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making your hypervigilance work for you

March 28, 2011

When I started to earnestly work on my PTSD, I was in a social vacuum.  I had

just divorced my second wife, Connie, a really nice lady with reasonable needs.

I was just too preoccupied to help her meet them.  I bought a Ford van and lived

in it most of the 90’s.

Talk about a chick repellent.  I was answering personal ads and doing coffee dates.

I got in the habit of mentioning my living arrangements right off.  It was more ef-

ficient than getting dumped later.  I thought about telling them I lived in a mobile

home — an extremely mobile home.  That too, however, would have just delayed

the inevitable.  I was even rejected by an eight-fingered Czechoslovakian woman.

Van living had its advantages, though.  I had no rent or utilities to pay.  Living in a

mild climate made winter and summer bearable.  If the van got cold, I’d throw on

another layer of clothes or more blankets.  If it got hot, I’d go to the beach.  Some-

times my home overlooked national parks and other spectacular views.

My world was upside down, anyway.  I was working night jobs on psychiatric units.

That may sound ill-advised for someone with a substantial mental health problem

of his own.  But NOCs on psych tend to be fairly quiet.  Some shifts were rough.  It

helped to pay attention.  Since hypervigilance is a symptom of PTSD, this kind of

work was right in my wheelhouse.

And on one of those jobs my path brought me to Jude.  I was immediately attracted

to her, but she was finishing up a divorce.  I wasn’t really ready yet, either.  A few

months later we had our coffee date.  The next day I had to leave for six weeks to

help care for my mother in Kansas.  Jude and I fell in love on the phone.

Shortly before we got married, she convinced me to apply to the Veterans Adminis-

tration for disability related to my PTSD.  I was ready, but I wouldn’t have stuck it

out without her support.  What was supposed to be a six-month process took more

than four years.  I had to prove to the VA not only that I served in Vietnam, but also

that I experienced significant stressors there.

It took a long time to prove all that.  I got an affidavit from my first wife Suzy, who

told of the accounts I had written about in my many letters to her.  I got another

from my friend Jim about the night we were under fire together near the DMZ.  I

talked with the man who set up the morgues in DaNang for all the U.S. services.

He was in good stead with the brass at VA, and told them that I knew what I was

talking about.

It was a frustrating four years.  I was actually turned down once, but persevered.

Eventually I was awarded 30% disability, retroactive to the date I applied.  The

money helped us settle in here.  I still think about all the other veterans who have

just as legitimate a claim as I did, but don’t have the support and endurance to go

through the process.

Some of my memories of ‘nam are as fresh as today’s breakfast.  It’s not my goal to

forget them.  Instead, I use them as a source of strength, reminders that they

toughened me up.  That toughness helps immensely as I work with Jude to make

our farm self-sustainable.  If I have a down day, I only have to think about the night

shrapnel was ripping through the tent around Jim and me.  I believe if you’re happy

with your life, it’s because of all that’s happened to you, not just the good stuff.

Although war is likely the most common cause associated with PTSD, the disorder

also can affect rape and abuse victims, survivors of human-made and natural dis-

asters, rescue workers, and even those in long-term foster care.  CNN ran a story

today about the staff of a Japanese hospital suffering from survivors’ guilt over the

deaths of the patients they couldn’t evacuate.

If you know of anybody who might be experiencing this problem, please check in

with them and encourage them to seek support.  The only way out is through it.

  1. March 28, 2011 10:31 am

    Know what I like best about this entry? That you told us that you met Jude on a psych ward but you left out the fact about whether she was another employee or a patient. I know Jude so I know the answer. But let’s pretend that you helped her escape from lock-up! Awesome!

    • March 28, 2011 11:31 am

      Just wait for the movie. Jude will be played by Gwyneth Paltrow and I will be portrayed by Zach Galifianakis. Colin and Will Ferrell will be identical bi-polar twins and Natalie Portman will steal the show as the gruff but lovable Spike. Music by Tangerine Dream.

      • March 28, 2011 11:47 am

        I can see Zach Galifianakis playing you. And Gwyneth is perfect for Jude! This reminds me that I should blog about the time my husband’s mom accidentally hired an escaped mental patient to babysit the kids! Maybe one day.

      • March 28, 2011 1:37 pm

        Do please post about that, but register the film rights first. I smell a “Fargo II”.

  2. March 28, 2011 7:31 pm

    Good entry, but I believe there is more PTSD around than people realize. I had a job once that still gives me nightmares, and I quit it in 1985.

    • March 29, 2011 7:40 am

      I agree, Beanie. One source in my reading suggested that even kids who are bullied or witness bullying might be affected.

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