As I have passed from my thirties into my early and middle forties, it has become easy to accept the damage to my body from many years in the Navy. Maybe this is just a consequence of growing older and accepting these limitations. Or maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to the symphony of pains and creaks that my body plays every morning. (Motrin has been an able Conductor).
Either way, the small monthly checks that I receive from the VA every month for these problems means that the US Government and I have been on the same page for many years. My military medical record is very thick and is littered with injuries, and the surgeries that resulted from them. It’s there in black and white. None of these physical issues has ever been in dispute.
And maybe because these were physical issues with ample documentation, they became easier for me to accept in the long run even though I still hid them from most people. When I was younger I still ran, swam and cycled through the pain and denied that these limitations would ever slow me down. I treated them as I treated every physical barrier: Something to be pushed through. It was my will that would limit me, never my body.
Well…that type of denial in the face of reality can’t go on forever, (however the modern day GOP seems to be the exception to that rule). Any of you older farts out there probably know what I mean.
So I’ve been able to come to peace with this part of who I am. There is no shame in growing old and having your body start to decay. It’s part of life.
However, beneath all of this has been lurking other things. Things which have also come with years in the military and don’t always get reflected in your medical record. In fact, I had never spoken about these things or even acknowledged them to another living soul until about 2 months ago.
The nights that I’d wake up soaked in sweat so severe that I’d have to strip my bed and flip the mattress were physical clues. The irritability after these nightmares were also signs. My fear of ever showing anger combined with my tightly suppressed anger was even more evidence. My withdrawal from those closest to me was slow and insidious. But I could never come to accept these things about myself. The shame would never allow it. I could keep this one contained the rest of my life, I felt. All this one required was mental toughness. It wasn’t dependent upon the strength of my ever more weakening physical flesh.
Or maybe it was…
At the extreme urging of my ex-wife, I decided to make an appointment over at the dreaded Mental Health clinic at the VA hospital. A place that I remember feeling fortunate that I would never have to go. After all, my problems are just physical. It is the one place for which vets feel the most stigma entering.
I was now going there.
When I found myself sitting in that waiting room, my stomach was in knots and I almost just left. I felt like crawling out of my skin. The nightmares and night sweats were easier to deal with than this. But where would this lead if I didn’t get help? If I didn’t deal with it?
Deep inside, I knew the answer to that one already.
So now the VA has diagnosed me with moderate PTSD*, and I’m not entirely sure how to wrap my arms around this one. My family knows, but my daughter doesn’t. There are a small number of folks here who know who I really am behind this moniker, but this revelation about myself has still been done in a mostly anonymous fashion. Maybe that’s also why I’m doing here.
This is a highly private and personal thing for me to reveal, and I really really don’t even want to be talking about it at all…but I’m going to anyway.
It seems like the right thing to do.
*Note: Okay, maybe I should be even more brutally honest here. It’s actually moderate to severe PTSD, but I like to think I’m more on the moderate side.