As I discussed earlier, I am at a sort of cross road in my life. I know the path before me and I can clearly identify the forks in the road. One path leads down the path I’ve been traveling all these years. The path of denial, depression, and isolation associated with my PTSD. Then, there is a second path. A path unknown to me. A path that, from all reports, leads toward recovery. Its not a path to a cure, I have long ago conceded that there is not cure for PTSD; I have suffered too many traumas for there to be a cure. But…and there is always a but… this path will lead toward a better future.
I have always been terrible with change. I’m not talking about change as in rearranging the living room. I’m talking about bigger changes. Adding a member to your family, moving to a new base, my husband deploying as well as when he returns. Those major life changes that require you to rethink your entire daily routines. I know the path I am choosing to take won’t be all rainbows and lollipops. I know it will require hard work and determination. It will require me to come outside of myself to care for this dog. It will require me to get out of this house and actually get some fresh air and potentially some exercise. It will cause me to interact more with my children as they get to know Chaunsey. It will change virtually everything about my daily life. That alone terrifies me. My stomach is in knots, my nerves are frazzled and my head is swimming. Just the thought of leaving my family for three weeks is enough to send me into a panic attack, even though when I’m here at home, I tend to isolate myself away from everyone.
I know I am not alone in these feelings. I have already talked with one of my classmates and she has described feeling very much the same way. I’m sure all of the graduates of K9s have also felt some level of what I am feeling. They are the ones who have kept me moving forward to the place I am now.
I am looking at these two paths. One is familiar and comfortable to me, even though my PTSD is anything but controlled. The other, the path that I am actively choosing to follow is the new one. I am choosing to step outside my comfort zone with the hope and determination to fight back against my PTSD. After all THIS is what this blog is supposed to be all about…fighting back. Realizing we are not alone and that there is always hope. Learning that there are ways to find some level of peace with our inner demons, deciding that we are no longer going to be the victims of our trauma’s but survivors.
We can fight PTSD. I choose to do so. You can also choose to fight, or you can choose to take the familiar path. Ultimately, its entirely up to you. Which path will you take?
Most people weather life’s changes with little more than some slightly elevated stress levels. For someone with PTSD, however, even the smallest of life changes can make them feel like their life has been turned upside down.
Right now, I am three days from a major life change. In three short days, I will get on an airplane and fly to Florida where I will meet my service dog for the first time. His name is Chaunsey, the beautiful golden retriever in this picture. We will train together to learn what it means to be a team. I will learn what his ‘alerting’ behaviors are, and he will learn how to perform tasks that mitigate my disabilities. This is a huge step. This will be the longest I have been away from my family in, well… ever. I have never been away for even a night without at least my husband, if not my kids. This is something totally new to me. I will be hundreds of miles away from my support system and that thought scares me to death. The ONE thing that is keeping me from canceling the entire thing is this single simple fact…I will be gaining a new tool to add to my support system. A tool that will allow me to do something as simple as going to the grocery store alone, or taking my children to the park without having to worry about freaking out (though I will admit, most of the time they keep me pretty grounded to the present).
I also know that my life will continue to change once I’m home. No longer will I be able to hide away in my bed when depression is rearing its head because Chaunsey will need exercise and potty breaks. He will need to be fed and brushed, but most of all he will need attention. His needs will require me to come out of myself and engage in the world around me instead of hiding in my computer and isolating myself away from the world.
There are so many things that Chaunsey and I will do together that they would be impossible to list them here. But there is something I would like to share. If you, or a loved one, think you would benefit from a service dog, and you are a post-9/11 veteran, I encourage you to check out K9s for Warriors. Without their generosity, I would not be getting ready to enter this new chapter in my life. They are a non-profit group based in Florida that provides these dogs to post 9/11 veterans at no charge. Also, if you think you may need help with transportation to and from Florida (its a three weeks of training, lodging is provided), I encourage you to check out Veterans Airlift Command. These generous pilots volunteer their time to fly veterans and their families all over the country.
I will do my best to update everyone about our progress over the next three weeks. As I have said earlier, I am terrified right now…but I am also hopeful. I feel as if the light at the end of the tunnel is finally turning on and the darkest hours of my PTSD may soon be behind me. I know this isn’t a cure. I know there will still be bad days or weeks, but, I know with Chaunsey, I will have a life long battle buddy that will be with me 24/7. Everywhere that I go, he will go. When I have a bad day, he will be there. He will bring me out of the flashbacks, interrupt the panic attacks and help me with mobility. I will be his forever human. Neither of us will ever be alone again, we will be battle buddies, we will be a team.
You would think celebrating your child graduating from kindergarten would be an exciting thing to witness. For those of us with PTSD its anything but exciting. Sitting in a room full of people watching their little darlings graduate is nothing that even resembles fun. It’s excruciating. By the time its over and you’re able to leave, you are simply grateful you survived without having a panic attack (assuming you actually did so).
This shouldn’t be a matter of survival. I’ve faced scud missile attacks, I have worked in too many mass casualty incidents, you would think I could handle a simple graduation. The fact of the matter is, I cannot. Being in a room full of people terrifies me…..me, the person who used to thrive on being the center of attention, the person who was in theater, choir, and the dance team. The person who had no problem whatsoever getting up in front of people and give a speech and actually enjoy it. That woman is gone. In her place is a woman who begins to tremble at the idea of being in a crowded room, who can’t walk through a grocery store by herself. I have spent quite some time morning the loss of the woman I was not so long ago.
You see, when you’re exposed to a traumatic event, something in your brain begins to change. When you are exposed to multiple traumatic events it only serves to alter the brain further. The way information is process is now different. Our primal brain has been awaked and everything becomes a question of survival. Emotions don’t process correctly and often begin to express themselves at inappropriate times (like being fearful in a room full of kindergarteners and their parents). There is no reason for the emotion, for feeling like you need to react as if you were in peril. There are many coping techniques that you can use, but there are times when even those don’t work. Today was very nearly one of those days.
I hate that I can’t even enjoy my daughters graduation. I hate that we couldn’t stay until they were ready to leave. But I had to leave and I had to do it ‘NOW’. I will admit that I lasted much longer than I thought I would make it. When I arrived I made a point to speak with the school nurse. You see, all morning I was feeling feint and wanted her to know that if it happened, I did NOT need an ambulance, I simply needed a quiet place to calm myself. I also spoke with the principal. She gave me her seat against the wall and slightly away from the crowd. That probably helped me more than anything else.
These next 16 days can’t pass fast enough. Knowing that at the end of my training at K9s I will have an additional tool to aid me in recovering parts of my life is what keeps me going right now.