Deciding to recover

Moving Forward

Us all fancied up.

Todd and I at our vow renewal. He still makes my heart a flutter after 24 years.

Todd was critically injured on our anniversary.  It was our 15th year one, to be exact. Not only was he badly injured, but he lost two of his friends at the same time. Most of you who have been through combat understand that these sort of losses are never forgotten. The survivor’s guilt that comes along with it never leaves.

At first, I vowed that somehow, we would still honor our anniversary. Seriously, the Taliban almost got my husband, I refused to let them get our day, too. However, the invisible wounds of war are some of the worst and as September would roll around, the dark cloud of grief would roll in right at the end of the month, smother the joy out of the whole month of October and linger until November.

I am proud of my husband. He puts in the painful work with his counselor to be compassionate to the grief of this and other horrible experiences from war. We see a neurologist for the chronic migraine sort of headaches my husband endures as a result of his moderate brain injury. He is one of the best doctors I have ever seen. His empathy, kindness and emphasis on neuroplasticity has been very helpful for us moving forward. He was the one that first thought up the idea of getting a vow renewal as a way to move forward. We had never considered it.

Neuroplasticity is the concept that the brain is focused on survival. The brain is designed to remember pain first in order to keep you from hurting or killing yourself. When a brain injury occurs, the millions of pathways in the neurons and blood vessels are damaged, blocked, and eventually the brain starts re-wiring itself. Neuroplasticity explains that when you provide your mind with positive things, that it helps the brain create new pathways that connect its memory to enjoyment. I have to say this really does help. For the past 3 years, horse therapy has been one of those purposeful joys that really has improved my husband’s quality of life.  His recreational therapist has also been extremely helpful. Providing him with something new to learn, in his case photo development with black and white film. This is an amazing new hobby and he is really getting good at it. He is really engrossed in learning all he can and we bought him an SLR, too.

Check out http://reset.me/story/neuroplasticity-the-10-fundamentals-of-rewiring-your-brain/  There is also a great book our doctor recommended on Amazon called Neuroplastic Transformation Workbook by Michael H. Moskowitz M.D.  http://a.co/78gQp26 

I recommend it for you caregivers as well. Your lives are just as important, and your mental health equally so. No one deserves to be unhappy or unfulfilled. Do this bit of work and you will be rewarded. Seriously, what do you have to lose?  That is also one of the helpful things for me on the darker days that still happen but fortunately not as often in a week. I work on something that brings me purposeful joy like dancing or being outside.

I haven’t written much in this blog in two years.  Life has been super busy in the past two years and my mind hasn’t wanted to dig into the deep cathartic emotional topics. In the past two years we have been on a really good path. I became a caregiver to my elderly aunt, and having her close by and getting to spend time with her has been a joy for me. She has the most can-do attitude better than most people my age. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind and she is sharp as a tack. She honestly is one of my role models.

I really have been focusing on mindfulness, which is a huge complement to neuroplasticity. http://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

Basically you reframe your thoughts on what you’re dealing with. Instead of saying,”Sigh..I have to drive us to the VA today and deal with a lot of painful bureaucracy,” I try to think of it as,”I am lucky my husband is here in my life. I get to hold his hand and walk through the VA today with him. Let’s see what we can accomplish.” The focus on a more positive aspect really helps. I will even put on a cute outfit, just to make him smile.

Those that know me personally know I am a dark, sarcastic and very skeptical thinker. Kind of like an artist/scientist hybrid. A mathematically challenged scientist. Some of my favorite memes deal with Skinner’s cat.  Alright, back to the original concept of mindfulness.  You can go on YouTube and find a lot of free stuff. This is really fantastic. There even are mindfulness concept coloring books. Feel free to share your Skinner memes with me though, they truly crack me up.

You have to have humor in your life as that makes it all bearable.

 

 

 

 

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PLIGHT

If you have made it this far, you are wondering what in the heck this subject heading is about. Sure, I made it obscure, but after the past half of a year of watching my husband and seeing what is going on with his health, I had to comment.

After six years of living with a limb salvage patient suffering with pancytopenia and a hot mess combo of more.., I have noticed a pattern of good days and bad. Like most people dealing with chronic pain, they can present better to friends and family for a few days and then after that, their resources are gone and boom! Mic drop.  Nothing left, just bed or couch-bound.

Six years of using a cane on his dominant arm to compensate for his bad leg when it collapses when he walks has taken a toll. It’s so sore it keeps him awake and uncomfortable past the pain relief he uses for his back and limb salvage in his leg.  The twisting way he has to walk when he doesn’t wear the uncomfortable brace lurches his hip in a way they aren’t meant to twist. Degeneration is happening.

He has tried cortisone in his shoulder joint and it was as if he got shot up with water. I have had them in the past for my own health issues and they provided help, but for some reason my shoulder has been resistant to any sort of change too.

On a positive note, I had RF Ablation on both of my hips over 5 months ago and the deep bone pain is gone. I wish I could get my husband to try it as I hardly have to use any sort of Tylenol or anything to help with the aches! To me, it is as if I had received a gift from God.

The past few years have made me very aware of my health and how much I need to take care of myself for the rest of my family. If you were suffering from anything, wouldn’t you get it taken care of or try to get yourself in as best of a way of feeling better as you could? Why would you want to make your family suffer in watching you endure constant suffering?? There are other things that can be done to help chronic pain such as RF Ablation. It has helped me so much. I see reports all of the time about HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy) and how much it helps physical and mental issues. Also, there is a new shot that goes in the Ganglion nerve in the neck that helps reduce the symptoms of PTSD right away.

When do you stop researching as a caregiver and when do you push and how do you know the difference? I recognize it as poking a literal bear. Make a recommendation and then gingerly tap dance back to my corner.

So what do you do?? Any of you veteran caregivers of veterans have any advice?

The Warrior Beach Retreat Part Deux

There were so many wonderful things that happened on this retreat, it deserved a second go around.  One thing that was brought up to me by one of my new friends made on the trip is exactly that. We have been blessed with new friends. Not just one friend, but many. The amount of kind, dear people we met who know exactly what we are coping with and sure, all of us are dealing with different physical issues and emotional issues on top of the PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries and whatever else as caregivers and wounded soldiers, but during that week, those things were not visible to me.  I know I touched on this before with the first journal of this trip, but this is HUGE.
We were with other people all the same. We were amongst a brotherhood of veterans who have experienced horrors of war, the profound loss of fellow soldiers, and or the inability to help someone who was dying.   It was a joy not having to explain why your husband’s hands are shaking like an earthquake due to anxiety in a large crowd. When Todd’s PTSD-triggered anxiety reached a high point, fellow attendees brought us water and napkins to help him feel more comfortable. No one gave him a look. 
Even though Todd was embarrassed after due to his anxiety attack, he had no reason to be.
 All of the wives looked at me with compassion and kindness and sympathy that he suffered so. 
What a nice feeling to be among the similar. I used to call Brooke Army Medical Center’s Warrior Transition Unit (aka Broke Dick Battalion) or (the WTFU), the Island of Misfit Toys. It wasn’t unusual to see someone with a variety of limbs missing, wound vacuums attached, and extensive burn scars. It was completely normal to see guys whizzing by on their scooters and segways.  There was solidarity there among the soldiers. No one stood out. The WTU would adapt the uniforms to fit the new body modifications caused by IED blasts.  When the soldiers are healed as much as can be accomplished there and return to their respective homes, they are no longer among similar people.
Insecurities form when there is no one else to blend in with. People gawk when there is something different in the way someone walks, or a young man having to use a wheel chair. People can be rude and ask really stupid questions about the appearance. Thanks for being tactless. You think our men and women like to look different from the rest of the people? Sheesh. When I see people stare at my husband and the way he limps severely, I hold my head up and look them in the eyes. I tell my husband to be proud. He served his country bravely and volunteered in a time of war. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all!
The amount of fun that my husband experienced and the relaxation and feeling of support helped him make some big steps and work on his own recovery going forward. I know it had helped him seeing how some of the guys and hearing their stories of recovery and how they had improved. They gave him inspiration and the extra oomph he needed to try some new therapies. This trip was AWESOME for us in so many ways.  He now attends Hippo therapy at ROCK Rides in Georgetown, Texas. It is a program that focuses on physical and emotional therapies. It helps calm anxiety and the actual riding of a horse is proven therapeutic for people with balance issues, depression, gait issues, and other physical problems.
I see a huge calming effect on Todd when he is finished with a session.
On the day of the therapy, he is ready without me having to remind him. Sometimes he would lose track of days and time and would cause us to run late. Not for this. He is all ready to go with bells on.
He also is doing aquatic therapy at the VA pool. This is another source of physical work to help him with stress and fight the vestiges of depression that accompany the recovery of our veterans. This morning on the way to Temple, he was awake. Wide awake and perky he was, talking about one of his passions, America and the upcoming presidential election. On a post note, he was awake for the ride home as well, which was fabulous. This is a big change.  He even goes to the Speech Therapist to help work with him on attention control and retention as these are big issues that impact his short term memory. They are very common in people suffering from PTSD as well as head injuries. 
I am just very excited to see him trying and working on his recovery – very actively.
These are continued blessings in my life.  So not only was the Warrior Beach Retreat relaxing, life affirming, but it was also the catalyst that propelled Todd forward to make active decisions in his recovery.
Todd and I on the Betsy Ann Riverboat
 I could not be happier. Please check out WarriorBeachRetreat.org and get yourself and your soldier on a trip of a lifetime.