Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Oh hi PTSD, why don't you come on in

Here we go.  When last I left you I felt I had nothing more to give.  Blogging was something that stressed me out and I was living a very low stress life.  Things at home were great, we were almost like a normal family and our issues were the same small issues everyone has.  Work was looking up, I was seriously considering taking a job that would require more of a commitment from me, maybe even start using my brain at work.  We were floating along as happy as could be when suddenly, at the end of August, it happened.

I don’t even know what “it” was really.  Something happened and we went from actually going out and enjoying a concert together to the next week with him in the back of an ambulance and me following behind driving like a crazy woman.  Panic attacks were the diagnosis.  Lots of them, so bad that he convulsed and had to be taken to the hospital because the convulsing and shallow breathing could bring about seizures.  We’ve been dealing with his TBI symptoms that we had ignored the fact that he has PTSD too.

What we’ve learned since this all started is that PTSD and anxiety are major assholes and will likely pick a time when you are happy to remind you that they are there and want to run the show.

Looking back we both know it wasn’t quite as “suddenly” as it appeared.  Will had been getting sick for months, throwing up every morning and every night.  Unable to eat most foods he was living on vegetable soup and green tea.  As any man would he ignored it, thought he must have had a bug or something.  Going to the VA to testing seemed worse than his symptoms.  He quickly lost over 30lbs, he looked malnourished and had very little energy.  But he tried, we still went on date nights and he played with the girls as much as he could but something was off.  Mid July his sleep was no longer restful and dreams of horrible images of what he saw and dealt with in Iraq started.  Then the dreams started to include me and the girls…it was too much for him to talk about so he kept it to himself.

Anxiety and all things PTSD related don’t just go away.  You can’t just wish it not to be so and *poof* it’s gone.  We should have listened to the early signs. 

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

From the ambulance to the hospital and back home all in one day and now our lives are forever changed.  It was after this that we learned just how useless VA healthcare is.  When they would return his call or deem him sick enough to get an appointment hey didn’t know how to treat him.  I wont get into all the details now but he was sent away numerous times with no treatment at all.  He was expected to drive all over Massachusetts to doctors who are impossible to contact and are so overworked that finding out what is causing your physical symptoms is just too time consuming.  He was on Prednisone for over 2 months for an unknown (maybe) allergy.  I think we all know the VA loves to throw pills at problems.

One of the best moves we made was contacting The Home Base Program which is run by The Red Sox Foundation to help post 9/11 vets deal with PTSD & TBI.  They have been wonderful; doctors who listen can genuinely care about how he’s doing, how I am doing.  Although they are strictly mental health they paid for him to have labs done at Mass General Hospital to try to do what the VA wouldn’t.  Unfortunately, we still don’t know what is physically wrong with him we have wonderful people working to help with the PTSD.  I will talk more about this program in later updates, I'm sure!

Since all this has happened I have kind of been a mess.  I am surprised with how quickly I was able to detach myself from all of this and process very little emotion with everything.  I had a big cry when I made that first 911 call and 2 full on sob fests since (one at work and one in my car) but that’s it.  It’s not that I don’t want to feel sad about what’s going on, I just don’t have time to be sad.  Life didn’t stop because Will got sick.  TC still started kindergarten last fall, Addie is still waking up to poop at six AM daily and needs help with that.  I still have a full time job that I need to get to so that we don’t deplete all of our hard earned savings.  Mouths need to be fed, snuggles need to be given, laundry needs to be washed.  For the last several months it’s all been on my shoulders.  If he did have to leave the house I had to drive him.  I’ve swallowed my pride and become a paid caregiver through the VA, I should start seeing that money next month.

Work has been great about all of this.  My time off beyond my 80 hours vacation isn’t paid but my job is safe thanks to FMLA which gives 1000 hours to care for a vet.  But working less than 20 hours a week some weeks has really hit me in the savings account.  It sucks, but thank God we had that savings account.  Now there is even more pressure on me to be at work because I am carrying the health insurance.  One of the benefits to serving is that you are supposed to have healthcare for life, HA!  On New Year’s Eve we counted down the seconds not to 2016 but to Jan 1st because when that clock struck midnight he was covered under real health insurance.   

This is where we are now.  I may or may not elaborate on some of this stuff.  If you have an questions please ask – I am very open to talking about as much as I can without violating too much of his privacy.  I feel like stories like ours need to be out there, people need to know what is going on with our combat vets.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chasing Christmas

Just a little something I put together
In the years since my father’s death I’ve found myself chasing Christmas. My father was Christmas, even in the middle of July he always had the twinkle in his eye. When we lost him that late April night my thoughts quickly drifted to December, dreading what had been (up until that moment) my favorite time of year.

Growing up each December was the same. All 5 kids and our parents would climb into the minivan and head to a local Christmas tree farm to pick and chop down a tree. It could be as high as Dad’s hand could reach over his head and as fat as we could possible find. The harder it was to get in the front door the better. After years of battling with the tree stand we finally screwed a hook in the living room wall to tie the tree to wall and keep it upright. It stayed there all year; Christmas was always in our house. Decorating the tree was always special, each ornament had a story and each kid had a favorite. We listened to Christmas music on vinyl, not because it was cool it was just what we had. The star was a hand me down from his childhood tree, it was hideous but we loved it. When we were done we always begged Dad to go light with the tinsel but he loved it. If he could the tree would have a pile of tinsel and flashing lights. It wasn’t until we got a dog and tinsel became forbidden that he gave up that fight. I never understood why he loved it  but I knew his childhood tree was covered in the tinsel that his father couldn’t get enough of.

Every night before bed we would place an ornament on our Advent Calendar tree and read the corresponding bible verse. We saved the star for Dad to place on Christmas Eve, working 60+ hours a week he missed most of the previous ornaments which made the star all the more special. Every day we would count the days left until Christmas on that calendar, we would analyze the remaining ornaments thinking about what we would pick when our turn came around again being sure not to tell our siblings so they didn’t take it first. Nothing said Christmas was coming like seeing that burlap and felt calendar hit the wall.

As Christmas Eve approached we started the mad dash to clean the house, and keep it clean! Santa can’t put your stocking on your bed if your room isn’t clean you know! But even inch of the house had to be cleaned as ours was the gathering place for our extended family and church family. Cookies and pies would be baked. Soda chilled on the porch. 20lbs of ham, 20lbs of turkey, meatball & baked beans from scratch & lasagna from B.J.’s. We opened our doors after the early church service at All Saints Episcopal and closed them as we all filed out to make the 11PM service (or go to bed). But every year, before church or bed Dad read The Night Before Christmas and placed the star on the advent calendar. That is when the excitement really started to boil over. Kids would scatter to beds unable to sleep, listening for sleigh bells.

On Christmas morning we all shot out of bed as early as we possibly could. I believe 6AM was the latest we would let them sleep. They would wake to the sounds of cap guns exploding and the smell of (really bad) fresh brewed coffee. We each found our pile of gifts and opened one at a time. Dad was perched at the end of the couch, his hair as crazy as ever, a coffee in one hand a cigarette in the other (it was the 90s, don’t judge) leaning over quietly observing each and every reaction to each and every gift. We knew Dad worked a lot, we knew a seven person family was not normal in our area, we knew that no matter what was put under that tree it came from hard work that actually required sweat (and maybe some tears). We knew our parents worked their butts off to make Christmas special. In the 80s they pawned class rings and waited in line for the elusive Cabbage Patch Dolls. Another year they attempted to push a paddle boat up the stairs into the house (I’m not kidding, it was wedged in the hallway for the rest of the winter). Even my senior year of high school, well beyond my Santa years my stepmother camped out at Wal-Mart so they could afford to buy me a color TV fit to bring to college. They always made Christmas special, even when I asked for a Sony Sport Walkman but received the off brand imitation yellow Walkman I was thankful. I could still listen to Kris Kross on the bus and I still had plenty of gifts left to open.

When dad died all of that was over. The house eventually sold and with it went those magical Christmas Eves. Christmas in your early 20s with no family home is hard. It was hard to find a way to fit in. I held on hope that when I had kids the magic of Christmas would return.

4 years after we lost Dad I met the love of my life. Our Christmases were anything but ordinary, we were married the day after our first Christmas together, we moved 1000 miles south the day after our second. It wasn’t until our third that we could actually get a tree have a proper family holiday. By then we were 3000 miles from where we had grown up so it was a quiet “just us” Christmas. Our fourth Christmas was spent by me entertaining my sister and brother in law in from the east coast and my husband entertaining terrorist in the Middle East. I was 8 months pregnant with our first daughter and nothing I did could muster up any Christmas cheer.

Time goes by, we welcomed a baby girl and spent the next Christmas skyping with family while she opened presents. It was nice but it wasn’t really Christmas. By the next Christmas we had moved again and celebrated with our daughter and her one week old sister. I was too tired and sore to even look for Christmas spirit.

Another year passed and Christmas started to have that familiar spark. Our daughters were starting to understand, I baked cookies and pies and ham and turned what had been my father’s tradition of fried dough for breakfast into my own tradition of frying up donuts. The Advent Calendar was placed on the wall and it gave me a thrill to watch them pick what had been my favorite ornaments to place. We decorated the tree drinking egg nog listening to Christmas music. The spark was back but not the full love of Christmas.

Two more years have passed and we have moved back home, close to our families and friends but I still find myself chasing Christmas. I am holding on the notion that I have to give them the same experiences that I had or their holidays will be ruined. But I have to admit, a tree cut down at the farm looks just as nice as the trees we bought from a tree stand. Every year I am letting go a bit more of what I thought Christmas should be (exactly what I had as a kid) and embracing what Christmas actually is for my kids. As they grow our traditions will be born and some may die out but what I really hope is if one day they unwrap an off brand Walkman they will love it just as I did and know that we give them as much as we can. They will look at me perched on the couch with my coffee with genuine gratitude.

This will be the 15th Christmas since we lost Dad but the first that I fully understand his love of tinsel. Thank you Dad, a childhood so happy I want to recreate it for my kids is the best gift I never even had to ask for.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tales From Home

I still hate working and Will still thinks he’s under qualified to stay at home with the kids but we are making the most of this unique situation that we find ourselves in.  We take full advantage of Facebook messages, I can vent to him when I feel like I am going to punch the next person I see and he keeps me updated of the shenanigans that the girls are getting into.
I love seeing their little faces in my inbox but some days it’s like a dagger through the heart.  I am equally happy for him and jealous of him, it’s a frustrating thing.  But I would never want the updates from home to stop.   Now that the weather has finally tuned they are outside most afternoons.  TC plays a game where our yard has several habitats and she goes around rescuing the wounded animals.  Having worked in a few hospitals Will knew exactly what they needed, a board.  So he brought out the easel and they were able to keep track of all of their patients (it’s not hard to lose track imaginary animals!).
This is a game they played with a tennis ball; they were just rolling it down the walk trying to not let it hit the grass.  Fun silly games that they make up and giggle and squeal, I can’t be there but at least I get to see some of it. 
The other day it was cold and rainy so he made them an office to play ABC Mouse in.  TC is convinced that she wants to come and work with me so this made her feel like in a small way she was.  Not that I have an office, but she doesn’t have to know that! 
I still dream of a part time job that would allow me to have the best of both worlds but until all those stars align I will take my little updates from the home front.  Thanks to everything our family has been thorough Will has been given a gift, time with his daughters.  I wish all fathers had this opportunity, he is creating a bond with them that will be like no other.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Our Easter Wouldn't Be Complete Without a TBI Story

As I read through everyone’s Easter recaps and scrolled through the smiling faces on my Facebook feed I needed to remind myself that my journey isn’t going to look like your journey.  Every family has its quirks.  We had a perfectly lovely Easter.  The girls enjoyed coloring eggs, did not enjoy eating them.  They were super excited for their baskets and new basketball hoop.  They got to play with their cousins and have an egg hunt at their grandma’s house.  What they didn’t get to do was spend the day with their father.  His head prevented him from joining us on the trip to my stepmother’s house.

Looking back at last week I am not surprised.  I should have known but sometimes I forget that we aren’t a “normal” family and I let go of some of my self-preservation techniques.  Last week was just a crappy week; work was really getting to me, I was really missing my girls, I had a minor car accident that left me hurting all week and some unthinkable things affected people I love.  I was in more than a funk, I was in a depression.  I tried to hide it but I couldn’t so I tried to talk to Will about it.  I knew I shouldn’t have, when I am having a hard time with how our life has played out he has a hard time understanding that it’s not his fault.  When I really just need to vent and cry and be told that things will be OK I usually end up having to reassure him and I am left worse off than before.  It’s not his fault – I know this and I am not mad at him for it but it is so frustrating.

I don’t want to keep things from my husband, I love him and want to share everything with him but at the same time I want to protect him.  My unloading on him made him upset and stressed and with the anxiety of a large Easter gathering hanging over his head his body reacted.  5 years after his accident he started experiencing a “concussion headache”.  He has several different types of headaches and having never had any of them I can’t really talk about them but he said he felt as if he had just gotten the head injury.  Because of this he knew that he would be able to handle a loud house full of people, so that is why we spent Easter apart.

He was there for the girls’ baskets and when we got home he heard all about their day but he wasn’t there.  I had a great time with my family and it was nice to not have to worry about how he was doing with my family but I would have rather of had him there.   

We have done a pretty good job adjusting to what is normal for us but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My "Getup"

On second thought it’s not OK.  How do you like that?  It is not OK to comment on how I look at work.  Yesterday it was the dude basically saying I looked like shit by saying I looked like a Monday and today it was one of the shop guys saying my dress was “quite the getup”.  I can’t win.

My office is casual, we can wear jeans and sneakers if we want.  I took full advantage of that all winter wearing jeans and boots almost exclusively for a few months.  Now that we are warming up I am ready to start dressing more like myself and myself likes to wear dresses.  Dresses are great; you don’t have to think hard about getting dressed, there is nothing to match and the best part, NO PANTS!  Toss on a dress and you’re done.  Also, as the receptionist I am the face of the company, I do my best to represent it as best as I can and being a bit more dressed up than someone cutting metal all day helps.

I am not saying I dress to necessarily impress at work but I wear what I am comfortable wearing.  This is my dress today, pretty modest really (sorry it’s blurry but I didn’t think I would even be using this picture).
I have about 20 dresses that I will be wearing all summer all pretty similar to this in terms of length and some may even (gasp) be sleeveless!   Am I going to have to worry about hearing comments every time I come to work? 

It’s one thing to say “nice dress” or “I like that tie” or whatever but “quite the getup” has a different,  sexy, tone to it.  At first I blew it off because he’s from the shop and they talk back there like they talk in a sports bar but I wasn’t in the shop, I was at my desk doing my job.  For a moment he made me feel bad about myself and doubt myself and that’s not OK.  

I know I am being a little dramatic, this isn’t even something that warrants a note to HR – if it happens more than yes, of course, but right now it’s just something that made me feel like shit.  After yesterday being made to feel so ugly and then today being made to feel like some kind of temptress I just don’t even know anymore.  But I know that it doesn’t matter if he works in the shop, delivers or rugs or runs the whole damn place it’s not alright to make comments to me about how I’m dressed just because I’m a woman.  It is never OK.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I Look Like Monday?

This morning the Cintas guy who swaps our out dirty rugs and warehouse uniforms for clean ones saw me at my desk and proclaimed  “Looks like you’re having a Monday!”.  Ouch.  I admit, my hair isn’t done, I pulled it up and hoped to hide the bit of conditioner I left in there from Sunday morning’s deep conditioning.  My sweater is a little old but not the dingiest thing I have seen in the office today.   I have bags under my eyes as I haven’t been able to sleep well this past week, sleeping next to someone with a TBI can be a bit of a challenge.  I did put on makeup and even curled my eyelashes in an attempt to look put together but apparently it failed. 

I had every intention of washing and blowing out my hair this morning.  I was down stairs and heading for the shower when a little voice came up behind me.  This little voice was that of my very proud 3 year old who does things on her own schedule.  She woke up dry and ready to use the potty.  I was beyond happy for her, I knew she could do it but she just needed to confidence to try.  So instead of getting in the shower and readying myself for the day I made French toast per the request of the little girl in dry Olaf undies. 

I wasn’t home the first time she went #2 in the potty.  I miss all the mid-morning dace offs (a tradition I started, for the record).  I am not the keeper of the peanut butter at lunch time but I was the one to hug her and celebrate with her on her fist successful attempt of a diaperless night.  If that kid wanted French toast you bet your ass she was getting it and maybe that left me with no time to be the dressed up version of myself that I usually am at work but I don’t care.  You may think I look like a Monday but I feel like a Friday afternoon.  It was a big morning at our house and I was there to celebrate.