It's okay to be weird. It's just more fun when you have other people to be weird with.
The second time I came home from Iraq, but the first time I came home to my baby and my dad. :)
Sea Turtle sand sculpture my daughter and I made together on the beach. One of the many things we discovered we like to do together. :)
My daughter and I at my college graduation. She helped me with my homework and I helped her with hers. :)
VET VIP BBQ in 2016
There was a time in my life when I was always cutting up, making jokes, and laughing with my family and friends. I was happy to be around people, to spend time with family, to go out with friends. I enjoyed going to concerts, clubs, block parties and other crowded events. It took a long time for me to recognize the change that took place within myself upon returning from Iraq.
I got out of the Army and returned home in 2007. My family and friends pointed out to me on multiple occasions, my anger, depression, mood swings and of course I noticed on my own my utter inability to find that thing called sleep. Like many veterans, loud sudden noises scared the piss out of me and ignited a reaction not to be considered normal in given situations. I could not be in a crowded place without having anxiety attacks or becoming so violently angry that I push my way out, leaving everyone I was with behind. I have had difficulty getting along with other people, keeping a job, and find more often than not, my fuse is extremely short. It was not until I realized I was erratic and my unpredictable behavior was scary to my child that I finally acknowledged I might have a problem. Around that same time frame, I was walking across the construction site I was working on and a big gust of hot Florida wind kicked up dust in my face and suddenly I was right back in the desert. All of my memories and emotions came flooding back to me all at once and I have not been the same since that moment.
The VA has been treating me for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since 2009. I have been fortunate to have great doctors at the clinic I was assigned to. They listened to my concerns about medications and they prescribed me a dose that was manageable. I went to my therapy appointments on a monthly basis and learned slowly but surely how to take back control of my emotions. Over the years I have learned about what my triggers are, how to avoid those triggers and if I am unable to avoid them, how to remain in control when faced with them. It is not always easy. It is an every day battle. Some days are better than others and some days get the best of me. On days like those I find it hard to leave my bed, I cannot be around other humans without flying off the handle and have been known to say some pretty hurtful things to the ones I love. It has been 7 years since I started receiving treatment for PTSD and I am still learning. I am still working toward a better me; the me that existed before going to war.
Something they don’t tell you when you exit the service is the struggle some will face with finding themselves again. The longer you are in it seems the more lost your true self becomes. When I got out it took a long time for me to figure out who I was without the military. I didn’t even know what I liked to do for fun anymore. I spent a great deal of time thinking about what I used to enjoy before I went into the service. Funny thing is, the things I used to love I re-discovered and fell in love with all over again. I spent every opportunity I had on the beach growing up and remembered how relaxing it was to just lay there in the warm sun listening to the tranquil water splash up on the shore, smell the scent of that salty fresh air and listen to kids playing in the sand nearby. I remembered that I used to love painting. I forgot that; and the cool thing is, painting and being creative in general are therapeutic. I also remembered that I used to love having bbq’s, spending time with friends and family and making my younger sisters laugh. I used to be good at making them laugh and they loved me for it. I had no idea how to play with my daughter and make her laugh. I was so stiff, stoic and unable to relax or let go. The problem there is now that I have PTSD, I have to be careful about the people I choose to spend time with. It seems my emotions have adapted a sort of sponge like mentality; meaning, if I am surrounded by negative angry individuals then that heightens my already edgy, angry self. However, if I surround myself with positive, happy people, they bring out the happiness in me. I am more pleasant to be around when I am in good company. All of these revelations have improved my relationship with my daughter as well. I know that I am not good at playing dolls with her, so I figured out things that we both enjoyed doing and we developed our relationship by doing those things together. We laugh like there is no tomorrow. She loves spending time with me and is in no rush to go off to a friend’s house. She tells her friends what an awesome mom I am and it makes me feel overwhelming happiness when I hear her tell her friends she is lucky to have me as a mom. I was so quick to jump her shit every time she did something wrong and now, I actively work at slowing my reactions down and thinking things through because I don’t want to hurt her and I certainly do not want her growing up with my behaviors and mannerisms. I want to be a good role model for her.
VET VIP Inc. is an organization I created to provide the same positive happy, fun loving environment for veterans that I sought out to those who are struggling the same way that I am. Over the years I have learned that staying locked away inside my home only contributed to my depression and anxieties. Getting out, meeting other veterans like myself, going to activities and events together has warmed my heart and lifted me up. I have found so much joy in helping other veterans and I hope that telling my story will continue to help those who might be in the same spot I was over the last 7 years.