Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Walking On Eggshells, Part Five

Welcome back to read as Mrs. S continues with the ups and downs of her husbands PTSD. I know we said to expect this posting on every Monday, but I am sure that you can all understand why we did not post yesterday. With is being Memorial Day, there were a lot of moments of sorrow, heartache, emptiness, and hard times as those lost service members were remembered; as well as tears of happiness as we reminisced all the amazing moments, days, and years that we were blessed to have with these brave men and women.  We all hope you had a safe Memorial Day weekend and remembered those that we have lost. Never will they be forgotten.



We texted often…he seemed lonely and unable to relate to most other patients at first.  He eventually identified with a couple and quickly made friends with them but also found a few others to be intolerable.  He felt that he had been through just as much or more in combat than the others there but didn't have the recognition (tabs) for it.  I struggled to find a way to comfort him at this time.  I knew he’d been through a lot in Iraq but also knew that there was no way I could ever truly relate.  I worried about him but felt that he was in a good place to sort through combat issues. 

We didn't realize he could come home on the weekends yet, so his first weekend was spent there. He seemed a bit lost and resistant to treatment.  The next weekend we felt it would be good to have him home.  The baby and I had been sick since he left so he was determined to find an easier way to get home instead of me having to drive to pick him up.  I wanted to pick him up but had a hard time finding help getting the kids from school, etc.  My uncle had to head to that area anyway…not necessarily that weekend but soon…so I asked him if he could pick my husband up on the way home.  With the time-frame of what my Uncle needed to do, I assumed he would be there to pick up my husband by 4p.

At 3:58p I received a text asking where the hell my uncle was.  I figured he’d be there soon and let my husband that there was nothing to worry about.  He lost it…stating that no one even gave a shit about him and told me to tell my uncle to f*#k off and go kill himself.  He no longer wanted a ride home.

He walked to the interstate and debated jumping in front of a vehicle.  I texted all of his closest friends to let them know that he was having yet another ‘bad day’. Fortunately after a few hours we convinced him to walk back to the program.  The next morning another patient from there was traveling home to a nearby town.  My husband rode with him and the kids and I were able to meet with his friend to pick him up so he could come home for a visit.  He seemed easily irritated but we were used to that.

The following weekend, we decided to visit him there instead, even though I was still sick. There was a room assigned to families who visit with fold out couches and television that we were able to stay in. We were also able to schedule an appointment with the site family counselor there.  We arrived and were met briefly by the on-site family therapist who came to the conclusion that he and I just needed to spend more ‘alone’ time together.  To my surprise…staff arranged to babysit the kids while he and I go to dinner that night.  Having my children stay with complete strangers was extremely difficult but I realized how important it was for him and me to spend a moment alone…uninterrupted.  We had an absolutely wonderful dinner but cut our evening short since we were worried about our kids.  We came back to the center and thanked everyone for watching our children and allowing us to have nice evening. 

The next morning was confusing; to say the least…we didn't quite know what we could or should do.  There were only community showers available which made us all a bit uncomfortable.  All I knew is that I was still sick and exhausted and didn't feel that I could spend another night on that pull-out couch so I suggested we shower at my moms…an hour away and possibly head home for the rest of the weekend instead, so we did.

I took him back that Sunday and things seemed fine…until the next day when he was concerned that I took his time home for granite and assumed that I took his time at the center as ‘vacation’.  I did the best I could to convince him how proud I was of all the hard work he was putting in there, but it didn't seem to help much.  He had an appointment with the psychiatrist in that area the following week and I assumed he would feel more secure after his appointment and have more understanding of what he was going through.  I was so sadly mistaken.

The next day after his appointment he called and sounded strange…he was slurring his words quite a bit.  I asked him what the psychiatrist said the day before and asked what type of medication he was put on.  He said the psychiatrist told him he had one of the worst cases of anxiety she’d ever seen and put him on a maximum dose of a medication he couldn't remember the name of.  The next day he seemed even more strange…not only was he slurring but now using words he’s never used before.  I knew this medication had to be the cause but he insisted it was because he was going through a lot in group therapy and was just tired.  The next day he started asking me to text him explicit pictures of myself…something neither one of us ever felt very comfortable doing.  I knew he wasn't himself, I was still sick and our youngest son, who still sleeps in the same bed as me, was so congested that he could barely breathe…so not only did I feel uncomfortable, I felt physically unable to fill his request. 

The next day’s phone calls and text messages were just as confusing.  I just played it off as if everything was normal.  We finally had couples therapy session scheduled there for the following day…so I just tried to put on a brave face until then…much easier said than done though because that night he began texting random crazy things.  I asked him to call instead.  He did and in the conversation had mentioned the intense amount of group therapy he’d went through that day…hearing about other patients there had been molested as children.  He then came to the realization that he was molested as well. 

I felt awful for him but didn't even have a chance to empathize because he started rambling on saying that he sought revenge of his molestation by raping and murdering sex-offenders during his stay in juvenile detention which he insisted was a federal prison.  These crazy lies about raping and killing juvenile sex offenders I could not believe.  I knew he couldn't have ever done such things nor had he ever been in a federal prison.  I knew he had completely lost his mind now.  I just kept listening, not arguing or accusing him of lying…just listening.  He kept talking about it all as if it was real until the early hours of the morning.  It was wearing me out.  I had to leave at the crack of dawn to meet him for our couple’s therapy there so I had to tell him that I needed to get off the phone to get some sleep.

When the morning came I pressed on as I normally do.  I had our close neighbor help get our older kids to school and dropped off our baby to my dads.  When I arrived and he met me in the parking lot I could easily tell that his out of character behavior was matched with his body language.  He couldn't even stand up straight or walk straight…not only that, he started smoking cigarettes…something he despised.  I didn't even know what to think or say so I just proceeded to the therapy appointment with him. 

It seemed like everyone there at the center wasn't too concerned with his behavior.  He was so different and weird to me.  How could they not notice?  Maybe they thought this was normal behavior for him.  During therapy he kept expressing his frustration with me and how I don’t understand or support him.  He even mentioned his ‘so-called’ criminal past to the therapist.  She seemed somewhat surprised, but not alarmed.  He had also mentioned to her that he had been molested as a child.  It was so much at once.  I started sobbing uncontrollably…so she asked him to leave the room for a few minutes. 

While he was gone, she asked me if there was any possible truth to this ‘so-called’ criminal past.  I told her that I would never ever doubt that he was molested but as far as the other bull, there was no way!…Even though he kept me awake too long telling me these crazy delusions, I still researched them when we got off the phone.  If there were any way he did these horrible things…there would have been some sort of articles or evidence logged somewhere.  I checked every possible link and there was nothing that suggested any such thing…and I told the therapist so.  She said that she also felt that he may possibly be having delusions and needed to dig in deeper before getting down to the bottom of what was going on with him. 

The plan was for that day was for him to come home that weekend with me anyway.  I wasn't too comfortable with this…even though I desperately missed having my husband at home, I didn't know who he was at this point.  The therapist cleared him to leave with me to get his own vehicle and return.  She instructed us not to talk about anything too deep during our drive though.

We stopped to get a bite to eat…I thought that he might feel better and be more himself after eating. He seemed to and volunteered to drive the rest of the way.  To my complete surprise, his driving worse than his walking.  He almost took out a car and a curb before even leaving the parking lot…again insisting he was just tired.  He proceeded to get on the highway almost taking out three vehicles and the median.  I was scared for my life.  I had never felt uncomfortable about his driving before until this day.  I insisted he pull over and let me drive.  He resisted, but eventually did. 

Of course he tried talking about the therapy session but I kept trying to brush it off.  We finally got to my dads to pick up the baby.  He and my dad have always been close so I felt he might get back to reality after hanging out with my dad but that was not the case.  As soon as we walked in the door my dad could tell something was wrong with him. My dad and step-mom asked what he was on, followed by my younger sisters, and younger brother asking why he was acting so weird.  I just put on a happy face and insisted that the medication had to be getting to him. 

He ended up stumbling and falling on my dad, who is permanently disabled.  I was so embarrassed!  I felt like he was over exaggerating everything too much.  He did say he had fallen on his head a couple days prior and had felt a little off since but I knew this medication was to blame.  I drove us home and insisted he get some rest during the ride. I thought that maybe he could sleep some of this craziness off.  He did fall asleep and was sleeping like the dead for a change.  I could barely even get him in the house when we got home to go to bed.  He didn't even wake up when the baby starting screaming his head off as he usually does in the middle of the night.  In the morning I let him sleep in. 

When he awoke he was still acting bizarre.  He found a cane in the garage and insisted he had to use it from now on.  He stumbled throughout the house collecting odd mementos to take back with him.  I’d catch him from time to time walking just fine, which irritated me even more.  I couldn't even understand why he wanted to take these strange things with him but I tried to appear as normal as possible to the kids because I could tell they were starting to worry.  He wasn't raising his voice at all like he usually does.  He was eerily calm. He was being very loving to the kids and kept telling them how much he loves them.  We were not used to this behavior at all.  As much as I tried to enjoy his ‘newfound’ patience with the kids I knew something was seriously wrong. 

When he finally decided to leave I insisted on following him to be sure that he was able to drive safely.  He was all over the road…swerving and braking way later than he should of…ending up in the middle of intersections at times.  He even ran over a parking curb at the grocery store.  I told him that I absolutely did not want him to drive.  He said he was fine and was going to do what he wanted irregardless.  He promised he would stop if he felt tired or woozy so I trusted him watched him leave around 7pm.  He said he was going to stop by his mom’s on the way out so I called to let her know that he was.  She only lives 8 minutes away so when she called me 20 minutes later to say he hadn't stopped by I got worried.  I called him around 7:45p and he said he had decided to not stop by his moms after all.  He was getting gas with the $40 his mom gave him the day before to fill up.  He said he’d keep his phone on and drive as safe as possible so I trusted him yet again. 

At 10:05pm I received a call from my sister who lived in town.  As soon as I answered the phone she asked what was wrong with him.  I was a little perplexed because I didn't think she was aware of what had been going on.  She explained that he had stopped by her house to borrow money.  He was shaky, wobbly, using a cane and acting very strange, she said.  As soon as I got off the phone with her I received a text from him telling me that he did, indeed, stop by my sisters to borrow money for gas.  I asked why he needed more money and he said it was because he just wanted to make sure he had enough because he just needed some time to drive and clear his head.  He said would keep me updated and let me know when he arrived back at the center.  I respected that and didn't text or call him anymore that night.  I was exhausted from the two previous nights and fell sound asleep and even slept in the next morning.

As soon as I awoke, though, I checked the phone to see if he had called or text to tell me he made it.  There was nothing so I texted him right away with no response…then I called a couple of times only reaching his voice mail.  Serious panic started to set in at this point.  I thought he had probably driven off the highway crashing or even worse.  I texted everyone in my phone, that had close ties with him, to see if they had heard from him at all.  No one had heard anything.  I got hysterical and began to expect the worst.  I finally pulled myself together enough to call the highway patrol to see if there had been an accident.  As I began to dial the highway patrol phone number I finally received a text from him saying that he was fine. 

Everything was not fine!  I asked him where he was and first he told me he was in a far away town…then a few minutes later he told me that he had stayed in our town, hiding out, for the night.  He said he didn't want to talk about what he did but he did tell me he shaved off all of his head and facial hair.  I asked him why he would do such a thing and he said it was because he was on the run from the FBI and he was going to find and kill the man who had molested him as a child before the FBI took him down.  I knew his mental status was getting worse by the minute.  I just tried to stay calm on the phone with him and convince him to go back to the center.

Friends, family, and staff from the center were all texting and calling him begging him to go back to the center.  He said he was feeling babied and set-up, but after about 9 hours of negotiating with him on the phone he finally made it back there.  They took him to the hospital for an MRI since he had fallen on his head a few days prior.  The doctors didn't find anything wrong with him.  I was shocked.  Physically he may have appeared okay but how could they not notice that he was loosing his mind?  I kept texting and talking with him to find out what was going on.  He said he was fine…just feeling sorry for himself.  He said he can no longer control himself and will never be able to live at home again.  I knew this was the medication talking again but I was just happy he was alive and back at the center to be monitored again.  I told the staff that the medication was causing serious delusions and erratic behavior but they said that he couldn't get in to see the psychiatrist for at least five days so there was nothing they could do about it! 

At least he was safe there.  He was still pretty delusional the next day.  I tried to call staff to check on him periodically but they didn't have much to say so I decided I would drive down there to check on him myself.  When I arrived he appeared much better physically.  He wasn't using a cane or stumbling all over the place.  He started talking about how much he loved his ex-girlfriends and I instantly assumed he had spent that night ‘hiding out’ with one of them.  I didn't make any accusations or have any harsh reaction towards him though.  I couldn't bear to hear much more but I just listened as I got ready to leave.  He told me that he doesn't think he was meant to be a husband or a father.  I just put on that brave face even though my heart felt like it was shattering into a million pieces.  I left and cried hysterically the entire way home.

He texted me that night thanking me for all I've done for him and apologizing for ruining the kids and my lives.  Then he texted to tell me that I stressed him out by coming there and that I was just playing mind games with him and he knows that because he used to be an interrogator (another lie).  Then he got suicidal…then homicidal saying he was going to go through with finding and killing the guy who molested him.  I knew he was still under the influence of all this medication but I just couldn't take all this crazy talk anymore.  I told him if he did anything stupid that I’d blame the center and get it shut down.  This seemed to shut him up for the meantime.

Over the next few days I really tried to dig into his past with his parents and close friends to see if he had any previous mental health issues that could be contributing to this erratic behavior.  I compiled all the information I could and sent it to the staff.  I called to check on him through staff often but they never told me much of anything.  I felt that my husband was totally going off the deep end and no one was doing anything about it.  I was loosing it myself.  I didn't know what I could do for him or how to help.  I was left in the dark.  His texts and phone conversations with me were just full of anger so I decided I wouldn't respond to any more of the negativity.  This ended up aggravating him more.  He asked to be separated and started sending me death threats.  I told the staff about the negativity and threats and they said I have a right to call the police and get a restraining order.  But I thought, “How would him getting arrested help his PTSD or the kids and I?”

He needed help and I couldn't understand why they couldn’t see that.  He had to have been telling staff lies about me too or something.

I kept telling him how much I love him and how much I wanted to help him but he was so angry at me.  He felt betrayed that I told staff about the threats so he asked for a divorce.  I was beside myself.  How can all of this be happening?  What in the world was I supposed to do?  I devoted my entire life to him and he’s just going to throw the kids and me away?  I was so angry but I had to get it together and figure out what to do.  He closed our mutual bank account.  I didn't have an income, but most all of out bills were in my name.  I couldn't work and have three kids to take care of.  I could not believe, in his mental state, he was just allowed to trot down to the bank to close out our account?!!  I got angry.  I planned to sell my car and beg my landlords to let me stay until I could figure something else out.  I tried to figure out away to get my name off of the bills and while doing so I discovered more chaos.......

~Mrs.S

Stay tuned next week for part six of Walking On Eggshells! Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 30, 2011

In Remembrance of LT Mark Daily

LT. Mark Daily was an exceptional Officer, soldier, man, husband, son, brother, friend, leader, and motivation to many. In January of 2007 at the young age of 23, while serving in Mosul, Iraq he was on a mission and his life along with three others in his vehicle were lost. Sadness and heartache swept over his family and friends in California, FOB Marez, Fort Bliss and many other locations in the world to those of us that had the pleasure in knowing him. Left behind was his wife, Snejana Daily, his parents, siblings and many others. Throughout the past four and a half years I have spoken to Snejana on a couple occasions, always letting her know that she remains in my families thoughts and prayers, as well as the rest of Mark's family. To many Mark was and still in a true hero, an inspiration, a mentor, a family man, someone that wanted the best for everyone that he came in contact with. He was a hero for more reasons than selflessly putting his life on the line and giving his life for our country. His beliefs and morals made him a hero. 

Over the years of my husband being in the army I have come in contact with more soldiers that I can count or remember. Amongst those soldiers, I have met many Officers that walk around arrogant and take advantage of the rank they hold. They could care less about the soldier as a person or the soldiers families that are holding down the homefront. Mark was different in many ways. His focus was truly based on his soldiers and leading them the right way. When Mark first walked up to me during a time that my husband stood in formation, I was real hesitant to talk to him. However, after our introductions and conversation, I realized that the unit was incredibly lucky and blessed to have someone like him on their side. It was an honor to have the opportunity to have Mark as my husband's Lieutenant.

In January 2007, a true hero was lost. Words can never express the emotions I have towards Mark's family. Memorial Day is a day to honor true heroes such as Mark. I know that it doesn't take a day like today for my husband and I to think about Mark and his family. We learned things from him and have taken things from our conversations with him and his actions in the short time we were blessed to know him, as did many people. Snejana, Mr. and Mrs. Daily, Mark's siblings, you are all in our thoughts, prayers, and hearts. Today and everyday we honor and remember Mark. Today as we remember all those that we have lost in war, we also honor the ones left behind. Mark's selfless sacrifices never go unnoticed, nor do yours. Thinking of you today and always.

Snejana emailed me a video that I want to share with all of you. A very good family friend of hers put this video together for Memorial Day to honor Mark. In the email that I received, Snejana left me with this comment; "I really am fond of this video because it portrays a side of Mark, a very personal side, that many people did not get a chance to see. He was a soldier, but he was also a loving husband and friend" 

As you watch it, take a moment and remember all those that have been lost. Thank you Mrs. Daily for allowing all of us the opportunity to view this video and see the love between you and Mark. May he never be forgotten.

Thank you to all those that have selflessly given their lives for our country and freedom.

~Brittney Biddle
FOV, Community Blog Coordinator

Memorial Day - Memories of the Fallen Can Spark PTSD Flareups

As we pause today to remember the men and women who have served our country and given their lifeblood in its defense, many veterans who struggle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) will be having a particularly rough day.  If you or your veteran is struggling today, here are some tips to help:

#1 - Don't Push

It can be tempting when you see a veteran you love in obvious emotional pain to push for them to talk about it.  Don't give in to that temptation.  Make sure your hero knows you're available if they want to talk ("Honey, if you'd like to talk, I'm here.  But, if not, I'm perfectly happy just to be nearby in case") and then leave the subject alone.

#2 - Follow Your Veteran's Lead

Don't assume because a veteran wanted to handle Memorial Day a certain way last year means that they will want to celebrate the same way this year.  At different points in PTSD treatment and at different stages of the grieving process, a veteran will want to handle "remembering" in different ways.  No one way is right or wrong.  Believe me, even if he doesn't seem to be outwardly acknowledging the life of a fallen hero close to him today, your veteran is painfully aware of the loss.

#3 - Be Prepared for Plans to Change

Every year as we plan for Memorial Day weekend, I'm always careful to tell family or friends that we're not sure what we'll be able to do.  There are times when I push my hubby to be "normal" and stick by commitments if at all possible, but today is not one of those times.  Today, in a PTSD household, has to be primarily about being flexible.  Don't let your feeling be hurt if your veteran is simply unable to follow through with plans.  It's not about you... it's all about the turmoil inside of him or her.

#4 - Avoid the "Boob Tube"

There are a million war movies playing on television today.  If at all possible, find something else for your family to focus on.  If your veteran simply refuses NOT to watch TV, rent a few movies (if your Library is open today, you can even borrow movies for free!).  Endless hours of combat-related images are only going to fuel an already rocky PTSD day.

#5 - Get Distracted

Sometimes the best answer to bad PTSD days is finding something low-key but unexpected to do.  Get outside.  Drive to an out-of-the-way park or preserve (somewhere that won't be crowded).  Help your veteran get started on a project or hobby they've been thinking about (not something off the "honey do" list, something that he or she will enjoy!).  Basically, find something that will let your veteran concentrate on something other than the flood of memories sparked by Memorial Day.

#6 - Know That This Too Shall Pass

PTSD flareups can leave spouses, children, and caregivers in the "cross hairs" of a veteran's sharp tongue and anger.  First, remind yourself that the person yelling and screaming is NOT your spouse... it's the stupid PTSD.  Next, remind yourself that the flareup will come to an end... that things will settle back down.  One great coping tool (discussed on another blog post) for this step is here: http://blog.familyofavet.com/2010/09/distract-cool-coping-tool.html.

And, in case you need them, here is a list of some of the PTSD-related pages on our main site that you may find helpful today:


Wherever you find yourself today, I hope that this post is helpful.  And, I pray for the families that will spend today remembering and grieving for the husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and friends whom they have lost.  May we always remember their sacrifice but also the dedication and courage that lead them to make the choice to so bravely serve their country.  Thank God for those dear patriots and for the families who love them.


Hugs,
Brannan

Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

Keep Their Memories Alive

"For love of country they accepted death..."  ~James A. Garfield


Memorial Day... What does it mean to you? What are the thoughts that go through your mind as you think of this day? For many, it is a day off work and a day of cooking out with a few drinks. In our world, the military world, it is complete opposite. It is a time that we remember the ones that have been lost in combat. Not that there is a day that goes by that we don't think of them or keep their memories alive, but on this specific day, we hope that everyone will take the time to remember and honor those that have been lost while serving our country. In no way am I saying that people should sit at home and do nothing during their day off, I am just simply stating that I wish people would not take the day for granted and remember the meaning behind this day. While you are starting your day or in the middle of your day, take just a moment and remember those that we have lost and remember those left behind picking up the pieces. Widows/widowers, children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and so on that have been left behind are remembering their loved ones with every day that passes, take time on this Memorial Day to remember all of them as well.

When deployment time comes, no matter how many you have been through, you try to prepare yourself for the possibilities that could and more than likely will occur. However, no matter how much preparation you do, you can never prepare yourself for deaths. No matter how many times as a spouse I have received the dreaded phone calls or have had to make the calls to other spouses, it never gets easier and we never forget. The service members we have lost hold a special place in all of our hearts as do their families. We take things from these men and women in the words and lessons they have left behind and we try to keep their memory alive.

The first loss I was faced with from OIF was in 2004 when a friend of mine from high school lost his life due to a RPG. My mom called me as I was getting ready for work to inform me of his death in Iraq. My husband was in AIT at the time. I felt myself become sick and just broke into tears. At the time I knew he was married with a daughter, but had no idea until recently that he had actually married a friend of mine from high school. Whenever I make the trip to GA, getting off the interstate we cross over a bridge to head to my moms house. There is a sign that dedicates the bridge to Antoine Holt. Every single time we drive over it, I still tear up if not cry.

In between the years of Kevin being in the army, we have been faced with many other losses. In 2006/2007's deployment to Mosul, his unit lost 31 guys. There is no way to express the sadness that swept over everyone or the memories that we all hold close to us. One of the soldiers that was KIA was LT Daily who touched many of us. He left behind an amazing woman that he had married. She is an inspiration to many and does not even know it. We think about Mark all the time and I will never forget how he was one of the few Officers that was truly concerned for his troops and their families. It wasn't about training and the deployment as it was about the soldiers. When I first met him, he walked up to me, introduced himself and asked me many questions about my health. He then told me that he needed to know what all was going on because he wasn't one to put a soldier on the line when they had other things at home to worry about, major things like their families health putting their family in danger. He said it's better to let the soldier take care of their family for a temporary issue than it is to have them run a mission, not focused and many lose their lives. Because of LT Daily, my husband was able to remain on Rear D with me for two of the fourteen months they were deployed. I was unable to drive, on bedrest, and living with an extremely high risk pregnancy. We weren't even sure if our child would make it or not at that point and we had two toddlers that had to be cared for through all of this. I couldn't do it without my husband. LT Daily gave us those couple of months in order for us to have our son then for Kevin to go straight over. Our son was a preemie. During this time, we received the awful news that a true hero had been KIA and it was LT Mark Daily. Our lives were forever changed. We feel blessed to have known this man and for him to have impacted us the way he did. Mrs. Daily, your husband has never been forgotten and never will be. You will always remain in our prayers.

A friend of mine lost her husband in Iraq a few years ago. The day of his death was also the day of their son's birthday. Every year when Quentin's birthday rolls around, there is one thing on his mind... the anniversary of his father's death while serving our country. I believe it was last year that Quentin was one of twenty five boys that was invited to a week long camp for boys that have lost their dads due to this war. They had a week full of fun activities and time to connect with others that understand what they are going through. They were able to connect and talk. In the short film that has been released it shows some of the activities, but it also shows some of the boys talking about their dads. Quentin was the first one that really spoke up about his loss. He has two sisters that have been left behind as well. My heart goes out to the Mendez family and every other family that has been left behind. May their loved ones never be forgotten today, tomorrow, or any day in the future.   ~ To view this video, follow this link: http://www.hulu.com/watch/245282/sons-of-the-fallen.

As you all wake up tomorrow and face this Memorial Day, be thankful for all you have been blessed with. Even on your worst days, you have the world at your fingertips. Say a prayer and think about the heroes that we were blessed to know and lost. Never let their memories die. Keep them alive in the way you live life, the way you treat others, the lessons that you teach, and the memories you make.

~Brittney Biddle
FOV Community Blog Coordinator

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Open Letter to Any and All Law Enforcement Agencies: Please let us help you prevent this type of tragedy

On May 5th, 2011, Jose Guerena was with his wife and young child (their six year old was at school) in their home in Arizona.  Guerena, a Marine who had served two tours of combat in Iraq, was asleep after working the graveyard shift the night before.  A fully armed SWAT team, in an attempt to crack down on local Marijuana trafficking, broke into the Guerena's home.  Jose told his wife and son to hide, and went out into the hallway of their home to confront the would-be attackers with his AK-47 in hand.  As a combat-trained Marine, he did the right thing.  He kept the safety mechanism engaged on his weapon until he could identify the threat - but also called out to the possible threat, "I've got something for you; I've gotten something for you guys."  The police responded by opening fire, hitting Jose with more than 60 rounds in about seven seconds.  They then ushered Jose's wife and child out of their home, refusing to get medical attention for the veteran, but instead leaving him for more than an hour while he bled to death alone.

The police have argued that they announced their presence with sirens and a bull horn, but none of the Guerena's neighbors heard any such announcement.  After a thorough search of the couple's home, they also found no evidence of any drug activity.

So basically, one day Jose Guerena was a hard working veteran who was working long shifts to save money for a new home for his young family, and the next he had been gunned down without ever firing a shot for responding exactly how 80% of the combat veterans I know would have reacted.  He thought he was protecting his family... and he died, bleeding and alone, for absolutely no reason.

I understand that in the heat of a moment horrible mistakes can be made, but this situation should have NEVER occurred.  This SWAT team, and every member of our nation's law enforcement agencies, should be trained on how specifically to deal with our nation's more than 2 million combat veterans... if this training doesn't occur, I fear we will continue to see such needless, senseless, heartbreaking tragedies occur.

So, if you are a member of a law enforcement agency, please, PLEASE reach out to us.  Our organization's primary purpose is to educate veterans, loved ones, and the public about the injuries and needs of our nation's combat heroes.  We will work with you, provide you with training materials, and work to find a way to make sure the members of your agency have the opportunity to understand the unique mindset of the men and women who have so bravely served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This type of tragedy does not have to occur... but is UNAVOIDABLE if we don't take action TOGETHER to stop it.  We deeply appreciate the service you give as heroes of your local communities.  Please let us serve you by helping you understand your fellow heroes, those who live in your communities after serving in combat, so that all of those you have sworn to protect and serve are truly protected.

For more information, please contact us by e-mail at info -at- familyofavet.com.

Thanks,
Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

You can read more about this story here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/jose-guerena-arizona-_n_867020.html

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walking on Eggshells, Part Four

Join us in part four of Mrs. S journey as her husband's PTSD progressively worsened and the option they choose. Thank you Mrs. S for allowing FamilyOfaVet.com and our readers to step inside and have a better understanding of what families with PTSD and TBI face. Stay tuned next Monday for Part Five!


It had been almost two years since he came home from Iraq and his symptoms were not improving.  His headaches and knee pain were getting worse.  He felt like a cripple and he was convinced that he’d end up in a wheelchair someday.  I encouraged him to make an appointment to have x-rays and an MRI.  In the meantime I started doing some research on PTSD and TBI.  We knew he had moderate to severe PTSD but it was becoming obvious to me he was suffering from TBI as well. 

His x-ray’s showed small stress strains behind his knee caps and the doctor prescribed him knee braces.  The MRI showed nothing but sinus polyps.  This seemed to frustrate my husband more.  He felt like no one believed him or his pain.  I tried to explain that an MRI doesn’t always show TBI just because the scan didn’t show anything didn’t mean he wasn't suffering.

He became suicidal again.  Luckily, he left the house and went to a mutual friend’s home this time.  I didn't know if he had any guns or weapons with him though.  I was so frightened, but tried to act as normal as possible at home for the sake of our kids.  I was keeping in touch with him via text and I was also texting our friend who’s home he was at to make sure he was okay.  He would text me the details of how he was going to kill himself and our mutual friend would text me to say that he was fine…just drinking coffee, eating cookies, and ‘shootin' the shit’ with them there.

Once again I found myself wondering how he could appear so ‘normal’ to some people and complete opposite to others.  When he finally came home I told him that we have to find a different kind of therapy for him and possibly re-visit the psychiatrist to adjust his meds.  He agreed.  A few weeks later he drove the 40 miles to his psychiatric appointment.  The receptionist let him know that his doctor was running late but would be with him shortly.  When the doctor came out to the waiting room, he called someone other than my husband in to be seen.  He absolutely lost it and went off on the receptionist, slamming the door as he left without even seeing his doctor to get his medication adjusted.

The next week he went into another anger rage and threw a vacuum that landed only a couple feet from our toddler then punched through not just one but both of the oak cabinet doors on our entertainment center.  He ended up with ¼ inch wide by 6 inch long oak splinter lodged in his finger through his knuckle… He had to go to the emergency room and be put under for emergency surgery to remove it.  Things were getting worse.  Even though he would be calm and relaxed after a rage, the kids and I were not.

He was then referred to see a doctor 50 miles away to start exposure therapy.  The doctor called to set up an appointment for him but he refused to talk on the phone to him so I asked the doctor to email him instead.  He agreed and asked me to join my husband for the first appointment to thoroughly explain the treatment and its possible side effects.  The day of the appointment finally came and although we were anxious my husband seemed ready to get to a new step in his life.  The doctor brought us into his office and asked us to first watch a video, a 20/20 special explaining exposure therapy and its success rate among rape victims.  The treatment seemed to consist of exposing the patient to the trauma over and over again until it didn't bother them as much anymore.  My husband seemed a bit taken a back and quite irritated that his situation was nothing like that of a rape victim. 

We spent quite some time with the doctor in his office.  My husband went through his daily roller coaster of moods within that hour and a half appointment.  The doctor was so great and seemed able to calm my husband anytime he’d get too riled up.  By the end of the appointment the doctor gently explained to us that my husband was not yet ready for this type of treatment nor could he believe that my husband hadn't yet been diagnosed and compensated for severe PTSD.  He suggested he try an in-home treatment center for OIF/OEF veterans.  My husband explained that he already tried an in-patient treatment the national center for PTSD and couldn’t stand it.  The doctor explained that there was a program; another live-in PTSD rehabilitation center that was not like the last one…he said that other veterans that didn’t succeed at the national center succeeded at this other center.  We were sold and looked into immediately.

I downloaded the application and emailed the contact at the home explaining our situation.  It took a few days to fill out the application and get a response.  The application needed a recommendation from a professional as well.  I took it to his OIF/OEF worker who filled it out as soon as he could.  Then came the waiting game. 

We assumed he would be accepted to the program but had no idea how long the wait would actually be.  This became quite frustrating for all of us.  I couldn't quite figure out a good way to let the kids know that daddy would be leaving again, or when, where, and why.  I talked to our oldest about it.  I found a downloadable book for kids her age about PTSD for her to read.  She seemed very understanding but a bit worried about losing her daddy.  I waited to tell our son until we had an actual date.  The month wait was pretty hectic.  We couldn't plan anything.  Finally the call came that he was accepted and would have a bed ready for him on Tuesday. 

It finally hit me, that he’d have to leave us again but this time he could come back better.  I explained to our son, age six, that daddy gets angry too easy and it’s not our fault but he doesn't want to get angry anymore so he has to go somewhere to work on it.   It was only three hours away from home and we would be able to visit him often though.  I tried to research the program as much as possible to get an idea of what to expect but didn't find much information.  We knew it was a voluntary program and was not a lock-down type facility.   We knew that regular attendance to classes was necessary for completion of the program, but other than that we really didn't know what to expect.  He decided that he didn't want to bring a vehicle or any money or bank cards in case he felt like leaving so.  I understood his fear of possibly leaving if things got rough but couldn't understand why he didn't want any money.  I made him bring his credit card just in case he needed it for something.  We got a quick tour of the facility and I was sent on my way home............

Monday, May 23, 2011

Remembering to Let Go

So, by now most of you know that I tend to ramble about the things going on in our little part of PTSD/TBI "world".  I never know whether my musings are helpful, but always hope so... that they'll reach out to some other struggling veteran's wife out there and help her remember that she's ABSOLUTELY NOT ALONE!

My hubby and I went out of town for two days at the end of last week.  Now, most people who live with a veteran who has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and/or TBI (traumatic brain injury) know that ANYTHING out of the ordinary can be a disaster.  Heck, I not only personally "know" it at this point... I talk to people about it on a regular basis.  But, still, even though it was a short trip and was mostly related to FamilyOfaVet.com "business" (a conference on assistive technologies for those with disabilities like TBI), I was excited to get the time away... just my dear husband and I.

At least I WAS excited until I went to wake him up on Thursday morning.  I thought I had done everything right... made sure he took meds the night before... that he'd had plenty of sleep... had done my best to keep the days before as stress free as possible... had reviewed and re-reviewed the schedule and route with him to make sure he felt totally prepared.  But, as I tapped his feet (a PTSD wife trick, always stay clear of the "swing range" when waking a veteran with PTSD!) and in my best calm, sweet "wifey" voice told him it was time to get up, he answered with a growl and a long chain of expletives.  Oh, CRAP!

Now, I won't go into the moment by moment account, but the next 90 minutes were pure HELL - screaming, yelling, crying (mine), and me trying (in vain) to remind myself that I was going head-to-head not with my dear husband, but with the freaking PTSD... the PTSD that had him completely wound up that he was going somewhere outside of his comfort zone.  Truthfully, though, even with all of my "expertise" he was able to push my buttons and crush my feelings all at once.  "Don't you get it?"  I kept pleading, "I'm looking forward to this!"

We did, finally, make it out of the house (incredibly late of course!) and for the next few hours as we drove, barely a word was said between us.  It was some eight hours later before the PTSD haze finally started to lift and we started making small talk.  It was almost 30 hours later before we were reasonably "normal."

But, here's the thing.  During that time, I was giving him time to work through things, but I was pretty much okay.  And, I've finally reached the point that instead of being pissed, angry and hurt about the time together we had lost because of stupid, STUPID PTSD, once things settled down, I enjoyed the time we had left.  The last few hours in the town we were visiting and the drive home were fun.  Instead of pouting and thinking about everything we'd missed, I REMEMBERED TO LET IT GO.  It's not something I did from a place of weakness, but instead because I made the CHOICE to not let PTSD rob me of the time we had left on our "vacation."  My choice wasn't about him - about placating him, or "fixing" him or letting him off the hook - it was about me and about us and about what I want for my marriage (despite PTSD).

So, I guess what I'm saying, is that I'm getting to a point where I'm coping with PTSD from a place of strength... and not just from desperation.  It's taken me almost 4 and a half years to get here, but it's possible.  And, I feel like that's something worth sharing!  If you had told me even 18 months ago that I'd be getting to this place... a place where PTSD-induced rages didn't shake me to the core and destroy me for days... I would have laughed (and then probably cried).

It's doable.  We CAN do this.  This stupid PTSD doesn't have to rob us.  We don't have to just "grin and bare" it.  It doesn't have to be about dying inside, it can be, instead, about learning to live a different way.

Big HUGS,
Brannan

Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Moving Forward in Recovery

Recently we received an email from someone who enlisted at a young. Within time, he came to learn that he had a disorder that he had to face, in the end making the best out of it. Thank you so much, Mr. Lloyd for sharing your journey with us. When going through changes and challenges, it is always wonderful to see that through moments of darkness, it can bring one to reaching out and helping others. 

By ~ Kyle D. Lloyd MHICM Peer Technician

While still a High School Senior at Southern Wells High School, Poneto, Indiana, I enlisted for serving in the US Navy.  Due to my high achievement on the ASVAB test scores I qualified for Submarine Service and it was a thrill to go through all the class work and Submarine School at Groton, Connecticut.  My home port became Charleston, South Carolina and the USS James Madison SSBN627 became my boat assignment.

I was just 19 years of age and beginning to get my sea legs firmed up and well into my US Navy enlistment when my illness hit me.  At the Portsmouth Naval Regional Medical Center I was hospitalized for approximately 9 months and diagnosed with Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective Disorder.  In treatment, I was stabilized with medications and therapy.

My symptoms included delusions of the "television telling me what to do" and "monitoring my thoughts and holding me hostage to its agenda.”

My recovery was facilitated greatly by personal recognition of positive and negative symptoms associated with my diagnosis and self-realization that indeed I had a mental illness.  Denial worked against me for many years after leaving US Naval service and becoming a civilian worker.

The NAMI Peer-to-Peer Course assisted me greatly in developing a recovery plan and taking steps forward that were appropriate for me.

Since entering a program of recovery, I have strongly advocated for others.  I have written grant requests in support of fellow peers that were also homeless.  I further developed and re-established a new profession for myself in the field as a Peer Specialist or Consumer/Provider.
For four years I served as Chairman for a Statewide Consumer Council and proactively advocated for the passage of our new "Parity Legislation" and other bills to support and protect the rights of individuals with mental health problems.

My personal experiences of stigma and discrimination were often cloaked as "Restructuring or Reduction in Force Layoffs."  I overcame these situations with fierce perseverance, bold determination, and absolutely never quitting.

I have actively helped others in their recovery as a Consumer/Provider by providing the services they need to daily live their lives and successfully stay in the community.  I am a role model of recovery and I willingly facilitate interested consumers with developing personal Wellness Recovery Action Plans.

Changing the mental health system is an evolutionary process that I am involved with in my day-to-day employment and efforts.  The changes that need to happen include eradicating stigma and breaking down all the barriers ignorance and biases have cultivated; also promoting social inclusion, and restoring dignity, to individuals affected by serious mental illnesses with both community and family supports.

Living in the community supports my recovery.  Recovery has empowered me to contribute more to my neighborhood; re-entrance with advocacy has been the biggest help.  I like to speak up and make my representatives aware of the social injustices I encounter so that accommodations and real changes happen.

I choose opportunities to self-disclose my mental health condition, so that I can remain honest, open-minded, and willing to participate in the reality that is my life.  I cannot hide behind anyone or anything anymore and receive validation until I can self-disclose.  When I understand that others can be accepting of me, if I allow that, I may change the world by openly sharing who I am.