Thursday, June 23, 2011

Time for a Change!

I've been thinking for awhile now that this blog title just wasn't fitting anymore and that I was wanting to change some of the direction of it. This is the name that I chose for the Cafepress store that I started 7 years ago (wow has it been that long?!) and was originally intended to be used as advertising for the store. The only reason that I didn't change it was once I had established my shop in the marketplace I didn't want to start over with an unknown name so it just kind of stuck.

My husband has never viewed himself as a hero and has always felt that the true heroes were the ones who never made it home. Since he doesn't feel worthy of the title, it's only fitting that I change it to something more family oriented. The shops will remain open and will retain the original name for the time being.

I can assure you this is something that I thought about long before reading this article, although it makes me feel that much more strongly about my choice to switch to a new blog.

I transferred my previous posts over to the new blog and have written a few new ones since then.  I still felt it was important to share our journey as the family of a wounded warrior, but not just the hardships. We have had many good things to come from his injuries and I intend to post more about the good stuff instead of just blowing off steam about the bad. I don't know if I picked another lame title but it's just something that I kept circling around for a long time so I decided to just go with it.

So please follow/update to Wounded Blessings if you want.  I promise will make a huge attempt to be more upbeat and positive even when the VA and the military keep threatening to sabotage my efforts!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reality Check

This past weekend, I came to the realization of the true impact that my husband's injuries have had on me. Not even just him being wounded, but how I've handled other things that have come my way, like dealing with death and moving across the country to a new place, far away from my family and friends. Somewhere along the way, I lost a part of myself and simply became an extension of my husband.

When asked to describe myself, I would immediately say something like I'm a mom of two great kids and the spouse of a wounded warrior, etc. Look at my blog description and you'll see just that. While I'm proud of my husband and kids, that's not what truly describes me. I don't even know how to describe myself anymore. It's so easy just to go on and on about my husband's recovery and what he's accomplished and I just kind of fade into the background. He said to me this weekend that despite what happened, he's pretty much done everything that he's wanted to in life except for a few things and he has goals set in mind for those. It feels like I have a bucket list of regrets and things that I wished I had done.

I was so focused on his recovery and being the caregiver that I ended up shortchanging myself and the kids. I was stuck in survival mode because I was certain that's what I had to do and there was no other option. People would constantly tell me that I was so strong and they didn't know how I did it. The thing is, I never felt strong. I felt like I didn't do anything differently than anyone else would have done if they were in my shoes. Before I realized it, I had become a victim of my situation. I got so used to the constant wave of stress that I didn't know how to function when things finally calmed down. The depression felt like it was eating me alive and the more depressed I became, the less support that I felt.

There were so many times that I stayed in bed all day just hiding behind my laptop or just trying to sleep the pain away because my mind wouldn't shut off at night. It was easy to chalk it up to my hypothyroidism and getting used to daily medication. While I have no doubt that does contribute to it, I was still hung up on the events of July 2, 2008.

When I talked to my doctor about getting on medication for my depression, he asked me if I had any desire to harm myself or others and I said no, which in turn disqualified me so to speak from obtaining a prescription. While suicide is not ever an option for me, because I refuse to leave my kids without a mother since I know first hand how painful that is, I often wondered if I could just simply fade away and give up. I didn't want any responsibility for our lives. I didn't feel safe or secure and constantly worried to the point of being afraid to leave the house at times. I was once this strong, independent military wife and now here I was codependent on my husband. My emotions were just below the surface and I would find myself crying at random times over the most stupid things. I guess I had suppressed those emotions and feelings for so long and never had an outlet to deal with them.

Eventually it began to affect my marriage and my parenting. I would see pictures that my friends posted online of happy times with their families and I would feel sad that our lives would never be "normal" like that. My husband couldn't handle crowds and didn't have the opportunity to take trips because of his schedule and not knowing when he would be retiring. Instead of taking the initiative on my own to do stuff without him, the kids and I missed out. I thought if we couldn't do things as a family then there was no point in doing them at all.

I was also envious of my friends whose husbands were able to work normal jobs and come home for dinner every night. Not have to be gone for a year at a time or be disabled. I was wishing that I was as successful as they were and didn't have to give up my opportunity to go back to work or finish school because I was suddenly thrust in the role of being a caregiver.

While there were so many things out of my control, I wasn't doing anything to change any of the things that I could control. It was simply easier to use him being wounded as an excuse to stop living my life. Before that, the excuse was him being deployed or my mom dying, or whatever was convenient at the time. I wasn't being strong this whole time, instead a part of me was dying inside because it was easier to be a victim than to do the hard work that it took to get what I wanted out of life. It was easier to put my education on hold, to stop being interested in doing the things that I once loved, to procrastinate, and to hide behind a wall of pain.

My husband nearly stopped talking to me. He said it was too hard to sit there and watch me destroy my life. In a way I had taken on some of his symptoms of PTSD and blamed him for the way I was reacting. I did let his mood swings affect me at times. He opened my eyes a lot this weekend and made me realize that life is short and our kids are growing up fast. I don't need medication, I need to get serious about what I want out of life and go out there and make it happen because no one is going to do it for me. I can't keep being sad that I miss out on opportunities unless I take the initiative to make them happen in the first place.

My husband's injuries don't define me. There is so much more to me than that. I got lost along the way and it's time to start living again.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Red Tape Saga Continues

FYI: Don't go overseas and get blown up. You're government will find any way possible to screw you.

Seriously though, I thought we had it pretty easy with my husband spending the past nearly three years in a WTB. He had a whole network of people, case managers, social workers, etc to help him out with his recovery. Instead of battling for years to get SSDI, all he had to do was sign the application and it was processed and approved for him. Same thing with his VA claim. His wait was a lot shorter than someone who submits a claim on their own and again most of it was done for him with all of the necessary medical info attached. Once his rating came back he was given a retirement date, terminal leave and was able to outprocess within a few days. The whole process felt pretty streamlined and although was still stressful at times because it felt like we were always in limbo, he had plenty of resources at his fingertips.

Right now I'm thinking it must've been too good to be true. I'd heard horror stories from many of my friends who dealt with this stuff and from the sound of it, we had it pretty good compared to them. Pretty good that is, until retirement.

When you're found unfit for duty and forced to retire, you would think that you'd be properly taken care of. After all you fought and nearly died for your country, one would think that you wouldn't have to fight for the benefits that you've earned. That couldn't be more wrong. One day my husband was active duty with full benefits and the very next that he became officially retired, he also became chopped liver. Suddenly the Army didn't want to help him with any of his questions anymore and he immediately became ineligible for many programs. Things that he had qualified for just the day before. Not to sound like we should be entitled to some of this stuff, but it rubs me the wrong way that a brand new soldier with no combat experience whatsoever is able to have a membership in a program that my husband who nearly died now cannot.

All that pales in comparison with the "minor" oversight that just happened to our family though. My husband received his last paycheck in April. Although they could find no outstanding debts that he owed, the military still helped themselves to a large portion of his check. We can't figure out what it's for, nor is anyone willing to help. He gave them nearly twelve years of his life and gets treated like crap every time he's called to find out what's going on. We have an inquiry into DFAS but that could take months to find out an answer.

While we've received his last check, the VA usually takes about a month to catch up and for him to start getting his disability payment. Unfortunately his paperwork has been sitting in Houston, TX the entire time. Even though he's gotten his rating back and they retired him, someone never bothered to put any of it into the computer. Hense the problems that we've been having with his VA appointments. He has a rep in Texas and in Tennessee and has left several messages with both of them and can't get anyone to return his calls. He has a new case manager here as well and has yet to hear back from her. He called the main number for the VA today when he started getting billed for his medications. They were able to confirm that while his claim was processed, the paperwork never made it to it's final destination and therefore he's not getting any of his pay or benefits. All they could see in their computers was that yes he has a claim but they can't see anything about his status. The only thing that has saved him from more headaches at his clinic appointments is being able to prove that he has a purple heart and his DD 214.

Our next step is to try and get some assistance through the VFW or Disabled Vets. We had a Recovery Coordinator in Texas but we need to find someone local to help on our behalf. In the meantime, I think we'll be able to pay most of our bills yet this month, although I'm beginning to play the shuffle game and put off who I can. I'm hoping the military friendly bank who we have our car loan through will let us skip the payment for the month as they often do once in the summertime. We are literally draining our savings though and that makes me nervous. I've had a couple of job interviews but haven't heard back yet. I've even signed up with a few different temporary agencies but I know I'm in the same boat as thousands of people when it comes to a job. Hopefully things change soon.

I'm finding it hard to keep plastering a happy smile on my face and not be so negative all of the time. Of course the more that I get depressed, the less support that I feel that I have. I'm so used to being strong and dealing with whatever comes my way and yet my emotions are right below the surface so I find myself crying at the worst possible times. Sometimes I feel like people think that now that he's retired that life is just grand and all of our problems have gone away. It couldn't be farther from the truth. It's safe to say that things are more stressful now than they were when he was still in the military.

I keep trying so hard to keep my head above water but it just feels like I'm drowning.


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