Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trendy Update to a Mundane Caregiver Task

The silver linings of meltdowns is the opportunity to recreate your environment to allow for positive change and growth.  This has been an incredibly long winter for my family, full of tantrums, homework, exhaustion, medical appointments, and existing awfully close to "crisis".  Things came to a head over 2 weeks ago, and with the support, mentoring, and "boots on the ground" intervention of a beloved friend, we were able to not only just "get through" this time, but do so with an added benefit: A trendy update to the most annoying and more complicated than it has to be job as a caregiver, wife, mom, household six... and that is the CALENDAR!

Picture a desk calendar taped to my cabinet in the kitchen.  It visually disrupts the flow of the area, and the small spaces and multiple horizontal lines subconsciously repels my husband from ever looking at it.   My friend, a woman who lives states away and is also a caregiver, is absurdly well versed in this life after combat stuff.  She sees my family from afar, yet is able to intimately and with marksman like accuracy, is able to anticipate needs and identify trouble spots. More importantly, she had a real world solution for my family that was implemented within days of identifying the stuck point and made sure to follow up with me by phone calls, texts, and even a Google Hangout session involving both myself, AND my husband.

Ever since I left my job late last year, I have found myself often standing in my kitchen, or living room in a daze, overwhelmed, exhausted.  I was not adjusting as well as I wanted to being at home full time for my husband.  Everyone else around me seemed to be status quo, either no improvement (in husband- well, some....lets be optimistic), or vast improvement (kids not having to deal with overwhelmed, can't-process-the-movement, or I-don't-get-what-you-want daddy).  I was feeling overwhelmed.  The husband was still forgetting appointments, even though I would tell him when I wake him in the morning.  He was still forgetting breakfast, often not eating until I notice his color in his face goes from normal to ashen.  I was beginning to lose hope.

One thing I noticed was things started to pile up in the hutch.  Charing cords, crayons, books, papers, pictures.... Whatever needed to be stashed quick so the kids didn't monkey with, went into this big black hutch in our kitchen.  Something in my home didn't feel right.  It didn't flow.  In fact, visual clutter disturbs and agitates my husband, so that is why the quick tuck it away habit became routine.  I was starting to feel like my home was not reflecting our personality as a family, and it was beginning to wear on me.  It was no longer feeling like home, and here I am, now home full time, not understanding why.

On top of this "feeling out of place", I was feeling like a failure because we were always rushed, always remembering appointments at the last minute, trying to catch phone calls, trying to remember where he put the mail.  I didn't have the energy for pretty updates, adding my flavor to this house, etc.  When my friend intervened, she must have sensed that, and gave me the perfect solution to what clearly was several areas of stuck points.

Mission Control

Instead of using the hideous wall calendar taped to our cupboard, we found a super cheap way to use aesthetically pleasing arrangement of frames as white boards for the days of the week.  Here is a picture of the Husband approved (which means it doesn't annoy him, he LIKES it, and.... he LOOKS at it) area.

The most important aspect of this beautiful masterpiece, is the Sunday Night Meeting.  Every Sunday evening, the kids, the man, and myself, go through each day, and with a dry erase marker, write down appointments on the glass.  We review the family rules.  In the picture, you will 3 picture frames on the table (that is the hutch, we took off the huge top part, and stored it).  One frame is typed, easy to read phone numbers essential to our family.  Doctors, hospitals, police, poison control, and friends and family members that we can call no matter what at any time for any reason- this is a MUST.  If your family is experiencing a crisis or emergency, it can be difficult to remember who you can call for support.  The two larger frames on the table contain a spot for "Mommy time" and "Daddy time", and "Family time" and "Mom and Dad" time.  I have realized that my years as a nurse, my education, my street smarts didn't follow through on the home front. Just like at work, things are scheduled so the operation runs smoothly.  It is easy to overlook "mom and dad" time I realized.  I can't remember the last time my husband and I took the time to purposely and meaningfully attempted to plug in to each other.  I realized that the redundant "family movie night" in on friday nights with the family (our usual family time) was just another way for my husband and I to decompress and unplug while we essentially faked real, meaningful "family time".  Now that we have to write down (and let the kids give us input for the activity), we realized we sure were watching a LOT of movies, and that the kids didn't even want to have family movie night every week.

A thought about scheduling "alone" time for each parent: It is imperative.  I know I often feel more relaxed and in control when I am centered.  Mommy time, or daddy time, means just that.  Free to decide, no kids, time to yourself.  And how much time is appropriate?  Since this is new to us, we decided to try a few 2 to 3 hour blocks for the husband more frequently, and for me, once a week for a few hours.  He is much less grumpy when he is allowed more time, it takes longer for him to decompress, and just the normal chatter of kids can be a source of frustration to him.  The great thing about this is we decide something needs to change, you just wipe away, and rewrite.  Much better and visually acceptable to him than scratching over pen on a paper calendar.

My husband and I have agreed that we need our together time, and we have made small steps toward rebuilding the friendship and intimacy again.  We recently bought the Scrabble board game, and he enjoys it, and often wants to play multiple games.  We LAUGH at each other.  We are both fierce competitors, so sometimes, these games can last a very long time (which I am okay with, because he is pushing himself, and showing interest).  You don't have to go OUT of your house for together time.  That is simply not feasible with my husbands anxiety and his skin issues.  The kids go to bed, and we are left to our own devices.  Something as simple as a board game, who would have thought... but I found myself feeling that very fond, "this is why I fell in love with you feeling".... Silly me.  I had forgotten it is the small things that make a marriage.  That had gotten lost in life after combat.

So back to our trendy update to schedules, let me tell you, my domestic prowess is lacking.  I had no clue how to hang a picture... dry wall anchors? My husband cringed everytime he heard the drill.  He attempted to take over, but we were unsatisfied with the frames that kept tilting and not hanging flush with the wall.  I searched online (Pinterest!) and found a CHEAP, easy, NOT wall damaging solution; Curtain rod!  I used ribbon to hang the picture frames from the curtain rod to add a fancy touch.  Everything was affordable, available from local stores, and total time to complete project was less than 6 hours (unless you are me, which then it takes about 10 hours over 2 days, plus the time to spackle multiple erroneous holes).

Here is the breakdown:

Curtain rod: $10 (sale)
Ribbon: $1.50 per spool (sale)
Frames and
Spray paint (if you want to paint your frames): less than $20
Dry erase markers: $3

So with a little planning, and if you are like me, major life interventions from those who love us most, you can make your house feel like a home, create an easy to read and use family calendar system, and engage the entire family.

Written by resident blogger and advocate for Family of a Vet, a wife of a combat Veteran with PTSD/TBI and other war related things, ~Kateri

Monday, March 25, 2013

I Refuse to Be Shamed into Silence

I am the wife of a "good soldier" who has and continues to serve our country bravely and valiantly. He, as a soldier, is my hero and I will always be proud of his service to our country.

From the outside looking in, it appears that we are living the American dream. In measure of material things, we have more than most. When we are in public, he seems to be a caring and supportive husband. Often other women will tell me how lucky I am because I have such a good, hard working and loving husband. I flash them that "Yes I Know" smile, hoping they don't detect it is only a mask I hide behind to cover the tears that have often flooded my marriage since my husband returned home from deployment in 2006.

The man who came home from that deployment was not the one I sent off to war. Before the deployment, I had a loving, caring and attentive husband. After, I had a husband who was paranoid and full of rage. Before, I never knew my husband to have a headache. After, he had headaches so bad he would almost drop to his knees. Crowds made him nervous and he often had nightmares.

He also did things that revealed he was struggling with impulse control. One day, shortly after he returned home, we had just finished grocery shopping and were pushing a cart full of food to our car. He decided someone had parked too close to our car, so he grabbed a bag of groceries, raised it up in the air, and looked like he was going to throw it on their car. When I frantically asked, "What are you doing?" he froze in his tracks. Not only was I shocked by his behavior, I became more concerned than I had been before. It was at that moment that I realized something was wrong, seriously wrong, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Since that time, we have dealt with many other episodes of his poor impulse control and explosive temper. Most of the time, he seems like a shell, devoid of the ability to love or care about anyone, as if he is empty of all emotion. If anything goes wrong, it is always the fault of someone else, never him. Despite all this, he is still a "good soldier" because he does his job and he does it well. He has become a workaholic. I'm not a doctor or psychologist, but I think he buries himself in his work so he doesn't have to deal with or think about what is causing his anger issues. Because he is a "good soldier", his chain of command does not acknowledge there is a problem and won't have him evaluated for PTSD or anything else that might have caused this change in his personality. After all, he is a "good soldier." A wife and children are unneeded extras in his life. I mean, who hasn't heard the old saying, "If soldiers needed wives and children, they would be issued to them."

If not for my strong faith in God, I know I could not have emotionally survived the last seven years. I don't expect people to understand why I have stayed with him because most don't get it. But in my heart, when I took my vows to him and before God, I fully meant everything I promised. No matter what, through richer and poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, I intended to stay the course and to protect and nurture our marriage. That is what I have tried to do. I am not going to say it has been easy, because it hasn't. At times, it has been nothing but hell on earth. My husband, or the man the military sent home to me after the deployment, became emotionally abusive. I thought I was good at handling it, knowing that it wasn't my husband, but instead some monster inside him. I just wanted to take care of him and help him get better. But somewhere in the process of trying to take care of him, I forgot to take care of myself. The harsh reality of that fact hit me when I found myself being taken to the crisis center in an ambulance in the middle of the night after my husband's intentionally cruel treatment sent me into deep despair. It was then I realized I must take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else.

Healing doesn't happen quickly. I'm not sure I will ever be completely healed. I know I will wear the scars from this for the rest of my life. After hours upon hours of prayer; after struggling with my faith at times; after feeling like God had abandoned me and my marriage; I came to the realization that God was giving me insight that needs to be shared. By doing so, I believe He will help me to continue to heal from the horrors of "this war at home."

This is a difficult topic to write about because there is shame attached to it. This shame causes many to remain silent and suffer alone. It shouldn't be that way but it is. Society tells us we should leave certain types of relationships, so people can sometimes be very judgmental. They don't understand that war has caused "invisible" damage to  many of our soldiers and despite news stories to the contrary, our military leaders are still often ignoring this. Wives and children are now becoming causalities of war as our soldiers return home. Our pain is simply the cost of war and we are just collateral damage in the eyes of many. I refuse to accept that. 

I refuse to be collateral damage in America's most recent war. I refuse to become  a statistic of combat related PTSD and domestic abuse. I refuse to allow people to shame me into silence.

I know I am not the only military wife going through this. I know I am not the only one struggling to get some help for a husband who came back from war an entirely different person. I know I am not the only one who has a need to be heard. I hope that by my sharing the trials and tribulations my marriage has endured due to my husband's military service, not only am I able to continue in my own healing process, but to also help others who need to heal.

Submitted By: "Military Wife"
"This War Is At Home"

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Defying Logic

Do you know that in Montana even the snow defies logic?  It doesn't fall down, it goes sideways due to the 50+ mile per hour winds that usually accompany it.  It's mesmerizing to watch it swirl and fly by from inside your window curled up with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa.

It stinks to drive through it 30 miles one way to pick your TBI husband up from work because his migraines have gotten so bad at 11 PM that you have no choice but to drive in and bring him home safely.  But you load up the kids, warn them to silence, turn on the radio, and make a go of it anyway through the horizontal blizzard while praying silently in your head while you sing out loud mindlessly to the tunes that you make it there alive.

I arrived over an hour later to a husband who's speech was slurred and vision was clearly off.  His memory was worse than normal and his movements reflected the rest of his state.  I was glad I made the choice to drive in and get him - there was no way he could have even gotten himself safely to a hotel in town, much the less survive the drive home. 

I took a moment while filling my gas tank to thank God that it happened today instead of the past two days when I was sick with some variety of food-borne illness.  I thanked God I'd had the sense to not put the kids to bed on time.  I thanked Him for the friend that stayed up chatting with me about baptism outfits for our sons until she couldn't stay up anymore.  I thanked Him for kids that were quiet, that McDonald's was still open at 10 minutes to midnight, and knowing that when I got home, this blog and my FOV friends would still be here to hear the words I can't say to anyone else.

While standing there I couldn't figure out why I was so cold...then I realized I'd left the house in such a rush I forgot to put on a shirt...well, that explains it.  Took a brief moment to thank God once again for a thick, heavy winter coat that no one would be able to tell that under.

As I drove home the experience varied between treacherous road conditions, a husband that was apologizing profusely for "making me come out in this", and a husband that is scared to death he may not be able to work anymore because of these migraines.  My mind was preoccupied with what I had to do when I hit the door - and not just the normal "get everyone to bed".  My mind is focused on the phone calls I'd need to make, the emails I'd need to send.  Who I need to get on board to help solve the problem?  What was the name of that neurologist we saw back in 2009?  Where did I put the phone number of the new local VA employment guy that I can't even remember the name of right now? 

Tomorrow will hopefully hold a pile of phone calls and possibly a few meetings - if I'm lucky a run to the doc's office and a trip over to the pharmacy.  Tonight will hold fear - while he sleeps I will have nightmares of what the next few months will hold. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

TBI Help Ideas Found On Pinterest

Pinterest has become a pretty popular way to find all sorts of helpful things from meal recipes to fun crafts to do with children. However, have you ever thought about using it to find helpful tips and tricks to help ease some of the stress in this Life After Combat? Well, with March being TBI Awareness Month we thought we would share some great ideas we found on Pinterest that could help you out!

What a great way to help answer the question, "What's for dinner?"

An easy and attractive way to keep up with your weekly schedule!

This one is just as attractive but with a more whimsical feel!

A much neater and organized look with the ability to change out containers as needed!  I love it!

A great way to help remind our hero just why we love them and to help ease their doubts!  :)

The uses for something like this are endless!

What a cool way for our heroes to have their own place to keep things like keys, sunglasses, hats...etc.

Even just one column of these would make laundry organization so much easier to track!

Though this is more for the classroom I think it could be utilized in the home to help out our heroes with TBI keep track of important times throughout the day.

Have you found any great ideas on Pinterest that would be helpful to a TBI household?  Share them with us and we can add them to our list!  

Friday, March 8, 2013


Isaiah 40:30-31
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

This is a hard thing to remember sometimes. Even youths will grow tired and weary. For years, I felt like Stretch Armstrong trying to keep my arms wrapped around a family falling apart. In the beginning it was a whirlwind. All I cared about was getting my husband the appropriate medical care, the right doctors to fix whatever was broken. Then years later, I am looking at a husband who works strenuously to keep himself under control, an angry teenager, a depressed daughter and my young son who has no idea that dad changed at all. Oh and me, completely exhausted and not able to recognize myself in the mirror anymore. For my youngest son, it was the easiest. He didn’t see dad go to his baseball games, take him fishing or on a bike ride. So the new dad never wanting to leave the house was ok. Sure he got angry, but it wasn’t too bad. He doesn’t remember the powerful outbursts and raging fits that happened when he first came home. Regrettably, my two older kids remember i!
t all too well. Words were shouted at them in anger, and unfortunately their dad doesn’t remember most of it.

My husband fought so hard to get treatment and it was very difficult to come by, and that is why I stayed with him through it all. Debatably, putting the kids through some horrific fights filled with screaming and hurling objects. My husband was going to any counselor, psychologist and psychiatrist he could. We were going to marriage counseling, but the kids had nothing. I was so consumed with fixing what was broke; I didn’t see what was falling apart right in front of my eyes. My kids were hurting. Instead of beating myself up over the kids’ emotional neglect, I became just as obstinate and stubborn over mending them as I did my husband. My first step in this direction was recognition. Telling the kids, I see what has happened and I know they are in pain. The hard part, after this omission was not letting them get away with murder. I, also, had them evaluated by a counselor. Honestly, she just told me they seemed more grown up then most kids. I didn’t accept her pacified!
conclusion. I knew there was much more going on though, especially, with my two teenage kids. My next move was really penciling in time for them. This is still difficult. Time is always my enemy. It never seems like there is enough. The absolute best move we made though was getting them into a church. Not only, did they have great counseling with the pastors, they had mentors. These mentors for my teens, served as their big brother and sister. It really encouraged the kids to talk, talk and talk some more about everything. It radically changed their perspective.

The last step to transforming the family is taking care of me. It is so important for me to stay healthy, mentally balanced and emotionally available for the kids. It is utterly exhausting to hold my Stretch Armstrong pose around my husband and kids. Sometimes, I need to let go and take care of myself, before I snap. Getting connected is the best advice I can give. It seems so hard, because it’s one more thing to do. Attending events or gatherings is difficult and I absolutely hate making plans, just for them to fall apart at the last minute due to PTSD moments or my husband’s health issues. Either my husband won’t go with me or I can’t leave him home if he’s feeling anxious or angry. It’s nice though to be able to go online a chat with someone. I can do it in the middle of the night, because there are women just like me going through the same thing: sitting up, late at night, alone, can’t sleep, stressed with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Family of the Vet has really helped me connect with some amazing ladies. I can’t thank them enough. Please make time for yourself and connect.

Submitted By: SandyO

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Momism: Bubbie Bear

I want to start today's Monday Momism by clarifying that this post is not political/religious but rather my own feelings and experiences regarding what happened ten years ago.

Ten years ago this month, we went to Iraq. On a more personal level, my son and his unit went there. The irony is they weren't suppose to tell where they were going specifically but thanks to a media personality drawing into the sand, it wasn't long before everyone knew what was going on if they didn't already. From March, 2003 until my son came home over a year later, I spent every waking (and sleeping moment) in front of the news when I wasn't working, spending time with my two younger children or writing out on the front porch in case we got an unwelcome visitor bringing bad news. (I wanted to make sure one of my children didn't answer the door should that be the case.)

Before he left, we went to Ft. Polk to tell him goodbye. I already knew the situation. I had been on the phone with an operator because I got a “Mom” feeling and he told me that the unit had indeed received orders. This was before I spoke to my son. With just an hour's notice, I told the wonderful priest I worked for that I had to go out of town. Being former military himself as well as a man of God, he understood.

Before he left, my son gave his younger brother a sleeping bag and told his baby sister that the bear he had won at Six Flags two years earlier was now hers. He wanted her to watch over “Bubbie” Bear and told her the bear would watch over her as well. That very night while we stayed at a relative's home in Lake Charles, my younger son got the sleeping bag out of the car and slept in it. He did that every night over the next year.

When we returned home, my daughter ran to the bear first thing and hugged it, telling Bubbie Bear that her Bubbie had gone away. She began her own ritual that night. She would hug the bear which was literally taller than her. She would whisper to it. I overheard some of her friends ask her one night why she did that. She told them so her brother could feel her hug across the miles.

What my children didn't know until the release of my book was that I had my own ritual with those two gifts from their older brother. I would go into my younger son's room and wrap the sleeping bag around me from time to time, especially when I would hear something heartbreaking on the news. The day I got one of my letters returned unopened I sobbed into Bubbie Bear's furry arms myself while the Red Cross worked to see what was going on because I had been told the recipient was deceased, yet my son's stateside unit had no information. It was a tragic error due to the loss of someone else's son with a similar name. Many times I learned and experienced survivors' guilt here at home.
Over the years I have taken Bubbie Bear to after-school events and children's church to share our family's story. This usually happens the week before Veteran's Day. They fall in loth Bubbie Bar just as our family has. Several have told me they can feel the love in his arms when they hug him as well. 

Over the past few weeks, Bubbie Bear has comforted me tremendously. I have been experiencing memories dealing with my son's deployment ten years ago this month. I have completed a story for children that is fictionalized that I hope will help children dealing with the deployment of a loved one.

My son now has a four year old son. He hugs Bubbie Bear whenever he comes to visit and talks to him also. Bubbie Bear has truly become a member of our family and a wonderful support system in his own way.

If you are dealing with your own memories and feelings as the family member of a veteran, please feel free to ask us to help you find the right resources or someone to talk to. Whether you are a spouse, sibling, child or parent of a veteran dealing with PTSD and/or a TBI, we have been there and can help. We understand because we have shared your journey. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to be a part of Family of a Vet.