Saturday, January 11, 2014

What life looks like right now

New bumper sticker I bought for our car. :)
First, baby number two. I haven't miscarried this one. Two of those back to back in one year was enough for an entire lifetime, if you ask me. Isn't that nice?! His name is Alistair Ecclesia. Our firstborn was in the fifth percentile throughout my pregnancy and is still a tiny kid. Alistair, on the other hand, is in the 53rd percentile. Woah, baby! Twice the size and I definitely feel the difference. He has two deformities which will affect his swallowing, his breathing, his smile, his hearing (he'll need tubes for drainage of extra fluid, most likely, and will probably not speak as quickly as most other infants), his teeth, and his speech/his sounds. I am 25 weeks pregnant with him and I am enjoying this pregnancy immensely, but with it, many, many doctor appointments in addition to the many doctor appointments for my husband. Alistair has both cleft lip and cleft palate. We are opting for a Nasal Alveolar Mold with nightly taping as opposed to the Latham device, in which a surgeon would actually staple the appliance into our baby's face. I don't care who you are. Stapling a baby's mouth to a plastic and metal appliance is just not okay. The NAM device is a more recent technology that resembles a retainer in a way. It's inserted in the first few months during a surgical procedure to help decrease the gap in his lip and palate, and then at about a year old, the palate is corrected through another procedure and the NAM is removed. Eventually if need be, his nose may need plastic surgery, but his nose looks really good in ultrasounds so far, so we'll see. Life is a miracle and a blessing. 

We are teamed up with the Maxillofacial Team at the hospital in the city nearest us and have good specialists to choose from with regards to his health needs, a good ENT name, orthodontics, speech therapy, etc. The only problem is people don't want to use our insurance. It's mostly been an issue of being Idaho residents while receiving specialized care in Washington state, but more than that, most specialists don't want to touch our current insurance at all. This means either we need a second option for insurance or we need to move. Both are a little overwhelming to me right now, but I will continue to pray and see where God leads. Last week was full of appointments. The irony of this is that I had planned to have a midwife and a home birth. Totally opposite now! If need be, the baby will have some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We at least know for now that breastfeeding is out of the question. I am personally against using formula if I have the means to supply by myself, so, we're going to be prescribed a hospital-grade breast pump. Do you complain about feeling like a milk machine because you breast-feed a lot? I think that complaint crossed my mind a few times in the past, too. At least you get to bond with your baby that way, though. Pumping (exclusively) will be my life for the next year or so. I'm thankful that pumps are options and I'm thankful that I was able to breastfeed our first baby. I'm also thankful that there are so many other ways to bond with a baby than breastfeeding. Fathers have never been able to, yet they bond somehow, don't they? (Isn't birthing him enough of a bonding experience? Nope, it's not the same. It's huge, but it's not the same.) It's another challenge we WILL overcome. :)

We are enjoying him now, looking forward to holding him and ALL being able to feed him, and nothing else seems wrong. He's happy, kicks me constantly, and there is no need for concern about major organs or anything.  In ultrasounds he looks SO cute. He is due April 22nd. We sold all that we had for a baby in order to move north, so we're starting from scratch, but that's okay. We sold what was freely given to us for next to nothing to a woman who was in the same position we were at first, needing something and unable to pay much. It was nice to be able to bless her. I regret nothing about it.


Second, we made a decision in order to keep things as peaceful around here as possible and not to overwhelm me even more with obligations. We are going to put Azarel, who is five now, into public school this fall. I was dead set on homeschooling him and have materials (which cost next to nothing, and I may still use them to supplement, so no waste there), but with everything at once, knowing I'll need the extra (HA! "extra") time with Alistair and I don't want Azarel held back by his brother's needs (or Daddy's). He's a sharp kid. Thankfully we live in a small enough community that is not very diverse where the overall student body is not scraping by with hundreds of delinquents under the age of fifteen with horrible family lives. The public elementary school we are looking at is rated high, has received awards, and is very close. We could walk there. Another bonus, they require uniforms. All of this of course depends on whether or not we have to move due to our insurance not being accepted. But, I do have a game plan for that, which brings me to...

Third, my husband was rated by the VA as 100% disabled and Unemployable. This means that legally, he can't be gainfully employed ever again, which means while all of you men are complaining about having to go to work, there is a man in my house who served honorably in the Marine Corps and wishes he could still work and hates to hear your ingratitude for what you're capable of doing. It also means that we are able to pay our bills with his disability income now, provided we do not encounter yet another government shut down any time soon. (That was brutal for us.) I just submitted our THIRD application for Wounded Warrior Social Security Disability Income after being denied twice, but this time, with the paperwork we have, it should work. At least that's what the disability lawyer I spoke to told me. He thinks we have a strong enough case now. If SSDI comes through, insurance will be covered and more options will open. 

Nicholas has been going through counseling, medicine changes, some Cognitive Processing Therapy, is currently in Physical Therapy, is being referred for more Neurological testing, and we have a good Physiatry doctor who is looking into getting him possible hyperbaric chamber therapy and Rx sunglasses, which anyone with a TBI would see the value of. Currently we have about three medical appointments a week, most for him. (Last week was crazy with I think six of them because of baby things, too.) I try not to complain because as his caregiver, who better to be there for him than me? He can't drive so I'm it. He still has his service dog, has a compressor sleeve for his right knee, a brace for his knee, a tens unit he can use for his rotator cuff injury, and a cane as well. His hip arthritis we just kind of have to wait to see on. Chronic pain doesn't typically dissipate, but if he can lose some weight, which he is, the joint paint should ease up a bit at least. There are a lot of medical needs that we are trying to muddle our way through, but the point is, we are doing it. I'm not listing all of the medical issues here. It's not the purpose of the post. We are actively seeking things we can do for fun as a family to balance this chaos out a bit. I am not paid as a caregiver because of a behavioral flag that was placed on my husband last year, so the VA doesn't check on me to see how well I'm doing things, but the service dog organization I got my [non-service] dog from does, which I really appreciate. It's really just about being there for everyone and working my tail off to try to help my husband see that I am there for him, but I love that others do look out for me so that I can be better for everyone around me. We reap what we sow.

We have taken steps to disassociate ourselves from anyone who believes we should not be together and/or  anyone who shames either of us for what we've been through. We are leaving the past in the past (that's the goal) and do not wait around for someone to bring up something they hated about either of us years ago when the moment strikes them. We are working through bitterness that both of us have and we are taking things one day at a time, because having injuries or disabilities does not make a person unlovable or unworthy of respect. We are learning to push past our negative attitudes about people, places, and things, and focus on what is kind, helpful, and true. This does not mean either of us are passing by our own standards (if this were a test), but that you should know that no one reading this blog is close enough to us to know the daily grind of things in order that they might have a say in how much we have progressed or not, whether individually or as a couple.
This was actually sent out as our Christmas card. I'm in all my pregnant glory. Yes, I did take the photo myself.
We'll be seven years married this year. Him: Severe PTSD. Multiple TBIs. Arthritis. Cognitive impairment. Migraines. Major depression. Seizures. Blackouts. Me: Secondary PTSD. Degenerative vision, Scoliosis, some messed up hips, and a messed up neck. We haven't given up on each other. Ohhhh, we have SAID we were done plenty of times, and we've done some pretty lousy things, but, if actions speak louder than words overall (I'm not talking about the little or even major things, because any couple has moments where one person drives the other mad at times and depending on what they are and the mood we're in, things can escalate quickly no matter who you are), let it be known that we are still here and still together and refuse to let anyone stand in our way or cast doubt with words of fear or death. 

My faith in our Lord Jesus is stronger than ever before. The more junk I go through, the more it increases. Why? Because suffering with Christ also means being glorified in Christ. I'm not afraid of either of those, though I don't deserve the latter. :) We have an excellent church. I journal a lot. I'm still quirky and care more deeply about others than I thought I could in the past. My husband is in a season where he's wrestling with God about decisions he's made and how to process it all and how God comes into all of it and what his purpose is supposed to be. Can you imagine being only 28 and being told you can never work again, being 100% disabled from only 4 years serving the country, and then finding out that the war you fought overseas was captured by the enemy once again? Again, only 28 and unemployable. Maybe you'd feel angry, bitter, resentful, hurt, depressed, a bit fearful, and lost, too. Add a wife who challenges you daily to push past what you're not sure you really CAN or are even MEANT TO push past, a child who wants tenderness from you that you don't know how to give, a baby on the way who is going to need ten thousand times the support you ever gave to your oldest son, and..... you know? It's a lot. But we're still here. One day at a time.

I'm taking a Concealed Weapons Permit class next month, I'm still singing in my church's choir despite the baby kicking my ribs, and I'm still doing photography, although it's not a focus these days. I just enjoy capturing life while I still have some eyesight. That and I enjoy using my talents for non-profit companies. I don't do anything just for myself. I do what I do unto the Lord first and foremost. Then, for my family, and last, and then for others, and then for myself. Yet I know that if I don't take care of myself, I'm not honoring God with what He gave me. Yes yes, the circle. I'm still working on this. :) I'm also still really enjoying connecting with spouses and significant others out there who live in the shadows of PTSD and/or TBI. It's been a major blessing to help others through tough situations we have already been through, but even to hold each other up in the midst of the ones we are currently going through. I am a disciple of Jesus, wife, mother, caregiver, daughter, friend, nurse, chef, chauffeur, counselor, etc etc etc. It's all to the glory of God, and if there is anything praiseworthy, I want to talk about it!!!!! Not dwell on problems or setbacks. I hope you gather than from anything you read from me. I started up my old habit of handwritten letters and cards and photos. Way more personal. Personal is the way things should be.

Here are a few snapshots from recent times. 

The Wounded Warrior Project chartered a holiday light cruise
on the Coeur d'Alene Lake that we were invited to

It was quite nice, and quite cold. I love the enchantment and eerie feeling of this photo

Our son received a personal chartered sightseeing flight
around the lake and surrounding mountains for his 5th birthday.
He obviously LOVED IT!
This is where I let my heart and mind get lost: In my Bible and my journal

Here is what's turning into a yearly holiday tradition: I make Cannoli from scratch

Here's Azarel at our church's Christmas Eve candlelight service

Here's Azarel thanking God for a gorgeous sunset from our back patio

Here's my husband and his service dog, Molly
And this was one of those moments too funny to pass up.
Azarel and my emotional support dog, Cadence (a pure white pug)
were licking each other, while the baby was kicking inside me,
and I was just.... well, I "was." LOL

Christmas morning. Santa does not come to this house,
but we were nominated by our Vet Center to receive some special things!
Most special of all? The gift already paid for and predestined from the foundation of the earth:
Salvation through faith in Christ.
Here's the first new outfit we received for baby Alistair! SO CUTE!!!!
My playful pug :)
And this is a recent one of me. It's blurry, but I don't mind.
 Azarel took it. He's got a good eye. :)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Love Our Vets -- a book review

There are so many books about PTSD out there. Half the time I can't tell if someone was told by friends that they had great thoughts and ought to be published so did for the sake of adding a highlight to their resume, or if they did a lot of research and are in fact getting out vital information to some who may not otherwise know what to ask or what needs to be known. I've seen a lot of talk with little wisdom, and I've bypassed many a book because I knew the depth in their words was shallow compared to my current struggles. I get bored with the same old "This is the definition of PTSD" introduction. If I was going to read another book about it, it was going to be real, and it was going to focus on what I cared most about, which is problem solving and problem prevention, rather than just list what causes the problem and the psychology and physiology behind it. I leave that for the counselors and doctors to unravel for me, because frankly, living with it every day, I don't need to know the terms. Terms don't help me understand his trauma. I know the life we live. What understanding mostly requires is patience and finding the right person who cares and really supports the cause to make progress. And that person isn't outside the marriage. It's inside it. It's my own husband. It's got to be him, or else what am I even here for? A good counselor and good helpful book will point you in the same direction also.

From the outsider's perspective, someone who may be a relative of someone who has PTSD, is that PTSD is brutal, and combat PTSD, from almost any war campaign this country has put its men and women through, is even more brutal. The grotesque realities these warriors come back with, who may have only gone into the battle in order to put food on their families' tables in the first place, is devastating to the mind, the body, and the spirit. It's really hard to someone who doesn't try to be approachable, and it's hard when being the same self you've always been doesn't mesh well with their post-trauma self. But you can't change them. You have to seek to understand and love them through it. There's no time for blame. Don't ever utter the words "You should never have joined." Accept the past, just as they have to work on doing, and deal with the present.

The problem we face isn't being willing to hear their stories, as hard as they are to hear, but that as lovers and support systems of these warriors, we face the problem of the war at home, and we don't get to conveniently "close the book and do other things" when it gets bad. We struggle to love our vets when they are acting in a completely unlovable manner. We struggle to protect and preserve the good qualities in our injured warriors and defend our marriages against "well-meaning" and maybe fearful individuals who would not dare to love or commit to someone with so many "issues." We watch our veterans lose jobs because of their ill tempers, we watch depression drive them to suicidal and homicidal ideations, we watch our long-time relationships with relatives and close friends literally self-combust, and then, we lose ourselves entirely. And then, when we need support and love the very most, so that we can love those who need our love just as much, we are told that by cultural standards, we should just leave. We are recipients of words of death instead of words of life from those who say they care but don't take the time to learn, our hearts are broken, and we too, feel like we have lost ourselves to our enemies, all while we know that the real enemy is not even our veteran. This isn't always the case, and certainly there are varying degrees of PTSD (my husband's is severe), but at some point, someone who longs to love and be loved by their veteran with PTSD has felt the twinge of grief on their heart over their [injury/illness/disorder]. (I don't like how PTSD is classified. Please pick your own word.)

At a loss of who exactly to turn to, thinking that a book is far too much to ask us to read while we are living in the line of fire, so to speak, of compassion fatigue, caregiver burnout, or just frustration over our veteran's unwillingness or inability to open up again or communicate as they once did, we are at our wit's end. Many rebel verbally, some rebel physically, some drink themselves into darkness, many cry, many stash money away in case they need to run, many run to support groups and counseling, and while the cyclone aims to disrupt and completely obliterate the tower of love and trust that once held stronger than glue, really.... a book is the last thing someone may think they need, but I'm telling you.... this book helped me. A few times, it acted as my "crisis line."


I was approached to share a review of Love Our Vets: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD by Welby O'Brien not because I love a veteran who faces challenges due to PTSD, but because I live through the battle every day with him as his wife and caregiver. I was presented with a unique challenge while reading this book, in that every time I read a chapter or a question and answer, the opportunity to apply what I read presented itself immediately. I cried. I scrambled prayers and thoughts frantically in my journal, refusing to tarnish my husband's name or integrity no matter how wrong I felt in a given moment, I prayed relentlessly (but that's a habit I have had for year now anyway), I confessed my thoughts, I learned how to articulate my thoughts and feelings better, and I was reminded of some key lessons that were brought up in my "real life" individual counseling. I do believe what's in this book is sound advice for anyone who wants to learn not just about PTSD, but how to really love someone who suffers from PTSD and/or Secondary PTSD. If I had the money and thought some certain people would actually read it, I'd be sending it out to relatives on both sides of our family, because there are so many facets to this life that we can't explain to others. I've tried. My words never do justice. They come out emotionally charged and are misinterpreted, or they come out emotionally unattached and are misinterpreted.

One major reason why I loved this book is because it gave so many practical application tips and checklists for self-care, which I had to learn to develop the hard way over the last few years. But more than that, it placed a real value and appreciation and compassion for the person who stands by their veteran all while emphasizing the need for the veteran to receive that compassion as well. God was not omitted, either. I'm a very firm believer that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the ONLY Savior, and I was deeply appreciative of the spiritual war being unveiled to an extent.

I learned that it was okay to be firm when I needed to be, letting my husband know when something he said was inappropriate. I found myself really freed up by reading some notes about how it's "his PTSD." It's not mine. I don't have to own it as my own. That's not compassionate care. It's unhealthy. And I was very surprised when I was able to use what I learned in one section in a real-life scenario the same day.

Police are a trigger for my husband. He's never had good experiences with them. (He's never been convicted for any reason or anything like that. He's got junk in his heart and mind but he did serve honorably. I won't get into why police are a trigger.) As I was driving the family the other day, we passed a state trooper on the highway, and he blurted out "A pig!" With his exclamation came the sudden panic and animosity and anxiety he typically gets from a trigger of any sort, and with his anxiety I felt my own chest tighten, as if the trooper must be an automatic problem for me, because it was a problem for him. But I stopped myself, and said firmly, "You know what? Please stop. I don't want police to be a trigger for me. I don't like how triggers feel, and I don't want to have them." The air in the car felt totally different after that, I got my point across, he didn't get angry, and the next time he saw a cop, he said nothing until we passed it, and then said "I didn't say anything that time. I'm trying." Wow. That was wonderful! We're married six and a half years and I'm still taking baby steps like these to communicate properly instead of just reacting. I know that if I don't want him to merely "react" to life, I need to purpose in my mind not to merely "react" to what he says that I find unattractive. I have the book to thank for this. Days later, I am still marveling at how it went down.

Another example is how long it's taken me to get the courage to say that yelling and fits of rage are unacceptable forms of communication, not just in our marriage, but for a Christian. These are issues that need to be repented of, with deep seeded roots of bitterness. Well, over the years, both spouses can become bitter, one for one reason or another, and the other because of how the one responds to life bitterly. It's such a nasty cycle if we don't catch it and leads to even more stress. I was reminded by the book that I am not demonstrating compassion for him OR love when I let him yell at me. It crushes the spirit of our son, it most certainly grieves my heart, and more than both of us combined, it's grieving God's heart. It's almost always a matter of him not communicating his needs or feelings or thoughts in a constructive manner before they explode in such a fashion, but then there are also times when everything seems fine and then it's as if his brain snaps and he's angry and out comes all sorts of poison. This is a common theme for uncontrolled anger and resentment and bitterness and fear and insecurities (all put together! AH!) for those who suffer from PTSD, but, they CAN learn to cope better, and those who love them can help them cope better by reminding them calmly that what they are doing is unacceptable, removing themselves for a while, letting the veteran cool down for however long it takes. It hurts, but this type of "let them cool down" hurt is less painful than the other more aggressive alternative, like saying things both people will regret. So, when he yelled the other day, I said firmly, "You are not allowed to yell at me. That's unacceptable. You are being childish," and I walked away. I waited as long as it took for him to approach ME in a calm fashion. Usually I have found from combat PTSD veterans that their "I'm coming back out of my angry hole to see how much damage I've caused but won't admit it" initiation to communication is something along the lines of "Are you done causing problems yet?" (You know, the age old blame game. But remember.... I have the upper hand in that battle because I KNOOOOOW I am not the enemy.) Well, I learned I didn't even have to respond to that question. I moved right along and said what I was doing, which was reading my Bible and writing in my journal. When I feel like my mind is going insane and I need to cry, that's where I go. I go to God and I write, and I rock back and forth and calm myself down for as long as it takes, reminding myself that forgiveness keeps no records of wrongs, reminding myself that boundaries still need to be established, even with forgiveness. It worked. He was calmer and we were able to discuss the real issue, which was "I don't know how I got so angry. I don't know where it came from."

from Positive Action for PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on Facebook
Love your veteran enough to disable them from being able to crush you emotionally. This a lesson I learned that I can take to the bank every day for the sake of our entire family. I say that because when he "comes out of it," he regrets it, and I don't want him to have yet another sin to confess to the Lord that will send him spiraling into depression. I want the ups and downs to become less drastic over time. Behavior modification, if you will. You as a spouse have more of a profound impact on how your veteran responds to the world than anyone else. Receive the calling, hard as it is, and rise to the challenge. Yes, it means you have to learn to be excellent at communicating. (And to think, I was going to major in communication at one point. HA! I'm earning my credentials through my marriage. God wastes nothing.)

See, communication is hard enough as it is for a combat veteran with PTSD, but when you add multiple TBIs to that, black outs, and seizures, you know to except a few days a month that are good, and many days that are just cracked out. At least, that may be how it looks to the outside world at times, but what they don't see (so quick to judge) is how much hard work and devotion there is behind closed doors.

It's a process. There's no quick fix. There's no "cure." Cancer kills the person it's attacking. It hurts the hearts of those who love the person who is taken by it. But the cancer in of itself is not contagious. PTSD.... is. It's like cancer of the mind. Comes with memory issues. Comes with total confusion. You can have full conversations and they won't remember a word they said, whether they were great words or horrible ones.

But do we still love our veterans? Yes. Slowly, as we ourselves gain strength and wisdom and understanding and compassion and love, slowly as we take care of ourselves and learn to use coping skills and establish and maintain good, healthy, and stress-reducing habits, we find that we are more functional, not just for our veterans, but for ourselves, so that we have a deeper capacity to love. Truthfully, this confounds the world in which we live in. The world says "if someone is doing X, get OUT. Right away." But that's a last resort, and often we are giving up too easily. If God loved us only as much as we loved our veterans with PTSD, we could scarcely call Him God. We are all sinners. We can all forgive because we ALL have issues that God is just to forgive us for when we confess them. Some are worse than others, but I truthfully believe that restoration is far more possible over time than most believe. This isn't an easy life, but especially for someone who calls them self a Christian, I just want tools to help me obey God by loving and respecting my husband more, and in that same respect, I want tools to help myself become more lovable. No veteran wants to see their spouse get ugly because of their own injuries from war. That hurt their hearts far more than they tell people, but when my husband has opened up, that's one thing that chokes him up right away: knowing that all the junk he's been through has weighed me down dramatically. He didn't ever want to be the cause of my issues. And I didn't want to cause him more issues because of the other issues. It's a circle of madness. It can end. Peel away the layers of darkness. Replace them with light. That's where our faith, will to do right, hard work, and diligence come in. This book will help you in more ways than I can say.

If you're the parent, in-law, sibling, cousin, girlfriend, friend, co-worker, mentor, counselor, boss, or acquaintance of a veteran with PTSD, I challenge you to read Love Our Vets: Restoring Hope for the Families of Veterans with PTSD by Welby O'Brien. You can find it on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, and a few other places as well, I think. In the book there are 63 really good questions and answers, followed by a section on how to replenish when you're down and out, and my personal favorite, the last section on reflection via wisdom from others who love veterans and what they have learned (as well as a few surprises at the very end for further application and personal growth). I'd say especially if you are new to this journey or your veteran is withdrawing/isolating, you're concerned he or she may be struggling with symptoms they cannot talk about, or you are in a relationship that feels like a dead end due to so many unresolved challenges, you'd benefit from this read, but even if you've been walking down this road for years and you think you've learned it all, heard it all, or been through it all, this is a tool worth putting in your tool belt. I've been married for going on seven years to my veteran who deployed seven days after we married and returned on a medical evacuation injured, and clearly, this book was for me, too. I'm grateful to have been asked to read it, and I'm glad I accepted the challenge. I'm sure I will reference parts of the book in the future as situations arise.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Breakthrough. I mean MASSIVE breakthrough

It's mind-blowing to me how major life events can take place just 24 hours ahead of the moment you're currently in and you have no idea how much those events will change you and have a profound effect on others, too, until they hit you. This is elementary in truth, of course, but it's also known that simple truths are equally profound. Take for example, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me." -Jesus. That's a ten-dimensional statement (if there were so many dimensions), yet my four year old can understand it. Crazy!

I'm writing mostly to explode with the news that despite out raging waves of doubt and our deep animosity for all that the VA has done wrong to us, and despite how much help we've tried to get since my husband was placed on TDRL, recc'd for permanent retirement, and then merely discharged, and despite how many connections we've made with others who swore they could help but once they knew the full of the situation could only scratch their heads, and despite how much our faith has been agonizingly tested and tried, I have to tell you that God can do whatever He pleases, and He does.

We recently, as you know via my blog here, had his TBI re-evaluation for the service-connected claim we placed earlier this year, since it was never put into the VA system, though his service record indicates he had a injuries to his head from explosions in theater. You also know because I blogged it that his claim was approved to be expedited back in June due to financial hardships that were NOT going away. You know that both of us were so fired up about constantly having to fight for everything, how every organization we sought help through (except for our church and Shepherds for Lost Sheep and the Vet Center) played with our minds and told us in order to be helped we had to essentially pretend we were white trash and mooch off the system and be irresponsible with what little we did have. You know that our brains were fried and that the stress of all of that was causing ridiculous escalated PTSD symptoms, depression leading to numerous suicide attempts, two miscarriages (however I firmly believe there were other contributing factors to that, factors I won't get into here),  job loss, a test of amounts of patience we did not think we had, isolation, the selling of items in our house and a vehicle to pay a couple bills, and really, a level of humility (more like humiliation) and discomfort that few others know of in the "first world." We don't HAVE first-world problems, you see. Well, I suppose we have some, but we are not your typical Americans regarding much.

Here's what I want to spit out before I become a complete train-wreck of joy here:

I struggled with feeling badly about praising God so much for something so good. I checked myself and thought "Oh dear, did I praise God this much in my pain and struggle?" But I was quickly countered in my own mind by, "You would have been the only one in your house who was mentally ABLE to praise God in your struggles for a long time, had you not taught your son also to partake."

The conversations we have.... right? We, I, and myself, I mean. I do a lot of self-evaluation and checking where I am at mentally so that I can be there for others, because at least recognizing on my OWN scale of health where I am at, I can better serve whomever God has given to me.

Ok. Ready? To the best of my understanding and limited skills, I gathered the following:

My husband received mail from the VA yesterday stating that he was granted Individual Unemployability and his rating went up, which it has to in order to get IU, since IU counts as 100%. This was after a day of trying to keep him up and doing things around the house and moving furniture with him despite how both of us should not be lifting, because we wanted our house to feel like a home. I got the mail and BURST into tears and jumped into his arms. Over and over and over. Had to console our son who was so taken by my flood of emotion he got upset. My husband and I reminded him that no no, it's okay. Girls cry when they're happy, too! Mom Mom (that's what our son calls me, so cute) is not sad!!!! NOT AT ALL!!!

Collectively he's rated now at 100% (for PTSD, major depression, and migraines) and will be treated as 100%. He's also going to be getting back pay. Between his migraines and his PTSD and major depression alone, (it's that serious, yes), he's at 100%, but according to their tables it's a combined of 80% or something. It does not all make sense to me but I will learn more.

The odd thing is the Idaho VA review board did not find his TBI and seizures from his TBI to be service-connected, which they absolutely are (and I'll talk to our VSO about that today since we're heading in that direction this morning), but, they have them written as valid for concern and therefore must treat all that ails him, and are doing future workups for his hips which are arthritic. His shoulder is having as many issues as before he had surgery in January of 2010, and his new VA dr isn't the most helpful so I have to talk to them all about how next to best help him, and I'm going to look into vestibular therapy and a hyperbaric chamber for him too, and he's now agreed to get counseling at the Vet Center from a Marine Veteran, as CPT, Cognitive Processing Therapy, took a back seat while the stress got outrageous because he didn't like the lady who was doing it, nor did he enjoy the depression and anger and old habits he fell back into because he was reliving so much. It made things around here considerably more rough, and I know that when he was thinking clearly, he hated tearing his family apart because he was (in his words) "too f'ed up to keep the past from ruining his life."

But these moments of clarity are so helpful for me, and to hear him voice his thoughts and communication is a major improvement, even just this week. For five long years we waited and fought relentlessly.

What I understand is that IU makes him incapable of going to school, which means now that I would be the one to use up the GI Bill remains. It also means that maybe our family can get on CHAMPVA insurance and I wouldn't have to deal with getting all of Nicholas's help from the VA necessarily -- could seek civilian opinions, therapies, and treatments. It might also mean that I would have insurance other than Pregnancy Medicaid. It most definitely means that although I was denied for the Caregiver Program, I can now have a reevaluation for that, and since my husband has proven that he cannot be gainfully employed due to his injuries sustained in combat, it will be easier to be evaluated and hopefully, finally, actually be paid for what I have been doing all this time. But make NO mistake about this: I am not here for money. Even from the beginning of our marriage I said that. I did not marry a Lance Corporal of the Marine Corps for wealth. There isn't any. I did not stay married because I hoped for financial compensation. I am not staying married because I want to steal his paycheck and do things for myself that I feel I deserve from having put up with so much complete crap over the years. In fact, when my husband asked me yesterday what I'd like for the house once back pay from February kicks in, the only thing I could come up with was "It would be nice to have another floor lamp so we can both read books at the same time." That was IT. I'm frugal to a fault. It was him who then said later, "Well I want you to have some new clothes." And both of us want to take our son on his first train ride. Heck, it'll be amazing to be off of state food assistance! WE HATE THAT! Every day we'd wake up thinking "Except for our hearts and our grievances right along with the Holy Spirit and the fact that we pray and trust in God that this is temporary as everything in life is, this is not FOR US. This is for those who deserve it, yes, but we don't want it. We'd rather be off the grid, making our own everything, self-sustainable." But sometimes, that's just not possible. At least, it isn't yet.

Do you know that the first thing we both decided we want to do is simply pay bills and tithe? We just want to give back. We want to volunteer ourselves and preach the gospel. We want to focus on the Lord and let others know that He is faithful.... even when we don't know what that means or what that looks like.

As I was in choir last night, the words of a sermon our pastor preached echoed in my mind:

"God is your caregiver. Caregivers here, those who take care of children and those who take care of the elderly, and the sick, and the disabled, listen. Think of how deep your heart runs for the one(s) you care for. And you're only human. Think about how much you do for the one you care for. Your efforts and sacrifices are not to be overlooked. Now think about how much bigger God is. God is your caregiver. Don't EVER forget that. And don't dismiss however He sees fit to care for you. It's better and more wholesome and more direct and more loving and more healing and more provisional than any other type of care you'll ever receive. Remember that so that when you serve, you serve not only unto the Lord, but you serve the Lord Himself, as He is in 'the least of these.'"

And now, my friends, I have so much more I could say about growth and hope and perseverance and more hurdles that must be jumped over and relief and Thanksgiving surprises and the baby name we've chosen for our son's little brother due in April (Yes, it's a boy!!!!! AGAIN!!!!) and how much emotional support the bonding and training experience with my little pug has given our house and especially me, and how much support I am gaining finally from stepping way out of my comfort zone to entrust the ugly inside my heart with a counselor and with other caregivers and military spouses at my Vet Center's support group, and what marriage counseling is looking like these days, and what my husband's prayer life has been looking like these days and how I am a soloist for my church's Christmas Cantata this year, and and and and AND.....

but instead I will enjoy the rest of my early morning, shower, hug my precious family, finish my coffee, and get ready to remove all doubt from our counselor's eyes. I can't wait to see his reaction and response when we show him what we got in the mail. We did not think good was coming. Not for us. After all, "who are we," right? Wrong question. The proper question is, "Who do you say I [the Lord] am?"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Quitting Meds

If you're someone who takes meds for PTSD or anxiety or depression or anything like that, it's unwise to stop taking them all on a whim, especially without letting someone know first who is close to your situation. It's best to at least wean yourself off slowly. You might be "over" the med thing, sick of popping pills and feeling a certain way, and that's very understandable, but your body doesn't synch with your thoughts like that. It's gotta be a gradual build and a gradual decline if you're wanting to be smart about it, or else bad things can happen before you even realize they're happening, like extra crappy thoughts, extra negativity, sudden bursts or paranoia and/or anxiety, feeling like the entire universe is against you, and a lot of other things. You can give yourself extra or new seizures and even kill yourself this way. It's been documented. 

Of course a good (actually, a great) long-term goal is to eventually get off of them entirely, but a great short-term goal would be to be slow about it and make sure you have put in place effective coping skills and demonstrated especially to yourself that you know what, how, when, and why to use them. A habit takes 21 days to establish (or demolish), and you have to keep them up. Maintenance in either direction or habit building or killing is key, and... it's the hardest part, because you don't always "feel like it."

Coping skills are often harder to develop a habit of using, because it's much harder to pinpoint triggers and learn ways to get through them than it is to take a few meds, and so sometimes someone will have a few good months or so of effective coping skill-building and then think the meds are not needed, forgetting the purpose of them, and in doing so, they'll start missing doses on their good days (but not intentionally weaning them self). Before they know it, they're having less good days and they think the problem is everyone else. They think "I know how to manage! I have coping skills!" and then rattle off everything you're doing wrong to aid in their frustration or even provoke it, as if it's a game or goal of yours. It's tempting to stop taking them all together, especially when the people who are triggers for your depression, panic, or anxiety don't take any. It's easy to think "Hell, they are just fine with being a**holes, so why should I hold back? They are "integrated civilians!" Why do they get away with being stupid and honest but I must be reigned in?" I can't tell you how many times I have heard that one. 

Meds sure aren't good for fixing everything, not by a long shot, but for some people, they're building blocks and stepping stones to a much longer journey of progress... one that should never be walked alone. (Meds or no meds, no one should walk alone.) Lots of people overlook this or simply don't understand, and I'm not even talking about not understanding the root of the depression, anxiety, paranoia, or PTSD. Just the journey itself of learning how to cope and retrain your mind to think in a world you don't really want to be a part of it's tremendously difficult., and for those who don't have goals, or desires to achieve anything in their personal development, it's damn near impossible. 

The journey is painstakingly slow and ugly at times, so make sure that when you do stop taking meds, it's because you're making a lot of progress and are confident in your ability to keep it up (with the help of accountability of some sort: therapists, pastors or elders from church, doctors, immediate family, whoever needs to know), and that you're not just stopping at random because you are sick of taking them. Keep people informed, even if you don't see eye to eye. 

-Nicole
Marine Wife Unplugged

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