Last Thursday, it was 11 years ago that I had to quit my career and become a caregiver of a wounded veteran. The “blastaversary” as I call it.
I had my 50th birthday in September and thought of the many dreams I have yet to accomplish. Many of them involve travel, which involves $.
I know, your mind is totally blown away that caregivers of wounded veterans living on VA disability pay aren’t living the lifestyles of the rich and famous and that we live like senior citizens on a “fixed income.”
Crap, I am almost a senior citizen.
I have not been able to contribute to a 401K for 11 years.
I am nostalgic for my old paycheck.
I tried once to work outside the home. I had a job as a part-time Producer at a local AM radio station. Honestly, music radio is totally my bag and this was not. The scanty pay was not worth the toll it took on my husband.
I do freelance writing and media work and makeup work on the side, but none of it is enough to equal a nice fat paycheck.
I realized what I needed to do was manifest my dreams, take charge of my life, get out of my comfort zone and just do it! (Insert Shia Laboef screaming here).
I made the decision to create my own social media marketing company and schedule my work around my caregiving duties.
On the “blastaversary,” I decided after his Equine Therapy session that I was going to drive to the County Clerk’s Office and while he slept in the car, I registered my business.
Puns and humor have literally kept me sane during the past 11 years. It is only suiting that I chose a WW2 bomb as the background of the logo for my business, as it was an IED that literally blew our life apart.
Ten years ago I got a call while at work from Red Cross that
changed the life of my family forever.
Todd was deployed to Afghanistan as a Calvary Scout with the US Army in Ghazni. Several times the mission got called off, because air support was being tied up looking for one of the biggest d-bags in history. I am not even saying the selfish bastard’s name, as he doesn’t deserve the font.
Despite that, the mission went on, my husband was so badly
injured they didn’t think he would make it and he lost two friends in that
blast. Todd almost died on me two weeks later after he was back to San Antonio.
Ten years ago was the last time I got a good night sleep.
Ten years ago was the last time our son had a father that could run and play
with him. Todd never ever got sick, never
had to go to doctors.
Ten years later even that has changed. Doctors and
therapists continue to make up a big part of his life today. Kind of ironic
there we were today, at the doctor’s office both wearing masks to avoid him
catching anything worse from the great unwashed around us. We looked like a set
of masked Bonnie and Clyde together.
Ten years later and I still watch him suffer in excruciating
pain. Ten years later the war is continuing in Afghanistan. Men and women who
weren’t old enough to be born when the Berlin Wall crumbled are going to be
facing catastrophic injuries like Todd.
Those that know Todd, never hear him whine or complain about his pain or his vast health issues. He stands to greet anyone that walks up to him at a restaurant. He is a gentleman. No brain injury can take that away.
Ten years later, thanks to Equine Therapy, Todd shows smiles that reach his eyes. He finds acceptance in the big gentle presence of the horses. He thankfully has received help through the Wounded Warrior Project’s Independence Program, which helps moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injured Veterans. It provides recreational therapy and helps veterans learn a new art or skill.
He has been able to participate in photography classes and learn to develop film in a dark room. He will be having a show of his work December 2nd.
Ten years later and I am still so very thankful to God that he is here.
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.
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.
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.