Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mail for the Mistress

Sorry that I have been's been kind of a funky week and BUSY! We must have had 10 VA appointments and between the kids stuff at, did the time go by fast! I had quite a few emails these past week or so, so going to put some on here for this post!

It's that time again!

" Dear USM, I love reading your blog. I just had a quick question for you. You mentioned that you take medication because your stress level was pretty high and you had depression. I think I may need some help as well. I don't want to talk to my doctor because she has been our family doctor for my entire family. It just feels sort of weird telling her I need medication. What if she tells me I am just crazy? Advice please? Thanks for all you do and for the smiles in some of your posts you give me daily. I hope you are doing better and next week is better than this past one"

Anonymous, I have been there. The hardest part was our family doctor was actually a fellow Reservist soldier/friend in our unit who has his own practice here. How screwed up was that huh? He is one of those "manly man" doctor's too, so talking about female issues, really made him feel uncomfortable. Between this, and feeling like a nut bag going in and saying "I need to be medicated", slightly bothered me some. I knew I was suffering from depression and severe anxiety. It got to the point where I really didn't like myself, probably like you are feeling now. Finally I just sucked it up and went in. I talked to the LPN there because I really needed a fellow woman to understand how I was feeling. She listened and looked at me and said "Holy Crap! No wonder your nerves are shot!". Talking about a sigh of relief! She had put me on an anti-depressant before because I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I didn't think I needed it. This was suppose to help me cope with much of the pain. She fussed at me and then prescribed me a high anti-depressant along with tension headache meds because I suffer so badly from those. She also checks me regularly for high blood pressure.If you think you need some help with depression or nerves/anxiety...girl go on and get them! There is no shame in us having times in our lives where we need a little help. Sometimes our bodies just can't function on overload and we need help. My visit rewarded me with the confidence I needed and eased the worries of going on meds. Now a pill isn't the cure for everything of course! You will also need to find some time to unwind, do something you enjoy and help yourself. Relying on medicine will not help you any as its not a complete cure all. Sometimes we just can't do enough to change what's going on and there is nothing wrong with helping our body along with medication but there has to be some part of you that wants to help the meds along. If there is a female LPN or doc you feel comfortable, just spill the beans. They can't help you if they don't know anything is wrong and you will be surprised at how easy it will be....promise! Keeping yourself sane, healthy and under control will make living with PTSD much easier!

Dear Mistress, I really enjoyed your PTSD Turns Physical blog among many of them. I am a Vietnam Veteran's wife and went through what seemed like absolute hell. I have been reading you on a weekly basis and find that your honesty is refreshing and eye opening. I sometimes get aggravated because so much is so "fluffed" that it seems somewhat fake.  Although I am one of the old timers, I like to keep up to date and see what other spouses in this war are going through. I wanted to email you because I really liked this particular blog about physical abuse and the fact you took into consideration the Veteran's side and included that poor man's email. It showed that there is always a side that most people don't see although the subject is so terrible and heart breaking. I just wanted to let you know that it does get better and as a spouse living with my Vet with PTSD for over 27 years, you can overcome and learn to adapt to the many changes. Sometimes you just got to ignore them and let them rant and rave, and get it out of their system. It does get easier. It just seems those first few years are such a struggle for everyone. Just wanted to say thank you from one old Vet's wife to another!

Dear Vietnam Vet's Wife, thank you soooo much for the positive email! I am very appreciative of your following and hope that I can only learn as much as your era has. I know of so many Vietnam Veterans in this area where I live and its somewhat disheartening that so many fell through the cracks. It saddens me to think of the many families and children that also slipped with them in the process. I wanted to include that soldier's email because its often been said "hey, just leave" but I wanted people to see both sides of the fence as it makes it hard for some us to walk away and just say screw it. I am learning as I go and hope that in the process it helps others to understand what I am going through, what I feel and hope that others say "yes, I get you!". Thank you for the support and for giving us all the hope that we can indeed survive. Although we are from a different generation of war time, I find that all of us spouses are exactly the same. Much love from a war wife to another!

Dear Uncle Sam's M, I found your site because a few wives in my unit passed your information on at our FRG meeting. They are going through similar issues at home. My boyfriend/fiance was National Guard and deployed to Iraq twice. He was injured in the Spring of 2008. Similar to your husband, he wasn't screened for anything when he came home. He is having some serious issues and I have been researching TBI after I saw your post about it. Can you tell us how I need to go about getting him screened for TBI? I know I can't do a lot because I am not his spouse, but am really worried about him and not finding much help. Also, I know there are other wives like me that are asking the same questions, so please feel free to share my name and my email to you. I don't mind at all as I am just as confused as they are! Thanks for a great blog, you always give us National Guard wives something to talk about at our FRG meetings! Carrie

Carrie, thank you for letting me post this for others. As a significant other, that doesn't mean you are any less significant in his treatment and his well being. Even as a spouse, we are unable to attend most appointments and set up things. First off, I have come across many MANY stories just like yours in my searches and experience. There probably isn't a week that goes by I don't have several emails asking the same questions as you are now. Although its pretty much the same with all ranks, our Weekend Warriors do seem to be pushed on through the system upon demobilization. Often times, like in our case, they aren't asked any questions...and well, if our soldiers don't say one knows anything is wrong! So in my experience ONLY, I can tell you how we did it. Other wives might be able to chime in on here and give you some ideas. First off, if he is signed up with the VA and seeing a Primary care doctor, he needs to go in and talk to the PCM about it. If he is not signed up, we as RS/NG can receive up to five years medical care through the VA without having to file for disability/claims. However, I can not stress how important it is to get into the system. If something ever comes up in the near future, you have at least the VA documentation to back up your claims of disability. Remember the term continuity.

In our case, there was just a ton of things that got lumped into the diagnosis of PTSD that just didn't belong in my opinion which is what I suspect has you concerned. However, remember that so much of it can be PTSD and other parts can be TBI. They have very similar and overlapping symptoms. What I did, was once I looked up TBI and discovered the signs and symptoms that didn't fit into his PTSD...I immediately called the VA. You must remember now that my husband was already in the system and had a diagnosis for severe PTSD. I talked to the operator and just asked them who do I speak to, to get my husband screened for TBI. They transferred me to that department and I talked to a nurse. That nurse said they would set up a pre-screen by phone and gave us a time. My husband answered some basic questions, it was about a five minute phone call and he was screened at that time "positive" in the pre-screen. After that phone call, they set up an appointment for a TBI evaluation.  

It takes a while, so might as well "hurry up and wait" as the old saying goes. I believe it took us three months to get that appointment. Once there, its a very long process of asking questions, physical exam. Once you get done with that, then they set up another appointment for written testing, and so on. This determines cognitive damage, memory loss, motor skills losses etc. IF he is screened positive for TBI they will then set the soldier up with a TBI case manager and they will determine what type of services he needs. In our case, they felt my husband needed to be seen for the memory loss, coping skills and a few others. Unfortunately, this was back in April and our next appointment for this is in May of next year. Yeah...I know. ** Insert nose bleed here** let's say he isn't in the VA system or even going....back to square one, HE NEEDS TO GO. Get signed in at least just for medical treatment and he will be give a primary care doctor. If he has anything wrong with him at all, which he obviously does....he needs to get seen. If you have issues with going through the VA system like we did, go through the OIF/OEF Social worker, the Veteran's Benefit Advisors that are usually on site at the VA or if he goes to the local Vet Center, they can also help point him in the right direction.  A good friend of mine works at a VA in California...she was telling me the other night that TBI is a serious condition. She is a therapist that works with TBI patients. The longer they wait for treatment such as motor skills, vision, memory, and many more...there is a 25% loss of it permanently. 

I hope that helps didn't mention whether he was bulking at the idea of seeking help, so hopefully that is not an issue. My email is always open and if you need to post a question for other spouses to read, feel free to email and I will post it!! Good luck!

USM, I was reading your post about the retreats you went on. Can you tell me how I can get into something like that? Also, just from curiosity, what do you do for stress relief? How do you do it with your husband there with you? I am a full time caregiver, so I just don't see how I can get anything like that put into an already hectic schedule.  

The retreat was sponsored through several people. It was through Quantum Leap Farm, a grant through the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice and Operation Homefront's Wounded Warrior Wives. I don't know any other way to get into this particular retreat or others, from my experience, other than to join Wounded Warrior Wives. That was how I found out about it. Go to their site and register. Once you do that, it will send you information on how to join Operation Homefront Online. There we have a Wounded Warrior Wife section for just us wives. You can also visit WWW on Facebook. Definitely go and add yourself! There on either place, they will post any opportunities for Wounded Warriors and wives that come along. I know that the forums will be changing soon, so at least go to Facebook and register so you can keep up there of any changes! 

So now on to stress relief. Well besides, duct taping my children and driving my husband out to the middle of nowhere and leaving him....I totally get you! I am still working on it to be honest with you. I make candles for troops, so this keeps me very very busy. I find that type of art/crafts is very soothing for me. I can sort of get lost and you have to pay attention so its' not one of those things where you can be thinking of fifty million other things. I love to I haunt second hand bookstores because I can't afford to buy new ones. During the day with my little ones, I lay down with them. I don't sleep good at night because my Rheumatoid Arthritis, my husband and his snoring, and just stress. During the day, I will lay down with the boys whether I am tired or not and that is my time to unwind, read, close my eyes and clear my head. I know not everyone has that luxury and mine is slowly slipping away with my middle son getting out of the nap stages. I am hoping to get with a friend and maybe learn how to crochet if that's possible. I am involved with several projects/organizations so that keeps me busy and its stuff I can do at home. This keeps me kind of occupied. Some of the other wives might be able to let you know what they do as stress relief. Sometimes, I just go and tell everyone..."hey, I am going to go and soak in the tub. If anyone knocks on the door, they had better be dead." I also try to plan a day to myself out once a week. Now it hasn't happened here in the last two weeks because we are tight on money...but I do try to get out, just me...have a cup of coffee, get my hair trimmed now that its short and grows out, or just get out and window shop. You need this time to yourself for sure and only you can make it happen. Definitely go and sign up for the Wounded Warrior Wives. Its a great group and I honestly, don't know how I made it through now that I have some wonderful friends in my life. Get a sitter, round up family and harass them to take them....take a break. Its the only way that you can get some peace of mind and that is the most important thing I learned at this retreat with Dr. Bridget Cantrell and Carla Staats. 

Hiya USM! I am emailing because I want to know whether I am being too hard on my husband about picking up after himself. It is driving me nuts and the root of most of our fights! I have two kids and its not setting a good example for them. I hate to be the nagging wife but I work full-time, go to school part-time and he is home. He does have PTSD and some back problems but nothing major that prevents him from doing things he enjoys. Am I being too hard on him for expecting for a little help? Thanks!

Hi ya back! Thanks for letting me post this! OK, well I am not a professional and don't claim to I am just gonna give you my opinion as you asked for it. I don't think it is and I most definitely know where you are coming from and how you feel! Often times, the PTSD card comes out here at home and I must lay down my cards and trump that "I went to war and have PTSD" card he uses up his sleeves! PTSD doesn't make you lazy and incapable of picking up dirty clothes, drink cups, or what not. I can't give you advice on this because I too, suffer from the endless arguments. I finally just stopped doing it one day. I know it's not a grand idea, and probably wrong of me...but I hate to nag him. Nagging leads to arguments and resentment in my household. I just decided one day, hey, you all won't help...I won't do it either. While on "Mommy Strike", the dishes piled supper was served....laundry wasn't done. It was amazing to me to see my boys jump on it but man did my husband buck and snort at the way I was letting it go. He eventually gave in and begrudgingly helped me.

After the retreat, I learned from Dr. Cantrell that I can't really set that many expectations on him but we also can give in to their helplessness either because that makes them that more helpless. If that makes sense. Since I have been back, I sat the family down and made a calendar on the fridge. Each family member, even down to the 2 year old, has a chore for the day. I finally just told my husband that PTSD doesn't mean he has to be nasty. Once he figured he was out of clean clothes, underwear and such...he finally got up off his butt and helped. Also, Dr. Cantrell told us at the retreat that often we take away our Veterans masculinity. I never really thought about it that way. She suggested giving them small tasks to complete and really praise them for it. I tell you, it does work. I made a HUGE deal out of my husband's few tasks that he does. Often times, I will leave things for him to do and let him beat on his chest when I praise him. I don't give him a lot, but I do give him certain things he does on a rotating schedule. Now that the kids are involved as well, they think it's a game and get dad up and at 'em do get it done. Today is house cleaning day, which I am late getting started on. BUT the hubby is doing the bathrooms, and the kids are taking out trash, my oldest is putting laundry in, and I will mop and run the vacuum. I have been trying to make Saturday nights "Movie Night" where we all watch a family movie we rent and eat popcorn. My husband actually enjoys this now. lol Tonight its Toy Story 3 and he is also itching to get back to his Xbox game. During cleaning time, we shut TV off, games off, and we jack up the music. So that's what I do here...not that it wouldn't work for you, but everyone is different. Just got to find what works with you...maybe the other ladies have some suggestions for you! Hope that helps you some!!

Thanks all for the emails! Keep 'em coming!! 


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pardon Me; Nervous Breakdown in Process

So it's been a pretty yucky the last few days. I haven't really felt like blogging, because no matter how I spin makes me sound like some child stomping their feet and pouting. When you argue and reprimand yourself because of your own sure as hell can't really blog and make any sense of it! So I have backed off the last couple of days to let the Tsunami of emotions I have retreat back to calmer waters.

So today, I decided to let by gones be by gones and just say what's on my mind. My husband hasn't been in the greatest of moods...when he gets like this and it lasts for days, it really starts to wear you down. For the first few incidents, you really just learn to ignore it...when it keeps going, it starts grating on your nerves. After five days of it, you start questioning a ton of things like life, your marriage, and all the in between things. I HATE getting to that low point where you sit there and you think "I hate the way things have become".  I sometimes wonder if its me. Am I the one who is being short tempered now? Am I the one who may need the medications increased because I just can't stand to look at him some days? Back and forth it goes, until you just finally give up and want to go curl up in bed and stay there all day.

His earlier bouts of spending has caused us great financial hurt and is slowly catching up with us now. It seems the more we pay, the more we owe. I was so upset yesterday because after a small check, there wasn't enough leftover to even pay a tank of gas for the next two weeks, let alone any groceries. Now we have been through hard times. Lord knows, we have had to rob Peter to pay Paul sometimes...but never this low. I needed him to be on board my ship of worries, and all I received was hatefulness, coldness and that damn empty stare. This was accompanied with the ever happening comment of " What do you want from me?".

So what is it that I want from him? I am not sure. Damage is done now so there isn't really anyway to go back. I guess I want him to realize that his search for the "Iraq High" has led us down the road to financial debt. I want him to accept the blame and say, I am really really sorry. I would like him just once to say "Everything is going to be ok" and I never get that. Sometimes even when you are at low points, you would like people just to say...let me worry with you.

I felt so ashamed yesterday because the "beast" once again reared up during an appointment with a Veteran's Benefit Advisor. The Disabled American Vets totally screwed up our application for increase of benefits so a portion of his payment each month was missing due to "deferment of decision", so the VBAs (there were two) were advising me, correcting, and taking additional statements. They were so friendly and just trying to help us. The "beast" decided to show his ugly side and therefore had to be removed to the hallway to wait for me. To top it off, I finally got an explanation of how the VA's idea of 2+2 doesn't necessarily equal 4 as far as disability compensation is concerned so that brought me down as well. It's like we have the stuff to make him fully disabled, but have to fight for it. In the mean time, my family is struggling...we don't qualify for state help because of the VA disability he does draw now, and there aren't any programs to help us navigate the system or help us as a family because we are Reservists. To get this process once again submitted and for someone to rock, paper and scissors the VA decision will take another nine months as that is the current wait time.

I don't know if it was just the stress of it all....or just the fact I am tired and not feeling well, but I totally brought on the "Ugly Cry" as my dear friend, Wife of a Wounded Soldier calls it. I mean, to the point of even getting the slight hysterical high pitched voice in it! That poor man probably thinks our family has got to be totally messed up! Between me crying, and my husband's internal pressure cooker getting ready to pop....yeah, he may never see us again. All in all yesterday wasn't that bad because we did find out they were able to locate my husband's military records the Army lost, so we can now apply for a copy of them. Downside was, that we may never hit that 100% disability benefits.

Quite honestly....I am tired. Tired of the VA red taped games of let's see how else we can screw you. I know my husband is just as equally frustrated as I am if not more....I listened for two hours about how he served in a war, washed the blood from dead bodies from trucks, all these wounds these soldiers endured, treated Iraqis with second and third degree burns, and how illegals in our country have it so much better than our Veterans do. I agree. At the time however, the last thing I needed from him was to get high on the soap box and a most visual trip down Camel lane. I hate to be this way...I really do. It's just that he gets on these tirades!

I often wonder why it is that my husband can get so fired up about such things as this, or a controversial topic...and yet, offer me up a vacant stare as if I am really not there and he is somewhere else for the time being of our conversation. It's like, can't you worry about what we are going to do for the next few weeks? Aren't you worried about what we are supposed to do for our kids for Christmas which is rapidly approaching? I don't expect answers, I don't expect money to fall from the sky because he asked for it...but I just want to have him say I will worry with you, but we will be alright. All you see is glassy eyes, emptiness....and then coldness. I told my Wounded Warrior Wife buddies this morning that I really wanted to jerk up his testicles, tie them in a knot and then rip them off! I am normally not the point of portraying a Bobbit incident, but I am pretty frustrated.

These are the times where my hula hoop is not large enough to hold my emotions. I know Carla Staats told us to let go of the things not inside our hula hoop or our control, but there are days where my hula hoop is not big enough for just me! My proverbial shit bucket hath runneth over and no matter how many times I mentally empty just fills again. There is the reminder from Dr. Bridget Cantrell, nagging me in the back of my head that I can't place expectations on my husband based on what I think he needs to be or how he used to be...but gosh, that sure is hard. How does one eventually overcome that part of it? To me, its like quitting smoking or drinking.

I read online through Facebook a comment made on one of the many PTSD Facebook pages. This is what I read "PTSD stands for: People That Should've Died". At the time, I kind of gasped to myself like why would someone post that? How could anyone say that at all? However, its true. My husband doesn't really want to be here, and tells me all the time that he was supposed to have died over there. Or that he wishes he had never came home, how he wished he could go back and never come back here....even myself through blogging, made the comment that there are days where I wished he had died over there just so he would be happier, and that selfishly, I can remember him as he was and not this "pod person" he has become.

There are days where I want to save the world, and I know the big man upstairs has plans for me.....I try to be kind, patient and sincerely giving...but there are days where I really want to not save the world. There are times where I am simply struggling to save my husband every single day and my children in the process. Sometimes I wish the VA would just count us in on all the hoopla's of disability compensation, because they are missing out on the most important aspect of the Veteran's entire issues. There are days like yesterday when I broke down and looked at this man and asked "what are you going to do to help me help him" when I really wanted to ask him "what are you going to do when I can't do it all by myself?".

Sigh.....I know, I know...self pitying today. Can't help it, can't fully explain it...and for you many spouses who are going through what I am...I should not have to justify anything I said or defend it. Yesterday the VBA reminded me that it could be much much worse and that I needed to find comfort in that....Sir, I am truly trying. I try to remember that there are so many suffering worse off than my husband as well as their families...and I keep that in my mind every single day. However, its very easy to say that because you can go home to the lady in the photo on your desk who smiles like there is not a worry in the world....go home to the beautiful children who aren't worried if daddy is going to be in a bad mood and scream at them or whether Santa is going to be there this year....while I, must return back to the dark corner of society where we are as families living with PTSD and TBI are put and try to cope with what has become a virtual stranger.  I must be the one to save us yes, I know it can be much worse....but its pretty damn bad right now.

Not much else to add,

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Loss of Freedom

~It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you~
Author Unknown

So this past week, I have been trying to catch up on some of my fellow bloggers and their posts. The Jolly Roger I always enjoy reading because he has some interesting things to say, is a veteran himself, and often times his posts allow me to see more into my husband than any book on PTSD or counselors could ever allow me to. One of his recent posts AWOL echoed many of the same sentiments I have had for a LONG time in regards to "sudden patriotism", the lack of thereafter when nothing is threatening us, and the lack of others understanding what Freedom means. Many do not know what the true meanings of Veteran's Day and Memorial Day as the Jolly Roger so eloquently mentioned in his blog...and that saddens me because he is so right. Will our children and their children grow up and have this idea that it's just a day off from school? Or just another holiday that the post office and government offices can be closed for? The sudden onset of patriotism to me, feels the same way as a "Hot Toy for Christmas"or the latest Blackberry coming on to the market. It lasts for a little while and then just completely disappears.

My thought for today on this beautiful day is this: When people hear the words Loss of Freedom, do they really understand what all that entails? In their minds, is it just having our world taken away? Being bombed or attacked by a foreign enemy? Is it the loss of our brave men and women who die in war? What will be taught to our generations to come? Do people ever stop to consider the losses we as the military endure while others lose nothing?

I had a date with my favorite books store last week. I was wearing one of my favorite shirts that said 'My Husband Hates Camels and Sand". The owner of the store is a very nice person and she said to me as I was checking out "I am so thankful to your husband because he fought to protect us from losing our freedom." "I flew a flag the whole year after 9-11 happened" While that's somewhat nice to hear and I am appreciative of the few that have thanked myself or my husband as we have more negative comments in this area than positive....I often walk away thinking "do you really comprehend what you could have lost? Do you realize what our Veterans have lost in the process while protecting you from losing anything?" "Why can't you fly your flag every single day like we do?"

I know that many do not understand.....they don't see how many of our Veterans suffer daily, fighting off the dogs of war in their mind, or how much our families lose in the process. They don't understand when the term "the battle comes home" occasionally crosses their paths. I want to turn around and say to people "are you appreciative? Where is the flags that once adorned your car? Where are the yellow ribbons that seemed to be on every shelf across the U.S.? What happened to the vocal support of our military and their families?" I have been in this particular town now almost a year, and have yet to see one single bumper sticker praising our military, our Veterans or even America. It's quite disappointing.

I know I shouldn't hold resentment towards the non-military people that live in our country. I know I should not be saddened by the fact that the only time the military is portrayed on our local news is when someone dies, a group like Westboro Church pickets funerals, and if a military member who has PTSD goes on a shooting spree. Why can't they just do a nice positive story every once in a while? It seems like here lately, everyone wants to make a huge deal out PTSD within our military by airing on all the stations murders, or murder-suicides.

No one wants to stop and take time to tell the other half of the stories. Was there drinking involved? Drug addictions? Was the soldier and the family turned away from getting help? Was the soldier told of the consequences of getting help so that he felt like he couldn't? Did the military post do all they say they could really? How many people looked the other way and didn't stop to see the signs? How much help was the post giving the family? How much afterward? No one wants to do a story about the spouse left behind after a suicide...will she be getting kicked off the post and how soon? Does she have enough money to cover her and the kids if any? Will the life insurance we are given cover such a suicide? There is nothing because its not sensational won't bring in ratings. How do these news people know it won't bring in ratings if they haven't tried it?

I wonder if those who know what the loss of freedom really means to our Veterans? So many have lost limbs, suffered paralysis, been horribly burned and feel they need to hide away because of their scars. Many lost their lives in entirety...lost jobs, homes in foreclosure.....lost their families because of divorce or separation. Some lost the freedom of walking, talking, being able to tie a shoe...all things that we take for granted. We lost our spouses who came home strangers.....our children lost their fathers. Many of us caregivers lost our best friends.We as Wounded Warrior families, know exactly what the term Loss of Freedom really means. 

Our Veteran's lost way more than could ever be replaced in a million lifetimes. Wounds seen and unseen constantly leave obstacles in their lives daily, many have lost their will to even feel the tiniest bit of emotions, and many just lost their will to even live anymore. I wonder if people would understand more if suddenly they just lost their ability to love, feel sorrow, pain, excitement and to just even care? Some of ours have lost control of their worlds, their lives and themselves...given up simple things we take for granted such as driving on their own, grocery shopping, even remembering to shower and shave. They lost their freedom of leading normal lives and having normal relationships with their families and friends. They sacrificed greatly so we as Americans can have that untouched, beautiful thing we call Freedom.

Veteran's Day is fast approaching and it just makes me wonder how many people will stop and think of how many brave men and women we lost over the hundreds of many will stop to think of our wounded who are battling so many wars inside and outside their many will stop to even thank a Veteran who has served? I doubt very many.......One thing I know for sure is this; I understand the full term of the cost of freedom. My children will grow up with the knowledge of why we celebrate certain holidays and the true meaning behind them...they will have the same respect and honor held in a special place for those Veterans who have served long past and in the future...and hopefully, they will pass that same feelings and appreciation to their children. My children will never look at a Veteran and call them crazy or think ill feelings towards them.....because they have had that love, freedom and liberties taken from them and know what its like. They see it taken away every single day that my husband has been home from war.

I would never wish any of our lives on another person, even if they were our own worst enemies...however, I wish just for a few hours...some chosen people could walk a mile in our shoes and perhaps that would give them a different perspective and appreciation for what they do have. Especially those, who think PTSD isn't real, that it's just an excuse to get out of deployments and who feel that what they endure, is what they deserve for fighting in a war. Just a little while, so they get it.....It shouldn't take a major disaster to our country to remind us that we are Americans, proud of it, and that Freedom is never ever free.......

Heavy Thinking on this Monday,

Johnny Cash 
Song of the Patriot

Johnny Cash & The Carter Family
When the Roses Bloom Again

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Look at the Mistress

I got this email earlier today from a Veteran and his Wife which kind of surprised me and thought I would share:

"I love your blog, but really can't see you as anything more than negative although very personnel in your feelings and life with PTSD/TBI. Is there more to you than just these issues? Not that I am meaning this in a bad way, it just makes you seem less personable. I read your blog like a bible and share with my husband since we have similar issues. Even he has mentioned it on several occasions that we don't see much of the USM behind the issues at home. Hope that doesn't sound bad" 

It doesn't sound bad at all! Trust me, I get some nasties in emails as well as the ones from families like mine! Just kind of surprised that someone would ask me,well about me! as a real person behind the PTSD/TBI? To be honest with you, you aren't missing much! I will answer your question though and hope that it makes me seem more real and easy to relate to. Here is what's behind curtain number one, Uncle Sam's Mistress:

I am an avid reader...would rather read than watch t.v. sometimes. Love authors that write crime fiction and the gorier the better. All the twists, turns and mystery just piques my interest so much that I can read on an average, around 20-40 books a month. I love to cook and try new things, so am known to haunt the Food Network shows and sites online. Haven't been able to master homemade biscuits, but try all the time. I would very much like to write a book, although I am not sure what I would write about or even if my writing is something worthwhile of a published book! I am a paranormal junkie with such shows as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures on Travel channel, and not to afraid to admit that I once had such an experience as a child that it has left me curious and definitely interested in such subjects, leading to my addiction of these types of shows! 

I love people, although that has somewhat waned since my husband has come home. I do better with men than women as friends because I can't really fit in with the whole idea of shopping, getting nails done, etc. I hate wearing pantyhose and skirts, but time to will see me in them and bitching all the way! I am college educated, well read although my TN roots sneak in from time to time on my English skills. I am more of a Tom boy although there is a secret feminine side to me that likes getting my hair done, painting my toe nails a fire engine red, and wearing girly underwear. I am mostly all Tom boy because I grew up with brothers. A recent found horse lover, I am a huge fan of my German Shepard who is my side kick here at home. I have three boys, all of whom I adore but sometimes would love to ship off to pre-boot camp! 

I am a member of the Disabled American Veteran's Auxiliary which I enjoy once a month pot luck dinners with much older members. My husband and I are the youngest people there, but we do love hearing the stories and being around other Veterans from different wars. I am one of the FRG leaders of our unit here in town which I enjoy most of the time, and that keeps me busy as well. We are one of those FRGS that are trying to set an example of how an FRG is supposed to be and so far doing a hell of a job! I have many other organizations that I will pitch in to help from time to time, and really that is my time to escape the hell at home.
I am a candle and soap maker which is my therapy and my ability to show my creative side and be imaginative. My business, Double HH Candles, has been in operation since 2006. I started it as a deployment blues buster and to help my husband and his fellow "hooch" mates combat the smell from a nearby human excrement/trash burn area. Before I knew it, the word had spread and I was making candles for areas of Iraq that didn't even know my husband. As the deployment went on, the more I was making candles and trying to keep up on my husband's military pay. I decided to start selling them here in our area of TN to local banks, shops and businesses to help me keep covering the costs of sending and making these donated candles. 

The idea blossomed into a full scale non-profit business and one I am quite proud of. It's very hard some days, especially when the email box is full with requests from some of our guys and gals in different branches, and days where I am struggling to keep up with the rising costs of the supplies and making enough money to keep it going. However, somehow it just worked out and has in the last four years. has sponsored my website the last three years which has made it so much easier for me to accept orders. Recently, I found out about Wounded Warrior Wives through Operation Homefront, and was the first organization to have anything to do with us as a family, couple and just me. I created a new scent for this group, and after costs, the full profit will be donated back to them. I use the "Pass it on" method so when one soldier gets a candle, there are others to share with people. It's by word of mouth and the love I put into the candles, that has made this a worldwide business. To date, I have donated around 10,910 candles. I want each military member to have a piece of home, for those that aren't getting mail to get something special just for them, for wives left behind to know how much they are loved and appreciated, and for those military organizations and FRGs to have a little help and boost.

All of this, plus my boys keep me a'hoppin most of the time. I am an honest person with a big heart. I write from just that and often times, wear my heart on my sleeves so I do get hurt and used sometimes. I am a terrible romantic, a fiery patriot of our country, and I pray every night for everyone, especially for those that need the most help. Don't know if the Big Guy upstairs is listening to me or not, as sometimes it feels like he forgot us the last four years...but hopefully he has.

I have a deep seeded aversion to things like Bleach (makes me sick as a dog), water chestnuts, liver, fried okra, pudding and my mother in law. I love love coffee, anytime but with just a hint of cream and sugar. Don't do Starbucks, or flavored coffee...just fresh ground beans will do just fine for me. I love sparkling wines, beer is even better and feel most at home comfortable, behind my big ass gas grill. Hahah! I hate people who think I am amazing, or heroic...because I am most definitely not a saint and don't do anything that I think is special or out of the ordinary that anyone else could do if they wanted to. 
I am an antique collector, concentrating in old advertisements, Coca-Cola (not reproduction), Uncle Sam and old War/propaganda posters, Americana and and I have been none to pick up a trashy romance novel or two because I have am a severe romantic at heart.  I drive a Tahoe out of spite because I don't want to use a Mini Van, although with my boys...a small school bus would be nice to drive. Not an outdoorsy type, terrified of heights, bugs of all kinds and jello seriously disturbs me to a whole new level. I like to think I have a great sense of humor although here lately because of my husband, I am a little more sensitive than I used to be.  I am huge music lover who collects songs. I have a collection from the 40's all the way until every category. I have one of those memories that can mentally record the music and lyrics, however I can't remember most of the time what the hell I did yesterday!

Little shy, little outspoken when I feel comfortable around people, and my husband and I are so different people are still amazed that we are married if they know either one of us. Hahahah! I don't tolerate liars, braggarts, or people who think they are better than everyone else. I worry too much about a lot of things I shouldn't and have to learn that I could never change it but still worry about it anyway. Biggest fear is dying and not being able to do all that I set out as accomplishments in my life.

So that is me. All in one nutshell. Hopefully, that makes me as real and someone you all can relate to! Thanks for wanting to know about me....seems kinda weird to not write about PTSD or TBI!

Just the Mistress in All her Worded Glory,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When PTSD Turns Physical

So I have been putting this topic off for a while now....mostly because I wasn't sure how to address the questions or the stories shared with me, and because I know what you are going through. Inwardly, I think I have been avoiding this topic because it hit so close to home and I am trying to forget.  I have had approximately 57 emails in regards to physical violence within a PTSD/TBI homes, and it saddens me to see so many of you are crying out for help. Saddening me further, is the knowledge that many of you who visit the site or don't say anything, probably will never reveal that domestic violence is an issue with your Veterans if its going on. For those that wrote me, I won't be sharing your emails as promised but wanted to make sure you understood my appreciation for trusting me with such stories of your lives. I know it was hard to write some of the things you did, perhaps embarrassing to see it on the screen in front of you, and more so admitting that these issues were indeed real.

I have been following PTSD material, information etc for a while now and was quite surprised to learn that domestic violence, emotional abuse and verbal abuse was a common factor in most homes. I haven't been able to find a straight forward PTSD/Domestic Violence statistics online in regards to the past few years, and the ones I have, are all older than 1995-1997. Makes me wonder what happened to the people who were looking for these correlations between Combat PTSD and domestic abuse? Did everyone just stop caring?

One of you wrote that "everyone says just leave-if I do, he will go nuts or something and kill himself. Do you understand how I feel knowing I can't go because of this and the constant back and forth?" Yes Ma'am I do. I have only had a few serious issues with my husband in the four years he has been home and us as a family dealing with PTSD. My husband constantly talks about suicide and the fact he wished he never came home which he thinks would have solved all our problems and he would not have to hate himself so much. It's not a statement he uses to hold something over my head, could be just generic conversations from "how did your psychiatrist appointment go?" to "you need to go get a haircut". His angry outbursts could suddenly with a blink of an eye turn very scary with him picking up tables, chairs, hitting walls, breaking things, and often would push me around. Grabbing me by the arms or wrists would leave bruises for a week or longer. I kept thinking to myself, if it gets worse...I will have to leave him. Just when I think I am ready to walk out the door and just give up.....the thought occurs to me "if I leave, my husband will simply become another statistic on some blank page that no one cares about". It blows over, he switches back to his semi-normal PTSD self and acts as if nothing ever happened. In the mean time, I am cowering on the inside and permanently waiting for the fists to fly. There isn't an apology because he doesn't realize he does it. If he does snap out of it, then its like he is humiliated and doesn't want to even look at me.

I don't want to admit that my husband has pushed me, hit me, or cornered me in the kitchen and yelled and screamed in my face until he was red, shaking and spitting on me from the anger. I never had to deal with this growing up, never had this happen in our relationship ever, and so for the most part, I feel confused. Where do you draw the lines between "not being able to control their emotions or behaviors" and "they don't know what they are doing as they often black out"? I do know that being a verbal and physical punching bag is not ok. I know that I should walk out and never think twice because my safety and my children's safety is priority. So why do we stay? It's the same question many of you asked me that echoes in my head all the time.

I often would hear of a friend of a friend who was hit by her husband....personally before the battle came home, I would be like "what the hell is she staying there for? All you would see is ass and elbows out the damn door!" After enduring so much the past four years? That perspective has changed drastically. I don't know whether its the counseling or doctors telling me "eh they all do that-just avoid the triggers, walk away when they begin boiling over and know that often times they don't realize they do it" that is keeping me here because I am permanently scarred for life with bad medical advice? Or is it because that small glimpses of our husbands the way they used to be keeps us hanging on to such a thin life line desperately?

I do know this...a few weeks back my husband suddenly turned into a monster I have never seen before. It was over something silly and stupid....he really really hurt me. Physically I was hurt, but emotionally I was absolutely devastated he could ever do that. I kept questioning myself....was it my fault? Could I have prevented the situation somehow? What did I do? Never once during that 24 hour time frame after the incident did I ever stop to think it was all him. It wasn't was nothing I could have done to prevent it. When he looked at me, it wasn't him. It was like this dark, evil, shadowy thing had taken him over. I had never seen this side of him and that part scared me to death.

Talking to other spouses, I knew that this was not acceptable. It just leaves you in this stupor and asking "what in the hell just happened?". I know it's very easy to say, "get out-run and never look back". It's easier for family members to turn a blind eye when it comes to needing help, and even more so for people to lay all this advice on you when they haven't been in your shoes. I won't give you that spiel of "call the 1-800 domestic abuse hotline-they can help you" because many of you told me you had the numbers. I will say this....protect yourselves first. I forgave but I haven't forgotten. I learned a lesson and now am more cautious and definitely more aware of his anger. If you can't stop to think of anyone else but him, look at all the murder-suicides happening all over the United States. Our Veterans didn't learn to half ass do anything especially in combat, so when their anger gets to that point...they can be seriously a danger to you, your children and to themselves. After that incident a few weeks ago, my perspective has totally changed about my husband and what goes on behind closed doors of PTSD homes. Not everyone is going through this, but there are many.

Do make sure you protect yourselves.....have a flight plan in case you must leave. Make a private account and slip a little money in there. I myself have started this and although it kills me to take just a little and move it because we are on a very tight budget....I know that something may happen and I will need that to get the hell out of Dodge! I had a friend offer a place to stay, I have 911 programmed in my phone. I make sure I have a phone charger in my car, and my battery is always charged on my cell. The car has a spare key I hid, the gas tank I fill up constantly so it's never past 3/4 of a tank.

I don't have all the answers to give you...I am not a professional and don't try to be. All I can give you in return is my story, validate your feelings of not wanting to leave or give up, and tell you what I would do or my plans if this happens again. I read on a domestic violence website that if you question whether you are or aren't in an abusive relationship, then you are in one. How does one tell between abusiveness and PTSD? So much isn't our Veteran's faults, and some of it is. It's like a constant mental tug of war for spouses like us who are in these situations. I totally understand where many of you are coming from.

 Check out I quite often visited her site at the very beginning because she was really all we had for spouses to go to for some answers. She has a section on PTSD and Domestic Violence. I also came across this article.

I saw this episode on Oprah with this author on it. How funny that at the time, I thought to myself THANK GOD this hasn't happened to us. I hope this makes you all feel somewhat better that I do know how you feel and I have walked in those shoes before....all I can say is, sometimes you just have to get out. There is only so much love, so much support you can give our combat PTSD Veteran's, and still not be enough for it to keep them inflicting their anger upon their closest ally. Don't stop yourself because of what he might do to himself, you have to think of yourself foremost. Counseling and inpatient programs have helped some of the anger physical outbursts here, but I just never know....and we never know when the battle will escalate to the point where someone is seriously injured or dies. That is the first thought that needs to be in our heads......

I receive emails sometimes from Combat PTSD Veterans themselves, which gives me a chance to see the other side of it. One Veteran told me that he doesn't know what happens to him, and that he never could figure out how the anger and rage would come and go without him even realizing it. He told me that Eminem's and Rhianna's song Love the Way You Lie best portrayed how he felt most of the time. He has given me permission to copy his email and place here without his name:
" I hear the song Eminem sings with that chick and I swear it's my life USM. I love my wife, and I don't know how I can be this way and not know it. The part where he says "Cause when its going good/ its going great/ I'm Superman with the wind in his bag/she's Louis Lane/But when its bad it's awful I feel so ashamed/I snap/Who's that dude/I don't even know his name/I laid hands on her/I'll never stoop so low again/I guess I don't know my own strength." It's not that I intentionally set out to be some ass it just happens. I get lost and I remember nothing. It's like I am asleep and then get woke up. She thinks I am crazy. I just wanted you to know I read your blog and try to gain some ideas of what I am putting her through. She left me but I am trying to fix myself so I can get her back-she is all that mattered to me but my PTSD is smothering everything and everyone in my life. I am too much of a p&s*y to kill myself but I see some of our brothers do it and I totally get why. You say you live in hell. I get that. I cant imagine what we do to our families. I just want you to know we are proof that hell exists in our world and no matter what we do, Iraq will always be there haunting us for the rest of our lives pulling us under. I wish I could just make it go away"

Wow huh? I wanted to include that because I am trying to be fair to the Veteran's as well since so many are reading my blog. On the other hand, for you Veterans out there....we have to protect ourselves first. We may love you to the ends of the world, but if you hurt us.....we often can't protect ourselves from you. If any of your hell is close to that, then surely you can understand why we have to find our ways out.

If anyone else would like to comment, share a story or advice...please feel free. I may have a big mouth, but never all the answers. Sometimes in subjects like this, it hits so close to home that I just don't have the right words or know what to say.....

Hurting Inside for All of Us,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Horse Sense

What This Blogger Learned From An Ass, Some Horses, Hula Hoops And Buckets Of Manure

So the burning questions that you all have and I have been eluding up until this point is......what did I learn and does it really work? Surprisingly, it does work. So what is it that I learned at this retreat that I can pass on to you? Here are some of my top things:
  • Maintain a good sense of humor. Laughter is truly the key to maintaining a healthy attitude, plus crying gives me headaches!
  • Learn to acknowledge our Veterans will never be the same and adjust to the way they are and who they are now. We like our Veterans, often buck against sudden changes...we are still focusing on what are husbands used to be, and fighting what they have become now.
  • Don't put expectations on your Veteran based on who they were before combat, and what you as a spouse/caregiver expect. You are only setting them up for failure and setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Learn to let loose some of the control that we have and let the Veteran try to do things for themselves; even if they fail. "Try try and try again" is now one of my new mantras!
  • Set small tasks for our Veterans to accomplish and praise them wholeheartedly for a job well done, even if its not to your standards.
  • Sometimes we as caregivers don't give our Veterans room to breathe let alone do things for themselves. This can prevent them from helping themselves in coping, recovery and healing. This also leaves them feeling less masculine. Allow them opportunities to try, accomplish their own set goals, and beat on their chests for a while. 
  • Help your Veteran if help is needed and asked for....otherwise, let them help themselves first.  Don't rush to their sides for every little thing. If they ask, be willing to help; but they must learn that some things they can and need to do on their own.
  • Communicate your feelings and thoughts. Often times, arguments can be stemmed from either side not knowing what is going on with the other.
  • Don't engage in arguments with your Veteran. Often times they are in one of those "moods" and just want to start fights/nitpick. Walk away, ignore and let them know that you won't engage in battle with them. 
  • Realize that it's ok to grieve for what we lost, its OK to be angry and feel resentment but, at the same time, learn that you have to let things go and let the past be the past
  • Know that if you are feeling frustrated, angry and resentful towards your PTSD/TBI Veteran, then they might just be feeling the same way themselves. 
  • Educate, educate, educate. For four years, I have been researching, reading and looking for information on PTSD/TBI. There were still things new that I learned about TBI and PTSD. Education is a key tool in learning coping skills, to function in a household with such issues, and allows for the rest of the family to understand what the Veteran is going through. 
  • Allow for some failures; we all fail sometimes as caregivers and spouses...the same should be applied to our Veterans. There will be good days and bad days, but that's for anyone of us! We won't always get it the first time out of the gate, and neither will they. How else will we learn if not by our mistakes?
  • Understand that our Veterans can't help who they are, or often, control their behaviors and emotions. 
  • As caregivers/Spouses, we are the most important aspect of the Veteran's well-being and care. If we are emotional train wrecks, we can impede any improvements for our Veterans and our abilities to provide effective care.
  • Our Veterans need to know there are consequences for their behavior. Being their personal verbal and physical punching bag IS NOT OK!
  • Don't allow your Veteran to hold power and control over you!
  • Realize that your Veteran and another Veteran's symptoms and issues may not be the same. Every one is different so don't compare! (I am really bad about this)
  • Understand that a few steps forward is awesome, but that sometimes there will be steps taken backwards too. That's ok! We as the human race aren't perfect!
  • Like the resident donkey, Eugene, our PTSD/TBI "asses" will be around. Use a visualization like Eugene to relieve stress. There is nothing wrong with having a fun mental image to fall back on when you need it!
  • Learned from the horses, that like our Veterans, they do not like to be told what to do. Sometimes they are stubborn, sometimes scared, and want to buck the help and support you give them. You just have to find ways to help them go around these obstacles and help, by finding ways that are most comfortable to them.
  • Lead by example, not by force. If you are stressed right when they walk in the door, then this will most likely set your Veterans off. 
  • Learn there triggers and recognize what sets them off. If you find something new, write it down. Often times, avoiding things that trigger episodes can be very helpful.
  • Try to focus on more positives about your Veteran rather than recognize every little negative thing about them. This can ease up some of the frustrations and resentment both parties feel.
Caregiver Tips:
  • Learn that you aren't alone! Blogs like mine and others listed on here, are valuable resources and validation. Websites like: Operation Homefront's Wounded Warrior Wives which has links to chat forums for just us. Another site is
  • Don't isolate yourself; I know easier said than done especially for those of us who live away from posts and family. 
  • Find yourself! We were all our own individuals before our Veteran's came home. Get back into things that you used to do before the world revolved around our combat Vets! Whether it be work, arts and crafts, yoga, or need this time to focus on the things you once enjoyed!
  • Find time to yourself! Relieving stress and having some "me" time is not selfish! It can be simply a nice soak in the tub, a walk in the park, just anything that gives you some time alone and let you breathe for a bit. Find time to clear your head!
  • Make a list of what is bothering you about your situation. Similar to that of the shit bucket we hauled around....make a list of things you are feeling, things that upset you, and then rip it up, set it on fire, flush it down the toilet whatever you need to do to rid yourself of it! Emptying the proverbial crap pot does make a difference. I don't know whether it was the horses, or the buckets of their poop...but hauling it around indeed made me very aware of how much unnecessary crap in my life I was carrying around on my shoulders. 
  • Journal, start a blog, write it down in a notebook....the best thing that has helped me is blogging and just getting it off my chest. Having it down on paper or screen, gives you an opportunity to really put out your feelings. Often, I can go back and look at something I may not have noticed before and correct it...or find something that worked for my husband but I missed at the time.
  • Communicate with your friends and family members. Often times, they back off because we put up our defensive walls. Let them know what's going on and let them in to help. 
  • Showing signs of weakness and sadness is indeed ok! If help is needed, ASK FOR IT!
  • Take advantage of support or resource options in your area. This can be anything from on post mental health, church, Vet Centers, etc. It may take you a little bit of digging, but some areas have tons of stuff that you just got to look for. 
  • Learn that everything does not have to be done all in one day! We are only one person...and sometimes just the stress of being overwhelmed can get us down before we even start the tasks. Make a list, and split it up through the week. I bought a calendar to help organize my time and things I needed to do. Not just for my husband but my children and myself. On Friday, I have time slotted that I am going to my favorite book store. One day a week I try to find a sitter now, and do something for myself. Scheduling it makes me want to do it more, and seeing it down on a schedule allows me not to mentally forget or change my mind.
  • Meal plan in advance, shop on a set day of the week, set aside some time through the week to clean. Block a day where laundry will be done. The world will not fall apart if we don't get something done and all in one day. Adhere to Scarlet O'Hara's famous line of "I will think about it tomorrow". Prioritize the "must get dones" and do what you can on the others. Try to include your children in some of the housework/cooking/meal planning. My children now have one night a week on the fridge where it's "Kids night". They let me know what they would like to have, and that's what we have. I just this week started to include my husband and wow, what a turn around!
  • Find stress relievers that you will enjoy. I know some of the ladies mentioned scrapbooking, having their hair shampooed and styled, pedicure/manicure....just something where you can focus on you and something that is just for you. 
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about what is going on in your home.....talking about it can often reduce some of the stress and reduce the feelings of isolation.
  • Help others! There are many things that you can do for others. I work with our unit's FRG and really enjoy it. It is my time, my space to get away from the family and my husband, and actually have adult interaction for a spell. There are many opportunities to do something outside your home to help others and in return, help yourself to reduce the stress and tension.
  • Going to the doctor to see about anti-anxiety/depression medications doesn't mean you are crazy yourself or mentally screwed up. Sometimes it's more than we can deal with and some medications will help alleviate some of the symptoms.
  • Seek out a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist if you need to talk to someone. If we are pushing our Veterans to do so, we can often lead by example. Seeing someone is what we push for right? So we can't very well not go ourselves, if the time comes and we need it.
  • Alleviate some of the stress of reminding your Veterans! I started a notebook a while back for my husband and programmed his cell phone for reminders. I bought a daily pill box reminder that has morning, noon and night time. Once a week I fill it, and then program his phone to go off when it's time. If he has appointments, then I program those over the weekend. 
  • We are all very guilty of carrying anger, resentment and bitterness for the branch of service, outsiders passing judgment on us, the VA and all it's red tape, lack of resources and those that don't work, politics and yes, sometimes are Veterans. We keep it in, it festers and before we know it...we are absolutely rotting from the inside out mentally because of so much we are worrying about. I will share my hula hoop with you! Visualize the hula hoop, and look inside. That is your space, yourself in it and everything else is outside. There are things we can't change....there are things that no matter what we say, cry or get angry and resentful about...will never change things. So why are we wasting our time, our health and our mental health on such things we can't undo or change. If anything, this hula hoop method has been the most helpful. If it's not inside your loop/space, let it go. 
  • Stand firm when it comes to yourself! Once you start, don't let it go back to the way things were before. You count too and often we are not acknowledged by anyone through the VA, the military, family members and outsiders; more so we discount our selves. I have been keeping to this hula hoop method and letting things go...I have amazed myself this past week at how much better I am sleeping, how much less stressed I am, and the lack of tension headaches I suffered from almost daily. 
So this dear readers, is what I learned. In some examples this week, this is how I utilized what I learned:

  • I acted very busy last week and asked my husband could he run to the store for me. Although I don't let him go, and worried about him the whole time....he was quite surprised that I asked. I didn't send him to the gateways of Hell called Walmart, or a large chain...just baby steps to a small local place up the road. I asked him to get two things for me, some milk and some bread. He left and I mentally had to stop myself several times from calling him and reminding him. I didn't write it down on a list, I didn't send him a text message. He went with a purpose and I let him go freely without me breathing down his neck. He was a little slow, a little confused when he went into the store he said...but when he came home, he had the items I requested. Now I know it may seem sorta stupid, but my husband can't grocery shop and hasn't been able to since he came home. Most of the time, he gets lost in the stores and most definitely forgets what he was going for. He came home with this huge grin like a mule eating briers and strutted around here like some rooster looking for a hen! I wholeheartedly praised him for these two small items and he was so tickled that he accomplished something and that I was happy! He said he had to walk out repeating milk and bread the entire time he was gone, got a little panicky in the store but kept repeating the items. I told him I was soooooo proud of him and he did really good! He of course, walked around with his chest puffed out the rest of the day, but most made him feel good and that he did it on his own. So I think by letting some of the control was good for me, it was most definitely good for him and he was for that small amount of time, able to be a man.
  • There were a few moments this past week when my husband reared his PTSD beast, but I simply just ignored him, told him that I wasn't going to argue with him and I turned my attention somewhere else. Now I know this isn't always going to be the case, but it was similar to dealing with my four year old in a the midst of a temper tantrum. Normally, I get very agitated and walking away and not giving in to him, took away the control he had over me....eased the tension in me and prevented a nasty argument. He was somewhat shocked I think that I just simply stood my ground in my decision to let him fight it out alone, that he was much better after that. Using my visual of Eugene, helped tremedously too because I had that inner laugh to myself!
  •  I stood firm with letting him do things by himself. I hated to lose that control, I really did...and a part of me felt like I was somehow letting him down. However, keeping my firm position and him knowing I wasn't going to budge...did get him to do a few things by himself. When he did remember something I made a big deal out of it praise wise, when he couldn't do something and got frustrated, I helped him walk away and then got him to the point where he could then do it on his own. Looking at them as a child and some of the things we must do, is totally different than treating them like a child and being demeaning towards them. Although I did help him some, he managed to get all the way through a task without me holding his hand. 

  • Keeping a prioritized list has kept me more focused, keeping a meal planner and separate days for certain things, has kept this past week running a little more smoother than normal. Having one day for just me, even if a few hours...has made me less stressed and a lot more happier than I have been. By incorporating my husband in the decision making and small things like "what would you like for dinner on Tuesday night?" has made him feel a little more included and important. This has made a HUGE difference in our household this week. So much, even my kids have noticed. 

  • Learning to adjust and cope with who our Veterans are is going to be difficult, but I think if we stick with it, it can work in some situations.  My boys are very loud, sometimes roudy and can often fight amongst themselves which sets my husband off and triggers his outbursts. So I figured if I can find a way to keep the kids quiet, but also something small that "daddy" can do without much thinking processes like video games or board games that frustrate him....then this will provide some time with each other. All I can say is THANK THE GOOD LORD FOR GIVING A PERSON THE IDEA OF PLAYDOH!  Yeah, who would have thunk it, huh? I purchased some playdoh sets and extra playdoh. It wasn't long before all three boys and my husband were playing with playdoh on the kitchen table and they must have played a good three hours. My kids were so tickled and although my husband didn't seem like it was such a big deal, this was the first time in FOUR years he has played with our kids. It didn't involve a lot of noises, wasn't too hard that he couldn't keep up or got easily frustrated and surprisingly enough, my husband said it was very relaxing. 

So this was a long blog, and I probably left out a ton of things...but I think memory loss is somewhat contagious at times! Not every day is going to be good days....not every day is going to always be bad. Will these tips and learned coping tools always bail us out? Absolutely not...but they have helped. Does this mean we can't stomp our feet occasionally and our Wounded Warriors miraculously become 100% tolerable? Nope!  I think the whole point of this retreat was to recognize yourself, understand that your feelings are indeed acceptable and to focus some of your energy on yourself. If nothing more, I learned that its time for's not selfish, it's not mean or wrong to feel that way. It's an absolute must.....maintaining a newer attitude and fresher perspective, being forced to look at our situations for what they really are and having some laughs in between...can be very beneficial and work in our favors. Many thanks to Dr. Cantrell, the staff/owner of Qauntum Leap Farm and to seven wonderful women who still make me smile today when I look at our picture. Many thanks to "Stinky Pete" (Smoky) who reminded me that my husband isn't always going to be easy to handle and that a good laugh out loud is healing. To Wishbone the Turkey who reminded me that love and affection was still important and, to Eugene who was always in the middle of everything, and who gave me a reason to smile inward when my real "ass" shows up daily.

Twirling my Mental Hula Hoop,

Eugene Right in the Middle of Our Meeting

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

Between you and me, dear Readers.....You have read that I was pretty scared of horses, had a bitterness so deep within me for counselors and therapists, and that the Wounded Warrior Wives Retreat to Quantum Leap Farm, was somewhat of a trip full of skepticism in my case. The fear of meeting other wives who I felt would more than likely leave me out, the horses trampling me to death and the fact that this was "therapeutic", really left me with a ton of doubts the first day I arrived there.

So how could a bucket of horse poop, an ass, some hula hoops, horses and a turkey along with twelve other women cause a change of mind within this doubting Thomas? Well let me explain what we encountered upon this trip.............

As I mentioned in my first blog about this retreat, we were counseled over the weekend by Dr. Bridget Cantrell (author of Down Range: To Iraq and Back), Dr. Edie Dopking PHD (owner and founder of QLF/), Carla Staats (MA,LCDC,CAP/At E.A.S.E. Equine Self Exploration Program developer) and Jenna Miller (MA) all of whom are just wonderful and friendly. I can't leave out Lisa Reedy who is the financial guru and magician for Quantum Leap because she was there throughout the weekend making sure everything was taken care of. Special thanks to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice for helping make this trip possible! Most doctors and counselors I have encountered in the past four years of our turbulent ride of PTSD/TBI always seemed to focus solely on the medical book and really lack in beside manner not to mention, forgetting the impact of damage that is there within our veterans and our families. Along with their atrocious attitude, they often disregard the most important person in the veteran's care giving and healing processes, us.

This group at Quantum really made you feel like you were around family or friends. The atmosphere was laid back and they didn't bombard you with medical jargon no one understands which is often times the case we as spouses encounter. They didn't just welcome us to the farm with a attitude of "just another part of the job, get it done and get the hell out" attitude but welcomed us with open arms and without judgment. This was a huge issue with me as often I am faced with outsiders looking in through blinders and not listening to my story, but passing judgment that I am indeed a bad wife, lack the honor of being a military wife when I am upset, or tsk tsk you when you feel like walking away.

Saturday while we were there, we got an introduction to all our counselors there on the farm. They explained who they were, what they did and how they got to be where they were at the farm and with the program At E.A.S.E. Carla Staats treated us with respect, admiration (although most of us could not imagine anyone admiring us) and deep concern for our well-being and our lives as caregivers. Dr. Dopking went over quite a bit of information in regards to TBI and what that actually means. It was interesting because we, the human race, don't really appreciate what a fantastic but completely sensitive organ our brains are. She talked to us like a normal person, and not "just" a doctor at the VA who is trying to shuffle you out the door. I will place a tab next to the home tab on the different portions of the brain and damage done linking that to different issues a person can face when damage is done. She explained the testing and how sometimes, different scans like CAT often miss the damage. There is a scan called the SPEC but it's so expensive that the VA can not do it, but one spouse did tell us they opted to do that one and paid out of pocket. Their experience showed quite a bit of damage from that one test.

We sat in a close circle which was nice and talked about ourselves and our story with our military members. Many of them similar and at the same time, very different. I myself, found that there was no way to talk about everything because you mentally compartmentalize issues over the years and just simply forget or there is so much you can't unload it all. So when someone else was telling their stories and it related, you were mentally thinking "oh yeeaaaaahhhh! How could I forget that!"

The counselors had the horses brought out which we were told to take a few minutes of quiet and just observe our equestrian friends. It was interesting to see them react to each other; some fighting for dominance and some just trying to be around the others. At one point, one was sniffing in the middle of the arena and another circling the gelding. We were then asked to voice our observations which was pretty neat, because all of us had different perspectives and findings.  I found that I best related to the one horse stuck in the middle with the other gelding circling around him. I found that it how I feel most of the husband in the middle and me circling him trying to cushion the world, protect him from others and at the same time...keeping an eagle eye out on him.

The whole weekend was about the focus on us as caregivers. To concentrate on our feelings, but at the same time....letting go of things we can't control. If we can't control it and we can't change it....then there isn't really a reason to let it stress us out. Dr. Cantrell spoke to us extensively about how we need to focus on the inner us. It wasn't about us, as wasn't us as in military spouses...but who we really are as a person. To be honest, I haven't really given thought of how much I gave up or who I really was as a person in a very very long time. We are all our own person with individual personality, things that we have done, do or accomplish that makes us who we are. Somewhere between the hectic ride of PTSD and TBI or other injuries that incapacitate our warriors....we as individuals get lost because everything becomes focused on our Veterans. It was about focusing on the real us, and how to improve our lives as far as stress goes.

Many of us in this small group had the same stresses. It was the VA system, our warriors with their reckless behaviors, disabilities, being a married single parent, the red tape and bureaucracy, and the fact that we never catch a break. Dr. Cantrell talked to us like we really mattered, that it was ok for us to grieve and feel our losses, and how that we have every right at times to be angry and upset. She spoke to us about how often as caregivers we control every aspect of our warrior's lives, leaving them feeling less masculine. That we need to set boundaries for our Veteran's but at the same time....learn to let go of some of our control. Basically, we have such a tight rein (no pun intended) on our spouses with issues, that it leaves them more helpless than they were to begin with, doesn't help them in the long run, and often with men....leaves them feel less of a man. Dr. Cantrell told us about not setting up expectations on what we think our husband's should do based on how they used to be, or how we think they need to be. This only sets us up for failures and disappointment on both sides. Setting boundaries and letting our spouses know there are consequences, giving them something small to achieve but praising them wholeheartedly for a job completed, and not letting our Veterans with issues, control the situation or us; were all part of this weekend. Allow your warrior to beat on his chest and scratch himself while grunting "Me Man-you women-uggg-uggg" would indeed give them some control back and feel as if they aren't completely helpless.

I thought about this latter portion heavily Saturday night as I was laying in bed at the hotel rewinding the day. I suddenly realized, I don't give my husband much room to breathe. When they come home and there are issues, automatically we as spouses....are forced to jump in. What else can we do but leave our spouses if we don't jump in? You get in this routine, a constant circle every day and before you know are doing everything for everyone all the time....everyone and everything but taking care of yourselves. Letting go of things, often scares me...don't know about you but I haven't really put much faith or trust in my husband's ability to do things for himself since he has been home. Dr. Cantrell spoke to us about the fact that we must allow for some focus on positive things and not automatically count on the negatives. As Wounded Warrior Wife stated, "The Power of Positivity".

The weekend was designed to show all the things we are missing in our lives, how many mistakes we are making that add more stress on us and how to release that stress. We had to carry buckets of horse manure around all day Saturday which wasn't as bad as you think! We had to label our buckets with the negative aspects in our lives and place on our buckets. The bucket was a representative of how much added stress we are carrying around all the time. At first, you don't really notice how heavy the buckets are....just like we don't recognize the stress we are carrying on ourselves. After a while though, that bucket started getting heavy! When we had to dump our buckets at the end, it was almost a sigh of relief. Because by then, you really felt empowered, stress free and ready to get rid of the "crap" in your life.

I ended up with a horse that I swore up and down, was simply a reincarnation of my husband. I did tell the counselors that I flew all the way there to get away from him, and here he was in horse form. We had to walk our horses along with a partner, and armed with our poop buckets around obstacles that we labeled as various obstacles in our lives. My partner and I did pretty good, but Stinky Pete (we nicknamed him because right out the gate he kept passing gas so loud that it sounded like someone was sitting on a whoopee cushion amplified by a thousand) was hard headed, wanted to goof off, and most definitely did not want to be told what to do. We tried every which way to get that horse through an obstacle we labeled as the VA. It was so ironic that it was hysterical! In the end, we had to go around the VA and that was ok. It showed us that like our Veterans, they aren't often going to do what they are told and going to have to find their own way that they feel comfortable in doing.

There was so much in this trip to the farms, that it's hard to write everything although I want to. The most powerful thing I can think of was when Carla Staats brought us out hula hoops. First reaction, was those horses are not going to jump through those! We were told to get into the center of these hula hoops and look inside our small space. What did we see? Ourselves and nothing more. Outside hassles and obstacles were not in our hula hoop, people with their own judgments against us and large stressful things like the VA were out of our control, so why do we need to stress ourselves with such things? What matters is what was inside of our hula hoops. When our warriors become hard to handle or stress out over small things, it's not in our hula hoops.If there are things that are weighing us down and stressing us out so severely, look to see if its in our hula hoop. It's not, so let it go.

Between the magnificent horses which just seemed to draw out the stress and made you feel like they listened, there was also Wishbone the Turkey. Wishbone was rescued by Dr. Dopking when she found him by the side of the road after being hit by a car. His feet are deformed as you can see, but he is quite the bird! I have never been around turkeys, other than a few wild ones here around my home or on my table come the holidays! Wishbone loves loves people! No matter where the group was, this turkey would follow. If you laugh, he would gobble as if he was laughing too! He loved to be petted as he was truly a love muffin. The thing I noticed the most about Wishbone was his willingness to trust complete strangers just for that love and attention. He didn't care about the surrounding obstacles such as the distance he waddled after us or the horses. He just kept on trucking where he needed to go. I really enjoyed loving on this turkey. He also showed me that for that little bit of love, you are willing to go the lengths. Somewhat like us...we are willing to put up with so much stress and heartaches...just for the small amount of time that we see that glimpse of our "old" warriors.

Eugene was the resident mule and we were given this as a tool to remind us that often we are going to encounter our wounded warriors as asses. Often times, we had to overlook Eugene as he seemed to like being in the center of everything and everyone. We had to push him out of the way some of the times while we were working or meeting in a circle, other times he was constantly around somewhere reminding us that he was there. It was similar to that of our PTSD/TBI Veterans when their "PTSD Beast" side appears. Gives you a nice visual to have in your head when that "side" of our spouses appears!!

Overall, I learned quite a bit of helpful and useful information. In my next blog, I will make a list of things that we talked about, the things we learned and most importantly, whether all this horse stuff made any sense here Living with PTSD and TBI.............

Still Inside My Hula Hoop,