I have mixed feelings about this. Yes could be an attention seeker or a leech on the VA teet. I’m a bit of a history buff and I’ve seen enough footage of World War 1 and 2 to know I had I had it “easy. Even picking through the remains of the Alfred P Murrah building and Khobar Towers. Or getting knocked out of my bunk once or twice by bombs that were much closer than a mile away. Or staring into the faces of the enemy Dead. They looked distorted like when I was a kid and would pinch Barbie’s head. I’ve lost friends to cancers that I suspect 50 years from now will be revealed to be a result of years of radiation and possibly all the crap that was pumped into us. I thought I’d have three-eyed babies from all the anthrax shots but instead I’m just sterile and in remission. And now long-term studies are coming out about those orange malaria pills that we ate like candy. I wake up in tears from nightmares about those I couldn’t save, ours and theirs. But Fireworks don’t bother me too much. Except for the whistlers. Those fuckers do sound like incoming, incoming, incoming..
Hey how’s this for a pickup line? My doctor gave me a new brand of birth control pill. Want to come over and test its effectiveness?
I’m back with my vibrator. I’ve been blowing off the booty call following Bill’s death so his hints at needing a backrub or “to do laundry” are getting fewer and further between. Not that I wanted to make a habit of it. And it was a 3 on a scale to 10 ( but I give him an extra point for being a good kisser).
I volunteered to be a lab rat. It’s what you do when you’re desperate. The VA is conducting studies on transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat depression. It feels like a giant woodpecker furiously attacking my skull for 37 and a half minutes. Not painful, just odd. I first learned about it from my family and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t deliberately try to kill me. I volunteered late last year when the Wellbutrin made me suicidal. I feel better without pills. Sometimes I even feel normal but normal is not the same as good and Good is relative. Still, I was surprised to be accepted as a “rat” following thorough evaluation. I was added to the waiting list and so I waited. More than three months went by and I heard nothing. I even called once to make sure I was still on the list but after the new year, shaking off the Flake, brief but enjoyable travel and being a dance dance dancing machine, feeling, dare I say “good”… Bill died and a week later I got a call asking if I was ready to start treatment for 4-6 weeks. I explained to the doctor that I was concerned my results would be skewed. After all I just lost someone very dear to me and who wouldn’t be depressed? Naturally, gradually, I should feel “better” in 4-6 weeks anyway, right? I said “Before Bill died, I wasn’t depressed. I was perfectly normal”. The moment I said it, I knew it wasn’t true and the doctor was quick to point out “I screened you before your friend passed and you were not ‘ perfectly normal’, as you put it. But I take your present circumstances into account in the study results”.
I forced myself to go to a pool party Saturday, and be thankful that I got an invitation at all. It started out ok but after a few hours drinking, I looked around and found myself the odd man out again, the 7th wheel as people paired off and it became clear who the couples were (or at least the special friends). That’s when I left and got lonely enough that I text the booty call. Not to invite him over, which he fished for, but just to vent. I told him about the pool party and about being unhappy with the arrangement at home. I told him all about how my roommate asked if his girlfriend was welcome to stay the night. I said yes and a week later he had.a house key made for her without asking me and she’s lived here every day and night for the last 2 months. Individually they may be the best roommates I could hope for but my resentment is growing. Ive been taken advantage of, the water bill has doubled, but the worst part is I am living with a married couple in their honeymoon period: they cook together, dance around the kitchen, kiss, eat on the patio, fuck constantly and forget to shut the door… and it’s in my face! I begrudgingly accept my chronic single fate of the last 13 years but Im often lonely and I HATE being a spectator to a couple playing house in MY house. HATE IT! Surprisingly the booty call gave me advice that I would have expected from Bill if he were still alive “It doesn’t matter your reasons for being uncomfortable. All that matters is you are uncomfortable.”
A friend posted on social media today that it was painful to live in a world that no longer needed her. I responded, “What about your needs?” But martyrdom is a hard habit to break. I’m still working on it. And I may not be a Buddhist like my recently passed friend Bill but even the mindfulness therapy championed by Dr. Hayes is based in eastern thought. Modern Buddhist practitioners are a source of inspiration and stability. One ACT/Buddhist theory that Bill shared with me before he passed was that the reason people are so unhappy is because we cling to what we want: not just material things but circumstances and relationships. Rather than accepting that everything changes and comes to an end, we mourn for its passing rather than celebrating that we had it at all, rather than giving thanks and moving on. Well, Bill, I’m sorry but I miss you. And he would say “Stop saying sorry. Say ‘oops’.”
Bill’s best friend got back to me with details for the memorial service and confirmed my gut suspicion, that he took his own life. It’s hard to fathom this world getting “the best” of someone so enlightened and loved. It shakes what little faith I have left. Local swing dancers are hosting a “Dance like Bill” contest Friday night. They made it a “strictly” instead of a “jack and jill”. Not to insult your dance intelligence but in a competition, “strictly” means you have a designated partner. For “jack and Jill”, partners are chosen at random. I posted on the event page asking them to change it to a J&J since Bill WAS my partner and I don’t have anyone else to dance with for that competition or any other. Although the idea of showing up to an event with those Scenesters that never gave me the time of day as a dancer to begin with, and watching them all try to imitate my partner, especially when Bill and I would have been dancing together in Vegas this week…I’d better not go. I’ll just get angry.
Time for my biannual four hour round trip to the VA hospital in Orlando. The flagship of VA hospitals. Clean and efficient; where lab techs are all sharp-shooting former combat medics and never have to fish for my veins; and where I don’t have to fight the toilet paper roll in the bathrooms. But fatigue is still a bastard and driving back I nearly fell asleep at the wheel again. Maybe it was the sun through the sunroof pressing down on my shoulders while my memory fantasized about them being pressed into a pillow. I’d like a pair of hands on me but the fact is I don’t have 7 hours to spare for a booty call. A friend pointed out that when your booty call hangs out for that long, that counts as a relationship. But the B.C. doesn’t love animals and that’s a deal-breaker. Although I want to point out that ruling out psychopathy strictly based on someone’s affection for animals is faulty. The Sociopath rescued a cat. Still, I can’t seriously consider someone who pushes my dog way when he comes looking for a pat.
Speaking of the B.C., he has been wanting to come over. First he said he needed to do laundry. A few days later, he said he needed a back rub. But I’ve been struggling with Bill’s passing and I don’t need a friendly poke, I need a friendly ear. So instead I sit outside alone on my back patio holding a water hose stiffer than the B.C., burning brush under the light of a full moon. Leaving the sliding door open to Let the Smoke in. If asked, I will say it is for cleansing but the simple fact is the house smells bad. My roommate slow cooks black beans and ham which sometimes smells delicious, other times it smells like rotting pork. Tonight is the latter. Plus he burned rice. Again. Wine sounded like a good idea but it clings to my burning throat so I let it go flat in my glass.
The Flake is sniffing ‘round again. Via email since I won’t pick up the phone. I told him about Bill, briefly, and he offered to be that friendly ear. My inner voice felt so loud as it yelled “BUUUUULLSHIT!” that I’m almost surprised he didn’t hear it.
Two weeks after returning from my 40th birthday solo travel adventure, I was laid off. Not surprised. A few of us felt the squeeze over the course of the last year with the arrival of fresh corrupt middle management slowly poisoning the well. The Commander contacted me weeks later to say he was shocked, upset and could he provide me a Letter of Appreciation. I told him “Of course” and no hard feelings because this blackball was rolling long before he showed up late last year. No one should gain or lose a job due to nepotism in modern times but it happens, particularly in my field where women struggle to compete against the Good Ol’ Boys and I never knew how to just “shut up and color”. I was increasingly stressed and miserable and could find nothing redeeming about my work anymore. The end was coming; Others jumped and I waited to get pushed. Strangely, my announcement was met by fewer condolences than congratulations. Even my autistic brother sent me a message: “Mom said u lose ur job. That’s great!” I had hoped to hold onto the job through the holidays but in truth, even that would have been a challenge because seeing the end near, I enrolled in a Masters program at last. My VA Vocational Counselor has tried for the last two years to convince me to get out of this line of work but whenever I suggested an alternate career path, she would say “No, you’ll take that job home with you too”. Finally, she said something that made me reconsider my entire outlook on jobs “You’ve already had the jobs you were passionate about, Now maybe it’s time to find a stable, flexible boring job that pays well, that you can do anywhere, roll over your retirement points, and focus your energy and passion on things that don’t keep you up at night.”
I know people, including my former roommate-for-a-minute who only work as much or as hard as they need to because they enjoy their downtime. It’s not about constantly upgrading, buying more “stuff” and then upgrading again. One of my favorite sayings is “To have more, want less”. I want a peaceful, happy life. I want to love and be loved in return. Is that really so difficult to attain?
So in my first week “off”, I ordered textbooks, finished orientation, rolled over my 401k into an IRA and insisted to the financial consultants that damn the tax-consequences, I’m not going to starve during my sabbatical. And that’s what this is. It’s not just about trading a paycheck for 40 hours of homework, it’s about sleeping when my body needs rest, taking my dog to the park every day, dancing more because I no longer have an 8pm bedtime, and taking advantage of cheap airfare to pay friends across the country visits for a few days here and there. Maybe even head back to the Caribbean to hike the hills in Jamaica or the Virgin Islands. But not alone. I’m over vacationing alone. Oh, and I was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. How is that for proof that that place was affecting my physical as well as emotional health? Oh, the irony. Call it a parting gift…
And the scale is moving at last. The day before I left for Scotland, I had a follow up with one of my doctors who reassured me that endocrine issues take time. “Six – 12 months. I don’t know where you got 5-8 weeks from.” The internet, I admitted. I weighed the exact same amount after 9 days of hiking the Highlands as the day I left. But three weeks later, I was now only 35lbs overweight instead of 50. He noticed too without me fishing for it. I sent him a few pictures of an Aerial Silks class that I tried and his response was “You look thin”. No, I’m not thin but I am getting stronger and my bones no longer hurt, thank G-d. It still takes me longer to recover than it did before I got sick but I am getting better, I think. I squeezed into one of my black swing dresses last night. Still a squeeze but it went over my hips so that counts. It was the first time in many months that I didn’t hate how Iooked and felt and it made a difference in my attitude. Until later that night when he’d had a few drinks and decided to tell me about another woman who picked him up at the bar. This is now the third time that I’ve had to remind him to save those conversations for his guy friends because I don’t particularly want to hear about his game. He kept up until I finally said “Do you just like fucking with me? You know how feel about you”. He even sent a picture. There were a group of them at the bar but he was leaning in close to a young brunette. Whenever I don’t hear from him in the evening, I assume it’s because he’s found someone new to occupy his time (and he knows I don’t want to hear about it). I figure he only keeps in touch as much as he does because he’s lonely in a new town. I wasnt really joking when I remarked that he’d soon forget me amidst his new friends in the tiny dog club. Six inches shorter, 20 years younger, and 80 pounds lighter and I might have had a chance with him.
“Does he make you feel good about yourself? Do you feel better after having communicated with him?” The answer is still No and no.
But I’m still dancing. I’m smiling. Sometimes it’s even sincere. My once-lifelong bachelor friend and his new bride canceled their honeymoon because she’s 14 weeks pregnant. And now I really don’t have a single close friend locally who doesn’t have children or a significant other.
I need a nap. Well, what I REALLY need is someone to put their hands and mouth on me but since that isn’t an option, a nap will have to do.
May the alterna-rock g-ds gasp and strike me down but I’m not a 21 pilots fan (nor Strokes or Kings of Leon for that matter but that’s another blog). When one of their songs comes on, I usually flip to another channel but this morning I sat through the song “Ride” and the lyrics struck me. Maybe it’s the timing, maybe it’s just my sentimentality. They aren’t profoundly poetic but he makes a point that I can relate to when he says that it is easier to take a bullet for someone than to live for them. Perhaps that isn’t exactly what he meant but that’s how I choose to understand it.
I sent the lyrics to him. He likes 21 Pilots. He text me pictures of furniture that he purchased for his new apartment. Oh, he’s committed now. Can’t pack his entire life into the bed of a truck and run away anymore. He said he didn’t know if he was running away or starting over. I said it doesn’t matter which one it is. Fear and Excitement are the same emotion; the only difference is how you interpret them.
I give it a week, to stop hearing from him. By then, his abusive ex, their mutual acquaintances and a handful of new friends will have his attention again and I’ll be forgotten. He treats me like a “stop gap”, someone to talk to when no one else he prefers more is available for whatever reason.
Forgive me if I’m repeating myself here (memory of a goldfish, remember? Nope.) but I made a list about 3 years ago detailing what I was looking for in a man. Long before Oprah began pushing her “Vision Boards” with more glitter and glue than a kindergarten project, the Millionaire Matchmaker suggested a physical written list of the “non-negotiables” of a relationship. To keep things in perspective in the crush-phase, you must remember exactly what your deal-breakers are. I have a fine list, I think, and someday I may post it here but as an exercise in reality, I compare those I develop strong feelings for to this list to see how they measure up and most of them fall quite short. And if it seems that every other blog I write is about some heartache I’m experiencing, consider the dates, and you will see that there is a good year or more between them. Because I don’t meet many men who get under my skin. Or maybe I just let the broken ones in.
But I digress. So I compared my former roommate, friend? I don’t even know what to call him, to “The List” and he failed on every point. That’s not to say that he doesn’t exhibit those qualities at all, but he doesn’t for me. Integrity, steadfastness, loyalty, kinky… there is evidence to support the assumption that he has those traits but they are reserved for those he cares about. And if they do not apply to me, then they are moot.
He teases me. Flirts. He doesn’t need to add the details that he’s naked AND horny to our textual conversations but I’m an easy target, (sexually frustrated is a gross understatement) and he cant resist. Even though he gives no indication that there is or ever was a mutual physical attraction. Maybe he just likes the attention or knowledge that someone out there wants him. Chemistry is #1 on my list, by the way. But the caveat is “mutual, enduring chemistry”.
Over time, however, I came to realize that my friend, nice as he is, prizes extreme beauty above all the other desiderata that one might seek in a partner.
— Adelle Waldman, “‘A First-Rate Girl’: The Problem of Female Beauty,” The New Yorker, October 2, 2013
I also did a walk-in at the VA hospital last Friday morning, based on my mother’s advice. The ironic thing is, I had my bi-annual check up with Mental Health less than a month ago and after a half hour chat, the doctor says “Well, you are in a good place so want to catch up in a year?” Sure, see you in a year. Or three weeks, crying uncontrollably in your nurses’ office. With chronic exhaustion still lingering post-op, what anti-anxiety or sleep medication won’t turn me comatose? She prescribed a mild sedative for sleep and told me she wanted me to consider going back on Wellbutron. I chose to come off it last September because I felt I could cope fine without it. She said “The nightmares and anxiety could be the depression coming back and I think we need to nip that in the bud”. You don’t have to stay on it long-term, the nurse told me. It takes weeks to build up in the body and weeks to ween your body off it so at the shortest, I’m looking at 3 months back on medication.
Listen, I don’t judge anyone on Xanax or anti-depressants but the military judges ME. On one hand, the military urges it’s members to seek help when needed while quietly destroying the careers of those that do. At least, that is my impression. No, we do not have to disclose any form of counseling unless it concerns the intent to harm others but we are expected to disclose our medications during routine and annual physicals. And that is where you could end up in a never-ending “waiver” battle to keep your job and your security clearance because many fields in the military are deemed “incompatible” for those on psychotropic medication. Although last I read, as much as 80% of our military is medicated. It’s inevitable when people are faced with decades of violence. Consider everything you see on TV and remember the Military, law enforcement, and medics may be living and reliving it.
I ASKed my bestest friend (who happens to be an asshole) to suggest an “uplifting” movie since I was in a bit of a funk. He suggested Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” since I am gearing up for a 10 day solo hike through the Highlands for my (gulp…) 40th. Half-way through the movie, I text him to say “WTF.” His response “Well, she doesn’t die.” I did enjoy watching Reese get railed but hey, I’m a bit of sicko in the sexual fantasy department.
On a lighter note, I danced quite a bit this weekend. My stamina isn’t what it was 18 months ago but I did manage to swing dance for nearly 2 straight hours without passing out and/or vomiting. I hang primarily with a group of seniors because the group that is closer to my age-range is “The Scene” and very clique-y (F*ck those guys). We took a picture of our filthy legs and feet when it was over. Then they suggested that I follow them to a nearby brewery to continue the dancing with another live band. I was still panting and thinking incredulously, “So this is what it’s come to: I can’t even keep up with the 60 year olds…” (PS: that’s my foot with the yellow mosquito coil around the dirt blackened ankle)
I also returned to ballet and combatives classes. I’m the fat girl in the ballet class, surrounded by waifs and mirrors. And coincidentally, I’m the only one without a diamond on my left hand. As for the combatives class, it’s led by a coworker of mine; a retired Green Beret. He personifies what it means to be a Green Beret. Perhaps it’s partly generational bias but our Army’s best-of-the-best suffers from “they just don’t make ’em like they used to”. To quote another older G.B. that I work with, “What a bunch of fucking girls”. As a “girl” myself, should I take offense to my gender being one of the worst derogatory slurs one can bestow on another human being? If I did, I wouldn’t survive in this environment.
PS x 2: , “ohhh woah woah ohhh woah woah I’m falling, and taking my time on the riiiiiiyeee eyeee eyeeed eyeee eyeee eyeeed”
“Cardinals mate for life”, I recall him saying as I smile and watch the feathery couple bounce across my backyard, my dog and cat mutually disinterested.
And that is the word for him: Disinterested.
I thanked G-d for him too, literally. Just a few months ago, I thanked G-d for bringing a someone into my home who would be a friend, assist me with chores made difficult by my wavering health, he even said he would dance with me. I didnt ask, he offered. He set my expectations so how can I be at fault for believing? Innocent until proven guilty, truth until proven false. I especially trusted him because he also served and veterans generally dont fuck over other veterans. Be patient, my mother advised me. He was going through a divorce and a rough rebound. His head isnt screwed on straight, we agreed. Still, he disappeared for 2 months. Not a word to ask how I felt, how the latest surgery went. Nothing. I finally text him to ask “Do you still live here?” If I were a landlord, his shit would have been in the street. But I wanted a friend, not a tenant. He knew that.
He apologized, said I was “right about everything” and he would make it up to me, we would be friends. The first week, he did make an effort. We hung out, watched movies, talked, laughed, drank wine… but then he disappeared. Into his room without explanation. For two days, I hear his phone, text and email alerts, going off every few minutes at all hours. It’s maddening. As an empath (I dont know how to shut off the “give a fuck” no matter how often I read tips on Shielding) I continued to knock on his door and ask how he was, try to coax him out. He eventually got frustrated and “I’ll be out of here in 15 minutes” he announced as I stood there stunned. Later, he text to ask if he could stay through the month and be out in August. I”m not an asshole so I agreed although it’s difficult for me to share my pesonal safe space with someone who is not my friend, and I told him that.
Today he announced he’s moving to Atlanta, his apartment will be ready Monday. Total abandonment and a few months rent-free storage. He realizes it but just as my “Give a Fuck” wont turn off, his wont turn back on. So I wished him well and said if he regained his humanity later, to feel free to look me back up and re-friend me on Facebook. I’ll probably never hear from him again.
Less than 2 weeks between (what appeared to be a sincere, determined) “We WILL be friends” and “I’m leaving”.
I had a nightmare last Sunday night too. THe worst I’ve had in over a year. I went to bed happy after a dance and woke up 5 hours later screaming into my pillow, wishing to G-d I had someone to hold me. He was being reclusive in his room and I tried to coax him out. Of course, I’m too proud to call a friend or ask for help but here was this “friend” 10 steps away and I wanted him to come out. Hang out. Talk to me. Watch a movie, have a glass of wine and laugh like we did two nights earlier. A friendly distraction. But he only got irritated and left the house.
So I pushed him out. The “needy roomate” has a bad dream and wants a hug but I’m not on his short-list of people he cares about. But his phone goes off every few minutes with an incoming text or email to which he readily responds. That nightmare clung to me for two days. I hovered on the verge of a panic attack and was late to work, distracted, irritable, kept disappearing to the bathroom to cry. Granted, I’m surrounded by cohorts with some degree of PTSD but what do you say when they catch you red-eyed? I had a nightmare.
I feel so stupid. To be this upset, to feel so rejected and abandoned by someone who I hardly knew, even after 5 years of social media acquaintance and the shared venn diagram of social circles. Not “as advertised” certainly. But I was emotionally invested. Hey Empaths, how do YOU shut off your “give a fuck”? Can you? I’m not asking G-d to make me different in this sense, but some control would be nice. Like faucet valves, adjusting to a comfortable emotional temperature rather than being scalded or numb. Balance? Shielding? Advice?
Popular advice is to surround yourself with only positive people, cut negativity out of your life entirely. Isn’t that selfish? Everyone can’t be “up” all the time. Mother Teresa had bad days, years in fact. Would you cut a good person out of your life to save yourself? But because of this thought, I tell myself “Don’t call for help. Don’t bring anyone down with you.” So I hold it in (or spill it here, to an anonymous audience of none). Is that healthy? Somehow, I think not…
Hey but the good news is, I can return to walking around the house naked.
There’s a song for that. A lyric to compliment every thought, feeling. They come to me the way my brother quotes movies in place of conversation. But right now, I can only thing of two lines: This is the world’s slowest suicide & happiness is my writers block. I can lay claim to neither. They come from writers, bloggers such as myself, with a much larger following than I have. And rightfully so because of lines like that. I think “That’s it! That’s EXACTLY what I was trying to say but you found the words first”. Tipping my hat to “MyRedAbyss” here. Yes, this feels like a slow suicide. And yes, happiness, or really just apathy leave me too uninspired or tired to write. I also challenged myself not to write anything until I could spit out something lighthearted for a change. So I waited.
And still wait.
Depression sucks the life out of me slowly and yet…
I wonder if I’m getting better? Either the medication adjustment is working or I’m getting over him. Or maybe the medication is the reason I’m getting over him. The doctor tweaked the dose. Instead of the archaic formulary that the VA prefers, she wrote me a prescription to take to a drugstore. Because at least for the moment, I have health insurance and can afford ‘the good stuff’. I’m almost afraid to admit I’m regaining a sense of balance and control. Like if I acknowledge it, it will disappear. G-d is such a prankster. Ha!
But I’m also starting to hate him. Or so I tell myself. As pain ages, it turns bitter and black. Love gone rancid.
But I continue to get out of bed (most days), go to work, dance if I can muster the energy, go through the motions of living. Watch the days fall off the calendar and teeter somewhere between ambivalence and panic: three months since I saw him. I’ll never see him again. Four months until my birthday. I’m never going to have children now.
It’s always worst when I first wake and as I’m trying to fall asleep. That is when I feel my loneliness most acutely. During the day, I stay busy. Surrounded by living, breathing people. I am the walking dead among them. Then Im in bed, alone and the truth settles like mud around me.
I reactivated an online dating profile a week ago. Is it unreasonable that I ignore every message of “What up, gurl?” What. Not What’s. I could even accept ‘whats’ because I think punctuation is overrated. Maybe those gawdawful talk-to-text programs dropped the ‘s’. But even those programs do not spell “girl” with a ‘u’ so then I know it’s intentional. First impressions are important. Would you walk into a job interview and open with “What up, gurl?” There are two men I have established some regular contact with…ugh, that sounds so alien and cold to put it that way: I shall establish communications with these humans and begin the vetting process to determine whether or not romantic relations should be pursued. Live long and prosper. I have a bad attitude going in though. Dating is a chore and I’m still unable to shake that feeling that there is no one else on the whole planet that I want or will ever want more than him. My Lightning Strike.
Even though he lacks integrity, used and abandoned me like I was less than nothing. I know this. I remind myself. I even wrote it down in case I ever ‘forgot’.
But back to feeling better.
I also caved and agreed to try therapy again. Cognative therapy is not the bloodletting like my past experience with counseling. Funny, we dont even really talk about him. Maybe she doesnt feel like we need to. What she is trying to do is train me to think differently. WHen I feel that trigger and the thoughts, which lead to feelings, begin the downward spiral, I hit ‘pause’, step outside myself and begin to dissect each thought by asking “Is this logical? Is it based on fact or assumption? …” I dont know if this is truly re-wiring my head or just putting it in ‘time out’. This out-of-mind experience, if I keep it up long enough, is almost like counting to calm down. Re-direction, like making a loud noise to distract a dog whose hackles begin to raise and ears flatten.
Oh but it’s so poetic to suffer! I am a martyr! Am I no longer ‘legit’ if I put my demons to bed rather than dance with them?
I got my American Legion membership card in the mail today. Yay! Now I can karaoke in the middle of the day and get shit-faced for $10 alongside toothless Vietnam vets and my brethren spawned of this last decade’s fucked-upedness.
And I didnt go dancing tonight. I was half compelled to go. No, really less than a quarter compelled. I think I could have benefited from catching up with some friends there. I was even dressed for it. As if dressing the part would be enough to motivate me. But here it is, the time I would be leaving the dancefloor to come home and get to bed and Im alraedy there: in bed, wearing a teal swing dress and hair pinned up with a large flower. And typing. Exhausted but envious of the snoring dog beside me.
I anticipate a few restless nights as the moon fills up. Tomorrow is Passover. My mother said “Maybe next year…” when I asked if we would have a seder. Saturday is a blood moon and I’ll email him and ask him to think of me, of us, and the full moon illuminating the hills of Konar Province, Afghanistan. And I’ll burn stuff. And Sunday, Easter sunrise, I’ll join my family at my father’s graveside.
But here. Watch this. Like Taylor Swift’s Twerking Tunnel, this lifts my spirits:
Blood! And froggies! And lice all over their bodies!
But will it change anything?
I’m not as ‘together’ as I used to be. Sure, I’ve been knocked out of my bunk by incoming and escorted hundreds of caskets of my fellow servicemen and women but I wasn’t a sniper. I wasn’t a Team Guy kicking in doors. Most ‘action’ I ever got was pulling watch on rooftops or in the gunners turret. Well, then there was D-Day in 2003. Flying slow and low, Bombs over Baghdad while they tried to knock us out of the sky. But something in me changed over the years. I’m volatile. My coping skills are shot. I don’t like loud noises. There are more ‘triggers’. More anxiety. Things that I could bounce back from in the past are kicking my ass now. I didn’t just hit a wall, it crashed down and buried me under the rubble when I hit it.
Oddly, I’m calm while deployed. Functioning efficiently in a surreal environment until I get home.
So I think continuous deployments to stressful environments wear us all down.
I am a bowl that has been dropped and dropped and dropped again. Glued and glued and glued back together again. But there are chinks missing. Pieces disintegrated. My durability has been compromised. Tears leak out from all the cracks.
I’m not crazy. I’m just another sensitive, lonely, struggling human being who gets so tired of life being a battle that I just want to tap out…
Can you understand that?
An Unexpected Response. ..from one who has abandoned me:
It’s not about loneliness although I have no doubt you feel lonely. You date, you have an amazing family and a strong circle of friends. This is deeper than that.
If you think for a second you are not suffering from PTSD because you never shot someone in the face, you are horribly wrong. Frankly, these deployments have been tougher on you than many who have been in direct combat. Let’s look at Chris Kyle. Chris had the camaraderie of the SEAL Teams to support him through combat and between deployments. While engaged, he was able to physically see the immediate impact and importance of what he did every day while saving the lives of Marines. He also had Tanya and an incredibly supportive family with both his biological family and the SEALs who even in the rear know what he’d been through. Not to take anything away from his pain but compared to many, Chris Kyle had it easy. Many of us don’t get to come home to Tanya. Many of us come home to families who don’t get it and refuse to try. For Chris Kyle, home was not a battle ground. Home was a refuge although it took him a while to accept it. Chris Kyle only deployed four times and came home to the perfect situation every time.
You deployed 10 times… Despite the fact that we laugh and joke about IDF and we downplay the emotions of escorting remains, your brain is still dealing with all of it. For you it’s been dealing with it for over 10 deployments (and that does not include shit like Katrina, Saudi and Turkey.) The effects of long term exposure to continuous, albeit low-grade shit and low-grade levels of adrenalin is just as debilitating as the effects of a few gunfights.
While you do have a family that appears supportive, I doubt they truly get what you go through down range. There’s no way they can. Also, you work as an individual in an organization of individuals. Although many have been to combat, and or have deployed, the empathy a SEAL gets from his comrades does not exist where you work except with one or two individuals who may or may not be there when you hurt and their experiences differ.
Sadly when you’ve been deployed as often as you, being deployed becomes your “normal.” Being deployed becomes simple and “calming.” However, as “normal” as it seems, you are still dealing with a tremendous amount of low-grade shit. Worse yet, as a woman in the organizations you’ve been in, you are isolated. There are no SEAL buddies to carry you emotionally when you stumble. Not that there weren’t good people but there was no support. It would have been better had we all shared a B-hut with no individual rooms. You can only withstand isolation like that while your brain normalizes IDF and the occasional green on blue threat before you start to chip. You’ve been chipping for a while and you’re right, your durability has been compromised. What is crushing you is your brain believes that constant low-grade IDF / VBIED threat and isolation is normal and it is rejecting being home. Let’s not forget the shit-storm of RTF 2010. That’s isolation at its worst. One of the people who was supposed to have your back became your antagonist. You were horribly isolated and had absolutely no one to turn to. While Chris Kyle had fellow SEALs and Marines to lean on, you had to lock your doors. Don’t downplay the amount of damage that created to your emotional infrastructure.
Yes, I know there are other factors that are driving your ability to cope. I know I’m one of those factors and I truly apologize. However, your constant exposure to shit has had an effect on your ability to cope as well and it’s something you should take seriously. Don’t let your pride and the paradigm of “It’s just the guys who have seen close combat that suffer” keep you from addressing your pain. It’s real.
“I’m not crazy cuz I take the right pills everyday…”
One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. When Jimmy Eat World released their album “Bleed American”, it was a week or two before 9/11. Heightened sensitivities of the American public after that led the band to pull the original album off shelves and immediately re-release it as self-titled. My copy still says “Bleed American”.
The Veterans Administration has a Vocational Rehabilitation program to help vets either separating from the military prepare for the civilian sector, help vets who are struggling to find work in general, or help vets find a different line of work which does not ‘aggravate their disabilities’. I have been saying for years that I need another ‘do over’. I’ve had the fun jobs, the rewarding jobs. The first doesn’t pay and the latter gives me nightmares and none are what I call ‘stable’ work. So I showed up with DD-214s, resume, and a stack of VA jobs that I have applied for over the years through usajobs so that I could ask why I never got so much as an interview from any of them. But first, the eligibility screening…
The Career Counselor—I suppose that’s what she is although she’s really a Social Worker—had access to my VA medical records and reviewed them prior to our appointment. Fine. She needs to ask some questions to determine my eligibility so she asked about my back, my knees, my neck…let’s face it, no one who served more than two terms of service walks away without bumps and bruises. By our 30’s,m ost of us have the back and knees of someone twice that age. She asked about my asthma, she asked about my history of depression…now here is where it starts to go downhill: She’s looking at my medications. “Are you still taking the Wellbutron?”
When was the last time you were seen by the psychiatrist?
Why so long?
Because she said I was doing fine and to come back and see her whenever I needed to. Otherwise, I’ll check in once a year. I was going to ask her about stepping down off the Wellbutron too.
But I see here you are also on Xanax. She didn’t prescribe that to you did she?
No, my civilian doctor did.
Because I told him I was heading back overseas and I wanted to make sure that if I needed it, I would have it.
Why woud you need it?
Because it’s AFGHANISTAN.
“Xanax is just a band-aid”
I just look at her.
She continues, “You stopped going to counseling a few years ago. Why?”
Because when my original therapist left, I was transferred to someone with whom I didn’t…click.
Why didn’t you ask for a different therapist?
Because I felt fine UNTIL I came for counseling and then I felt like shit for days afterwards. It was an emotional blood-letting and I was tired of it.
But that’s what it’s about. Talking it out. Eventually you feel better.
I felt better without it.
But now youre on Xanax.
(I’m getting angry now) “The VA prescribes pre-Vietnam era formulary and refuses to equip Veterans with anything better. My civilian doctor gave me a 2 month supply of Xanax. That was the first week in February. It’s November 20th and I still have at least 12 pills left.”
Good so you aren’t abusing it. Do you drink?
(No, but I’m going to start after this, I thought) Yes, usually a glass of wine at night.
“That’s all” I smiled “Try not to look surprised.”
I still think you need to come off the Xanax and consider rturning to therapy.
To finish what you started.
Are you a therapist?
Yes, actually I am but not so much in this job.
(Then why are you practicing on me? I wanted to ask)
She continues “Tell me a bit about why you were in counseling and why you are on WEllbutron.”
I stared “You have my medical records in front of you”
Yes but I want you to tell me.
That’s not what I came here for. I don’t want to talk about it.
(She gets a bit red in the face) Well, you have to tell me something. This is part of the screening. You don’t have to get specific. Just in general.
I take a breath…”Death, abandonment, betrayal, guilt and the burden of taking care of everyone else except myself.” I paused. “And loneliness. A great big cake of burden frosted in loneliness.”
She writes all this down and to my relief, moves on to the next health question. The pituitary tumors. Yes, Im still on medication, will be the rest of my life, MRI’s twice annually, bloodwork every three months…then she hits me again “I see in your records that this condition can affect your ability to get pregnant. Do you want children?”
I almost choke! I just HAD this conversation with someone about how I wanted kids and probably couldn’t have them. Instead of answering I asked a question in return, “Why did you ask me that?”
Because it’s in your record…
No, I mean why did you ask me if I want children?
As if realizing she has no good excuse, she backpedals and says “Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you” and moves on. Didn’t mean to upset me? Too late!
My next stop was another woman who reviewed my resume. It was to her that I handed over the stack of VA jobs that I had applied for and asked “What am I missing? Do I not qualify?” She studies my resume and the jobs and determines that although I may have to ‘dumb down’ my resume for some of the non-military types reviewing it, she says I am more than qualified. I said I just wanted to get my foot in the door. “Oh your Counselor should be able to help you with job placement.”
“She said they don’t do job placement.”
The woman looks confused, “Why would she say that?”
(Because I’m on Xanax and she hates me) “I don’t know”
“Maybe it was a misunderstanding.”
“What is there to misunderstand about ‘we don’t do job placement’?”
So! Another score for the VA! To my doctors, Nurse Nancy, my mom who goes to great lengths to take care of her patients and those like her… I thank you! To No Names Mentioned Wanna Be Therapist Pushing Paper in the Vocational Program, go to hell. Do not pass go, do not collect $100.
I saw that on a bumper sticker recently. I also saw a car that had the phrase “Iraqi Freedom Vet. Do not tailgate” printed in very large, bright white letters on the back of the vehicle. I had a similar thought when I said “OPSEC and PERSEC be damned” and slapped a “combat veteran” license plate frame on the back of my car, hoping people would read it and back off. You shouldn’t tailgate anyone, of course. Perhaps, particularly, because you don’t know if the person whose ass you are riding has a touch of PTSD. Tailgaters will piss off anyone but for OIF/OEF vets, it can trigger a special kind of paranoia, fear and aggression. I’m not saying that I’ll throw my vehicle in reverse and pit you in your car, but rest assure I am thinking—no, fantasizing—about it.