Monday, December 5, 2011

Slipping

One of the greatest things I struggle with is how and when to help my husband when I see him beginning to slip.  After almost 4 really good months, I am really beginning to see some pretty big signs that my husband is slipping again.  I know what his rock bottom looks like, and I NEVER want to see that again.

This time of year is typically very hard for him.  I always see more depression and other symptoms come to the surface during this time of the year.  I guess I had just hoped that it was going to be different this year.

About a month ago the not sleeping at night started again.  We made a slight adjustment to meds in order to help this but not sure it has.  He's still not sleeping well at night and then he wants to sleep all day.  I hate this vicious cycle.  I talk to him and he agrees with me and stays awake and busy for a couple of days, but then goes right back to sleeping during the day again.  He can even tell me what the sleep experts say about this, but then can't follow through.  I think the not sleeping fuels the depression, which in turn fuels the sleeping during the day.  He uses it as an avoidance, as a way of isolating.  I see it, talk to him about it, think he gets it, but then here we are again every couple of days.  I begin feeling like a nagging wife constantly riding him about what he's doing or not doing and I hate it!!  However, the other side is if I just leave him alone, he will spend his entire day in bed and then once again not sleep at night.  I can't seem to find the balance in supporting him.

He plans to start school again next month and I've really struggled with whether or not this is a good idea.  On the one hand, it will give him something to get up for everyday.  It is something he has wanted to do for a long time and has the opportunity to go again.  However, the other side of that is the added stress school is going to bring which is never good for him.  Ultimately it is his decision, but I worry none the less.

Thankfully, this too shall pass.  Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

Even Now........Gina

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day Parade

Last weekend, our family participated in the veteran's day parade here in Ottawa.  It was the first year since Allen's injury that he has even been able to attend the parade, let alone be in it.  They have asked us several times to participate, but this was the first year Allen has been well enough to even try it.  Our good friends were here from South Carolina, (the dad is also a wounded warrior with severe PTSD), so they joined us in the parade!

The original plan was for the kids to ride in the back of the truck with Allen and Dave and Frankie and Harry (their service dogs), while Meaghan and I rode in the front (where it was warm!)!!  We ended up switching that though and had my sister drive the truck (I was afraid I might get distracted and end up running over a tuba player in front of us), Meaghan, Makale, and Abbey rode in the front, with the little kids in the back.  I rode on the tail gate while Allen, Frankie, Dave and Harry walked behind us.  That way if there was a problem with Allen I could jump off and help.

The little kids were so excited to throw out candy!  I went to the store and bought a BUNCH of left over halloween candy on clearance so they would have plenty, or so I thought!  They ran out in the first block!  The parade ran from 5th for about 6 blocks.  They have a small ceremony in the middle of the parade, with a 21 gun salute, short speaker, national anthem, and a fly over.  Well, we were stopped right in the intersection, only a block into the parade for the ceremony.  If you can imagine this was highly stressful as we are in the middle of downtown, in the middle of an intersection with people everywhere, a fly over, and then the 21 gun salute.  Dave had to walk away from it all but was able to take care of himself and get away.  Allen sort of froze.  I was able to talk to him throughout though and keep him here.  It was amazing!  I was pretty nervous while we were going through it, but it was great for him to make it through.  What a boost in confidence!!  He was even able to enjoy the rest of the parade after we started moving again!!  I just walked with him the rest of the way which was actually pretty cool!

Since our show had just aired the night before everyone was yelling our names and clapping for us.  It was a bit overwhelming and kind of weird, but it was good that we could be there.  I think it helped for people to be able to see us and wave to us to make it seem more normal.  I was so proud of Allen and Dave for doing what they had to in order to take care of themselves.  Not long ago, neither one of them would have been able to take care of themselves in that situation.  Proud of you guys!!

It did take a toll on Allen later that day.  We came home and he had a headache and needed some rest.  Once again though, he took care of himself which is such a huge improvement.  He went into his quiet room, took a little nap and regrouped and then was able to join us again later that afternoon.  We still had a house full of company and he really enjoyed them.  It was so great to see such a huge improvement in a year's time.  Last year at this time I wasn't sure if he would ever be able to live with us in a home environment again or if we would have to find somewhere for him to live long term.

It just goes to show that God is good.  He has a plan for us if we will just take the time to listen.  Allen put in so much hard work that wasn't easy, but he is so much better now because of it.  Today on Veteran's Day, 11-11-11, I want to thank Allen for his self less sacrifice and service to our great nation as well as all of the other veteran's past, present, and future.  America is great because of you!  Allen you are my true hero!

Even Now.......Gina

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thank you, thank you , thank you......

Those two little words just do not seem to be enough, but I don't know what else to say.  I am beyond grateful everyone who had anything to do with our build.  I know that I will never know you all and be able to thank you personally, but know that we are forever grateful.

It is so amazing to be see the dedication, love, hard work, and sacrifices of so many come together to help bring our family together again.  I am so humbled by it all.  Please know, that me and my entire family are very thankful to have such a supportive community surrounding us.  We know the conditions were extreme, and we appreciate everyone!

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the donations, time, sweat, energy, time and everything else that was given for us.  We will never forget all of that and will do our best to pay it forward every chance we get.

Even Now......Gina

Friday, November 4, 2011

Silent Siren

Our family is very pleased to announce our new program Silent Siren.  It is the culmination of our personal experiences, tons of hard work, and the passion we have to help others who find themselves in similar situations.  The idea for this program has been running through my mind for several years now.  It is great to finally see it come to fruition!

You can learn more about this unique PTSD alert program by logging on to our new website at www.silentsiren.org .  Please help us grow by sharing our link, facebook page, and twitter!  You can also donate to Silent Siren through our website.

Through our journey of being a wounded warrior family we have had many struggles, but we have also been incredibly blessed.  We are happy to be able to give back and share our story to help pave a better road for those who will follow in a similar journey.  We hope that we can use our voice and story to speak for other families struggling with PTSD.  We are extremely honored and humbled that we have been given this opportunity to speak out and fight the stigma.

None of this would be possible without my amazing team who has believed in my idea from the first time I shared it with them.  I want to thank Dr. Ike Nnawuchi, Emily Smith, John Steed, and Theresa Emerson for their belief in me and my idea, their hard work and dedication in making this dream a reality, and their commitment to see it through.  We love you guys!

I also want to thank Karla Smith Foundation for deciding to make this a program under their foundation. I am proud to partner with them and work together to help bridge the gap between families supporting a loved one with PTSD and emergency services personnel.  I am excited to see where this goes!

Please support our new program in any way you can.  Thank you!

Even Now.......Gina

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011

Well, the big day is finally almost here.  In less than 24 hours our episode will have aired and the big build up will be over!  We have a pretty big day planned for tomorrow and unfortunately, we probably won't be getting much sleep tonight due to our anticipation!!

Our local ABC affiliate, KMBC9 news will be here broadcasting live from our house for their morning show.  They wanted to be here from 4:30-9:00, yes that's am!!!  We decided that the earliest we would be available is 6:30 and the boys aren't too happy about that early!  So, they will be here from 6:30-9:00 tomorrow morning.  I must admit, the live interviews make me a bit nervous!  I've gotten pretty used to the recorded ones and the ability to edit and start over.  Live makes me a little anxious!  While they are here in the morning, they will also be filming some segments for their 5:00 and 6:00 editions, and will then return around 8:00 to be here for some of our watch party.  On the 10:00 news, they will then show the party and some of the inside of the house.  Pretty big day!

I'm so excited that our friend's are coming in from South Carolina to share this day with us.  The Long Family will be here for the weekend.  We are all happy about this and can't wait to see them.  It really means a lot to me that they took the time to come share this with us.  We've been through a lot together and it will be so good for us to just be able to be together again!

I hope you are all able to tune into the news stories as well as our episode on Extreme Makeover Home Edition tomorrow, November 4!  We are excited to see how it all turns out and how much awareness it will raise for PTSD.

We are also launching our own program tomorrow and I am going to post about it all on it's own!  So, there will be 2 posts tonight because it's such a big day!!  Thank you all for your support!

Even Now.......Gina

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Getting a New Look

Yes, my blog has had a makeover!!  We are in the process of launching our own program on Friday, November 4 with the premiere of our episode on Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition and wanted to tie my blog into our new website.  In order to make them connected, we gave my blog a makeover!!

Please don't think you are on the wrong blog!  It is still me, Gina writing about our everyday life as we deal with PTSD.  Stay tuned for a big announcement of our program and website in a day or two!  Thanks for all of your support you have shown our family.  We definitely wouldn't be where we are without the love and support we get from our family, friends, and community.

Even Now.......Gina

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

The day is finally getting here!!  We are all really excited to watch our episode on Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition this Friday, November 4 on ABC!!  It will be great to see how it all went down while we were having a great time in Yosemite.

I'm so excited to see how much awareness this episode will bring to PTSD and other mental illnesses.  It is not only our hope that Allen will continue to do well here, but also that it will raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with PTSD!!  I truly hope that this episode will have a huge impact on our nation to help everyone struggling with these illnesses.

There are a couple of sneak peek's available and can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFBNkwNaZm8 and http://abc.go.com/watch/clip/extreme-makeover-home-edition/SH006334870000/PL5557254/VD55150498/hill-family-sneak-peek/promos .  Grab your tissues, they are really emotional, at least for me!!  Please feel free to share this blog post, sneak peeks, or anything else to get the word out on this important show!

Stay tuned later this week for some other exciting announcements!!

Even Now........Gina

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Joplin: Finding Hope

Today my family and I spent the day on the Extreme Makeover build site in Joplin, Missouri.  It was so amazing getting to see the process from both sides.  I was amazed at how quickly things progress on these sites!!  One of the greatest things here though is to see the hope that these people have here.  It is so inspiring to see people living through so much fear and devastation rise up and prosper.

It was also great seeing the production team again from our build and the designers.  We had so much fun hanging out with them again.  We were also able to meet many of the people that worked behind the scenes on our build which we never would have been able to see.  They all seemed really happy to see us again as well and to see how well we are all doing.   Many of them said how rare it is for them to get to see the families again after they leave and how great it is for them to see how well Allen is doing.  They said they had really wondered how much the house had helped us and how Allen was doing.  So it was great being here for many reasons!!

We found an organization here that is called The Hope Station.  You can check them out at www.thehopestation.org and it will be worth your time!  They have these amazing t-shirts that inspire hope and healing and the stories behind the people.  They were here giving away t-shirts for hope!  We got several different ones and plan to order some online as well.  For every shirt they sell online, they give one away.  Check them and their story out!!

We are all looking forward to being back on sight tomorrow!!  It is at times a struggle for Allen as much of it still looks like a war zone.  Seeing the hospital was very eery for him.  However, he is a trooper and keeps pushing himself to get through it.  I'm so proud of him and how well he is doing.  He is regularly stepping out of his comfort zone and trying things he never would have a year ago.  He amazes me often and inspires me even more.  He's my hero!!

Even Now.......Gina

Monday, October 10, 2011

Keeping Quiet at Whose Expense

It's normal for married people to fight, argue, bicker, disagree, or whatever you choose to call it.  For Allen and I, it really is not an often occurrence.  However, I often find myself keeping quiet about things that I probably shouldn't, in order to spare him.  I worry that if I upset him, I may make him feel worse about himself than he already does.  Or, that I might be the cause of him going into a depression.  Or even, that if I say something, he may have some type of an episode.

I'm not sure when I completely started putting myself aside, but I did.  This caregiving role makes it really hard to not lose yourself.  I try really hard to take care of myself too, but sometimes that isn't as easy as it seems.  I always think of how something is going to affect Allen before myself, and often even before my kids.  Somethings just have to be said, in a respectful way obviously, without my fear of causing something negative for Allen.  I try to protect him from so much, but really, in all honesty he is stronger and more resilient than I give him the credit for.  He's ok and he's going to be ok.  He can handle it.  I just have to find that balance.

It's hard in any relationship to decide which battles to pick and which ones to let go.  I've recently, very recently, discovered that this applies to husband and wife as well.  We always talk about it in relation to our kids, but it also applies to us.  I have to learn that it's ok for us to not agree on everything.  Or for me to be able to tell him when something is bothering me without fearing that it will cause a negative response in him.  I have to learn to trust him.

I've been doing this on my own now since 2005.  It's hard to give up that control and learn that I can count on him for certain things.  I think that we really do a pretty good job of communicating with each other most of the time, but I just have to build my confidence in him that he can handle it.  It's time that I let him have some control back and shoulder some responsibilities.  He definitely has taken on a lot more of this since coming home this time, but it's still hard to find that balance.

Just like everything in life, I am still a work in progress.  I try to balance it all, but it's really hard sometimes in many ways.  I have to trust that Allen is in a good place and really can handle more than I give him credit for.  We can't work on us, if we can't talk to each other.

Even Now......Gina

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dream Journal

While Allen and I were at the NICoE (National Intrepid Center of Excellence) in Bethesda in July, we had an amazing team of doctors and support staff there.  One of those, Dr. Panetierre taught Allen something to try to help get rid of nightmares.  Well, he has finally tried it, changed it a bit with the help of his psychologist here, and has had some success!

The basic concept is to write the dream out as a story.  Get it down on paper as soon as possible after having the dream.  If it is a recurring dream, you can probably write it anytime.  Then, you rewrite the most traumatic part and change it just a little so that it is less traumatic.  For example, if in your dream you are in a car accident that killed someone.  Keep everything the same in the dream, but instead of the person dying, they get critically injured.  So the accident still happens, just the most traumatic part is changed a little.  Read this new story each night before you go to bed until you start dreaming the dream with the changed event.  (This usually takes a couple of weeks.)  Then, change it again, just a little more.  Maybe the person is injured, but only goes to the hospital and then is released.  Keep changing it little by little until the dream is tolerated better.  It can be a long process but is a way you can control what happens in your dreams.

This is the main concept Allen has followed.  However, instead of changing the parts of his dream, he puts in self affirming terms that help him realize he is safe.  For example, Allen has a recurring dream of the night he was injured by the IED.  He spent time writing it out and has started to reread it.  When he feels that first tinge of anxiety, he puts something in that spot in the document that says, "You are safe now," or "You are back in the States," or "this is just a dream."  He has several phrases he has come up with to write into those places that first start his rise in anxiety in reading his story.  He then highlights them, puts them in a box, or makes them bold to make them stand out.  They are the words he is initially drawn to when he reads through the dream.  This process took him several days to be able to get through it without having a break down.  But, he did it.  Now he tries to read through it through out his day so that he is comfortable with it.  It now isn't causing the feelings and anxiety it originally was creating.  His nightmare has also been much less intense since doing this.

He now is creating a dream journal on his desktop to keep track of his nightmares and where he can do this with each one as he experiences it.  He has several that seem to recur.  This is neither a quick or easy process but Allen has experienced some success with it.  Just thought I'd share.

Even Now.......Gina

Monday, October 3, 2011

Daddy Time

It is so great to see Allen being a dad again.  For so long, he simply watched as his life passed him by.  He was a spectator in his own life.  He missed so much even though he was here physically for part of that time, not to mention how much he missed while he was away.

Not only is this all bringing about a change in Allen, but also the boys.  Dreyson is his daddy's shadow and gets his heart broken if his dad is doing something that he can't help him with.  Makale is also reaping the benefits of having Allen to throw a football around with or play video games with.  I see them all really forming bonds that have been missing for a really long time.

Hearing them all tell each other "I love you" is music to my ears.  I don't think I go a day without hearing it between them.  And, to have Allen initiate the sentiment is huge!  My boys are learning it's ok to show good emotions to one another other than anger and frustration and their dad is leading the way!

Last weekend, Allen went out and taught Dreyson to ride his bike with no training wheels.  Dreyson had been extremely resistant to this without his dad here to help him.  He didn't trust me or his brother to help him.  Now that his daddy could do it though, he got it on the first try and hasn't stopped since!  Allen and him are going on regular bike rides around the neighborhood.  Yesterday, he even took off with a couple of the neighbor boys all on their bikes.  He's so proud of being able to ride it and that his Dad taught him how.  It's amazing seeing his confidence grow as his relationship with his dad is blossoming.

Thank you to all of the programs, organizations, friends, and family who have supported us through this journey and helped us get to where we are today.  We definitely are blessed and couldn't have done it without all of you!

Even Now.......Gina

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Operation Finally Home and Governor Brownback

Yesterday, Allen, Frankie, and I had the honor of speaking with Kansas Governor Brownback at a meeting in his office set up by Dan Vargas and Operation Finally Home.  It was a great opportunity for us in many ways and we can't say thank you enough to Dan Wallrath and Dan Vargas of Operation Finally Home.  They have done so much for us and we are so excited to be a part of their family!  It was so great to see them both and get to spend a little bit of time with them.

Operation Finally Home is an organization started by Dan Wallrath.  Dan is a custom home builder and was asked to help remodel a house for a wounded warrior.  Well, needless to say, he did that one and still does them today.  They started in Texas but have now expanded into 5 other states as well.  Part of this is also that they want to help these families succeed and do a great deal to insure this happens.  For us, not only did they play a huge part in our build, they also are paying our insurance and taxes for the first 2 years on our house.  This is how the meeting with Governor Brownback came into play.

Currently, a handful of states have great legislation that make their state a fantastic place for veteran's and their families to retire due to the benefits they offer.  For example, if a 100% service connected disabled veteran retires in Texas, they pay no personal property tax.  This is a huge draw for these families to retire in Texas, which in turn means they are spending money in Texas.  It is a win-win situation!  So, for Operation Finally Home who is paying taxes for the homes of disabled veteran's, it is important to get more states with benefits similar to Texas.  Obviously, this would mean that the money Operation Finally Home is paying in taxes, could potentially be used to build more homes.  Therefore, any state Operation Finally Home goes into to build a home, they try to set up meetings with the Governor's to start the conversations on getting the valuable legislation into that state.

During our build, Governor Brownback came out to help with our house.  During this time, Dan Vargas was able talk to him and make the connection that led to our meeting yesterday in Topeka.  We appreciate the fact that Dan V and Dan Wallrath both took the time to come up from Texas for this meeting.  One of the corporate sponsors of Operation Finally Home also came to the meeting from Texas, so thank you to Mark from LP.

We all feel that our meeting went really well.  We were excited to see that members of Gov Brownback's   office had already pulled some numbers relative to our discussion.  This makes us hopeful that they are really considering and looking at the possibility of giving some tax breaks to disabled veteran's in the state of Kansas.  Gov Brownback had also invited our state's adjutant General to join us and it was great getting to meet him and have him involved in our discussion.  Hopefully this will get the ball rolling here in Kansas to pass some legislation to help our veteran's.

Thanks again to Operation Finally Home for bringing us into your family and doing so much for us and all the veteran's you serve!!

Even Now.....Gina

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Thief PTSD

It always amazes me how quickly PTSD can come in and steal whatever it wants to from my husband.  Allen is in such a good place right now, but we still have those days where I am caught off guard from the ugly PTSD.  I guess I get fooled a little, let my guard down a little too much, because of how well he really is doing.  I know that he is not cured, nor will he ever be.  However, this will never take away my hope for remission and that he will not have to fight this every single day the rest of his life.

Since we've been home, he's been doing amazingly well.  Considering all of the adjustments we've been through the last 6 weeks, he's done phenomenal.  However, I see him struggling at times, and I know that he's working really hard not to struggle or to let anyone see him struggle.  I'm pretty certain that many people may even think he is cured he's been doing so well.  He seems happier than he's been since coming home from Iraq.  He's engaging in conversations, initiating contact with people, laughing, smiling, socializing.  From the outside looking in, most of the time, he looks pretty "normal."

This week though has been more rough.  He's still doing very well, don't get me wrong.  And, I know we are going to have bad days and possibly even a bad week here and there.  I just don't want these bad days to start multiplying into bad weeks and even months.  A couple of nights ago he had a pretty bad night.  He literally jumped out of bed twice with nightmares.  He was disoriented and into a dissociation.  Thankfully, he quickly came out of them, with the help of Frankie, but was definitely rattled.  This now has somewhat carried over into today.  I noticed him scanning the windows earlier and not responding to me.  Frankie noticed too and jumped up to him and got his attention.  He's resting now, and hopefully that will take care of it.  I've also noticed he seems a little less confident than he had, and even a little down about it.  I think he's scared of spiraling downward.  He has the tools to not let this happen this time though, and he is doing a great job of using those tools.

It just always catches me off guard how quickly PTSD can come and steal his confidence, security, and self worth.  It's similar to someone coming home to their house being broken into and along with their personal belongings being taken, their security is gone as well.  PTSD does that.  Not only does it knock them down and back to a terrifying time in their life, it steals their security, their confidence, and so much more.  It is quick, and dark, and debilitating.  It often strikes with no warning and leaves devastation in its wake.  

We refuse to let it steal him away again.  It's done that enough times already.  The difference this time is that Allen has the tools to get himself through this.  He is able to look at what it is from a much different perspective than he could a year ago.  I might have to prompt him to redirect himself and ask him what he can do to not let this ruin his day.  But, with my simple prompt, he knows what to do.  It's amazing to see the difference.  We are going to win!

Even Now.....Gina

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Year Ago

One year ago today, my sister and I flew Allen across the country to California to be admitted into The Pathway Home.  I remember that period in my life like it was yesterday.  A lot has happened in this last year, and we've come a long way.

Allen retreating into his computer shortly
before going to California for treatment.
The place Allen was at when we left home was the worst I had ever seen him.  He was struggling everyday to simply live.  He was fighting for his life.  He was scared to death he was going to hurt one of us and knew that if he did he would never be able to live with himself.  He was struggling not to take his own life in hopes of preventing something else from happening that scared him even more.  We easily could have been one of the tragic stories that make national headlines of combat veteran's going on terrifying and often deadly rampages.  Thankfully, we had a different outcome.

Allen's 11 months away was a lot of hard work for him as well as missing out on a lot at home.  He missed everyone's birthday, the holidays, our anniversary, Makale getting his learner's permit, Dreyson's numerous plays including the big one at Starlight theatre with Lou Diamond Phillips, Makale's track season, and numerous other things that happen in a year for a family.  However, he was a trooper and put in the hard work it took to get to a much better place.  

With him being away, we also missed him.  We drew comfort from the fact that he was in a safe place that could help him get better.  But, that didn't take up the hurt in our heart of being separated from him once again.  While he missed out on tons we were doing, we missed out on the progress and hard work he was doing.  We weren't there to celebrate with him the milestones he was making.  

However, in the realm of the rest of our lives, a year was a small sacrifice to make.  Allen put in so much hard work, dedication, determination, and resilience to get better so that he could live at home and be an active part in our family again.  In the 6 weeks he's been home, I've seen more of the man I married than I have in the last 4 years.  He truly is in a much better place.  He's actively parenting our boys, helping with homework, housework, and just engaged with all of us again.  Do not let that fool you though, he still very much struggles with his PTSD.  He's not cured, just better.  

While I really struggled with decisions regarding his care a year ago today, I can say I definitely made the right choice.  It was incredibly hard getting on that plane to fly to California, but I am so glad we did.  Sometimes, we have to go through these difficult choices to get to the other side.  I know that we will always have mountains to climb, but there is light on the other side.

Happy to have my husband and best friend home and, for the boys to have their dad back!!  

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reconnecting with Roberto

This last weekend, Allen and I were able to reconnect with the man who raised Frankie, Roberto.  We were blessed to spend a day with him in April of 2009 while we filmed a segment for the Oprah show.  It was one of the most amazing days of my life and one that has greatly influenced my life ever since.

I've written about that day before, but felt the need to write more about Roberto and what an amazing guy he is.  He put so much love, work, and time into Frankie and that love has come through in a big way to our family.  Frankie wouldn't do the things she does for Allen had it not been for Roberto.  I have no doubt that it was an extremely difficult thing for him to say goodbye to Frankie.  I'm sure he still misses her.  For all intensive purposes, she was his baby.  Yet, he said goodbye to her so that she could come live with us to be Allen's best friend and partner.  Not an easy thing to do.

Until last weekend, we hadn't heard anything from Roberto since that day in April 2009.  Then he was incarcerated and had been for nearly half his life.  We have often shared his story when we talked about Frankie and regularly thought about him and wondered how he was doing.  In June 2009 he was released from Fishkill Correctional Facility.  We were so happy for him and looking forward to hearing from him.  Well, we finally got that chance!!

I am so happy to report that he is doing great!!  We've been emailing, facebooking, and even talked on the phone over the weekend.  It is so great to form a relationship with him.  We consider him a part of our family and can now really nurture that relationship.  To read more about what he is doing with his life follow this link http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2011/08/18/2011-08-18_helping_youth_avoid_sad_life_he_led.html .  He is truly an inspiration.

The Oprah show is also doing a follow up on the story they did on Puppies Behind Bars in 2009.  They have been filming with Roberto and interviewed us on the phone.  It is supposed to air sometime next month on the OWN network.  It will definitely be worth your time to try to watch it and learn more about Roberto and how he changed his life!

Roberto, we are so happy to have you in our life!  What you did for Allen, (and Frankie), has forever changed our lives.  You will always be a part of our life and we will forever be grateful for all you gave for us.  Thank you!

Even Now......Gina

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Thing I Have Learned

I've learned so much about myself since Allen's injury.  One of the biggest things I have learned though is to not be judgemental.  I didn't think that I was judgemental before, but now I know I really was.  And, I'm sure that I still am to some degree.  However, this something that I am constantly reminding myself of and working on to make myself a better person.

It sickens me to over hear people's conversations while out in public.  People can be so rude and not even know they are being rude.  Today Allen and I stopped by a store on our way home from his doctor's appointment.  We are pretty used to getting comments and questions about Frankie so people talking to us or watching us isn't too out of the normal.  However, the comments that I hear sometimes are really rude and tend to stay with me.  I know I should just let them go, but I have a hard time doing that.  Today we were standing in line to check out.  We were the 3rd people in line and Allen was having a hard time being in the line.  So, I gave him the keys so he could go on out to the truck and wait for me.  The line in this particular store is one line and it is all blocked in and you have to go through the entire line to get up to the registers.  Instead of going all the way back through the line, he excused himself and walked past the 2 women in front of us and then out the door to the truck.  He was polite, said excuse me and everything.  After watching him get completely out the door, woman #1 turns to woman #2 in front of me and says, "why in the world did he just come all the way through the line to get to the door?"  Obviously she didn't know he was with me.  And really, it wasn't anything that I should take personal but it made me really mad.  I didn't say anything to her, but really wish I would have.

I just wish people would realize that everyone has issues and no one is better than the next guy.  I wrote this much of this entry a few days ago and have let it sit here, not sure if I wanted to post it or not.  I felt strongly that I needed to write something about this topic, just wasn't sure this is the way I wanted to go. Just a few minutes ago, I found another post about this same topic.  I just think it says it much better than I did.  So, here is the link to it.  Please take the time to read it.  It might just might change your life.  http://bravegirlsclub.com/archives/2151  If it gives you something to think about, please leave me a comment!

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tips for Traveling with a Service Dog

Traveling with a service dog can be a bit of a challenge at times, but with good planning and knowing what to expect, it should go smoothly.  My husband Allen has had his service dog for almost 3 years now and we have traveled quite a bit with her in tow.  We have learned some tips to help the traveling days go smoother and I was asked to write some of them down.  So, here they are.

Tips for flying with a service dog:

  1.  When making your flight reservations, always inform them that you will be flying with a service dog.  They can not charge you extra for your dog to fly with you, but we have found that it always goes smoother when they are expecting you.
  2. On the day you are going to fly, do not feed your dog!  We always give Frankie a little late night snack the night before just because we feel sorry for her.  But the morning we are going to fly, we do not feed her or give her any water.  That way, if we do not have time to take her out to do her business, she doesn't have much in her tummy to need to go.  As soon as we get to our final destination we have her food and a drink ready.  By doing this, she is able to go the day without having to relieve herself.  It will also reduce the chances of her getting sick for those that are prone to motion sickness.
  3. Call TSA ahead of time to make arrangements with them to help you through security.  The phone number I use is 703-603-1558 or 1-800-427-7890.  Tell them you are going to be traveling with a wounded warrior who has a service dog and will need help going through security.  This has been a life saver for us.  I usually try to call 24 hours in advance.
  4. One of the most important things is to know the ADA laws about service dogs and their access.  We usually carry a copy of the law with us in case we are questioned.  That way we have the law with us, so we are prepared to educate!
  5. Every airport is required to have a place to relieve service dogs.  However, many of these are in a dark corner or very far away from the terminal so we often do not have time between flights to take advantage of them.  We almost always have to exit security and then go through security again to get back in.  So, we try to avoid this at all costs.
For traveling in a car I follow many of the same rules.  If we are not going to be stopping regularly, we often will not feed her the morning we are going to travel.  This helps cut down on stops we have to make.  However, we do still try to stop somewhat frequently so that she has a chance to get out and stretch her legs.  Allen usually has some type of ball with us too so that he can throw her a ball for a few minutes when we do stop.  This helps her get in a little exercise and not be so restless in the car.  Something to always remember, depending on what time of the year you are traveling, the pavement may be really hot or really cold and your dog may not be used to that.  Always keep that in mind, as you do not want to damage your dog's pads on their feet.  This is where their sweat glands are and can cause serious problems if they get burnt or even frost bite.

A great site that has many more tips for traveling can be found at http://www.deltasociety.org/Page.aspx?pid=492.  One last thing to keep in mind is do not panic if your dog has an accident while out in public.  We have been very lucky with this, but have had one incident in an airport where Frankie did have an accident.  Allen just took the time to clean up after her and it was fine.  As well trained as service dogs are, we do have to keep in mind they are still a dog.  By keeping calm and just cleaning it up, it draws less attention and seems to keep others calm as well.  Even if someone says something, just remember that not everyone has been educated about service dogs.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9-11

I tried to write this yesterday on the actual anniversary but just couldn't seem to get anything down.  It was a day filled with reflection and emotion.  A day that always causes me to pause, count my blessings, and look back at the day that changed America forever.  When the events unfolded 10 years ago, I remember exactly what I was doing and the range of emotions that ran through me.  However, I never would have guessed how much that day was truly going to impact the rest of my life.

Ten years ago, I was teaching at a small K-12 school in the middle of a cornfield.  I was teaching 7/8 grade social studies and english and happened to be in my first hour english class when I learned about what was happening.  I remember going outside later in the morning and seeing how beautiful the day was.  The sky was so blue and peaceful until we noticed all of the plane vapor trails circling the sky.  Makale remembers me not letting him go outside to play that day, but not understanding why.

In some ways, my life was so simple until that day.  I was a single mom, working on buying my own house, and really living a pretty content life.  I had recently "met" Allen, although we had not met in person.  He was deployed at the time of the attacks.  Never in a million years, would I have pictured what my life would look like in 10 years.

I knew that day that all of America would change.  I knew that the freedom so many of us took for granted would be more appreciated.  I loved the patriotism that was brought out because of that day.  The way American's came together to help one another was incredible.  Our resilience was amazing.  However, I never knew how much my own life would be changed because of that one day.

That one day changed my life forever.  Instead of teaching a classroom full of kids, I am now a full time caregiver for my husband who was critically injured in Iraq almost four years ago.  Had the attacks not happened, my husband most likely would not have been deployed to a combat zone.  He may have faced a deployment, but that is even questionable.  In reality though, he faced 2 combat deployments which left him a completely different person.  The man who came home from war, was not the man I sent off to war.  And, all of this, is in direct relation to the deadly attacks that happened on 9/11/2001.

When I look at my life and how it changed since the attacks 10 years ago, I am a little bit overwhelmed.  I am nowhere near where I thought I would be.  With that being said, through all of the tragedy my family has personally faced, we are still very blessed.  We have Allen home with us after many long separations, deployments, treatment centers, and hospitals.  We were recently blessed with a new home, and have a community that supports us.  I have learned through all of this that I have to be willing to step out of my comfort zone in order to help others and to learn and grow.  I have embraced all of this and grown leaps and bounds in my own personal life.  Not only is my husband a much different person than he was before war, so am I.  We have learned to embrace this and make the most out of any situation, no matter how grim it may be.  We have learned to love one another through good times and bad.  But most importantly, we have learned to lean on God and to trust Him to work it all out.  God has a plan for all of us, we just have to be willing to trust in Him and to listen to know what that plan is.

My heart and prayers go out to all of those personally touched in any way by the attacks of 9/11.  I pray that you all find peace and feel the love of God in your life.

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Erase the Stigma

This past weekend Allen and I traveled to St. Louis where I was the keynote speaker at a conference titled Erase the Stigma.  It was an amazing weekend and we were able to meet a lot of people who came from that area and volunteered all week on our build.  They are a great group of people and I am so honored to call them all friends.

The conference went great.  I was a bit worried when we went up to the venue on Friday so Allen could acclimate himself a little and he had a really hard time there.  He couldn't stop scanning, standing against the wall, and had a hard time staying here.  However, he did it and then Saturday he was so much better.  I was so proud of him!  He is facing his fears everyday and conquering them!!  (I do have to say though, that Allen is not cured of his PTSD, it is something he will struggle with the rest of his life.  However, he is in a really good place right now with it.)

The morning started out with me sharing the same speech that I shared on Capitol Hill last May.  I had made a few minor changes, but it was basically the same speech.  I have given several versions of this speech now and I never know whether it will make me emotional or not.  Saturday, it made me extremely emotional, and it was difficult at times to get through it.  I think that was due to the fact that Allen and my sister Chris were there as well as Kevin and Emily Smith, John Steed and many other friends.  Normally when I speak, it is only in front of strangers.  However, it still went well.  We then moved into a more relaxed, conversational part of the session.  Tom Smith, of the Karla Smith Foundation, interviewed me and it went really well.  I was able to relax and just be myself during this part of the morning.  At the end of the question and answer period, Allen even got up and spoke for a few minutes.  It was great to see him step out of his comfort zone and share a little of his own story.

The afternoon was another question and answer period.  I really liked that there were such a variety of people there.  I was able to speak to caregivers, family members, veteran's, consumers, medical providers and people who work at the VA.  It was great to get to give my opinion on what medical providers could do differently to make it better for caregivers and the patient.  I felt it was all really well received as well.  We had lots of positive feedback.

I want to specifically thank a couple of spouse's who came to hear me speak.  Rayshell and Olivia-having you both there to hear our story was very special to me.  Please remember that I am always here for both of you!!  Olivia, thanks for driving so far!!

A great resource for any of you helping to support a loved one with a mental illness, including PTSD, please go to www.karlasmithfoundation.org .

Even Now......Gina

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Together Again

After almost a year apart, we are finally back together again as a family!!  On July 31, 2011 our lives changed dramatically!  Thanks to our amazing community, family, friends, MAC Construction, Canyon Creek Homes, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and many, many others, we received the gift of a lifetime, a new home!  It was the one thing that was keeping us separated, and on August 6th we came home together to see it for the first time.

Before I go any further, I also have to thank my dear friend Emily Smith, who worked her tail off (and also lied her tail off to me), in helping nominate us and then continue through the journey of all of it.  She organized all of the volunteers and did numerous other things that I probably will never know about.  I love you Emily, and I am honored and humbled by your friendship!  You truly are one of the many blessings I have received that I never would have had, if Allen hadn't been injured.  You are one in a million, and I will always consider you a dear friend.

Another dear friend that I want to thank is John Steed.  He's been an amazing blessing in our lives and also contributed hugely to our new home.  John, you are an amazing friend to us and you always give so much.  We are honored to call you our friend and our lives are blessed just knowing you.

Many, many people greatly contributed and we are eternally grateful.

As I said, July 31 was the day it all changed.  It was the day of the door knock when we heard Good Morning Hill Family and ran out the door to see Ty Pennington, Paul DiMeo, Paige Hemmis, John Littlefield, and Ed Sanders coming to our door.  It was unbelievable and very surreal.  It is still hard to believe that this happened to us!!  We were then whisked away to California to meet up with Allen and begin our life together, again!

Seeing Allen again was the best part!!  Don't get me wrong, it was all very exciting and great, but it had been so long since we had all been together.  At times throughout this treatment, it had seemed that we may never be back together again as a real family.  So, this day was so special and a day I will hold near to my heart forever.

After spending a day in Napa, we all went on an adventurous road trip to Yosemite National Park.  I am not allowed to say much, but it was incredible.  The natural beauty there and being able to look around and just see God's creation left me speechless.  We did a lot of great things together as a family and it was so amazing watching it all unfold.  Dreyson was glued to his daddy's side and was so thrilled to be with him again.  Makale took it all in and was also happy to have his dad back with us again.

Saturday, August 6 we were back in Kansas again.  Watching Allen ride in the limo, just trying to take it all in made me really reflect on our life the past year.  It was a great feeling to experience it all with him again and to have him really enjoy it all.  There was a lot of anxiety and anticipation as we waited to come see our new home.  When we finally pulled up in that limo, we were beyond words.  I was really worried about Allen and how he would handle the crowd.  I was so awed by his strength during this part of it.  He had the option of not having a crowd there at all but he chose to have them there.  He knew it would be very difficult for him, but he wouldn't take that from the community who had worked so hard for us, just to make it easier for him.  He asked for a few special things, like silence and the limo to not pull away so that he had a barrier between him and the crowd.  But then, he even gave the ok for the limo to leave.  It was truly an amazing moment and one that was so emotional for everyone there.  When the bus finally moved, we were all stunned.  I think maybe shocked is a better word!  Allen then looked like he was going to pass out so I hugged him for a long moment.  He then said he was ok and then the tears started flowing.  Allen cried and cried as he took it all in.  Eventually, we started up the driveway and we all stopped and he turned around to face the crowd and waved and said thank you.  Ty then asked if it was ok for the crowd to cheer and Allen said it was.  So, Ty gave the signal and the crowd went nuts.  It was truly inspiring.  To see the support we have with our own eyes, just made me beyond words.  Makale leaned over to Allen and said, "see, you can do crowds!"

The whole thing was just so emotional.  We've been in the house almost 3 weeks now and it is still hard to believe.  We love it and having Allen home is awesome!  He is doing really well and learning to fit in with us again.  It is great seeing him interact with all of us again and take the time to rebuild his relationships with us.  He is so much better, better than I've seen him in almost 4 years.  Having a safe place to live will only help keep him well and encourage him to remain active and give back for all we have been given.

For a beautiful slide show of the week of the build click on this link http://kgauthierphotography.myshowit.com/emhe/index.html .  Thank you Kate Gauthier for this beautiful look into the building of our home.

Thanks again to everyone involved in helping to bring Allen home!

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Allen: My Hero

I've been meaning to write here since I came back from DC, but life just keeps getting in the way.  I feel like I have missed the entire summer with the boys, so we've been trying to get as much in as we can in the short time we have left before school starts again!  I don't think any of us are ready for that first day, but I guess it will come whether we are ready or not!

I'm so happy to be able to say that Allen is in a great place right now, he's more stable than I've seen him in at least the last three years, if not since his injury in 2007.  It was great being able to spend some much needed time with him while we were in the DC area getting testing and treatment done.  Being able to just focus on him and what he needs and how much work he has put in over the last 11 months was just what we needed.  We definitely missed the boys, but it was really nice being able to just be us for a few weeks, before adding in the responsibilities of parenting and everything that goes along with having a family!

It is very obvious that Allen has put in so much work while he has been away.  I know that it has not been easy for him at all and that he has had to face a lot of things that he had no intention of facing, but he did it and is so much better because of it.  I am constantly in awe of his strength and courage in facing the demons he is so haunted by.  It is amazing to see how much trauma he has faced in his life, but yet he still finds the strength, determination, and courage to go back to those times and relive them in order to get better.  I am so thankful that he wants to be better.  That is probably the key to all of this.  We are so blessed!

With all of this being said, he will by all means still have his struggles.  I'm sure there will be set backs along our life, but he is willing to do what it takes to get better and he NEVER gives up!  I know that the reintegration will not be easy for any of us, but it will be so good to have him home again.  It will be so nice to be able to be together as a family again.  Hopefully this will be the last big separation we all have, but if it isn't I'm confident that we will all be able to do what is necessary in order to keep us all safe and well.

I'm so proud of you Honey!!!  You are a great role model for our boys and a true hero to us all.  Thank you for your service to our great country, and for showing us what it means to be a hero!

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

NICoE Discharge

Today we had our predischarge meeting and received the rest of the results from all of the testing that Allen has underwent the last 3 weeks.  There were not any big surprises for us, although they did change his diagnosis here from mild TBI to a severe.  This did surprise me, but at the same time, it really doesn't change anything with his care.

Tomorrow we will have his final discharge meeting.  While in many ways I am sad to be finished here and I do think we could actually benefit from a few more days of what they offer, it will be good to have it done and be heading back home.  He will undergo one more test in the morning for vestibular, and then head back over to Walter Reed for a follow up with the sleep doctor there.  We will then get a treatment plan, something we've never had since his injury.  I think we are both really excited about that!!

So, some other things that have happened here.  Allen came in with a very extensive medication list, one that all the doctors here were not too thrilled with.  They all, very early on, talked with us about reducing this list.  Well, I am happy to say, through these 3 weeks, he has been taken off of 4 medications completely!!  And, even better than that, they were completely taken away, not replaced with something else!!  He has also had the dosage of one dropped in half, and we are beginning to titrate another one down, with the hopes of getting that dosage greatly decreased.  He did have a couple that the dosage went up on, but we also have hopes of possibly getting off of a couple of other ones.  So, we are both very happy with this part of his plan!!

One of my favorite parts of the process is the ability to try out many different options for helping relieve stress.  We tried one yesterday called heartmath that we both loved!!  I will be blogging about this one in the near future to provide you all with more information on this!

One of the best things for Allen has been the reduction in his pain.  The second day here he received some nerve block injections in his head to reduce his headaches and has not had a headache since!  This is so huge for him.  He also this week had injections in each knee and his knee pain is now greatly reduced.  He did find out that he has a tear in his meniscus in one knee and we will get results for the other knee tomorrow.  Just seeing how much reducing his pain has done for him has been incredible.   He seems like he has taken about 20 years off of his life.

Another thing he had the chance to do that he loved was a range simulator.  He was able to us a service rifle and a 9 mil.  It was actually really good for both of us.  It gave me a lot more confidence in him and his potential to be around fire arms again at some point.  Since we live in the midwest, hunting is such a huge part of our culture.  Every body does it!!  I also had the chance to shoot the 9 mil today and did really well.  I had never shot a hand gun before and my shot group was within the size of a quarter!  (I was told that was excellent!)

For any of you who are struggling with TBI and PTSD, and are still on Active Duty, I highly recommend you check into going to the NICoE.  It is a unique and incredible experience.  We are both so thankful that we were given this opportunity.

Even Now.......Gina

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

NiCOE

Yesterday we began our second week here at NiCOE (National Intrepid Center of Excellence), at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center post in Maryland.  This has been an amazing opportunity that I am so glad we have given.  We are definitely doing our best to take full advantage of all it has to offer.

First off, I just want to say that all of the staff here has been amazing.  I love the fact that they are all a team, and communicate with each other daily, about Allen and what he needs.  Another thing that I love is that they consider him a part of the team, not just the patient.  He is considered an intricate, and valuable part of the team with a voice!!  Why isn't all medical care this way??

So far, Allen has had lots of testing and interview type appointments.  He has also though, had the chance to try several types of different therapies.  One of the Occupational Therapists told him today that one of the great and unique things about NiCOE is that there are always alternatives, and alternatives for the alternatives!  They keep searching for things that work with each individual until they find what works.  On the first day, he was trying acupuncture, something he had never tried before.  On the second day, he was given a series of injections in his head to relieve headaches.  The next day he woke up without a headache, the first time in almost 4 years!  If we get nothing else out of this, just that was well worth it!!  Can you imagine what it would be like to be headache free after almost 4 years of a constant headache?  Indescribable!!

I am so excited about the possibilities that this could all lead to.  I see the hope for greater independence for Allen as well the hope for a more productive, stable, and peaceful life.  This would help all of us in so many ways!  Of course, we still have the house thing to figure out, but I have no doubt that will all work out as well!

On a little bit of a different note, being back to together with Allen after not seeing him for 10 months has been wonderful, but also a bit of an adjustment.  In many ways, we've had to figure each other out again.  He's done a lot of changing while in the program in California, and it's been a work in progress figuring out what he can manage on his own, and what he may still need help with.  It's been really awkward at times, which is really awkward in and of itself.  It shouldn't be awkward being with my husband!!  I'm happy to say though, that we are figuring it out and learning to communicate with each other again.  We are beginning to click, and it feels good!!  It makes me really want him to be home again.  Hopefully it won't be much longer before we have a home for us all to be together again as a family!!

Even Now..........Gina  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Walter Reed, Again

This week I made the trek from Kansas to California, spent the night, then flew with Allen and Frankie from Sacramento to Washington DC.  My head was spinning with just trying to figure out what time zone I was in!!  It was so amazing seeing Allen again, but at the same time a little awkward.  We hadn't seen each other at all since September so it was much like a reunion after a deployment.  And yes, it is awkward just admitting that seeing your husband is awkward!

I was a little bit anxious about traveling with Allen all the way across the country after not having been around him for so many months.  However, the day was very uneventful and Allen and Frankie both did great!  I am super proud of how well Allen handled all of it as I know it was stressful for him.  We arrived on Monday afternoon and got checked into the Mologne House (the hotel on the campus of Walter Reed that the families and many outpatients stay in.)  We spent the night in my room, and then Tuesday morning went over to the hospital to get Allen checked in.  He is now an in patient on Ward 58 until Monday.  They hooked him up to the video EEG and then got him settled back into his room.


The schedule here is crazy!  That first night, there were people in his room until 7:45 at night!  It was a long and exhausting day and the next day was about the same.  They are giving him the full TBI workup as well as doing a sleep study tonight and a slew of other tests.  So far, that is all that has been going on.  I know that much of this is really difficult for Allen, but aside from a few mood swings, he is handling like a champ!

On Monday afternoon, Allen will be discharged and then we will move to The Fisher House at Bethesda Naval.  He will then be an out patient at the NiCOE (National Intrepid Center of Excellence) where they will do further testing and come up with a treatment plan for him, something he has never really had!  I'm  anxious and excited to see what all of this shows and the plan they come up with.  I'm also ready to see what the sleep doctor has to say after his sleep study tonight.  He is said to be one of the best sleep doctors in the country and we really like him.  He was very hopeful in being able to help Allen with his sleep which in turn should help with everything else.

Coming back to Walter Reed was full of emotions for both of us I think.  For Allen, it caused a lot of anxiety and dread.  He was worried that we would get stuck here for several months, like we did when he was initially injured.  For me, it was both good and bad.  I was nervous about being thrown back into full time caregiving after being apart for so long.  However, I was excited about the possibilities of what these tests and all could mean for getting Allen better.  I also was excited to be able to reconnect with some friends in the area, which will hopefully happen.  We have several friends here that we made last time we were here as well as other's we have met along this journey.  It will be great to get to see some of them as it's been a really long time.  The other nice thing about coming back here is that it is familiar which helps both of us.  Unfamiliar places are a trigger for Allen and I get nervous trying to find my way around.  Coming back here to Walter Reed though is almost like coming home, just because we were here for so long before.  It is nice to be back, especially since it is for a short time.

Another benefit in all of this is that it will serve as Allen's TDRL exam.  (For those non military, Allen was temporarily retired from the military.  This is because when he was retired, his condition was not considered stable.  So they temporarily retired him, which is not uncommon, to see if he condition would stabilize.  He can stay on this status for 5 years with a required exam every year until they deem his condition stable.)  This will hopefully be made permanent after this first exam, which his team feels will be.  They explained to me that 85% of the first year exams are then made permanent.  This would be a huge relief, especially for Allen, as he is very worried about losing benefits.  With a 90% rating from the military it is doubtful that he would lose benefits, but never the less, is a huge burden for him to carry.

I am constantly amazed by the people I meet and the new information I learn from the amazing people within this community of wounded warriors.  We are both very confident in the provider's we have here this time and have once again been touched by other families and service member's going down this road.  I have met some of the strongest, most determined, most caring people along this journey that have given me strength and courage to continue on.  I'm thankful for all of the wonderful people who continue to come into our lives.

Even Now........Gina

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Crazy Life Just Got a Little Crazier

It's been awhile since I blogged or at least I've slowed down on my posts lately.  I've been crazy busy and have not had time to be on the computer at all.  So, lots of updates I need to write about!!

First of all, Dreyson has kept me incredibly busy running him to rehearsal's at Starlight Theatre which is an hour drive from our house.  He has rehearsal everyday for his role in the upcoming musical, The King and I which is starring Lou Diamond Phillips as the King.  Dreyson is loving every minute of it and I think I am getting more worn out than he is!!

Next, we have sold our house!  This is both good and bad.  The good news is that we sold our house in this economy pretty quickly.  The bad news is that as of June 10 we will be homeless.  We originally were not supposed to close on our house until July 1, but today that all got moved up because of some stuff with Allen, which I'll explain in a minute.  So, for now, the boys and I will be staying with family for awhile.  We are frantically packing and moving stuff to storage in between trips to Starlight.  Panic is beginning to set in!!

Now, for Allen.  When I was in DC in May, I met Gen Chiarelli who offered assistance to us in getting Allen some much needed help.  His office has arranged for him to go back to Walter Reed and then onto Bethesda for his TDRL exam, and to get some further testing and a better treatment plan in place.  We will both be placed on Invitational Travel Order's as he cannot travel alone or be left alone.  I will be his NMA and we are supposed to plan on being there for 3-4 weeks.  They originally wanted us to go next week, but I had to have a couple of weeks to finish this house sale and get Dreyson through The King and I.  The boys will be staying here with family, so once again, we will all be separated again.  However, hopefully this will be a huge step in getting Allen some further testing and some much needed answers.

Just like everything else we've been through, we will get through all of this as well and be stronger and a closer family when we are on the other side.  I just hope that after all of this and we get a new home, our life will get a little less chaotic and more peaceful.

Even Now.......Gina

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Strike Out Stigma

Here is a letter I'm sending out to all of my friends to invite them to get involved in this amazing organization that is near and dear to my heart!  Please consider attending the event or making a donation if you can't attend.  Thanks so much!!


Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, I am an active volunteer with an organization called Bring Change 2 Mind (www.bringchange2mind.org).  Bring Change 2 Mind, founded by Glenn Close, is dedicated to eliminating the stigma of mental illness.  Though mental illness is something that we don't like to talk about, 1 in 4 people in our country suffer with a mental health problem like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.  Of that number, only approximately 20% receive the help and support they need to lead healthy and productive lives.  Bring Change 2 Mind knows that it is possible to live an active and happy life, even with a mental illness, and as an organization, we are committed to helping the public at large understand and respond to those who suffer.  Many people are fearful of even the words, "mental illness."  Our media portrays those with mental illness as violent, prone to criminal activity, unproductive and frightening.  But the truth is, many people living around you, people that you live with, work with or socialize with, suffer silently with mental health problems.  They are afraid to seek help due to stigma.  As a friend, I am asking you to help Bring Change 2 Mind eliminate this debilitating stigma that prevents people that you may know and love from actualizing their full potential and living healthy lives.  Please take a look at our first public service announcement, filmed in Grand Central Station under the direction of Ron Howard.  Glenn Close and her sister Jessie Close are featured in this PSA as they speak out about mental illness.

I am very excited to share with you that on June 18th, 2011, Bring Change 2 Mind is taking our anti-stigma message to Citi Field for our first "Strike Out Stigma" event with the New York Mets.  We have reserved 500 group seats available for $43.00 per ticket.  Seats include a BC2M logo t-shirt, the opportunity to attend a special pre-game address with Glenn Close, and so much more.  It's going to be a wonderful day at the ballpark, and we ask you to consider attending.  Tickets are available on our website at www.bringchange2mind.org.  Rally your friends and come along to join us for this fun and inspiring day at Citi Field!

I am also asking you to consider a financial gift to Bring Change 2 Mind.  A contribution in any amount will help Bring Change 2 Mind continue to create innovative approaches to stigma elimination.  Every dollar that Bring Change 2 Mind receives is put to good use educating our communities at large about this illness that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.  I know that you are solicited for charitable giving often, and I appreciate your consideration of my ask.  I am committed to Bring Change 2 Mind, and I can assure you that your funds will be used responsibly.  I have attached a donation form for your completion.  This form along with your gift may be mailed to Bring Change 2 Mind at the address provided on the form. Please also note that contributions are 100% tax deductible, and Bring Change 2 Mind will provide you with appropriate documentation for your tax purposes following our June 18th event.

Thank you for helping us make our "Strike Out Stigma" event a success!  We appreciate your interest in our mission, and we look forward to sharing our successes with you along the way.

With Gratitude,

Gina

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Amazing God

One thing this trip to DC constantly reminded me of is how awesome our God is!  Time and time again I felt His presence.  From the first flashback emotions of getting on that plane alone flying to DC until my plane trip home I was in awe.

Both legs of my flight I had a seat next to amazing women that both blessed me and amazed me.  The first one was a lady who had recently been involved in an event at the Mologne House at Walter Reed for wounded warrior spouses.  She said she had been truly touched by that day and was really questioning her career path.  I was able to share a bit of my story with her during the flight to Atlanta.  It was like God knew just what we each needed.  Having someone kind to talk to right next to me was great for me since I get anxious simply about who may end up next to me on a flight and I was in the center seat!  So, Terria, you blessed me as much as I blessed you!!

On my flight from Atlanta to KC, again I was in the middle seat and facing anxiety over who I would be stuck between.  Soon, this wonderful lady came and sat next to me and I soon began to relax.  It's not the flying that bothers me, but who I may have to sit beside!   (I know, I'm kind of weird like that!)  I quickly discovered that she HATES flying and was extremely anxious about it.  I also quickly learned that she is a strong Christian!  We talked the majority of the flight and again, I think we were a each a blessing to the other.  She lost her husband in Afghanistan almost a year ago and was flying back to Ft. Leavenworth to pick up her daughter from K-State.  She shared with me that this was the first she had flown anywhere since her husband's death and that this was something he normally would have taken care of.  We had an amazing talk, stiff necks and all!  (We both had stiff necks from constantly turning toward each other to chat!)

These ladies both blessed me in different ways.  This also reminded me that God puts people in our lives, whether just in passing, or to stay awhile, for many different purposes.  It reminded me once again that God is in complete control of this crazy world and we just have to trust Him to provide who and what we need at just the right time!

Even Now......Gina

Friday, May 13, 2011

National Mental Health Awareness on the Hill

This week was amazing in so many ways.  I stepped out of my comfort zone once again and shared my story in the Cannon Office Building on Capitol Hill Thursday morning.  Every time I think about these 3 days, I just can't believe it all went so well.  I also can't believe that I am beginning to very much enjoy public speaking.  That is something I never thought I would say!

I am so exhausted right now, but my mind is spinning with so many different directions I want to take this blog.  I think for this one I am mostly going to share the link to my blog post about the event that I wrote on the AW2 blog.  You can find that post here http://aw2.armylive.dodlive.mil/2011/05/giving-a-voice-to-post-traumatic-stress-on-capitol-hill/ 

The other thing I want to say is how excited I am to see our military leaders and some of our Members of Congress truly reaching out and trying to help make a difference in the lives of those affected by mental illness, especially our service members and veteran's suffering from the invisible wounds.

The panel I was part of included some amazing people, Gen Chiarelli, BG Williams, Col Gadson, SGM Gallagher, and fellow spouse Sherri Hall.  They all shared very personal accounts and it was clear how passionate they are for families like ours.  What a renewal this gave me in my desire to advocate for other families caring for a loved one with invisible wounds.  At one point, Gen Chiarelli actually apologized to me for calling them the invisible wounds, because he knows that to those who love someone with these types of wounds, they are visible.

I'm so tired so I'm going to end this blog now.  Please check out my post on the AW2 blog linked to above and feel free to comment!  There will definitely be more to come in the next few days about this trip!


General Chiarelli and myself at the end of the event.  It was truly an honor to meet him!

Even Now.......Gina

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Speaking on The Hill

I have an amazing opportunity this week.  Late last week I was asked to come speak on PTSD and mental illness at Capitol Hill.  It is a gathering in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Day in the Cannon Senate Building.  Members of the PTSD caucus and Mental Illness Caucus will be in attendance as well as several higher ranking military members.

This opportunity both excites me and causes great anxiety.  I strongly feel that if we ever want things within the wounded warrior community to change for the better, we have to be willing to share our stories every time we get the chance.  We can't expect things to change if we are not willing to put ourselves out there.  However, with that being said, public speaking causes me great anxiety.  I am learning to deal with it and it gets easier each time I put myself out there.  I am hoping that sometime in the near future, it will become less stressful for me and that I learn to enjoy it.  After all, I'm just sharing my story and no one is a better expert on that than me!!!

More updates to come after I'm back from DC!!

Even Now.......Gina  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Random Rantings and an Update

I love HGTV and watch it pretty often. So, I thought I had this selling my house stuff down! Let me just tell you, it isn't near as easy and simple as those shows make it out to be!! After finally deciding that we just had to take a leap of faith and get our house on the market to see what happens, I'm as stressed as I was before. Sometimes I wonder when life will ever be peaceful. I always think that after this happens, or that passes, my life will become less stressful. I'm quickly discovering though that life just keeps giving us one stressful hurdle after another.

Our house has now been on the market for about a month. They have shown it several times and we have had one really low offer and are now negotiating another offer. I've been pretty confident in my decisions so far, but I'm really starting to second guess myself regularly. I have set firm limits in the dollars and really feel that I have to stick with that however hard it may be. (Why doesn't HGTV ever show all the haggling that goes on between the seller and the buyer??) It is all such a numbers game and I easily get confused!! I much prefer words over numbers! Really for me, I could care less how much money goes to what, just give me the bottom number I am walking away with. Is that really too much to ask?

Then we have the whole issue of what are we going to do if we sell our house? We have looked at a few that are for sale but there really isn't anything that we like. I refuse to get us into a situation where we feel we have to settle for something we really don't love. So, what would we do? That is the million dollar question right now. I am not opposed to renting for awhile if we have to, but who is going to rent to us month to month with 2 dogs plus a service dog? We may end up surfing couches for awhile!!

On to other things.......Allen is still in California. He is working with a psychologist there that we both really like. They are looking into the fact that he may be having seizures again. This makes sense to me, because I have figured out that his "episodes" became much more physical once they took him off of his anti seizure meds. I'm relieved that someone is finally trying to figure out what is going on instead of just sending him back home. I'm praying that they figure it out so we know what we are dealing with.

Makale is about to finish track season and Middle School. He broke the school record for high jump with a jump of 5'7" and was the anchor for a 4x4 relay team that also broke a school record! He is looking forward to the league meet on Saturday. I'm not sure how I feel about having a son in High School next year! I don't think it has hit me yet!! I'm still getting over the learner's permit and him beginning to drive! He is doing a great job though!!

Dreyson is getting ready to start rehearsals for his role in the King and I at Starlight Theatre this summer. He was also invited to be a part of the show for the gala at Starlight on May 21. He is pretty excited about this and has a phone interview today because they are interested in featuring him in the show! I'm so excited to see him shine in something that he truly loves!!

Even Now.......Gina




Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane

This is my all time favorite picture of Allen and I together. It is also my favorite picture of Allen ever! It was taken at his welcome home ceremony after his first deployment to Iraq on Veteran's Day 2006. It's hard to believe it's been 5 years since I've seen this man, the one I married.

I don't often allow myself to go down this road. It is painful and raw. I miss the man he used to be. The silly, fun loving, laid back, goofy, happy man I married. I look at this picture and I see such a difference from who he was then, to who he is now. Occasionally I see glimpses of this guy, but they are few and far between and are often more painful than happy. They remind me of what we've lost and that the trauma he has faced will haunt him forever.

The other side to this though, is that it makes me thankful. I'm thankful that although he's changed so much, he is still here. I'm thankful that I get to still share my life with him, even though it's not quite the way it was before. I'm thankful that my kids still get to have their dad in their life. I'm thankful he's alive. I know many others are not that fortunate and I never want to take that for granted. I know that God brought him home for a greater purpose and has a plan for his life.

And, even though, I often miss who he used to be, I love who he is now just the same. We've had lots of growing to do, learning, and adjusting, but we are still here, holding on. It's not been an easy road, but one I would gladly walk down again, as long as I can do it with him. I've learned, that what is truly important in life is family!

Even Now......Gina

Monday, April 25, 2011

Vote for Me!!!!

I am honored to have been chosen as a finalist in the 2011 milblog contest! My blog is listed among some other great blogs so the competition should be a great one! I knew my blog had been nominated, but didn't know it was a finalist until one of the other finalists commented on my blog. It truly is an honor, and I am so excited!! Please take a few minutes to vote for one of these great blogs!!

The voting is now open so please follow this link, http://milblogconference.milblogging.com/2011-milbloggies/vote-now/ to vote for your favorite blogs!! Mine can be found under the spouse blogs. I really appreciate your votes. Please share with your friends as I can use all the votes I can get!! There are plenty of great ones!!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

If You Are Feeling Suicidal


If you've found my blog because you are feeling suicidal and looking for help, I'm glad you're here and there IS help available.
  • National suicide prevention lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. If you are a veteran, press 1 to be directed to the Veteran's suicide prevention hotline.

  • If you prefer a live chat online, visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ On the right side there is a button that says "Veteran's chat live with a counselor".
If you are in immediate need for help, call 911. Or, you can walk into your local Emergency Room or VA Emergency Room.


I was just looking at my stats as to who views my blog, how they found it and so forth. I was very concerned when I saw this phrase as one that was googled and then brought to my blog. "I am having suicidal thoughts after being wounded in Iraq." If you are reading this, and having thoughts of harming yourself or others, please do not be afraid to ask for help. There is help available, and you are worth it. Life can get better if you will take the first step to ask for help.

I have had to call 911 numerous times for my husband and it has always been a life saver for us. I know many are afraid to call 911 but that's what it is there for. Not calling could end much worse if you need help. You also always have the option of walking into your local ER or VA ER for immediate help.

There are also several other organizations out there to help. Help in finding a therapist and/or psychiatrist can be found by visiting www.nami.org . For more resources, visit www.bringchange2mind.org, and then submit a request for help. You will receive a personal response within 48 hours full of resources specific for your need. The Karla Smith Foundation is an organization that also helps families and friends left behind after a death by suicide and can be found at www.karlasmithfoundation.org They can also give you and your family and friends support for many mental illnesses, as well as suicide.

Please, if you are feeling like hurting yourself, reach out for the help that is available to you. You are not alone. There are many people, especially veteran's out there feeling similar. You are all important! Please just take that step to make the call or reach out to someone, or some of these organizations. You can get better!

Even Now.....Gina

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Quiet Rock


I seem to spend a lot of time talking about my youngest son, and not so much about my oldest. However, I do not know how I would have made it without my son, Makale. He is my quiet rock.

Makale has always been very quiet, laid back, and supportive. He has been such an amazing help since Allen's injury. Being an 11 year old boy when his Dad was injured made him grow up much faster than he should have. Sometimes that makes me sad, but he seems to have taken it all in stride. He has had a lot of added responsibility put on him, and he rarely complains. Don't get me wrong, he is a teenager, but when it really matters, he does what he is asked and really steps up to the plate.

In some ways, he really has become the man of the house. There have been many times he has had to step in to take care of his brother, a place Allen normally would have been. This can be as simple as taking his brother to the restroom when we are out, to helping give him a shower. When we have went on wounded warrior trips, Makale has had to really take care of his brother because I am busy taking care of Allen. These aren't things other kids his age are having to do, but Makale does them often times without being asked. In many ways, he hasn't been able to finish being a kid, but he doesn't seem to mind.

Not only does he help with his brother, but he also helps with Allen. He has been very strong in many frightening situations. He just seems to take it all in, and is able to shake it all off when it's over. I know there are times when he gets really disappointed because he's had to give up so much, but he really is able to rise above that and keep a positive outlook on life. Allen coached his basketball team when he got deployed and had to leave in the middle of the season. Sadly, he has not been able to do this again, for either of the boys. That is something they will never have with their dad, but they focus on the fact that they at least have him here.

Makale's personality allows us to easily look over all that he does. He would much rather have it this way as he does not like to be the center of attention. He's happy to have the attention focused on Allen or Dreyson. However, I wanted to take this time to focus on him, my quiet rock. I love you Makale, and appreciate all you do for our family. Your strength and hard work amaze me everyday. You are an amazing young man, and I am so proud of you!! I know you will grow up to be someone special!!

Even Now......Gina