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.