“Do me a favor. I took these two pictures today tell me witch one you prefer,” is what I posted on Facebook. I am now up to 39 comments. Most all pick B.
I know I need to fill you in on what’s going on with the VA and treatment. In my last blog, I was standing on a busy street corner at rush hour holding a sign in frount of the San Diego VA Hospital. (I will get back to that. This is more of a short story than a blog post. I have so much to say.)
Recently, someone wrote to me. Let me sum up what was said in that paper: This person said they were concerned that they didn’t think I was receiving any treatment, and they were concerned I could be dangerous. Another comment was that since my service dog had been hit by a car on the 4th of July this year, I might be unstable. Scrubs is ok, by the way, but she did need some stitches. All of this this is coming from a person who has zero contact with me, but instead decided to use the stigma of PTSD as a tool for accusations. I would call it a form of bullying. And, that is the exact reason I continue to write this blog: to help people Understand PTSD and the effects it has on the patient as well as the caregivers, and how we are treated at the one hospital we should be able to lean on the MOST.
Lets talk about this picture. All but a few said they prefer the way I look in picture with my beard short. I totally agree. What if I were to ask which guy do you think has PTSD. I didn’t want to know the answer, so that’s the way I went with the question. BUT, my long beard and hair does not make me a bad person. It is nothing more than a way of coping with anxiety out in public. When I look like this, far fewer people ask to pet Scrubs, my service dog, or approach me, than when I am all clean cut. I use this tool and my service dog to cope with anxiety instead of taking all the dangerous drugs the VA wants to give out. I go out; I just need a little more space than most people. My beard is one of my experimental self treatments, and the results say I will keep the long beard.
As you probably know, more than 22 veterans, men and women, take ther lives every day due to the effects of PTSD. Those veterans are the only ones not in treatment; they are gone. If you have PTSD, agoraphobia , or are dealing with some form of high anxiety level in your life, you are “in treatment.” Some people just treat themselves. People use support groups, formal or informal. Mood swings, change of appearance, and even isolation: these are symptoms, also known as tell tail warning signs of the problem.
I was in treatment at the Va for awhile. I got to talk to a doctor every week for one hour. The first office visit was spent by me trying to figure this guy out. I thought the doctor was a bit “out there” talking to me about breathing. I remember the moment when I was supposed to sit with my eyes closed, breathing, and I was thinking, “Yea right, this guy is a quack.” A few weeks later, I also remember the moment I caught myself focusing on breathing, just like the doctor had said… that was a good moment. I actually looked forward to talking to him. I held onto his advice once he gained my trust. Best experience, to this day, was with that doctor. I also remember a moment when I had checked myself into the VA hospital for a 72 hour stay. I was pretty upset. The best coping tool at the time was focusing on the pathetic attempt to keep us safely locked in with the chain link fence. Really VA? 22 years ago the US Army taught me how to climb a fence. I believe it was one of our general orders: to try and keep trying to escape. I had a room with 3 other individuals. I found an empty room at the end of the hall. The door was open; it was completely empty with just a mattress on the floor. A nurse came by to check on me, and I asked, with tears flowing down my face, if it would be ok to be alone in this room. “Yes, you go right ahead.” I remember that moment, laying on the cold floor thinking, this is not what I expected. I was put into a cage: it was a pretty hostile feeling environment. Just then, a male nurse pulled open the door, and was very aggressive. Then, he yelled at me to get up, flipped over the mattress, and said a bunch of other things I can’t even remember at the moment. I never considered him a threat; he was just a little bitty guy. I think the chain link fence and his alarm call button made him feel brave. Then, he proceeded to lock me in the room. Needless to say, I immediately checked myself out of the hospital after making a report. That incident “went away.” I still talk about it, but the VA has never brought it up again. That was a bad moment.
Where I am going with all this is: PTSD is a bad moment not easily forgotten. I have PTSD issues just from that one incident. It still really bothers me that the hospital treated me that way. But, when you think about how long we live, it really was just a moment in my life.
The VA Hospital uses talk therapy, aka exposure therapy, as one form of treatment. Remember, every Friday I got to talk to a doctor, and we would talk and talk and so on. When that doctor left the hospital, I was devastated, but I continued my treatment without him. I went to the extreme. Recovery is important to me. I went from staying in my house, where it was safe to driving all the way to Florida where I could attend convention of about 6,000 people and tell my story of PTSD and what it is like. I bicycled across the country 4,012 miles with my service dog on the back, talking to big crowds and random conversations at a truck stops. The following year, I was asked to be an official speaker at the convention in Long Beach. So, I would say my therapy is going really well. I continue to give formal and informal talks, wherever I go.
You can listen to the old me on NPR or start at the beginning of this blog and see the transformation and recovery. I am growing and changing, like everyone else in life. I have changed my appearance. I have a new group of people I hang with just because of my appearance.
Looking the way I looked actually brought treatment to me. Let me explain. The people talked to me about their crazy hippie ways: talking about aroma therapy and even YOGA, for heaven’s sake… And my favorite and yours: living in the moment. The more I thought about living in the moment and how crazy that sounded to me, it also started me thinking about past moments: the good ones. You remember that one time… that moment you promised yourself, “I will never forget this day!”… and you forgot it anyway. Things started coming back to me like: the first time I got to drive the car on the freeway at 16 years old; the first time I asked a girl steady ( that’s just a funny story…that’s a good moment.). I remember crying at my wedding, I was so happy; that was a good moment. The birth of my child was a great moment. We pick and choose the moments we remember. I would rather recall my wedding day than the day it ended. I don’t know what to call it but PEACE, LOVE, and GROOVY. I have learned to listen, to understand, and not just to come up with a relpy. So, I learned from their words, to think about moments; to choose the moments I think about.
As far as my service dog goes: it was an eye opener when she was hit by a car, and I came to the realization that could have been it for us. I have started leaving her alone while I go outside, and from time to time, when I go over to see friends. Interestingly, my friends usually say, ” Where is Scrubs?” before saying hi to me. I think it’s funny.
Living in the moment has so many meanings to so many people. Having PTSD is living with the horrible moment(s) you just can’t seem to shake. My life has had some great moments with many more to come. I have been able to pick and choose which memories get to live, rent free, in my head. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but, with yoga, breathing, meditation, support from new friends and old, talk therapy (aka exposure therapy), my service dog, recovery is happening.
So, to finish this up to the present: it has been a month of waiting, and my new appointment at the VA is tomorrow. Wish me luck.