Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June is PTSD Awareness Month

Amended from Amanda Flener’s September 2012 blog
Published in the May/June MOPH Chapter 1000 Newsletter

What does PTSD look like?
"I'm fine, how are you?"

Many years ago, a certain veteran I know thought PTSD didn't exist.  He believed it was weakness.  It was in one's mind.  It was imaginary.  Those were irrational beliefs that started in his early Army days.  Superiors would drill into the soldiers that they were strong and they could handle anything.  They were tough.  Thought they couldn't be beat.  PTSD was in the mind of the weak.  It wasn't real.  PTSD was for cowards.  PTSD was for sissies.  

Needless to say, when obvious symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety crept in, a soldier programmed with the above nonsense would deny it.  Denial.  A human's most effective and most important defense mechanism.  Denial is the soldier saying, "I'm good.  No problems. Can't complain." He picks up and carries on.  Or does he?  Does a warrior battling these inward emotions and issues really think that he's alright? Maybe he really does or maybe he has a war within his very being.  Likely he is struggling with the real plague of PTSD symptoms and that programming of "Suck it up soldier."

"I'm fine" is such a typical response.   Americans mutter this incessant chat without even thinking about it.  It seems innocent enough, yet it is affirms a stereotypical aspect of our society.  We're good.  We're well.  We maintain appearances and a Persona that we are whole, healthy, successful, and without problems.  Most people utter the usual, "Hi. How are you?" without ever wanting or caring what the addressed party has to say or how they truly are.   They expect a thoughtless, "I'm fine. How are you?" in return with none other than a "Doing well" type response.  

For starters, I don't ask one how he or she is unless I truly want to know or I care.  I think I began thinking this way sometime during my first year of graduate school when I was studying Clinical Psychology and we were challenged to be more aware and genuine in our interactions.  

If someone asks me, "How are you?" He or she should likely back up for an atypical response.  "Tired" may be a likely response if I sense that someone is in a hurry or simply uttered the phrase without conscious concern.  However, if you sincerely ask me, "How are you?" you might want to sit down for a more sincere answer.  On the rare occasion a stranger or acquaintance asks how I am and I reply with a quick and hurried, "Fine." I back up and internally shake myself.  I really do.  I ask myself, "Are you fine today? Perhaps. If not, I that's how I shake myself back into a greater awareness of how I am.  Now we'll get back to PTSD.

Now, maybe you can see how PTSD is an invisible illness.  

People with PTSD can often hide or mask their symptoms.  They can recede into their own homes and personal lives, avoiding interaction when they don't feel like dealing with people or the world.  They can learn great (or so they think) coping skills, like denial, so it appears that they are fine.  

However, when one wants to really conquer PTSD and conquer his symptoms of the illness without it dictating life as he knows it, a few things have to change.  The hardest part is acknowledging that PTSD exists and it is real and it is happening to you or your loved one.  Not covering up or making excuses leads to a greater acknowledgement of the illness and symptoms.  Unfortunately, I think about all the years that we simply covered up or made excuses for the ugly symptoms and actions resulting from PTSD.  Looking back, it didn't do anyone a favor.  Now we make the covert overt.  We acknowledge it. We talk about it when we can and we are more honest.  A doctor or mental health professional cannot help what they don't know about.  Your family cannot be encouraging or supportive if they don't know the honest truth about what is going on.  Your spiritual network, church, or confidants can't lift you up in prayer and thoughts if they are not aware of the situation.  

Few people are discerning enough to take an "I'm fine" response and decode when you are actually not "fine" and offer the help and support that is essential in making progress with PTSD or other aspects of your life.  It is essential to open up.

Friday, June 6, 2014

How Conditional is Your Love?

Today's society is so focused on rewards based on performance.  We offer incentives for work based performance, offering bonuses and pay grades based on ability, productivity, sales, and an employee's "worth."  We give and get grades in school based on the quality and accuracy of the assignment.  Parents may give money to their children based on the chores or tasks that they complete.  

So how do we rank our relationships?


Do we have unconditional love for our relationships with our spouse and kids or do we place that love in a hierarchy of how much we love them or the contingencies we place on that love.  It's easy to think we give unconditional love to our spouse, children, or others in our lives....but look close and examine the reality.  I think of the divorce rate in America and how it has risen over the last few decades.  Obviously, there are plenty of valid reasons people get divorced, but I also think that many people don't want to put for the effort and invest in their relationships.  They may find that they have conditions to their love or maybe their spouse has conditions to the relationship or love.  

Of course, we desire healthy dual-involved relationships. Psychologist Robert Sternberg used the the term Consummate Love and Carl Rogers used the term, unconditional positive regard. Sternberg's term includes the combination of passion, intimacy, and commitment while Roger's emphasized that we love our clients or each other in spite of their actions and behaviors.  We love the person regardless of his or her actions. 

Now to the crux of my point.  Do you love your spouse if they are successful and put lots of money in the bank? Or can you also give the same amount of love if they loose a job, go in debt, and can't provide for the family despite struggles and trying?  Do you love your kids if they keep everything neat and clean, fuss and fight, or can you find that same love when chaos, disorder, and riots break out?  

What about in terms of sickness and health? 

Do you love your spouse through a week long flu? How about a 3 month recovery from an accident? What about a lifelong struggle with chronic and debilitating illness and injury?  Do you love them and provide physically and give emtional support during the week? During the 3 months? 10 years? 25 years? Do you have to draw a line somewhere believing that you've put forth more effort than you bargained for?

Ten years ago, I purposely took out the wedding vows that said, "in sickness and health, for ricer and poorer...." etc. I didn't want to speak those downsides over our marriage because for me it was a given that we'd love each other regardless. Sick = love. Well = love. Rich = love. Poor = love.  Anyway, whatever circumstance, I was committed to love. I didn't want to weigh that down with vows. Now you may think that's a bit eccentric but that's the way I looked at it and so far we've had our good times and bad. We've battled plenty of sickness and disability from both sides and we've had moments our bank account was plentiful and like most, we've had moments we were in the red or very close, pinching pennies and counting dollars.

It is so easy for families struggling with disabilities to give up. To just quit or walk away thinking that they are giving more than they are getting. It is so easy for someone to think they've had enough of their partner's PTSD, of their anger, of their issues.  It is possible to feel overwhelmed with physical symptoms of mobility issues, of brain injuries, and even deformities.  Do I love you only while you are able to love me as much back and I can see that daily? Do I love you regardless of your inability to do the dishes, take the trash out? Do I love you in spite of the fact that you haven't been able to work in years? Can you keep loving someone who has trouble communicating but can squeeze your hand occasionally?  

Do we love our kids when they hug us and squeeze us and say, "I love you."  Or can we also find the wherewithal to love them when they are defiant, scream that they hate us, and run slamming the door behind them.  Do we love the spouse that seems to take and not give? Do we keep loving unconditionally when one needs constant supervision and care?

I'm not saying we don't have our moments where we want to scream and throw up the white flag.  

Its quite human to feel frustrated and defeated. But can you forgive? Can you rise above these moments and continue to love unconditionally?  Can you love those that persecute you? Can you love those that seem to hate you and not reciprocate positive emotion?  Can you love your neighbor, your children, your spouse in spite of their actions and through their unattractive behaviors?  

It is most assuredly not as easy as it seems and it takes grace, patience, and lots of love.  I encourage you to keep loving. To strive to love unconditionally.

If you can push your conditions aside and UN-quantify your love, my guess is that you'll be happier giving of yourself, your time, your energy, and your love. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

We've Been On Those VA Wait Lists

I am not surprised by the VA Waitlist scandals. Not at all. Why? Because we've been on those lists. 

We've been the ones that have been told my husband can only see his neurologist once a year. We've had to wait 10 months on a colonoscopy, without first seeing a GI physician. We've yet to receive an appointment with a GI physician due to bowel issues. My first complaint of the issue was March of 2013. Yes, last year. Procedure was done in January of 2014 when we saw the headlines in Augusta, GA that read "Four Die Waiting on GI Appointments." That's encouraging when your checking into the hotel and notice the paper on the lobby table the evening before the procedure. 

We've seen countless receptionists, not put John's name into the computer but write his info on a paper, never to get a followup or drastically later. 

John has had some success with doctors and appointments but they've been few and far between and I feel he and other veterans are not getting the care they deserve.  

Finally, after years of not having an orthopedic or pain specialist, the VA agreed to handle this via fee services and allow us to see a doctor closer to home. We are 3.5 hours away from the VAMC.  John went for his consultation, went for an epidural and the day before his 3 week follow-up, the office calls and says his appointment (last week) is canceled due to the VA not authorizing payment for the services. Services to a physician that they already signed fee-basis forms for. 

John looses feeling in his hands. He can't hold stuff much. He drops things. I had to go as far as holding his drink to his mouth today. We had a private neurologist do the testing to confirm several neurological conditions that stem from problems in his spine. The VA just ignores this as they say that they can't do that testing or do not have doctors that handle that. 

Exhausting trying to get appointments and treatment and these are just a couple examples of many I could give. The VA wait list scandals are bad. I believe we've been subjected to those and now, I'm in part glad to see it all being brought to light so perhaps these vets can get better care. More timely care is needed. 

My combat wounded veteran doesn't have the memory or energy to deal with this. Thus, I fight these battles for him. It makes him beyond frustrated. Many other caregivers and advocates are out there trying the best they can to be heard, to make a difference, and to get their veterans the benefits, care, and treatment they deserve. It can be exhausting and frustrating but we've got to keep fighting. We have to keep telling our stories. We can make a difference….Persevere. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

PTSD Workbook Giveaway

Our is only a couple hundred views away from 6,000. To celebrate, I'm doing a give away! I will give one reader a copy of the The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms  It is an excellent tool for both veterans with PTSD and civilians with non-combat related PTSD.

I came across this resource when I was in grad school working on my Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology about a decade ago. This Workbook that I'm giving away is the newest 2013 edition and has a value of $24.95. I recommend it to my students every year and to other veterans as well. 

As wife and caregiver to a combat wounded veteran with severe PTSD, part of my mission of this blog is to raise awareness and lessen the stigma of PTSD/TBI and put tools and encouragement in the hands of those who need them. Please feel free to subscribe, check out the PTSD/TBI tab for articles and information. 

Contest Starts April 20th, 2014 and runs through May 14th, 2014. TO BE ENTERED simply use the Rafflecopter below, share, tweet, but you must at least leave a comment in the Rafflecopter explaining why you'd like to win or who you would give the book to (if not used personally). 

a Rafflecopter giveaway *This site and article contain affiliate links to  This giveaway is not sponsored nor endorsed by, Facebook, Twitter, the books authors or publishers, or anyone else other than myself, Amanda Flener.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover Photo

For several years, John refused to take pictures. He wouldn't get in a Christmas photo. He didn't want you to even aim a camera at him. The auto reflex of a hand flying up to block his face from the camera was almost instantaneous. One of my favorite family pics was us at Disney, but he was in his wheelchair. When I put it on a Christmas photo card collage, he refused for me to send them out. He was embarrassed.

Then, one day, something clicked. He was ok with photos. He was ok with trips.  Wheelchair or on his two legs. Why? Because, he said, "I want my boys to remember that I tried to have fun with them."

John's memory started declining after his last deployment.  It was on that deployment that he received his Purple Heart for wounds from an IED blast that decommissioned his Bradley Fighting Vehicle.  He told me this week, that his vehicle was subjected to 113 IED/Explosions prior to that final one that took it out and left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Trip to Universal
Not only did John want the boys to remember the times that he attempted to go places, but he also wanted photos to show him that he had been places, done things, and got the photo to prove it.  Not a bad idea, considering two years ago, he and I took a weekend getaway that he still has no recollection of.

MRIs have shown that his brain is loosing mass and volume as a result of the brain injury.  It is basically shrinking. Therefore, he experiences dementia like symptoms at times.  Sometimes he doesn't remember that he's eaten, sometimes he can't recall facts.

New research is focusing on younger veterans and their caregivers and many of those caregivers have been reluctant to discuss their life with others.  They hide it well.  PTSD/TBI are thought of as invisible illnesses and many like John, can look and function "normal" for limited times when passerby's would not think they have severe disabilities.

Posing for a crazy picture
Sleep vs. Picking noses!
Oh my!
So while caregivers are gaining recognition by congress, non-profits, the Veteran's Administration, and perhaps other family and friends, there may be more scrutiny towards these invisible disabilities.  For example, private groups on Facebook or other social media are available for vets and caregivers and many non-profits are reaching out to this generation of wounded and caregivers.  Yet, some of those among them and in society are ridiculing and making judgments based on appearances or a moment's interactions, or based on their Facebook feed or photos.

Look at my photos on Facebook and you'll find a combination of me, my husband, my kids, trips we've taken, and so forth.  Now, John will agree to put his arm around me and smile, usually.  But what you don't see is the before, after, and in between.  

EPCOT 2014 - John asked for a photo and
waited for the PhotoPass Photog to take it.

When you look at my photo from last week's one day trip to EPCOT, you see we appear normal and smiling. What you don't see is that after only 15 minutes of being in the park, he was profusely sweating from physical pain and discomfort of being around people, in closer proximity than was comfortable. What you don't see is that immediately after lunch, we went back to the room to take pain meds and to rest. Sleep. Sleep for two hours with a bathroom break and a seizure in between while he was sitting on the toilet. What got my attention was the nose bleed from his right nostril, as characteristic of his seizures, splattering on the floor.

We made it back to the park but we couldn't take the complimentary bus transportation because he didn't feel like he could wait for a bus to run if he needed to come back sooner. At dinner, we had to be selective in where to sit in relation to his back towards the least amount of people or so that he could see the door or windows.  He couldn't focus on the menu. He couldn't see it. Headache commenced.  I ordered his food for him. A waiter dropped dishes at dinner, he jumped. Where do we sit in the American Pavilion for the show? Luckily there were only 6 others in the last showing of the evening and that was comfortable, as none looked like a stereotypical terrorist.  All clear. Relax for a few minutes.

Then sleep for almost the entirety of the next three days as the two nights away was too mentally and physically exhausting.

Great Photo but you missed the
before and after. Thanks for
your perseverance 
In other events, my current profile photo where John is wearing his Purple Heart hat, was taken after we attended two consecutive MOPH events. Before the first one, he had a seizure before even getting out of bed that morning.  Trouble walking, trouble moving, dizzy, and in severe pain from the muscle contractions from the seizures. Before the first presentation, he stood for some time, walked without ambulation assistance, and with sweat dripping by the handkerchief fulls, he persevered.  He refused to quit, refused to sit for the longest time, and presented his awards.  Only a couple people were cognizant enough to see that despite his nice jacket, hat adorned with medals, and freshly shaven face (around the goatee, of course) that he was in severe pain.  Then again, he crashed for about two days from the pain and exhaustion of the events. I had to assist him in sitting up, had to help him steady himself out of the floor when he fell, and had to assist with other things as he was mostly confined to bed for the remainder of the week.

So before you are quick to judge about someone else's injuries or their need for disability or compensation…I'd urge you to think hard about all that you might not be seeing.  These vets like to look like they are doing good when people see them.  They really, in most cases, don't want sympathy. They just want to be treated like anyone else.  Hopefully, you will never hear me passing judgment on someone because of their illness or injury and I'd urge you to do the same. If you had to walk a mile in their shoes…you would likely be very surprised.

Thank a solder, honor a hero.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why a Purple Heart City/County Campaign?

I promised a blog about the impact of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) - Chapter 1000 campaign on the Purple Heart cities, counties, and locations and here it is.
Me and My husband (John) at Ray City, GA 
What is a Purple Heart City or location?
Proclamation from Homerville, GA
  • A Purple Heart City, County, or location has issued a proclamation declaring their area or
    institution as having great admiration for  the men and women from who have served in the Armed Forces
  • They also recognize the service and sacrifice of our nation's Combat Wounded and those who were killed in action.  
  • They have a chance to honor their local veterans, their Purple Heart recipients, and tell them and their families they appreciate their service and the sacrifices they have made.

Why do you want to travel the state and go to all these places as they become Purple Heart locations?

Valdosta, GA - Chapter 1000 Members,
Department Commander, and Mayor
Why not?  We have the opportunity to spread awareness of not only the MOPH but the service and sacrifice of local people in communities where we and our members live.  Our Chapter is comprised of combat wounded veterans who are spread across a very large portion of rural southern Georgia.  John met 5 Purple Heart veterans in a city less than 30 minutes from our home who had never heard of the MOPH.  These were veterans from Vietnam and WWII.  We've met family members that want to join as Associates to honor the service and sacrifice of their loved ones who received the Purple Heart.

Tifton, GA
Collecting and Giving Info
We've been able to give out information to veterans and family members about how the MOPH has  programs (like their assistance with VA Claims) that are in place to help ALL veterans, combat wounded or not.  We've told student veterans about scholorships they can apply for if eligible.

Of course, we would love to see our membership grow.  As a new chapter that just formed and received its charter in the last quarter of 2013, we are looking to increase our numbers.  But we don't want to simply increase our numbers.  We want to bring awareness of the MOPH into our communities, we want to engage in projects that give back and have a real impact, and we want to be able to proudly thank these veterans across our area for their service.

Patriot Guard Riders standing at the rear…Got you back, guys
The communities that we've been engaged with have presented proclamations, awards, ceremonies, and even appreciation of the family members that stand beside these veterans.  We've experienced veterans from the Vietnam era who were never involved in a veteran organization, come out of their shell, so to speak.

Ray City, GA as the Honor Guard from
Moody AFB presents the colors

The cities and communities that these members are in have recognized them and thanked them. That was something that didn't happen with they came home from the war they fought so many decades ago.  As you can see above and to the left, The American Legion /Patriot Guard Riders came out to one small town celebration.  We were grateful of the outpouring and attention from this group in Ray City.  My husband, and commander, John stated:

"If I can get them just a little thanks and recognition, it is the least I can do as a younger vet."

Presentation to WGTC by
Chapter 1000
We've been into schools and been privileged to get Wiregrass Georgia Technical College on board as the nation's first Purple Heart Technical College. We gave awards to the faculty that work with their Veterans Student Association.  We were able to thank them for their service to this population that faces unique challenges as they reintegrate into civilian life and education.

Wiregrass Georgia Tech in Valdosta, GA -
4 Campuses represented and their VSA Faculty
Chapter 1000 has helped to put Georgia on the map…literally.  When we started our campaign to increase Purple Heart Cities and Counties, there was one Georgia city on the national map.  Port Wentworth, Georgia was the only dot on the map and now Georgia has at least 22 locations.  See Chapter 1000's Site with links to the Proclamations also here.

Other news coverage:

UPDATE October 2015: Georgia has 65 Purple Heart Cities, 37 Purple Heart Counties, 2 Communities, 4 Islands, 7 College Campuses, 1 Regional Airport, and 2 Businesses designated as Purple Heart Locations.