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Monday, October 15 2018 @ 10:16 am PDT

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Dead or Alive...

The PTSD DiariesAs so often it happens, the minute I hop on a soapbox, the issue turns around and bites me.

Today was another rough day in training. A lot of people aggravated me, and I just couldn't get my own act together. I really started wondering whether I was cracking under the pressure of our accelerated class.

But remember my "open letter"? That whole thing about recognizing how PTSD makes one act out, and the need to move beyond it? I'd like to think it was all so altruistic for the guys around me.

Turns out there was a reason their behavior got under my skin so badly. They were triggering my own issues. I was trying to trace my own stress issues back, and I realized that they really popped up when someone else was acting out. Whoops...

Once I got that settled, I had to figure out what to do about it. And I realized just how easy it is to slip into the destructive behaviors. But I can now make the choice not to go there. Instead I jumped in the car for a glorious drive in the twilight with the wind on my face, and stopped at the drugstore to buy the appropriate items to make me a redhead again. ;)

Earlier in the day I was feeling a lot of burnout and wondering whether the EMS path was going to take me down. And I think everyone in the business has to face the question before we can truly own the profession. But I bumped into this video (which also seems to have a few random PJ shots in it) and realized that this really is where I want to be. I'll just have to remember to seek the wind on my face from time to time.

(I also love the pic at 1:43)

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An Open Letter

The PTSD Diaries

My wounded warrior friend,

I can't just stand by and watch you do this to yourself.

Professionally, you're one of the best. No excuses, no complaints, you just get right in there and do what needs to be done, no matter how much it hurts. Watching you work inspires me.

And you're a great person. You're kind, you're helpful and I've never heard you be harsh or disrespect me.

But do you respect yourself?

Don't worry; I doubt the majority sees what I see. You've built the walls well. Everybody's good-time guy,hasn't met a chance that he won't take, a woman whose attention he doesn't need, bottle of alcohol that he can't handle & still be the same guy when he meets the world the morning after.

Good job, my friend. You've built a wall so likable that few people will bother to see what's behind it.

Problem is, I know that wall. It's a heck of a lot less stable than anyone realizes. And as much as you want to say that it's there to control other people's perceptions, it's really there for you.

The wall gives you a shot at regulating what you feel. If the pain is too great, you can dull it with alcohol. When you feel numb, defying death or touching a woman might make you feel. And when you hate yourself, the liking of others might make you question your self-hatred for a few hours.

Yeah, I know that routine. Some things worked a little differently, but all in all, you remind me of myself in the Middle East. And I can't help but remember how much I wish someone had grabbed me and told me that the wall wouldn't work forever, that they saw through it. It's not that coming to grips with this will take away the adventurer in you or that likable core; don't worry about that. Those parts of you might take a back seat for a little while but there's little risk of them going away. Actually, the biggest danger to those parts of you is what you're doing now.

I'm not going to ask you to give up the drinking, the risk-taking or the women. All I ask is that you grab me or someone else you trust and let the wall come down for five minutes. Heck, if that's too much, make it thirty seconds. I just want you to have a moment to be in someone else's presence without the wall.


Your wounded civilian friend

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One foot in front of the other...

The PTSD DiariesStress level is very high right now, with too much to learn, too many tasks that are overdue, and people who really need my attention despite me having so little to offer right now. Had a great escape to the Oregon Coast yesterday, at least until a misunderstanding exploded and put everyone involved on edge. And, to top it all off, I semi-sleepwalked last night. I was conscious of being awake but I thought I was moving through the dark in an entirely different location, thus when something wasn't where I thought it should be, I was utterly confused and worried...ok, somewhat panicked. It's been a LONG time since I've done that. The last time that was on that scale was early 2003 when I was incredibly sick...I'm not sick now and thus the whole thing has me worried a bit. Or maybe it just speaks to my sleep deprivation.

There were a couple of comments during today's homily at church that jibed well with lessons I've been learning. For the last couple weeks, I've been realizing how important it is to not dwell on the problems or dangers of a scenario. Take note of them, yes, but if you focus on what's going wrong, the problems only get worse.

And it's love that keeps you moving. Love for the people you're trying to help, love for those who are in the mess with you...if you are just focused upon the benefit to yourself, eventually you'll give up because it's no longer worth the pain. But if you want good for someone else, that person isn't (usually) getting the detrimental effects of your struggle. They're getting the end result.

One of today's great comments was that, "love should not be conditional upon victory," Our relationships are most severely tested when the other person fails us. When a friend's career falls apart, when medical problems mean they have nothing left to offer, or when they generally act like a SOB, what then? How we act toward them shapes the people we become.

We think we're courageous when bullets don't scare us. We pride ourselves in the way we run to the fight, but do we run from the people in our lives that hurt us? Apart from the usual domestic violence disclaimers, that's not love. And love, this side of heaven, hurts. But sticking to the task for the sake of others, no matter how much it hurts, is courage.
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Coming Home...

The PTSD DiariesSo much I want to say about this, but while I recognize the triviality of stateside problems, I still need to fix them. But I found this piece via Bouhammer and it's an absolute must-read for civilians and veterans alike. Civilians...just take my word for it and read it; vets... it's your call, but it's important to let CNN know that people are paying attention, plus it's a great article for the hope and understanding it shares. I remember what I went through as a civilian coming back from the Middle East; I can only imagine...

Back From Iraq War, and Alone

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The PTSD DiariesAdmittedly it helps if I DON'T listen to Arabic music before going to the VA. I was far more centered today and even managed to smile at just about everyone.
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No Atheists in Foxholes?

The PTSD DiariesI found this on an in-progress website for youth but thought it was a truly excellent commentary (from an Army guy) about the way different people react to foxholes and their civilian-life equivalent.

"At this very deep level, where faith and trust exist and function, war can break things and overload circuits bringing about the damage or entire collapse of the belief system."

No Atheists in Foxholes?

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Broken Heroes

The PTSD DiariesI had one of those "beware of this guy in the blogging world" conversations with a friend the other day. The person in question is a former Marine with a history of mental illness and a long list of ex wives.

And that's similar enough to the unstable guy another friend has fallen for that I had to do a double-take. (Different states, thankfully.)

And then of course there's a blog I read, written by the soon to be ex-wife of a Marine who was severely wounded and turned abusive on his wife.

By no means am I "picking" on the Marines. I'm Semper-Fi proud of the Marine blood running through my veins. But I believe that like many of the strongest things in this world, when they break, they break thoroughly, sending pieces flying in every direction.

At least from the information I have, the aforementioned wives had good reason to get out. I believe in the permanence of marriage, and I think military wives need to be stronger than the civilian run, but if it deteriorates to physical abuse, don't stop to pack, RUN.

But where I differ from many people is that I don't see an abusive Marine/soldier as a lost cause, particularly not if he had been mentally stable before deployment. And something has to be done to rescue him.

It's not the wife's job to rehabilitate. Marital dynamics make it difficult if not impossible. Self-hatred extends too readily to a spouse. The husband/wife connection, for good or for ill, creates a sense of mutual belonging that can turn deadly when rage runs deep. So often the spouse is the first target simply because she is the least likely to hit back.

But friends, some family members, and fellow veterans can get in his face and do something about it. We can't just keep it a secret of the military community, not when the outside world is just waiting for another "villain" from the military. We take care of our own.

I wrote a while back about the book Shadow of the Sword. It's such an important book for this struggle, because it shows that a good Marine can snap yet find his way again. Silence about PTSD has and will continue to kill.

We all have our jobs to do but I think it comes down to two things: ask the first question or tell the first story.
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The heart of the problem...

The PTSD DiariesSeveral months back I was asked to write about Frederica Mathews-Green's book, The Jesus Prayer. I was a bit skeptical at first due to the nature of the blog, but the author paid a visit to the website and asked me to do it, particularly as this blog has a different readership from her "standard" audience. After reading the book, I can see why.

Over the years I've read a lot of books on the spiritual life. They've varied in quality, and particularly in attitude. Too often I've encountered books that say the right things, but they say it with such arrogance and self-satisfaction that they tempt me to go and do the opposite just so I won't be associated with them. But The Jesus Prayer was the polar opposite. The attitude is simply, "here's what I know," and the author backs up her statements with both solid citations and her own, often difficult, experiences. It's very accessible. So, if you don't know what the Jesus Prayer is or why a whole book would be written about it, stick with me here.

If I had to pick one word to summarize the book, my choice might surprise you: "centering." To use a shooting analogy, if your shot is five inches off target twenty-five meters away, the cause isn't a five-inch error but a small mistake in the fundamentals of the shooter. This book isn't the spiritual equivalent of a sniper manual, but more like a session with the best trainer at your local range. If something in your life is off, this book, paired with the gospels and a questing heart, is a good place to begin.

It's been my privilege to get to know quite a few of the blog's readers, and one thing I can say with certainty is that we all have struggles: injuries, dark memories, schooling, career frustrations, being fed up with people...being fed up with ourselves... the things that jump into our minds threaten to destroy us at every turn. It's particularly piercing for those of us struggling through PTSD. What if what if what if... could I have saved her? what if that mistake hadn't been caught? what if that person flips out, what if he comes after me again, what if what if what if? Similarly dangerous is the "maybe if." Just small deviations in the course of our thoughts, but they throw us drastically off course downrange.

It's tempting to use the prayer as a bandaid, but the book has a way of taking us deeper, daring us to know something better. Another word I associate with the book is "truth." I loved this quote:

"It is hard to face truth when you feel alone in the universe, with a distant God who doesn't know your name and may be sulking over something you did years ago. You can feel brave enough to know and admit this truth only when you are sure you are loved, because 'perfect love casts out fear.' (1 Jn. 4:18)"

Do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you're loved? I struggle with this, come up with all kinds of ways to try to earn and charm my way into people's hearts. A lot of reasons for this...but it's probably one of the biggest symptoms of the things that are broken in my life. But what's irresistible about The Jesus Prayer (both the book and the prayer itself) is that it's an invitation to encounter God's love as it truly is, not the way we've supposed it to be. And if that's not powerful enough for you, this might intrigue you:

"The hope of protection from your own vicious or self-hating thoughts is alone a strong impetus to persevere."

"Orthodox Christians believe that these prayers preserve the world, strengthen the remaining good wherever it lies, and fight alongside the powers of heaven against those that cherish cruelty and relish the suffering of the innocent."

The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God

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The PTSD DiariesThings are really interesting right now. This going-off-medication thing is a royal pain. It's the right thing to do; I don't really need it any more and the negative side effects definitely outweighed the benefits. But this transition phase has knocked me off my game pretty thoroughly. (Doesn't help that I began it all in the middle of nasty jet lag.)

Normally my instincts have an almost frightening level of accuracy. It's not that I'm never wrong, but I'm often right on things I have no business knowing, in most people's opinions. That's gone out the window for the moment, and it's tough because I'm trying to make a major career decision. Actually it's pretty much made, at least for the next step, but I find myself second-guessing and I can't rely on instinct to clarify. I guess I'll just take my shot in the dark like everyone else and pray that it works out.

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Fear, respect and vulnerability

The PTSD DiariesI'm watching a friend celebrate her son's arrival stateside from Iraq. And I'm trying to keep my mouth shut. Yes, he made it out of Iraq safely, and that does merit tremendous celebration. No matter what.

But she hasn't seen him yet, and I can't help but wonder how he is inside. Is he still the boy she remembers?

It's a question of degree, but I doubt it.

One of the hardest things for me right now is figuring out just the right amount to talk about PTSD. No one wants to hear about it during the grand celebration of, "he's home," or in the leadup to deployment.

But there are far too many suicides, divorces, lives destroyed by this.

I'm a fan of NCIS (the TV show) and they've done a lot of great work on PTSD type issues. But one of my favorite scenes wasn't directly about PTSD, but it was so applicable... a Marine is losing control of himself and he doesn't know why. He's tearing up the place, and the female Mossad officer jumps in to take him on. His strength versus her training, and both of them with plenty of inner demons... until they make eye contact, and it's a mixture of fear, respect and vulnerability. And everything changes.

Too often I think our rreaction to PTSD rage is, "don't hurt me." That's ultimately destructive; it perpetuates the fear that PTSD has created a monster.

I'd rather see confrontation, an attitude that says, "I'm strong enough to take what you dish out so that we can get past this and let you remember the good person you still are inside."

Caveat: this isn't about women "taking" abuse. That's another topic entirely. This is about voluntarily confronting behavior that has to change, this is about respecting the person with PTSD enough to treat them as an equal.

And if you're reading this and wishing someone would do this for you, I'm here. And a good percentage of the readers are available to you too. Write an email, write a guest post... we'll go toe to toe with you and challenge you to get on the road you need to be on.

We're here. Where are you?