Caution Speed bumps Ahead (tom Skinner)
I have not had too many dealings with the public. There really is not much of anything between California and Texas but desert, barbed wire, and cows; even Route 66 is all but gone. I have been traveling on Interstate 40 for well over 50 percent of my bicycle trip. The few hundred people I have spoken with have all been so thankful and excited about this mission of understanding PTSD.
My ride is now taking a HUGE turn in the road, heading for speed bumps and the cattle guard crossings. I have reached civilization once again. it is now time to start giving my presentation and talking to people about my symptoms and how i have managed to get myself across the country on a bicycle.
I sit here on a friend’s couch this hot and hummed morning in Texas thinking about the miles already traveled. I realize how i went from talking to hardly anyone to gradually more and more people. Last night I went grocery shopping with my childhood friend who is so graciously hosting Scrubs and me for the week. For the last 20 minutes of being in the store, i was just bombarded with questions about Scrubs, and what she does, what kind of dog etc. i managed to avoid talking in detail to everyone until i got to the checkout counter. Again, i two-stepped around everyone’s questions. The man bagging my groceries said to me “i am a vet, too.” He had this look in his eye. His next words were, “The day i left Iraq, an RPG killed all my friends. it came through the window where i used to sit.” I never told anyone in the store i was a vet, but somehow he could tell. I am not sure if The Lord sent him to me, or me to him but he has put the focus back in my mission, and i am ready to help share his story and mine.
There were 450,000 new stories of service related PTSD in 2010, and now we have to let people know in order to get the help and resources needed to heal ourselves. Those resources can only come from the same government that trained us to be solders.
My battle continues, with your support. I will not quit. I have taken several of my past blogs and reposted parts of them with links to the full article. I have come a long way.
HOW THE BIKE RIDE ALL STARTED August 30, 2011
I have such a need to do something extreme, like go for a hike across the country. I need to just get out of my safe place and walk and walk and walk. I need to get away from everything that I use to hide behind. I want to force myself to face my PTSD head on.
No bedroom to hide in, just Scrubs, my service dog, and me, walking and sharing our story. Would I be able to do this? Where should I hike? My PTSD feels like it is just ready to attack me if I move too fast. Well, if I am going to feel this way sitting at home tweeting, blogging, updating my three Facebook pages, then I need to feel this way while making a difference in other people’s lives. How do I do this? What is it that I really need and want to do? Do I just grab the cameras and do a local hike, or is this the way I will share my story one step at a time? I don’t understand why this is such a strong calling but I feel a real need for something extreme but I can’t put my finger on it yet. Keep checking back and see if this becomes a reality. Perhaps I should get a bike, ride with Scrubs and pull a small trailer for her to sit in and for me to keep my equipment in. I like it, but I need more time to work on this.
That’s what started the whole thing. Just a random journal entry, and it became just as clear as the nose on my face. It felt so right and, in my opinion, one of the best ideas I have had in a very long time. I have biked over 450 miles this month. I have lost 40 pounds in the last few months, and I feel amazing. My body has felt so much better this past month. The strength and stamina I am gaining on a daily basis feels great.
No matter how bad I feel when I start riding my bike, after 15-20 miles I feel like I am on top of the world, and my PTSD, for just a few hours, is all but gone. It’s not really gone, but the burn in my legs and the amount of energy I am burning keep me feeling better day by day. Hard training has become a feeling I need to have every day, and I look forward to my ride. I have tunes playing on my phone with my headphones turned all the way up. Usually the ocean is the canvas of my ride and most of the time there is morning fog and clouds. Now I do believe it is time and I am ready to start my mountain training. I want to bike to Alpine and back and make the big loop by the end of next month. That will be a hard ride but I am up for the challenge.
I need to start getting my sponsors lined up for my trip, and picking out the rig and equipment I need for the long trip across the United States on my bicycle this spring. I will be giving my presentation on veterans, PTSD, and ways to help vets better understand the resources that are available and give some guidance on welcoming home a veteran.
Let’s do this. Peace.
PTSD ATTACKS WHEN I AM NOT LOOKING August 15, 2011
Yesterday, I had something happen that I was not prepared for and it hit me really hard. First, the minister who initially came out to help the family and me when I had my first bad flashback PTSD attack last year was the guest minister this week at my church. I do not remember that day or him, but I was really embarrassed and ashamed, and I tried to say I am sorry. As I was talking to him in the parking lot I could feel a lot of bad emotions from that day all come rushing back. I just stopped talking, let him talk and hoped the conversation would be over soon. I went and sat in the church and just tried to stay calm.
I was not prepared for what happened next. I had a man come up to me with tears in his eyes and say how much we have in common and thank me for the presentation I gave last Sunday. At that moment, I could see the PTSD in his eyes, and I could hear it in his voice. The tears are now falling and he walks away. I was not prepared to see that sort of pain on someone else, and I never want to again. I know exactly what he was feeling as he shook my hand and it hurt bad. PTSD is one of the most painful, lonely, scary, things I have had to deal with in my life.
Now another person is approaching me. The anxiety level now is getting pretty high. This person needs to talk to me soon about a family member with PTSD, and we made arrangements to talk on the phone in a few days. I could see the worry and concern and sadness on her face. She is asking me for help so that has to be pretty desperate.
Next, I am out having lunch with my mom like we do almost every Sunday afternoon, and I start to think about my morning. My PTSD is back for a visit. The restaurant is way too loud, having so many people walking behind my back is totally freaking me out, and Scrubs my service dog is bugging the crap out of me to pet her or something. I would cry, then eat, then cry while I was eating, all while mom kept trying to change the conversation and get me out of my mood
PTSD KEEPS ME AWAY FROM MOST OF MY FRIENDS September 9, 2011
I miss going and doing things like normal people do. I want to be able to sit in the front row at church or sing in my mom’s choir, stand in line for yogurt or go to the movies on a Friday night. PTSD keeps me away from most of my friends and the things I want to go do. The waves of anxiety and the worrying about having a bad anxiety attack in public are still enough to keep me home or just riding the bike.
Well, I have to go and put the new lights on my bike so I can ride tonight when it is cooler outside
ON MY WALKABOUT October 8, 2011
The people who talked to me are the people I want to be.
What I do is practice this.
I was accepted, no questions asked, by so many people on my journey to all the national parks I have covered in the past six weeks. In Moab, I met people from my town. I talked about PTSD at sunset in Arches National Park, and people listened. I watched a sunrise at the Grand Canyon with two ladies from Canada. I remember a shuttle bus ride with a couple from Hermits Rest, and a free ice-cream from a store owner at a camp ground who said, “Thank you for your service.” I remember that bowl of chili and sharing my movies around my neighbors’ campfire. I remember the crowd that was stuck in the rain with me at the Grand Canyon. I want to accept people the way I was accepted looking the way I looked, sometimes smelling the way I smelled. These people and many others I have not mentioned yet all had a deep impact on me. I can only hope to greet people with the same kind of welcome these people gave me
MY VETERANS DAY 2011
I was scared to death, but I just did it. Just like when I went to Florida and talked to hundreds of people about PTSD and in southern California at Fuller Theological Seminary and up in the north at a wonderful 112 year-old church, Peace United Church of Christ in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. It is nerve-wracking, exhausting, overwhelming, and scary. But I manage for the most part to keep it together. But afterwards, I just feel so tired and usually very sad. So avoiding those situations would be the easy way out. Not reliving it in a blog another way to avoid and take the easy way. Avoidance and shutting down are huge symptoms of PTSD.
However, my blog is not just about what I am up to. I want, no I need, to keep telling people in hopes of letting you understand, really understand, the way PTSD can affect someone. I struggle trying to describe to my coach how it feels sometimes to deal with the symptoms of PTSD. The closest I have come is PTSD is “a hungry parasite on my soul.”
Exposure therapy, talking, blogging, and my presentation are all part of my recovery, and it is working. Recovery is not in any way easy, but the things I have learned, the soul searching, the confronting of demons, the rekindling of old relationships have all left me feeling very vulnerable. No one likes to feel that way, but the reward is a happier place to be. We need to keep raising awareness about PTSD and help our heroes and their families, their churches, and their communities better understand the effects and treatment of PTSD
TRY TO UNDERSTAND January 3,2012
UnderstandingPTSD may be the name of my website, but it is also something I have to do every day – dealing with it, trying to understand it, trying to treat not just my symptoms but to heal my soul. UnderstandingPTSD.org started out as just a personal blog, but the more I shared it with people, the more they asked me questions or shared their personal stories. Almost one year later I have a presentation, “What Comes After Welcome Home,” in which I share my personal struggles with PTSD, pass on resources for treatment, and raise awareness about PTSD. Some people say it takes the courage of a soldier to ask for help. I know that one of my battles was accepting that something was wrong, then being able to admit there was something wrong, and to learn how to talk about. This mission is backed by my church, the United Church of Christ La Mesa, and I look forward to the day when it is not me doing the presentations, and I can pass the torch to others who will continue helping the world understand PTSD.
PTSD is treatable. Never forget that. Don’t stop asking for help. My advice to those of you who are caregivers is to educate yourselves. Use the resources that the National Center for PTSD and the Veterans Administration hospitals have to offer. Education and awareness are your first steps to try to understand PTSD.