Monthly Archives: April 2014

Writing to Heal

Last year, I fell into a very dark place. A place I didn’t want to be. Ever. I’ve been there several times before but time threw me a lifeline. This time, though, no matter how hard I tried to find the smallest positives in each day, they faded over time until I was left in the abyss of hopelessness. I felt alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like there was nowhere else to go but down.

I knew I needed to get out of that funk. Have you ever heard the old adage, “Misery loves company?” Well, I can honestly say I completely understand that now. I learned a long time ago that negativity is a killer. Being around anyone who was constantly negative killed my positive outlook on everything, especially during deployments. It was during one of those deployments in which I realized that I was so much happier when I was not around that person. So I cut all ties with her. My vision started looking up and I got through that deployment with a lot less stress. It was my epiphany for the way I needed to live my life.

But what happens when you have that negative voice inside your head screaming and bashing things about? You can’t cut it out of your life as easily as a person. Nope. Those are your thoughts. You own them.

The key comes in admitting you have them, accepting them, understanding them, and moving past them.

It wasn’t until I started doing just that did I realize exactly how the darkness took hold and dragged me down for so long. I’ve been caring for my husband through all his troubles for 15 years now, through all the issues, the problems, the trials, the uncertainty. It’s been a real rough road but it wasn’t until these past 18 months had things been revealed out in the open and I guess they affected me more than I figured they would.

I knew he suffered chronic pain and daily migraines. It was the moods I couldn’t understand. He had been diagnosed with bi-polar and PTSD, but I never knew the extent of the situations that he had gone through. He never went into detail, nor did I press him. I just loved him as best I could and waited through the terrible times. In October 2012, a claim review meeting, he went into some detail about his ordeal that caused him the nightmares. I was in tears for him. I was sure he didn’t tell me, or the VA personnel, everything due to the emotions it invoked in him. He was a wreck and all I wanted to do was fix it for him.

I dwelled on that for the longest. I thought it was my job to fix things. I mean, I was his wife, I was supposed to make him happy, right?! But then things just got worse from there. The pain levels went up. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t sleeping. But he wouldn’t get out of bed. Then we realized with the introduction of a “new” drug, he had a severe interaction that caused him serotonin syndrome, again.

And then, he told me he was suicidal.

He reassured me he had had an epiphany one day and he would never be that selfish again. But then, the auto-thoughts kicked in. How could I be sure? Depression cycles. How would I know if he went there again? I didn’t even know it this time!!

That must have been what threw me over the edge. I plunged so deep I couldn’t claw myself out. I felt alone. Like no one would ever understand. Our situation was unique. I had no joy in anything anymore. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to wake up. I never smiled anymore. I couldn’t even concentrate enough to work on my novel. Nothing was fun anymore. Everything was such a disappointment. My heart hurt. All I wanted to do was sleep, or run away.

I began having panic attacks for no “apparent” reason. Daily panic attacks. My writing took a turn for the worst as well. I was excited for my new story. I wrote a good outline and back story for it. I even started writing the first draft. Then the words dwindled until they came no more. I think I stopped writing back in October 2013. And that’s when the uncontrollable crying fits took hold of me.

The last time that happened, I had just given birth to my son. I had a reason last time – Postpartum Depression. This time, though, what was my reason? I had none. I just wanted to give up, quit. Because there was no hope that I could see.

I knew straight away what I needed to do but I was so scared. Scared that it would affect my family, my job. What if I lost it all? Scared that it would make me look weak to everyone around. Scared that I was a failure.

But I couldn’t keep this up. I needed help. I made a point to mention it to my doctor the next time I went, which happened to be in November. He prescribed me a mild anti-depressant. The same one I was on during my postpartum depression episode. I think it really only took about a week or two for the haze to begin to clear so I could see the light again. It was faint. But it was there. It’s what started me on my path to healing.

I began to search for help online again. Every other time I searched for help for caregivers, I always came up with those caring for elderly dementia patients. There was no way I could fit in with any of them. No way would they ever comprehend my situation, my struggles. But I kept looking. I honestly don’t remember how I came about it, but I found the VA Caregiver Support Program. It took a lot of gumption for me to call their number. I think I suffered yet another panic attack. But I called. And the lady on the other end was so nice to me. She listened. She told me about the program. She offered ways to help and even signed me up for a seminar that was happening in December, to help caregivers through managing their stress.

Follow-through has never really been my strong suit, especially when it meant leaving my husband and son, all day. I knew I needed this course, even if I already knew the information. I knew I had to go. My husband encouraged me, even. I made the conscious decision, I had to force myself to go.

It was one of the hardest things for me to do. But I did it. And I’m so glad I did because when I was sitting there, going through the class, listening to all the other ladies talk about their home life, their struggles, crying for them, for me, I realized I wasn’t alone!

During that same time, I received an email from my local writers’ group. The coordinator was having 4 different sessions throughout December where she would talk about the ways in which writing can heal. I signed up for one. And then I changed my mind and cancelled. After my VA Caregiver class, I knew this was another stepping stone in my healing journey so I rescheduled for another date. I made sure I went to that one as well.

It was a small class, and yes, I was the youngest one there and everyone else had different reasons for attending – most came because they couldn’t get passed the grief they felt from losing their spouse. Me, always the oddball.

Didn’t matter though, I got through it. It was through this course that I decided it was high time I admitted the feelings I had, not hide them away, confront them and accept them. It was causing me undue stress, mental and physical health issues, and just down right negative all the way around. I didn’t like it at all. During this class I found my coping mechanism. And rather than keep it hidden, I owned my feelings and put them out for the world to see, here on this blog. My goal is two-fold –  to help me heal and to help others passing by to know they are not alone.

So, what did I learn?

I learned about the Expressive Writing Technique. It is said to be beneficial for a healthy body and mind, great for relationships, provides you with a safe environment, and is a powerful tool for stress management. It can strengthen your immune system by reducing the stress hormones your body releases. Studies have also showed how this technique can reduce the effects of a traumatic event. It is not limited to any one group. Anyone can use this technique in order to work through a really bad day at work to PTS symptoms to caregiver stress. It doesn’t matter who you are. (If you are uncomfortable with words, you can also use a similar method with painting or drawing what is troubling you.)

What is the Expressive Writing Technique?

It is personal writing that explores the feelings of the writer. Simple as that.

How do you do it?

Well, there is not one right way to do this. In fact, I’ve been doing something very similar ever since I could write. The only difference is, this course gave me structure and a time limit.

The power of words!

You know that old saying we teach our children, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me” ? Well, it’s an unfortunate LIE! Words have power. Depending on how you use those words will determine whether or not they are helpful or harmful. So, when those negative auto-thoughts pop up in your head and you start listening to them, try doing the following:

Over the next two to three days, find your most comfortable, happy place where you won’t be interrupted for 15 to 20 minutes. Sit down with either a pen and notebook, or your laptop. Some will swear by the long hand. Me, I have this thing where my inner editor hates my handwriting, so I chose the computer every time. Take that negative auto-thought and write it down. Or you can choose to write about an illness, injury, pain, trauma, loss, grief, or stress. It doesn’t matter. Just pick something and write it down. And it doesn’t have to be the same thing over the course of these few days. Also, don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or anything. Just write.

If you feel overwhelmed at any time during your writing, take a break. Return to a breathing and grounding exercise. Slowly inhale through your nose. Find the peace you know to be inside you. Recall that place. Then slowly let that overwhelming feeling seep out through your mouth in your exhale.
You do not need to share, or even read what you’ve written, although many people find it helpful to do so. You can ball it up and throw it away, or keep it to revisit later.
Write your way through the questions below, to bring the issue full circle.
  • Situation: What’s disturbing the peace of your heart, body, or mind right now?
  • Body: What does your body feel right now? Any pain or tension? Where? Has this feeling
  • changed over time? If so, how?
  • Feelings: What comes up when you think about this situation? What else? How have your
  • feelings changed over time?
  • Self: How does the situation affect how see yourself? What one thing could you do for yourself
  • right now?
  • Others: How does the matter affect the way you see others? How has this changed over time?
  • Future: How does this affect the way you see the future? What changes do you see?
  • Add: What meaning does it bring into your life right now?
Simple, right?
Ok, so I’m sure you want to see what I wrote for my very first exercise. I am, after all, exposing my soul and admitting and accepting my feelings. So here’s what was going through my head. Watch how it goes from negative to positive.
(remember, grammar and punctuation aren’t counted here!)


Situation: The chronic pain my husband suffers is taking a toll on me. He is constantly in pain and I haven’t been able to see any light or any way out. I miss the man I married over 24 years ago. I want a normal life a normal marriage.

Body: I’ve had a heavy chest and panic attacks. I’ve been unable to control my crying which leads me to writers block and worry that Im making my husband worse. I think I may have exaserbated my IBS as well since I have been sick my entire vacation.

Feelings: a vicious cycle that gets my head whirling. I cant stop thinking about the future worrying about my husband. I feel guilty for taking his career – his dream –  away. I spirals out of control and drags me deeper into the abyss.

Self: my part is that I have to be the strong one – the one who does everything for the family. But in reality the guilt and burden I place on myself is too much sometimes. I need to let that go. I need to stop worrying and just live. because when you worry its either about the future of the past and not the now.

Others: my husband he’s the one who experiences the chronic pain and depression. But I can’t always go to him so I am seeking out like minded people who can understand my situation and we can support each other. I’ve managed to open up more to [him] but I always worry he’s worrying about me. Luckily I’ve reconnected with [an old friend] and we can talk since her husband’s accident.

Future: The future is uncertain I hope to be stronger and not let my emotions rule me like this anymore. Live for today and when some breakthrough happens be greatful. not expect it and be disappointed when it doesn’t work out.

What did this add to my life? It gave [him] the opportunity to be a stay at home dad. it gave me security that he won’t be shipped off to war and hurt anymore than he already has been.


While my inner editor is screaming, “WHERE’S MY RED PEN?” and trying to claw at all those words that really probably don’t make a heck of a lot of sense, well, there you have it. That is my example of how I went from negative to positive. Because before I wrote that, I was all tense and stiff and panic-y. While I was writing, and breathing, I could actually feel my muscles relax. By the time I was done, I felt calmer and I could see some positive out of the whole situation again. All in the span of 20 minutes.


Have you tried this method? Do you find it helpful? What other things do you do to help with your healing process?

April is Military and Veteran Caregivers Month

Military & Veteran Caregiver Appreciation

Introduced in the Senate on 3/24/2014, Senate Resolution 395 passed unanimously without amendment on 3/26/2014

Official Summary

Designates the month of April 2014 as Military and Veterans Caregiver Month. Honors caregivers of members of the Armed Forces and veterans for their service and sacrifice to the United States. Calls upon the people of the United States to observe such month and to participate in activities that will show support to military families and their sacrifices in service to the United States.

There’s been a lot of attention in the Media lately, focusing on the heroes behind the heroes –  the caregivers of our wounded warriors. Please, take the time to watch some of these stories to understand what it’s like. It’s only a glimpse into our world. You can’t truly know what it’s like until you walk in our shoes. And it’s different for each veteran, but still the same. If that even makes sense.

CNN’s The Uncounted
ABC’s Hidden Heroes
RAND Study on Veteran Caregivers

As a military child who grew up to be a military spouse, I learned to be the foundation of the family. It is our duty to be seen and not heard. To stay strong in the winds of change. To be the shoulder everyone leans on. The military never issued the soldier a family. Therefore, the military never thought twice about us.

It’s bad enough for our veterans. Once their military service is done, the government has no use for them. They are cut loose to fend for themselves, like a baby cub kicked from the den. Only, they are swept under the rug, hidden, forgotten. Many go untreated, or at the bare minimum, mistreated. The VA only treats the symptoms, never the cause. It’s like putting a band-aid over a severed limb. Now as a caregiver for my veteran, I see it worse than I ever have.

I’m not allowed to check on any of his claims. I’m not allowed to do anything with his medical. I can’t do anything “official.” I can drive him to his appointments, but more often than not, I’m not allowed in with him, especially when it comes to his C&P appointments, the ones where if he forgets something minor, could cost him his claim. I drive him everywhere because of the pain and his medication. I have to leave work early, or take time off for his appointments, or taking care of our son because he can’t, or sometimes when he’s going through a really bad patch. I’m the one who works a minimum of 8 hours a day, comes home and runs errands and cooks and cleans and helps our son with his homework & extra curricular activities. I’m the one who manages all the finances, all the appointments, keeping track of everything that needs to be done. I’m the one who should be out there taking care of our lawn but I can’t because I’m so exhausted. Overwhelmed is an understatement. I can’t even think straight sometimes and I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of what I do. There are times when wish someone would take care of me… but then, that’d be selfish, right? And that’s when the guilt creeps in.

Last week, The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and her Fellows, nearly one from each state,  were up on Capital Hill addressing Congress. They brought awareness of our constant struggles in our every day lives taking care of our wounded veterans…the ones they’ve dismissed but still need help, support, love, and care. Taking care of our veterans should be a given. We should not have to fight for that. But we have in the past, and still do today. Now younger generation wounded warriors and their caregivers are mounting in numbers. We’re finding that the struggle behind the scenes is growing exponentially. We all need help. Each and every one of us. We are not alone in our struggles, our feelings, our wants and needs. We just need to open up more to those around, get more understanding and support, have our stories heard, so we can have the help we need so we can continue taking care of our heroes.

Watch Senator Patty Murray introduce a new bill to expand the current Veteran’s Caregiver Support Program.

  • Short: Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2014 as introduced.
  • Official: A bill to expand eligibility for the program of comprehensive assistance for family caregivers of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to expand benefits available to participants under such program, to enhance special compensation for members of the uniformed services who require assistance in everyday life, and for other purposes. as introduced.

You can read the summary on Senator Murray’s site here.

Please, if you support our troops, if you support our veterans, please support those who care for them! Call, email, write a letter to your senator to tell them to support this bill. (Find your Senator here.) It’s in its infancy but if we can garner enough support, quickly, maybe we could get this bill through and make it law faster than my husband’s claim process!


Grief — Or Mourning Your Loss

We had the perfect fairy tale ending…at the beginning.

I was the 3rd wheel on a friend’s date. She wanted to be with her boyfriend while he played pool at the enlisted club. She didn’t want to be left alone so she asked me to go with her. I had just gotten off work. I was dirty and wearing just jeans and a sweatshirt. I didn’t care. I hated those places. A meat factory. When I walked in, I kept my head down, didn’t look anyone in the eyes. As I walked to the table we were going to sit at someone yelled really load, “WOW!” I didn’t know who it came from. All I know was, I was embarrassed. Later he said that daggers came from my eyes, penetrating him to his core, and sobered him right up. I don’t remember this part. Back then, and even to this day, I tend to block out any attention drawn to me.

So there I was sitting there talking with my friend. I don’t know how many guys came up and asked me to dance. Of course, I turned everyone of them down. Shy? Definitely. And I don’t like people looking at me. 🙂 But after we had been there a while, some guy at the other table leans back and says, “My friend wants to apologize to you.” He points to a really cute guy and I blush. “For what?”

The conversation channel had opened for the both of us. We talked until the bar closed and we moved outside to the curb. We talked until the MPs came up and kindly asked us to leave so the employees could go home. Apparently they couldn’t leave until all patrons were off premises. Um. Oops. We moved to his car and we talked until 3am. OMG! My parents are going to KILL me.

We exchanged numbers and parted ways. I never really trusted him to call me back because, let’s face it, I had self-esteem issues and my history with guys wasn’t great. So I called and left a message with his desk sergeant the next day. And he called me back!! And we talked and talked.

The first few days we couldn’t get together. Somehow I managed to contract the flu and he was busy working. But we managed an actual date that weekend. He showed up on my doorstep in his Class As. My father opened the door, leaned over, and said, “So, you’re a private, huh?” He told me he almost said, “Wrong house” and turned to leave. Almost. But then I came down the stairs. In jeans. He must have misconstrued what I meant when I told him I would love to see him in his uniform. Because what I meant was his BDUs. I turned around and quickly changed into a nice pair of slacks and we went to have dinner. Nachos…in his Class As. Priceless!

We’d been out several more times. Talked on the phone when we could, then found ourselves five days later sitting in his car in front of my house. I didn’t want to go in. I loved talking to him. Out of the blue he said, “Be my wife.”

I’m stunned. Shocked. Couldn’t breathe. I finally said, in a small squeaky voice, “You’d have me as your wife?” and commenced a choke hold around his neck. (I didn’t know it at the time.) He scooped me up and whispered, “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t mean it.”

No way could this be real. How could anyone want me for the rest of their life, let alone after only knowing me for 5 days?!

We sat out there for a little while longer. But I had to go inside or, yeah, my parents would kill me. I was always late. But hey, I was in my driveway!

The next day was another dinner date. I dared not tell my parents what happened the night before. I was too chicken. I mean, 5 days! Seriously, how would they understand?

He was late. Two hours! He wasn’t coming and I wasn’t going to get married. I just knew it. My track record with guys was falling right in line.

A half hour later the doorbell rang. I ran to answer it. Breathless, anxious, I asked, “Where have you been?”

He smiled and brought his hand from behind his back. A single red rose. I smiled. Then, he opened the palm of his hand, and there was a diamond ring, slid up the stem of the rose with the porch light glinting off its table! OMG! It’s real! He WANTS me! 

I quickly snatched it off the rose and slid it on my finger. Then, I yanked down my sleeve to cover my hand. Can’t have the folks noticing before I’ve told them. How am I going to tell them?! Dad would either shrug and say, “And?” or he would kick me out and disown me. Mom, she’d either say, “What about school?” or “Are you pregnant?” I knew my parents too well.

For the next month, I spent as much time over at the barracks with him. I’d do homework. I’d started quilting my mother’s Christmas present. Of course, I was always late coming home. But oh well. It was the only place I knew my mom wouldn’t see her present. And I wanted to be with my fiancée. We also devised a plan to present to my parents.

After that month, we brought to the table paperwork, budgets, and everything we could think of to convince them that we’ve really thought this through. He was to deploy in January and we would get married when he got back, in May. My parents took it all in. Better than I expected, actually. And then they spoke.

Dad said, “And?”

Mom said, “What about school?”

Whew! I’m not disowned.

When we told them when we were planning on getting married — after his deployment to Korea — my father suggested we get married before the end of the year for the tax benefit.

Say what?! 

We married before Christmas by the Justice of The Peace. And I planned the whole wedding for May while he was deployed. He was supposed to be back early April. But military things happened and he nearly missed our wedding. He came home 6 days before our church wedding. But he made it and we’ve been together since.

24 years.

The best way we describe it when people ask, “how did you know?” is to say, “it was like meeting a friend you haven’t seen in years and you catch up on all the old times.”

We’ve beaten all the odds, even when all that life throws at us tries to tear us apart. It is those times that changed the fairy tale dream…

The Five Stages of Caregiver Grief

The Five Stages of Caregiver Grief

Grief is an intense sorrow, usually associated with death. It is something that we all will encounter at least one time in our lives. But for me, it comes and goes. The life we have now was never meant to be.

Over the years since his accidents, since all the troubles that the accident and incidents have cause, we’ve gone through a slew of emotions, never really understanding what they were or why. But the one that keeps recurring is grief.

It took a very long time to pinpoint the source of that grief. We both came to the conclusion just a few months ago, opening up and talking about it with each other, making it real and tangible and we began to grieve together.

We mourned the loss of our lives. The lives that should have been.

He wasn’t supposed to be hurt. He wasn’t supposed to have all these complications, this pain, the memory issues, the emotional issues. He was supposed to be a soldier until he retired, get out of the military and work a full-time job. I was supposed to be a stay-at-home MomMom, raising our children, homeschooling them, being the good and strong role models for them. We were supposed to be happy, healthy, and full of love and life. We were supposed to grow old together, side-by-side, hand-in-hand. Everything was supposed to be perfect. We were supposed to live happily ever after. It was a fairy tale for criminy’s sake.

So we mourn our loss of life while living it every day.

We go through every emotion associated with the mourning process:

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I’ve never lost a close someone to me yet, so I cannot attest to whether these feelings come and go with the death of a loved one. I can only speak for myself, and what I know from him.

I haven’t really written about the last three stages, yet. But they are there. The problem with this type of grief/mourning is that it’s something that rears its ugly head over and over and over. For me, the stages cycle, never easing up, making it harder and harder to cope. For me, before I realized all this, before I openly talked about it, I grieved continuously, every day.

For him, he also continued to dwell, to wallow, to sink deeper into his already dark place. He began to rationalize. He began to listen to the negative auto-thoughts floating around inside his head. He began to plan.

I didn’t know about this until much later, after his epiphany. He told me all about his thoughts and all about the epiphany he had in a single heart beat. I listened. I cried. I loved him.

I think it affected me a great deal more than I ever let on, even to my conscious self. For the last 9 months it progressively got worse until I couldn’t control my crying. I did everything I could to remain positive, hopeful, telling myself this isn’t permanent. Things will get better. But it never worked. I lost all hope and I fell deeper into my own abyss I couldn’t climb out. I needed help.

All my usual methods were not working anymore. Meditation, thinking positive, reading, watching TV, gaming. The negative voices in my head were now screaming at me and I couldn’t get them to shut up. I started listening. They drained all the hope from my heart. I would wake up angry, every little thing would set me off. I just wanted to run away and hide, start over.

But I couldn’t. I had my son. I had my soul mate. What would they do without me? They would be devastated.

I knew what I needed to do. I needed some chemical help to get me back on the positive path. I went to see my doctor and explained what was going on. He prescribed a mild anti-depressant, the same one I was on for postpartum depression. I had the same issue with uncontrolled crying back then, too. So I knew it would work. Within a few weeks things started looking brighter. I could see a dim light at the end of the tunnel.

And then I was able to find more help I needed. Empathy. Knowing I wasn’t alone in my feelings, that there are people who understood the situation and all the things that go with TBI, chronic pain, and PTSD. I was no longer alone, and the tunnel got brighter.

I found the VA Caregiver Support Program and attended a couple of their conferences. I found Hearts of Valor and joined, found that it had a local chapter and met up with a couple other Veteran Caregivers. I found Family of a Vet and joined their initiative. And learned that I’m really not as alone as I thought. I’m learning just how vast this family really is. With the light shining on the caregiver up in Congress with the Fellows of The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, CNN’s The Uncounted, ABC’s Hidden Heroes, and the release of the RAND Study on Veteran Caregivers my eyes are wide open and my heart is filling again.

The more we recognize that we aren’t alone, the less troubles we will have. Education is the key for any illness and the care that goes along with it. We need to remove the stigma. Open the doors and hearts to others. That is my wish for this blog. If I can show just one person that what they are dealing with is not unique, that their feelings are natural, that they are not alone.

Of course, we will grieve for the life we lost, the things that were meant to be, the things that will never be. It is what it is. Everything happens for a reason. This is what we are given and we must make the best of it. What we must do is move on to the next phase, accept what is, and find the happiness within.