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Resilient Living (Read 95 times)
AubanBird
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Resilient Living
Feb 8th, 2018 at 7:03am
 
so, i just got done watching a movie that really hit me all up in the feels...  and it got me thinking about a topic that the army has finally started teaching and taking seriously:  resilience. 

nowadays, we have a master resilience trainer and everyone gets training on a regular basis.  in my opinion, it hasn't pervaded the culture as much as it needs to, but then again, when i joined, it was still a new thing.  i was in the infantry back then, and one thing you didn't want to get caught doing was going to behavioral health.  shoot, i remember getting grilled by my leadership just by talking to our chaplain and asking if he had any material on building a strong marriage.  after that, i tried to avoid letting my leadership know of any issues that did not directly effect my job. 

little back story on that:  i knew my wife, akina, for only a few weeks before i married her.  for the first several years, our marriage was pretty terrible!  both of us were stubborn though, so we figured it out. 

anyway, the movie i just watched was "thank you for your service".  i have been in the army for ten and a half years, all combat arms positions, save for a couple years as a student learning arabic.  my older brother joined just six months after i did, and has been infantry his entire time.  my younger brother joined a few years after we did, and is EOD.  between us, we have known enough active duty and recently separated soldiers that have committed suicide to fill a platoon.

when some buddies of mine died a few months ago, i met with the Military Family Life Counselor(MFLC) and gave her my number, and told her to have people call me if there is someone who needs someone to talk to and professionals are not available.  or, if those professionals just don't seem to get it.  cuz lets face it, a degree doesn't mean you know what it feels like to go from healthy to "F'ed up" back to healthy again.  and some stuff just never goes away, in which case its better to focus on learning how to live with it and accept it. 

it got me thinking, with how pervasive cluster headaches are, and with how isolating they are, us clusterheads NEED to learn how to be resilient.  for us, it can seem almost impossible at times.  especially when it robs us of such simple basic things, like sleep, human connection, and anything resembling a social life.  so i figured i would start this thread to discuss techniques to make us more resilient.  because as much as we might like to think of resilience as an ingrained trait, it isn't.  it is very much a learned skill.  anyone can learn it as long as they have enough faith in their ability to learn it. 

the first thing that comes to mind is one i hear in the resiliency training a lot:  hunt the good stuff.  basically, try to find the positives in your life and make a habit of acknowledging them as often as you can.  the idea is that as you get more and more used to focusing on the good things, then the bad things become less and less.  they become smaller.  when i was suffering chronic cluster headaches without relief for several years, it was hard to focus on the good things.  i spent most of my time dreading and worrying about the next headache.  i certainly wasn't "living between the hits".  in a sense, i was living FOR them.  whenever i was not dancing with the beast, i was giving him my full attention.  when i was, well, you know...

but focusing solely on the next cluster headache nearly drove me insane.  or, maybe it did?  i was severely depressed for a while, and that did not end until i kinda wised up and "lost my mind".  i would start laughing hysterically, and angrily, when i felt a headache come on.  my wife said i was acting like i had gone completely bat shit crazy, but that it was much better than the depression.  in fact, i was able to accomplish a career change that everyone in the army told me was impossible, during that time.  the only thing that changed was that i started, in my mind, challenging the headaches, like they were a literal entity that was trying to stop me, and i was to rebellious to let it.   so i started focusing on what i could do despite them instead of what i couldn't do because of them. 

i wouldn't say it was the healthiest way to go about it.  at times i was kinda reckless, but it was much better than being depressed.  it didnt take long though for that to become a habit.  not the reckless part, the part where i started focusing on DOING something DESPITE the headaches.  or maybe, doing something TO spite the headaches.  when i finally found something that worked to keep the beast at bay, that habit was still with me. 

so, a little back story on me, for those who dont know:  in 2009, i suffered a concussion that i did not get treated for.  a couple days later, after taking too much tylenol, i participated in a cross fit competition, without ever having done cross fit before.  i won, but i tore every major muscle group in my body, which led to exhertional rhabdomyolysis.  the next day, i woke up and took more tylenol for the headache and motrin for my UNGODLY stiff and sore muscles.  that led to my muscles releasing a bunch of stuff into my blood stream that clogged up my  already over taxed liver(from the meds).  my liver and kidneys both shut down, and my heart stopped beating several times.  well, when you have a bad bruise on the brain, the last thing you want to do is stop blood flowing to it, for any length of time.  long story short, my temperature dropped, my heart stopped, and my doctors called my time of death.  i guess my heart was still beating, just too weak for them to notice, because i woke up at some point.  i also severed the tendon on my right thumb.  learning to shoot left handed was interesting.  learning to switch back was just as interesting. 

(my team thinks i am a freak of nature because i was left handed when i learned to shoot a pistol, so now i shoot pistol left handed and rifle right handed.)  Cheesy

i ended up with gout and kidney stones as a result of the compromised liver and kidney function(suffered massive damage to both) and cluster headaches started up around the same time.  i also ended up with sever short term memory problems.  i did learn how to overcome the memory problems, but it took a while for me to figure that one out.  during all that time, i was also dealing with a pretty terrible marriage.  truth is, when i first came here, we weren't getting along very well.  i cant blame akina for it though, since we had not even known each other for a year before i got hit with all those medical issues.  i have managed to overcome all those issues, and akina and i managed to take our terrible marriage and turn it into a good one.  we werent in love when we got married.  it wasnt until we moved to california and had been married for four years before we had time to actually learn to fall in love with each other, and we did that despite having experienced pretty much every single thing that normally leads married couples to divorce, let alone military couples. 

when i tell people my story, even just the quick cliff notes, they ask me how i held it together.  for the longest time, i didn't know what to say.  i usually would just kinda look shrug my shoulders and say "uh...  what else was i supposed to do...  give up?"

so that brings me to now...  after watching the movie, i started thinking about some things that i often think about lately.  the MFLC told me that my story is unique in that i have experienced nearly everything that she has come across as a counselor, save for the death of a family member.  and then i was thinking about Callico's quote of "the rose"(love that song BTW).  do i "live" where others don't?  and if so, why?  why does one buddy of mine suffer a terrible loss and bounce back, while others fall apart?  i can say this:  i have been paying a lot more attention to the way i respond to things lately.  i have come to believe that resilience is a learned skill.  that anyone can live happily in what others would call a miserable existence. 

so, with that said, i would ask anyone that reads this to contribute and tell others how you deal with the negative stress in your life.  dont just tell us how you relax after a tough day, tell us how you approach things in your mind as well.  tell us your perspective.  and tell us what you did, and what your experience and feelings were going through it.  without those details, its hard to convey hope.   because a man dying of thirst will not drink if he thinks what you are offering might be gasoline.  he has to be able to believe it. 

anyway, i have more to write about this, but i am about to take a soldier of mine to go try and work on higher education.  im going to try and get a degree with him before the end of this deployment.  no sense in wasting an opportunity.
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AubanBird
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Re: Resilient Living
Reply #1 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 1:16am
 
ok, so, the first thing i want to talk about here is something i like to call radical acceptance.  it is something i came to understand over the years after my NDE, but never fully understood until i read a book that explained it to me in a much better way than i could explain it. 

the book, by the way, is "Awareness" by Anthony De Mello.  it is available as an ebook, but you dont need to download it if you dont want to.  the book is just a bunch of talks that he made that were written down.  you can find the book in the form of the original recordings on youtube.  if you look the name and title on you tube, you will find it.  you can then go to one of the conversion web sites and convert it to an MP3, and download it so that you can play it on your phone or MP3 player.  just type "youtube to MP3" into your search engine and you will find several sites that will convert them for you and then let you download the MP3. 

now, anthony de mello was a jesuit priest, but from listening to him, i find that he focuses almost entirely on spirituality.  which has very little to do with religion.  spirituality has to do with the self, the spirit, how we approach the world.  how we approach ourselves. 

so what does all that have to do with acceptance?  well, simply this:  if you cannot accept what your reality is, then you cannot deal with it realistically.    in saying this, im not really talking about cluster headaches.  its much easier to see how it applies when you think about all the other stresses in life:  addiction problems, relationship problems, financial problems, etc.  but, that said, it did apply to me in a way that i didnt think about at the time...  for a long while, i was not willing to accept a life with cluster headaches.  i fought against it tooth and nail.  and in doing so, it consumed me.  i wasnt able to accept it, so i let it consume me.  crazy huh?  i would say that was the most depressed i have ever been in my life! 

applying that to everything else, it seemed easy.  obviously i cannot deal with a problem if i keep trying to call it a one off issue of bad luck.  or if i keep waiting for my "ship to come in".  no, i have to accept it as a real issue before i can accept it well enough to approach it without fear. 

its also about accepting fear itself...  that its ok to be afraid.  that, in fact, its ok to feel ANY feeling.  for the longest time, i used to be afraid of my own emotions.  you know, ill feel guilty if i dont do  this, i will be anxious if i am situation XYZ.  i will feel shame if i fail.  i feel fear now, so i wont do this thing that i know i should do...  just think about any time you have not done something that you know you should do, and you will likely identify either fear itself, or fear of some other emotion or experience.  for me, the hardest emotion to deal with is shame.  fortunately, nearly every time i examine myself, i realize that the shame is misplaced.  for instance, i know that their is no shame in attempting something and not being able to accomplish it. but, that doesnt mean that i dont still have that programming deep inside me that tells me that there is something shameful about it.  how silly! 

at some point, though i don't exactly when, i realized that an emotion is simply a response to stimuli, both internal and external.  its a response to the world around us and our own thoughts.  it really says no more about us than putting our hand in a bucket of ice water and feeling the cold.  or standing in a blizzard and feeling cold.  that is the irritating relationship we all seem to have with our emotions.  if we were standing in a blizzard, the answer is easy.  do something about it.  put on a coat, get inside doors, build a fire, etc.  we can find a million solutions for that.  what we NEVER do is sit there lamenting the fact that a blizzard is COLD!  instead, we will go into action and do the work to feel warm.  emotions though...  its like we are deluded into thinking that we can do nothing about them.  so we typically sit and wish that the feeling would go away.  it is SO easy to forget that we can do something about it. 

i think this is one of the reason that chronic pain conditions are so demoralizing.  instead of just being outside in a blizzard, its like we are stuck in the arctic tundra, thousands of miles away from anything warm. we can do simple things that provide some relief, like make a fire or a simple shelter, but the cold is always there.  but at the same time, it goes to show how different we look at physical feelings vs emotional ones.  i used to suffer a lot of social anxiety.  it never got any better until i started doing a lot of work to overcome it.  to examine what was causing it, what works to lessen it, etc.  for the longest time, i did everything i could to stop physical pain, but practically nothing to stop emotional pain.  i see this kind of paradox everywhere. 

how is it that we dont understand that emotion says no more about us than  our five senses?  if an added responsibility causes you anxiety, it says no more about you as a person than the wind feeling cold on your face.  because you can still do whatever you choose to do.  you still get to choose WHO you are.  ANYONE who lived your life in your shoes would feel exactly the same feelings that you are feeling. 

i might have rambled on a bit too much about this, but the point is difficult to make.  our emotions say nothing about ourselves, they just give us insight into our experiences and our thoughts.  WHO we are is defined by what we choose to do, how we choose to think. 

an old buddy of mine from when i was in the 82nd used to literally urinate himself every time he jumped out of an airplane.  what do you call a paratrooper who pees himself every time he jumps out of a plane?  A PARATROOPER!!

if you ever want to change anything in your life, it starts with acceptance.  and of course, you cannot accept what you do not recognize, so it also requires some awareness.  you need to be able to understand how you respond to both yourself and the world around you.  when you are aware of it, and accept it, you can go about changing it.
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Callico
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Re: Resilient Living
Reply #2 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:45am
 
AubanBird,

First of all, two excellent posts. It is now 2:39 A.M. and I woke up thinking about your first one thirty minutes ago and determined I had to reply. Then I found your second. For me to do it justice, I need to write it in Word and move it over here. I find this to be a little less than optimal for writing. It's a great forum, and much better than most, but I want to put my thoughts more fully in order, and they won't be short. I had to first say thank you for posting. "Resiliance" is indeed important to every aspect of our lives, but with CH, it is vital.

I'll be back soon.

jlc
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Re: Resilient Living
Reply #3 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 1:17pm
 
Resilience


On 29 August, 2005, hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast of the United States with tremendous force and fury. In the aftermath of that terrific storm, I delivered in the neighborhood of one hundred FEMA trailers to Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana for the homeless victims of the hurricane. I could fill pages with descriptions of the damage, like the casino in Gulfport, MS that was hit by the storm surge. The entire first two floors of that huge building were nothing but the poured concrete floors and the structural steel that held up the upper floors showed no sign of anything having happened. The first two floors were wiped clean with no sign of any debris or detritus left behind—that includes the brick walls. It was just gone. This is not my focus, though. I’m thinking of a tree I saw.
As I was driving down Highway 49 in Mississippi, somewhere just a little bit north of Saucier, I saw a live oak that had been totally uprooted from the ground and blown about thirty yards from the crater it left behind. The tree was massive. Three of me could not have reach around its trunk. I know it was alive when the United States came into existence. It had withstood storms of many sizes and varieties over centuries, but the tremendous amounts of rain that came before the winds came ashore had loosened the soil sufficiently that the wind was able to uproot and cast the tree thirty yards from its home. The key to my thoughts lies not in its demise, but in the fact that it had not broken, other than some branches from impact with the ground. The live oak, in contrariety to the casino in Gulfport was resilient. It bowed and moved before the wind. What it could not overcome was the porosity of the soil that had been soaked and loosened by the rains.
What has this to do with CH?
I remember getting hit the first time back when I was eight or nine. I had gone over to sniff a hydrangea bush next to our house and got hit with the worst pain I had ever experienced. (Now, I would probably rate it a four or a five, but that was then.) We had no idea about CH and put it down to an allergy to hydrangea. Now, I know the scent was a trigger. When I was 23 (ish) I was diagnosed with CH, but we had no clue what to do with them, and I got hooked on opiates/opioids. I was running machinery in a textile bleach house that involved threading cloth between steam rollers (approximately 600˚), yet I frequently went to work so stoned I had to have someone else double-check my timecard. The pain was still very much there, though. After recognizing what was going on, I took myself off of the meds cold-turkey.
Fast-forward to the late 1990’s. We moved to Illinois to become a part of the family business, and I found a neurologist that knew something about CH. From the early 60’s to this point, other than that one short period when I was treated with narcotics, I had had no treatment for CH at all. We immediately started trials of all of the common, and some not so common, drugs for CH, focusing on Verapamil and Lithium. I did these in ever increasing doses until my cycle never ended, and I’ve been chronic since. This was before O2 was readily available for CH, and I went from a couple hits a day for two to three months twice a year to five to eight hits a day every day of the year. In my episodic days, (pre CH dot com) I would estimate the hits in the K5 to K7 range. I could function, though not well, during a thirty +/- minute attack. After going chronic, I was getting 45 minute to hour and a half attacks in the K7-K10 range, and I could tell you the time of day by how I felt.
During those early chronic days, I had trouble keeping work. We had sold the family business, and I was trying to do construction work. Fortunately, I found a boss who worked with me and allowed me to work on touch-ups, punch-lists, and service calls, which allowed me some flexibility in hours I worked. I remember one day, though, when I was working with the full crew doing a basement finish. The family was still living in the house, and while we were in the basement working, I got hit with a K9 and was over in the corner of the room, banging my head on the concrete floor. The crew knew to leave me alone, but at about this time, the lady had a group of women from her church over for a Bible study, and she decided to show them what we were doing. One of the ladies asked what was wrong with me, and Bob, my boss, said I get really bad headaches. She came over and put a hand on my shoulder (WRONG move!) and offered some Advil. I looked up at her with tears pouring, and snot running and said, “That’s like offering ‘Near Beer’ to an alcoholic,” and I went back to pounding my head on the floor. Bob explained there was nothing they could do for me and thanked her for offering. I’m sure those ladies thought I was demon-possessed. To be honest, I wouldn’t have discounted the possibility at the time, had I not known I couldn’t be. (I did get to apologize to the lady later, and we became good friends as a result.) This was the last time I ever worked with the rest of the crew.
In 1998, DJ started clusterheadaches.com, and changed the lives of clusterheads forever. For the first time, we had opportunity to connect with others who understand our pain, who understand our mental fragility that comes with the pain. I was as broke as a church mouse and couldn’t afford to even think about buying a computer, let alone to get on the internet, but my brother gave me the old computer we used in the business when we sold it. (It was a super-powerful 286, no less!) Juno sent one of those 30 day free trial disks in the mail, and I plugged it in and explored. I found CH dot com just a couple of months after it launched in the old, old, old format, and found hope. Frankly, at this time, I was at the end of my rope. God knew I needed help, and he sent it. After thirty days, I of course lost the service, so I started going to the library periodically, where I could get online for a whole thirty minutes a week, but then, they had a virus get into the system, and I went for over a year without being able to log on. Enter AOL. I got a free 30 day trial from them, and I couldn’t remember my password. I rejoined March 28, 2003, and you’ve been stuck with me since.
That is a long introduction trying to give a little background. Now I’ll try to share a little about my resilience.
To be honest, I have none. However, I am a Christian, and as such, I firmly believe God has a purpose in everything that comes into our lives. I know there are those here who don’t accept that, and I’m not here to try to dissuade you from your beliefs. All I know to do is share what I have learned and leave it to each to decide on his/her own. I’ll not preach (though I am trained. )
In the early 2000’s, I went through the phase I believe almost all of us go through at one point or another in our lives when we face serious health/relationship/financial/etc. issues. “Why me?” is the question we ask. We look about and see others who seem to have life totally under control. They live in nicer houses, drive nicer vehicles, don’t have financial or physical stresses when we have both. They can hold a job, and a better one than we can attain. Envy rears its ugly head, and we have a pity party. We begin to think God/the universe/whatever is against us, and it just isn’t fair. I’ve got a little secret. Life isn’t fair. Life just is.
One night as I lay on the floor, banging my office door on my right temple, and begging God to just let me die, the “Why me?” question was thrown back in my face. “Why not me?” began bouncing about in my head. Who would I rather have this affliction? No, I didn’t hear God speaking in an audible voice, but I firmly believe He is the one who put the thought there and kept it there. I began looking at CH in a totally different light. Jesus, the Christ, did not come to earth as a king. He was not born in a palace or a rich man’s house, but He was born in a cave that served as a stable for a khan in Bethlehem. I know, a lot of people slept in haystacks when traveling, etc., but I don’t know of all that many who were born in one.
Jesus came as the poorest of the poor—one who could relate to and identify with anyone. He did not put himself above any, though He was deserving of everything. He then used that position to reach out to the people’s needs around Him, turning away none but the self-righteous and proud. If the Christ could set aside what was rightfully His to be able to reach us, what right did I have to think I should be given anything different than I had? CH was not sent to me as a punishment but as an opportunity to reach out to other hurting people around me, and it became the catalyst for a jail ministry, a rescue mission ministry, food pantry, counselling, teaching, and on occasion even preaching. Other physical issues have arisen, disabling me, and have also been avenues of reaching out to others in need that I never would have had opportunity without CH.
When I developed the “Why not me?” attitude, my whole focus shifted. My resilience was multiplied to the point I now bend and go with the winds that strike. One day, perhaps, I may face a wind that will uproot me, but I hope I will be like that old live oak I referenced earlier. What I didn’t tell you about it was, in the ensuing months of pulling those trailers down to the gulf coast, I watched as the roots of that tree that were in contact with the ground took root where it lay, and life remained in the tree. Was it standing aright, giving shade and comfort to the cattle in the pasture? No. In fact, much of the tree was dead, but, part of it continued to live with all it had.
I learned a lot from that tree. Much of my life, due to my disability, could be looked at and considered “dead.” I, however, am doing all I can to take root again and flourish to the best I can. I cannot stand tall and give shade as I once did, but I can give shelter to those near the ground, as that tree did. What ever happened to that tree I don’t know. I’m sure it has been removed by now, but I hope it remains, living life to its best ability, and continues to be a lesson to those who pass by and take the time to notice and ponder. My purpose in life is to do the same.
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Re: Resilient Living
Reply #4 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 9:19pm
 
Nice Jerry...THANK YOU!

Don't have a tree story.... but somewhere along the line...I can't even pinpoint when or exactly why (tho I did recognize the need to quit whining to people)...I came to the "why NOT me" conclusion too.
Is AMAZING the relief that brought...even got me through a real bad diagnosis delivery that had the Doctor asking "did you understand what I just said?" Yeah Doc...I have CH...bring it on......

Very few benefits to having CH... but I have believed for a long time that anyone who can survive and thrive after decades of CH... like you...well DANG...that would be the definition of "RESILIENT".....

Best brother,

Jon
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