I finally did it! After eleven long years, I finally attended a fireworks display with my kids! Guess what?! I survived not only the fireworks, but navigating the crowds with three little ones…by myself!
All in all, I actually enjoyed myself! The girls were able to play on the bouncy houses, get their face painted, and even stood in line for patriotically over-priced snow cones! The girls were able to get those twisted balloon things that end up being made into all kinds of things (one had an alien that rode on her shoulders, one had a sword, and one had a flower). Granted, none of the balloon characters made it home, but they were free, so I wasn’t terribly heart broken (especially since I’m allergic to the stupid things).
I had originally decided to attend because my teen invited me. I figured with her there, I’d be able to get through the fireworks. Well, she went AWOL with her friends and I only saw her once the entire evening. Thankfully, my best friend and her family showed up just minutes before the show started. Between her and Chauncey, they got me through. I purposely sat far enough away that I couldn’t hear them launching, and I enjoyed all but the absolutely largest shells. Those were the ones that I could feel the repercussion of their explosion in my chest and that would trigger me, but as I said, my service dog Chauncey (who did amazingly well with the fireworks) and my best friend saw me through.
I definitely think we will do it again next year. Perhaps I will be able to convince a couple of my fellow veterans to attend with me. Just showing up was a huge step for me and I hope I can share that with others next year.
Moral of this story: don’t be afraid to face your fears…you may be pleasantly surprised at the results. If they aren’t what you expected them to be, you will at least know that you tried. Perform an after action and see if there is anything you could do differently next time to improve the outcome!
Traumatic Brain Injury is a hell of a scary thing. But it really wasn’t even thought of in the beginning of the war, the invasion and the year or two after. And unfortunately, for a lot of troops this term didn’t even come into play until it was to late. The commanders, the doctors, everyone, just weren’t prepared to deal with the type of head injuries that were coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. What it boiled down to was if you weren’t bleeding then you weren’t hurt.
Im sure when it happened, it just kinda started, 2010 when I went to AFghanistan, because I didn’t hear about it in Iraq in 07, 08 and damn sure not in 03, but they started giving head trauma a number, Grade I, II, and III. Grade I being the mildest and grade III being the worst. If you had a level I you couldn’t go outside the wire for 24/48 hours. If it was grade III it was 7 days. Now in theory this sounds like it might be an ok plan. But…..based off my experience and the “doctor” who was assigned to my battalion in Afghanistan, she had no business grading any type of Traumatic Brain Injury let alone trying to diagnose one. I Found out later she was a damn dermatologist for christ sake. Now I understand you can’t have a neurologist at every Forward Operating Base (FOB) but we had a level III Army trauma Center there which could have easily done more test on EVERYONE hit by IED’s. Even small IED’s, a measly 5 lbs of explosives will completely destroy a humvee. What do you think that will do to your brain?
Yes we wear helmets, yes they have gotten better since the beginning of the war, but they can’t really protect you from an explosion. The blast goes everywhere, your head goes up, down, to side, your brain slams inside your skull. In my battalion, on my last go round, we had the three strike rule, if you were in or around an IED blast 3 times, you were out. You weren’t allowed to go out again. In theory this sounds like a good plan, and trust me I understand the man power issue more than most (having to help build and structure a battalion to go to war). But research has already shown that after suffering a bad concussion, a TBI, you are more susceptible to more, basically means even less trauma could give you a worse TBI. So you could get a grade I or your first IED strike but getting hit again at the same level or even less could push you to a grade II or III. Again, the adage of if your not bleeding (on the outside) your ok. We destroyed Marines and Soldiers and didn’t even know it.
Take me for example, I lost consciousness on numerous occasions from different blasts in different years and spread out. But now, like I’ve said in previous posts, I can’t remember shit. I lose my train of thought during the most mundane conversations, I forget what I walked into a room for, hell Ive forgotten where I’m at for gods sake.
I will say its gotten better, the treatment and the help, but its still a huge ass pain to try and get help. I can’t imagine what its like for our junior troops. I can’t say what they are doing in country now, i haven’t been back since 2010. But I hope its better than before….
Most people, thankfully, will never know what it is like to have PTSD. While that is something to be grateful for, it can also cause heartache for those who love us. Its hard enough to vocalize what is going on inside our heads, but this issue is often compounded by the internally perceived shame we fear our loved ones holding for the things we have seen or done. We often fear that how you see us will forever be changed should we ‘talk about it’ and let you into our little piece of hell. That doesn’t mean loved ones should give up on trying to empathize.
For years I knew my husbands triggers before he did, granted it took me being diagnosed with PTSD to recognize them as ‘triggers’. We are still learning how to protect the other, when to take over the everyday mundane and give them a break and when to back off for a while. It is a HUGE undertaking to learn to trust someone on that level, and we don’t have the handicap of only one of us having been downrange. I couldn’t begin to imagine how a single-military family (meaning only one spouse served) begins those conversations. Please understand though, by “conversations” I don’t mean we have poured our heart and souls out about things we experienced. We haven’t. I have plainly told my husband that I don’t want to know (after one rather unpleasant conversation where he divulged a misfired IED nearly canceled our lives together). I also understand that he may not want to hear all the gory details of war in a hospital. As my husband, he absolutely does not need to know the details relating to my sexual trauma at the hands of another soldier (though I give him credit for not killing the bastard the one time they came face to face in a restaurant off base).
There are things, no matter how close you are to your loved one, that they will never tell to another living soul. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask…however, don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk about it or worse, end up having their symptoms escalate due to events being brought to mind by well intended questions. There have been many times where someone who I genuinely believe had the best intentions asked me a question that sent me spiraling for days. Even so, sometimes just knowing that someone is there to listen should I choose to talk means more to me than they will know. Be willing to ask questions anyway. When your daughters husband visits, discretely ask them if there are things that can be avoided to help reduce any triggers. Something as innocent as a vacuum turning on unexpectedly can cause a panic attack. Planning ahead can often mean a much more pleasurable visit for everyone.
Another way loved ones can help is through education. DO NOT accept the media’s version of PTSD! Its biased and unfairly slanted by what news items make the most sensational headlines. Educate yourself by visiting trusted websites. Sites such as National Institute for Mental Health is an excellent resource for information about PTSD. The Veterans Administration also has some excellent information about PTSD. This is one time where asking questions is absolutely essential. You cannot avoid triggers if you do not know they exist. Also, don’t assume your veteran has every single symptom. There is no ‘typical’ case of PTSD. PTSD in men varies from women or children (yes, children can develop PTSD as well). We don’t all have nightmares, those that do don’t all have flashbacks, or avoidance, or panic attacks, or fits of rage. Each case of PTSD is as different as the person who bears that burden.
Something that is often well intentioned but ultimately can be very detrimental to our healing is when our loved ones over-compensate for our symptoms. Yes, there will be days where you feel like you are walking on eggshells, but it shouldn’t be every day. By over-compensating for our symptoms you can inadvertantly enable us to avoid seeking treatment. Sometimes we need a good swift kick in the pants to motivate us, the same as you might on some days. Having said that, there is one very important point I need to make. DO NOT EVER let our PTSD be an excuse for abusive behavior. Did you get that? NEVER LET PTSD BE AN EXCUSE FOR ABUSE! I hear far too often “I wouldn’t leave him if he was paralyzed, I’m not leaving him now” in one breath and in the very next they are asking how to ‘fix’ their husband to get him to stop hitting her. Emotional manipulation is ABUSE. Laying a single finger (or threatening to do so) on another person in anger is ABUSE. Keep in mind, there may be times where this is done while your loved one is deeply asleep. This is a warning sign that your veteran needs help! This is perhaps the ONE and ONLY occurrence that I would have a hard time labeling as abuse. If you feel you are in danger, get help and insist they do as well! Military One Source is an EXCELLENT place to get advice in these situations. As always, if you feel your life, or the life of your veteran is in danger…do not hesitate to dial 911. Any potential repercussions they may face (especially if still active duty) pale in comparison to the permanence of suicide.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to help is be patient. Healing isn’t going to happen overnight and its quite probably that you will never get the “old” loved one back. PTSD isn’t like the flu, you don’t just take some meds and recover. It’s an injury that causes physiological changes in our brains. It changes the way we process emotions. It changes our ability to remember some of the most basic things (like anniversaries, events or people). More often than not, these changes are permanent. It’s through therapy and medication that we begin to learn how to adapt to our new reality and try to regain some resemblance of ‘normal’. Knowing our loved ones are there, wanting to listen, patiently learning is more helpful than any medication. Knowing they are willing to smack us in the back of the head when we neglect ourselves can be quite motivating (just make sure we know its coming, sneaking up on us is not a bright idea).
The biggest way to help us… continue to love us, as my mother in law would say, “warts and all”.