Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hijacked by PTSD

Today, Allen had an appointment with his psychologist. We started out discussing his day as he had trouble even walking into the doctor's office. I told his doctor that his symptoms were elevated today. Our discussion continued about things that were bothering him and some possible reasons that he was having a difficult morning. Usually, I am in the beginning of the conversations filling in how the week has been from my perspective, but then it moves on to be just between the doctor and my husband and I become a spectator. The things I have learned about the terrors he has witnessed through his service to this great country are unbelievable, but I am thankful to have a husband that is willing to share so much of his own experiences.

Today, they focused on some triggers and whether or not my Allen has any awareness, or warning from his body, that something is about to happen. His complex part of his PTSD, is that he completely dissociates and at times, it is a challenge to bring him back to the present. (This is part of the reason for the 24 hour care.) He mentioned a few things that have warned him at different times but at the present, he has no warning. Something happens and he is gone, checked out. The counselor called this being hijacked. His mind is being hijacked by the PTSD. His body stays, but his mind goes. 

Neither of us had ever thought of it that way, and we think it is a great analogy. My husband went on to say that one of his biggest frustrations is that people think that his symptoms are either made up or controllable. He expressed how much it hurts him that people think it is something he can control. Do people really think that he would do these things if he could help it? Planes get hijacked, but is it the pilot or flight attendant's fault that it was hijacked? Absolutely not. No one would ever blame them for the fate of the plane and passengers in this situation. It is the same way for my husband. No one should blame him or think less of him, because his mind frequently gets hijacked by his PTSD!!

I decided to share this today because more of us need to speak out. How can we ever expect things to change in our society, if we don't begin educating others and sharing our stories with our elected officials. They can't change things they do not know about. So, I encourage you to share something with someone today. Start small and see where that takes you!

Even Now.....Gina

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm just ME!!

As a caregiver, I struggle regularly to know where my husband ends and I begin.  It is easy for me to talk about his injury, his story, how he is doing.  However, it is really hard to talk about me, to stop and evaluate how I am doing.  Between being a full time caregiver, wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend; my life is quite full of what everyone else is doing.  Lately, I've been trying to do just a little bit for me!

Whenever I come into contact with anyone who knows me and my family, the first question is usually about how Allen is doing.  I am totally good with that because I know how to answer that question, usually!  (Sometimes this gets a little tricky because physically he looks okay most of the time, at least to acquaintances.)  The other day though, someone asked about me.  It somewhat caught me off guard, and actually left me a little speechless.  I had to stop and think a minute, because I just am not used to thinking about me.

So, this really has me thinking.  Who am I and what do I even like to do?  If I could work, what would I want to do?  Would I want to go back to teaching?  Do I still have any passion left for that?  It's what I always wanted to do and I loved it while I did it.  But, do I see myself in that role ever again?  It is something I need to be deciding because my teaching certificate won't stay current forever and it is quite costly to take the classes to keep it up.  

I often think and sometimes share how Allen has changed since his injury.  Rarely do I think about how I've changed in this same time.  Whoa, have I changed?!  I used to be pretty shy and very reserved, especially in new situations.  Not anymore.  I've always hated confrontations and conflict, (at least with everyone outside of my close family,) but I've learned that there is a place and way to get things done, and sometimes it takes some conflict and confrontations.  I'm much more confident in myself and am not afraid to speak out for what I believe is right.  I have a huge fear of public speaking, but have been about as public as can be in several situations and have actually handled it pretty well!!  I've willingly agreed to speak to groups about our story!  I'm also much more independent.  I have a confidence and efficiency about myself that I have never had before and it is exciting to me.  I have gained an understanding that life happens and there are certain things that just aren't worth getting upset about.  I've learned that I can do just about anything I set my mind to! Most importantly, I've learned that I'm just me and I am human!

All of this self evaluation has led me to ask, what is my passion?  I definitely have a passion for wounded warriors, their families, and mental health.  There is a great need in our country for advocacy for all of these groups and I can see my passion for them all.  I've also realized that we have to start speaking out and sharing our stories that include our struggles, or nothing is ever going to change.  We can't expect the people with the power, our elected officials, to make these changes if we keep quiet.  They will not know what we need if we do not tell them!  

While I still have a lot to rediscover about myself, I think I am beginning to take care of me a little bit, while still taking care of the rest of my family.  This semester I am taking a digital photography class just because it is something I'm interested in.  One of my friends and I, who is also a caregiver for her wounded warrior, have agreed to talk on the phone every Friday.  During this particular phone call we are not allowed to talk about our husbands, rather we have to talk about ourselves!!  I also bought a treadmill this week as I have a hard time being able to leave the house many days!!  

Traveling this road to recovery will most likely continue to bring change for both me and my husband.  I hope that I can continue to embrace this change and take the time to stop and evaluate every so often so that I don't lose track of where my husband ends and I begin!!  After all, I'm just me!!!

Even Now........Gina

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stumbling Upon Puppies Behind Bars

Many, many counseling sessions throughout this journey have been spent on accepting that our military life is most likely going to end sooner rather than later.  Allen has been in the military one way or another, either active duty or guard, since he was 17 years old.  The military has been one of the most stable things in his entire adult life.  The mere idea of him not having this is something that brings great stress and anxiety into his life.  In order to deal with this reality, we have tried to come up with different ideas of things he could do with his new life, to still be a productive part of society.  Let me repeat, many hours of counseling have been spent on this very topic!!

One such session, the idea of dog training was brought up.  Allen loves dogs and that thought perked some interest in him.  So, I had the homework of trying to research and come up with some possible solutions.  I had heard about a program that took purple heart recipients, trained them to be dog trainers, used them to train dogs for other physically wounded vets.  The problem is I couldn't remember the name of the program!!  (I now know that it is Paws for Purple Hearts.)  So, while trying to search for this program I happened upon a program called Puppies Behind Bars.  A whole new idea began to form in my little head!!  

Puppies Behind Bars, is a program that utilizes inmates to train puppies to become service dogs for veteran's suffering from invisible wounds, as well as canine detection dogs.  I became obsessed with the PBB site!  I devoured every corner of it!  I couldn't get enough.  Their program for veteran's is called the Dog Tags Program.  This wonderful program trains service dogs and places them with wounded warriors suffering from PTSD and/or TBI.  I was hooked!! 

After I had learned as much as I could, I shared what I had found with Allen.  He was instantly interested, although, he rarely shows much emotion for anything.   With his permission, I took the next step and made the call.  I spoke with Kate at length about their program and the possibilities it could mean for our family.  I was in tears several times, just because of the hope this organization gave me!  Our next step was to fill out the application.

The application was not easy, especially for someone with concentration, memory, and motivation difficulties.  It required a lot of personal information as well as personal referrals, doctor referrals, and I don't remember what else!  But, I was convinced this could be life changing for him and our family.  (Because everything that affects the wounded, also affects the entire family.  So many forget the family part!)  We finally got everything ready and submitted sometime in October 2008.  

If Allen was accepted, we would both have to go train with the dog for 2 weeks.  Since he was still active duty (med hold status), we would have to get this approved with his command.  It wasn't very long and we got the phone call that he was approved!  We were both so excited!  This news actually brought out the most emotion I had seen in Allen in a long time, probably since his injury!  I knew that great things were to come.  Sometime in early December we were asked if we could travel to Colorado for the training for the second and third weeks in January.  We immediately jumped through all the hoops of getting it approved through command and thought we were on our way.  About a week later, the military informed us that the same day we were supposed to be going to train with his dog, instead we now had to report for his MEB and there was no changing it.  We were both devastated and were very concerned that this could cost him his dog.  Thankfully, PBB ended up pushing the training back 2 weeks so that we could still make it.  This also meant we were going to be away from our kids for an entire month!

From the time we found out that we were, without a doubt, going to be able to go, the time couldn't have went more slow!  It was fun though.  It was exciting to see how Allen was changing before ever even getting his dog.  He became more engaged, more animated, and more involved in everything.  I finally had some hope!!  I used to tease him that he acted like we were expecting a baby, not a dog!!

So, stumbling upon Puppies Behind Bars totally changed our life.  However, we still have yet to deal with finding something he can do with his time to be a productive part of society again.  Currently, we are quickly approaching his retirement date of May 24, 2010 and have yet to figure out what retirement is going to look like!  Someday I hope we figure it out!!

Even Now........Gina

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sleepy Tears

Sometimes, when I take the time to just stop and really look at my husband, it makes me really sad.  I have accepted the fact that he is different than he was and that he will never go back to the way he used to be.  I've made peace with this and I still love him.  The part that makes me sad is the terror and horror that he lives with everyday.

Because of the severity of his PTSD and his dissociation, he is unable to drive.  Therefore I drive him to all of his appointments and everywhere else he needs to go.  I go into all of his appointments with him at his insistence.  Regularly I offer to stay outside or tell him that I have errands to run when he goes to see his counselor, just to give him the chance to speak his mind without having to worry about me and my feelings.  With this being said, I have been in the majority of his sessions over the last 2 1/2 years.  He has become very dependent on me.  Needless to say, I've heard a lot about what he has witnessed, taken part in, and been required to do during his service to our great nation.  

The things he has to live with are enough to make anyone insane.  In all actuality, he deals with those things better than anyone could expect, if they knew the things he has seen.  This is where my sadness comes in.  When he sleeps, he often has steady streams of tears running down his face and I know he is reliving one of the many horrific things he experienced during his time in Iraq.  He also talks in his sleep a lot, which also tells me even in his sleep, he has no escape from the burden he bears.  

While my road as his spouse is rarely easy, I gladly carry that burden for him, so that he has a little bit of peace on his road of recovery.  I love him with all my heart and pray that someday he too will be able to make peace with all that war has brought him.  

Even Now..........Gina

Monday, March 8, 2010

Changing Voice

June 2008, 6 months after Allen's injury, he went in to have surgery to help his sleep apnea.  They ended up taking out his tonsils, uvula, as well as sinus surgery and repairing a deviated septum.  The ENT was confident that this would fix his sleep apnea.  Allen was excited to have his tonsils out because they were huge and were always getting stuff stuck in them.  

The reason I write about this out patient surgery is that it ended up affecting me a great deal emotionally.  I never thought this this fairly simple surgery would have such a profound effect on me!  I knew it was going to be rough for him, as a tonsillectomy at age 40 is extremely painful for anyone!  However, I was shocked by the feelings that bombarded me after surgery.

You see, the one thing that had not changed in my husband since his injury was his voice.  Every other part of him was different.  He even looked different due to a large weight gain from medication he was put on to help control his seizures and others for his PTSD.  At first, I thought that eventually his voice would return to normal, but it never did.  I guess it had such an impact on me because that was the one piece of him I clung to, in a way.  It was a part of him that made me know that when everything else was different, at least I could still listen to his voice and know that he was in there.  I felt rather silly, but I think I actually mourned this loss to some degree.  I had to let it go and know that everything would be alright, even if the last thing that hadn't changed, had finally changed too.  

Today I realize that this surgery was life changing for me.  I no longer could count on listening to his voice when things were rough to draw comfort and strength from that part of him.  Now I have come to accept that really this was just a metaphor for life.  Nothing ever stays the same forever, but we have to accept change and keep moving forward!  

Even Now..........Gina