the Armed Forces. For this Memorial Day, 2012, a decade of war has left many casualties.  Today I am thinking about the war casuality of the Family.

I wrote my book “Accepting the Ashes- A Daughter’s Look at PTSD” after my father’s accidental death in 2004.  I received an email from a woman who called herself “The Waiting Wife”.  It read “Your story reached into my heart.  My husband is in Iraq right now with the Army National Guard. We have been apart 2 years out of 3.  The stress is much more than I ever thought possible.  Thank you for sharing your story.”  I put this quote on the back of my book.

Right before Veterans Day in 2011, I heard from her again.  Her home life had escalated into a danger zone. She was frantic.  Over the winter we communicated about her situation.  She was in a far more dangerous situation than I had experienced with my father, yet she felt she had no one to help her.  I decided what I could do was to listen.  Sometimes for a couple hours at a time.

Recently, I received a copy of the letter she sent to the Social Security Disability office, telling of her home situation.  As I read it I felt all the families who have died because of war.  In addition to death overseas ripping apart a family, there is divorce, unhealed rage and/or depression, self-medication, and suicide after returning home from deployment.  For this Memorial Day, I honor all who have experienced the death of their family due to war.

Here is her letter, reprinted with her permission.

“I will start with…I’m not a lawyer, doctor or a professional.
I am a 48 year old woman, and a wife who has been married to “Bill” for almost 25 years. I am a mother of two boys aged 17 and 12.
I believe we all have a story, and this is ours.

In March of 2010 I received a phone call that Bill  had been hit with an IED (improvised explosive device).
I was told he had suffered injuries to his back, head, and as well as other issues, such as inner ear damage and memory loss.
I quickly became a caretaker.
After a week we were told to come home and get into the VA system, and that is what we did.
We were put on Leave Status so we could get in VA system, instead of using our Leave for a vacation, like it should be used for.

Bill could hardly walk on his own without help.
He could not drive, I had to take him to all appointments.
He had to have everyday help, like helping put on his pants and his Army boots.

Physical changes I have noticed:
Bill cannot stand at the stove for more than 5 minutes
Bill can not clean house, or do yard work
(Bill used to make good money doing landscaping)
Bill cannot sit or stand for long periods of time.
Bill has to lie down often to use his traction device for back pain therapy.
Bill is in pain, most, if not all, of the time.
Medication (he is on a number of them) seems to help somewhat.

While we have been working with his physical needs,
VA staff, friends, family, and of course myself, have noticed Bill’s mental issues.
I have put many tireless hours into study of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder),
I even bought a work book.

I feel we all have PTSD sometime in our lives.

I have, in the most nice way, reached out and knocked down doors, to get Bill help for his PTSD.  It has been a disappointment.
I don’t think any of us are ready, trained, or prepared as a Nation, for soldiers like mine.

Bill has Combat PTSD.

After 4 deployments, and almost 23 years of military service,
I have come to know…
It is a given…
War changes people.

Mental changed I have noticed:
Bill gets angry very easily, and has outbursts.
Bill cannot be around people for very long periods, including holidays.
Bill cannot go to the store.
Bill cannot go to his sons’ school events or sports.
Bill cannot go out for a meal, or go to a movie.

Bill has always had guns, but they were always put away.
He now has to have 3 at the ready, one under the pillow, one he packs everyday, and a rifle next to bed.
If Bill happens to feel safe he will go to a sporting goods shop.
He recently made a trip and bought $350.00 in ammo.

You might ask, Do I feel safe? NO-
You might ask, Would Bill hurt someone on purpose or with intention? NO-
Could it be an accident? Yes.
I have been walking on egg shells for the past two years.

When I drive down the freeway with Bill in the car (the many times we have to drive to get to the VA) Bill is looking for “one of them”, meaning an Iraqi person with a turban.
Bill has had nightmares, but does not want to talk about it.
If you were to ask me for an emotional assessment of Bill, I would say he is in his late teens right now.

Bill and I no longer share the same bedroom. What used to be ours, is mine now.
Bill sleeps in what used to be our office.
The best I can explain, we are roommates.

I no longer refer to Bill as my husband.
He is not the man I married.
He is not the soldier I sent overseas.
I have lost my husband.

The above is now a new “normal” life.
Bill has not come home from the War Zone.
If you ask him about these issues, he will agree and say he is “fine”.

I now refer to him as my Soldier, Warrior, Veteran, My Hero, but not my Husband.
I waited for my Soldier to come home, ready to pick up and resume where we had left off, with adjustments. I now see that is not going to be possible.

I have been in counseling for the past year.
Bill has gone once, and our boys a few times.

I have, with many tears, filed for Divorce, so our sons and I may have a safe, more peaceful life.
I have given up careers, as well as a teaching career, and many other things, to help care for Bill, all because of WAR.
When I am not able, our oldest son helps his dad, the younger one tries as well to be helpful.

So, it is what it is.

I am now helping Bill look for another place to live, so he may live who he has become.
Some people gave some, and some gave all. This family, for 10 years, 4 deployments later, gave it all.”

After receiving the above letter, there has been more change in the Waiting Wife’s life.  Her husband was served with divorce papers.  The next day she found him with a gun, saying he wanted to “end it”, and that she could “have it all”.  She was able to get him to the VA.  Now he is an inpatient in a Wounded Hero hospital in another state, and he is very angry.  She is still waiting for a normal life.  She is waiting for Bill, and her boys to stop hating her.  She is waiting for peace.

War Changes People.

On this Memorial Day, please light a candle or say a prayer for a family that is dying as you read this.