“Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Anais Nin
“Embrace the hustle and the struggle of chasing a dream that will give you financial freedom.” – Muna Oto
I started a new business yesterday called “Battle Ground Bookkeeping Solutions.” I started my business for three reasons:
I have an “eagle-eye” for numbers and details.
I love helping people achieve their dreams.
I wanted to work from home.
I wanted to run a “side hustle” without quitting my day job as a writer. Writing is what I am passionate about, but it doesn’t always pay the bills.
When most people consider launching a new business, they imagine quitting their full-time jobs to risk it all. For some entrepreneurs that works. You also risk abandoning financial stability and possible bankruptcy.
More than 50 percent of new startups fail before the four-year mark. The risk-it-all mindset is often too much, too soon. So sticking with a traditional job while you grow a business idea is a safe and viable option. I am all for taking a complete leap of faith by quitting a job you hate to do what you love, but why do it if you don’t have to?
I love writing for a living, but I wanted to build something else. Something I’ve learned about over the past few years is how to make and manage money.
A Reality Check
I am a disabled veteran. One morning, in Afghanistan my world literally exploded. I was hit by a 500-pound roadside bomb. It destroyed the vehicle I was in and killed three of my buddies. I hit my head three times in the explosion and rollover. Having Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is like a stroke on steroids. I had a ringside seat to my destruction. Over the next eight years, I watched as my brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, self-awareness… and worst of my all my memory.
I was amazed to find myself alive. I spent eight years recovering my ability to think, walk and talk. I never dreamed I would become a spokesperson for recovery. I came back from my brain injury stronger than before. In my case, although the explosion damaged the left side of her brain, my recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from my right side. I started to write about what happened to me.
A New Normal
Over the past eight years, I struggled with my brain injury and chronic pain. It’s hard to work in a conventional job due to my memory problems and physical limitations. Besides my brain injury, I have two herniated discs in my back, labral tears in my right shoulder and hip pain. I am in constant, chronic pain.
I needed a job where I could work from home and earn a living. A home bookkeeping business was perfect. I am not a CPA but have had helped a dozen friends with business, financial and tax advice. I wanted to start and grow, and my own successful business. Now I can do it and get paid for it.
I think being an internet entrepreneur is a great new way to break into the new, non-traditional economy. Helping people with their money plays a big part in creating freedom with their lives.
How It Works
With a virtual bookkeeping business that I run from home, I can earn a part- or full-time income. The program I signed up for teaches me how to make a net profit per client.
Average client work will take 3-4 hours a month for this style of the client. This means an hourly equivalent of more than $60.00. The internet is a great equalizer, enabler and provides leverage for home-based businesses.
My new business is based on a virtual bookkeeping business model. It tosses all the old rules of a traditional bookkeeping business. I am not at the beck and call of my clients. My business model allows me to stay-at-home, work flexible office hours, and most important- focus on my writing.
There are some traditional obligations such as communicating with clients and sending emails. But this can be done during the workday. The bulk of the work is 100% flexible.
There is a huge trend within different industries to outsource human resource functions. This includes payroll, tax consulting and financial services. My business is a micro-business- a firm of fewer than five employees. I am the only employee or owner my business will ever have. One partner is one partner too many.
I have no prior experience with bookkeeping. The only taxes I’ve ever done are my own. I read about this business model in Entrepreneur Magazine.
I found a successful training model. I paid an initial start-up fee to enroll in their training program. I started yesterday. I am building my business from the ground up with this simple business model.
Every business requires bookkeeping. It’s not a hard sell to potential clients. It will take a lot of hard work, especially on the front end. I know my hard work will pay off in spades as I create the life of my dreams: a near-complete freedom and flexibility to work from home while I write.
The business model is a “turn-key program.” I am learning three things:
How to run my business an effective, efficient and professional manner.
How to draw clients, even though I know next to nothing about sales and marketing.
I am an excellent proofreader and editor as a writer. I know I can tune my “eagle-eye” from letters into numbers. Starting a side hustle isn’t for everyone. I know that I won’t get it right the first time around. I have to remember three things in starting any new endeavor:
Faith- in yourself and the idea.
Patience- staying organized and get things done.
Perseverance- you learn by making mistakes, the trick is to apply what you learn.
Over the next few months, I will tell you everything I know about business, financial statements, getting and keeping clients and running a successful business.
This book is different. Bear with me. I promise it’s worth it.
Muna and I seem to do a lot of driving. In California last winter we spent two to three hours a day driving to see things. Audiobooks are a great way to catch up on your reading. We picked up an audiobook called “A Single Man” at a book sale in Paso Robles, CA. It was a pleasant surprise.
The book is about a gay man having a midlife crisis after his longtime partner suddenly dies. I am not usually into books about gay middle-aged men, but I love books by amazing writers. Christopher Isherwood is definitely a great writer.
Background of the Author
Christopher Isherwood was born on August 26, 1904, on his family’s estate in Cheshire, England, near Manchester. Isherwood’s father was a professional soldier from a landed gentry family. His mother came from a wealthy merchant family.
Isherwood boyhood was an environment very similar to “Downton Abbey.” As an upper-middle-class boy, he had an idyllic childhood. His father was killed in World War I.
Isherwood knew early on he was gay. This theme is present in all his writing. Isherwood attended Repton School in Derbyshire. Later he went to Cambridge University but left without a degree.
In 1929, he moved to Berlin, the capital of the Weimer Republic. He was drawn by its reputation for sexual freedom. He met a man named Heinz, who became his first great love. He wrote novels based on his own life.
Isherwood moved to America in 1939 and settled in Los Angles. He reinvented himself in Los Angeles. He openly lived as a gay man long before it was fashionable.
In 1939, Isherwood wrote “Goodbye to Berlin” a semi-autobiographical novel set in Weimar Germany. Isherwood talks about pre-Nazi Germany and the rise of Hitler. Famous writer George Orwell called it, “Brilliant sketches of a society in decay.”
The book was adapted into the Tony Award-winning musical Cabaret (1966) and the film Cabaret (1972). Liza Minnelli won an Academy Award for playing Sally in the movie.
On Valentine’s Day 1953, Isherwood met Don Bachardy. Isherwood was 48 and Barchardy was 18. The 30-year age difference between Isherwood and Bachardy raised some eyebrows. Over time they became a well-known and a much-photographed couple. They lived together the rest of Isherwood’s life. Isherwood died at 81 in 1986 in Santa Monica, California.
George Falconer is a 58-year-old expat Englishman living in Southern California. George is a literature professor. The book is set in 1962, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis. George’s longtime partner Jim suddenly died a few weeks before in a car accident.
George and Jim were together for over sixteen years. Jim was George’s life. Jim’s death has shattered George’s reality and sense of self. During an ordinary day (his last day), George is haunted by memories. He seeks connections with the world around him. He interacts with neighbors, students and old friends.
Throughout the day, he has various encounters with different people. His contacts with these people color his senses and illuminate the idea of being alive and human in the world. During the day George undergoes experiences that separates his thoughts from his body. While driving to his university, his thoughts wander back to his life with Jim. We learn how they met and lived together. Through dialogue, flashbacks of memory and George’s internal monologue we see the lonely, bereaved nature his life has become without Jim.
The novel is loosely based on Isherwood’s own life teaching at California State University, Los Angeles. Many consider “A Single Man” to be his best work.
“A Single Man” is a moving portrait of a man struggling to find himself in midlife. The narrative is edgy, controlled and subtle with moments of buried rage. Isherwood paints a beautiful picture with words of George’s everyday life on a multicultural, multiethnic campus. Throughout the day (his last day), George tries to stave off his loneliness. He visits an old English friend, he goes to a bar, and he frolics with a student in the ocean.
Everything is about George trying to connect with someone, anyone before it’s too late. The book is a study of grief and a portrait of the aftermath of a lost love. George being gay is only an afterthought. George is a man deeply mourning someone he loved. He is a man who has lost his rudder in life.
Isherwood the Writer
Isherwood is a brilliant novelist. His style of writing gets you into the headspace of George. We find out what makes him tick, how he feels and why he is so sad. Isherwood was a prolific writer. He was a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, biographer, and diarist. He is fun to read, “The creature we are watching will struggle on and on until it drops. Not because it is heroic. It can imagine no alternative.
Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face – the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man – all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us – we have died – what is there to be afraid of?”
Gore Vidal said, “Isherwood is the best prose writer in English.” Vidal may be right. I know I loved the book. “A Single Man” is different, brilliant, and sad.
His excellent book is hysterical and deeply moving. He gives us insight into the human mind. Isherwood is an expert on prose. Not a word is wasted. A lot is crammed into this little book. The 2009 movie stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Firth gives a brilliant performance as George.
The writing is coming along. I am reading two to three books a week. I hope you enjoy these book reviews. They are my attempts to talk about and understand what I read. In high school and college, I trudged through English class, but I never paid attention. I am trying to make up for that now. I am rereading all the books I passed over.
After eighteen years of schooling, I found out I had a deficient vocabulary. I knew to be a good writer I had to steep myself in great writers. I am not just reading for entertainment (although it is great fun!). I am reading to find the key to open the door to make me a better writer.
Good writers are disciplined readers. After I read, I write. I follow a schedule of reading for two hours and writing for two to four hours every day. Writing is a craft. I must be a craftsman who hones that skill every day. There is an adage that to write well, you have to write badly for a long time. I still write badly, but I am trying desperately to get better. Here is how Hemingway started.
“A Moveable Feast” is a memoir by Ernest Hemingway. It was published after he died in 1961.
The book is about Hemingway living in Paris with his first wife Hadley and their young son in the 1920s. “A Moveable Feast” is twenty-eight essays about Hemingway’s life in Paris with the “Lost Generation.” After World War I, Paris became a mecca for American artists and intellectuals.
The book is full of nostalgic detail of what it’s like to be poor, happy and learning the craft of being a writer. Hemingway has daily conversations with literary greats like Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. All these famous writers forever changed the topography of literature.
“A Moveable Feast” is a “payback” book. Hemingway stabs many dead friends in the back throughout the book. He has no qualms with saying what he really thinks of other artists. Hemingway punishes those who loved him.
Gertrude Stein gave him invaluable support, affection, and advice. She taught him how to revise and rework his stories. Stein was a Jewish lesbian who lived openly with her wife, Alice Toklas. Hemingway goes out of his way to paint Stein as a vindictive woman who looked like a peasant. A cruel picture of a woman he made the godmother of his oldest son.
Hemingway writes nasty things about his dead friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby,” a book considered to by many literary critics to be “The Great American Novel.” Fitzgerald edited Hemingway’s manuscripts, encouraged him and got his publisher at Scribner’s to take on the unknown young writer. Hemingway repays Fitzgerald by writing about him as a weak, alcoholic. Hemingway says Fitzgerald was dominated by his wife Zelda, who ruined him.
Hemingway wrote the book when he was a successful and famous writer. He is writing about a young man, who is not yet successful, who was a struggling writer, who is happy and in love with his wife. Hemingway was blown up as an ambulance driver in World War I. Hemingway was a big game hunter in Africa, a deep sea fisherman in Cuba and a war correspondent in World War II.
Hemingway lived with intensity. He did everything at double or triple speed. He prematurely aged. Hemingway went from a movie star handsome young writer to an old man with a white beard in only a few years. In all those adventures he was never as happy as he was in Paris with Hadley learning how to be a writer.
“A Moveable Feast” is a beautiful read and a marvelous fable. Hemingway’s preface to the book states it may be read as fiction if the reader wants to. Hemingway says fiction sometimes sheds light on the truth.
Hemingway reinvents his past with him as the hero. He writes that he and Hadley were penniless. They lived in a squalid room over a sawmill at the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. He leaves out the fact that they lived off Hadley’s trust fund.
Hemingway wrote “A Moveable Feast” in the 1950s. Hemingway’s journals from the 1920s provided the material. The final draft of the memoir was written when he was sick. Hemingway was paranoid and at times delusional.
Hemingway reconstructs his youth in Paris from 1921 to 1925. The book centers on his first marriage to Hadley Richardson and his development as a writer. Each of the twenty plus chapters are stand-alone works. The stories are from different periods in Hemingway’s life in Paris. They are not a linear approach to his experiences.
At the end of the memoir, Hemingway has an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who becomes his second wife. When Hemingway begins the affair, it marks a new era in his life in Paris. It is the end of the happy period in his life and an end to the book.
The book is written in a simple style. Hemingway talks about the weather, the boulevards and the different places he lived.
“A Moveable Feast” really is about writing. There are great lessons into the insight of Hemingway’s writer’s brain. He understands the fragility of the balance of writing simply with honesty. Hemingway writes about writing and life. The joy of doing it right and the sadness of getting it wrong, both in life and in writing.
Hemingway is a man looking back on the past with sorrow, anger, and regret. Throughout the book, he has the discipline to never mention the present. “A Moveable Feast” is a dazzling portrait of 1920s Paris. It offers firsthand insight into Hemingway’s development as a writer.
I love Marines. They are America’s Spartan warriors. They are always ready to do battle. They are closet idealists and pessimists.
Marines have an intense feeling of identity. They have almost a mystical connection of belonging to an elite fighting force of almost invincible warriors.
Some of this attitude comes from their brutal and efficient training. Another part of that comes from their deep confidence and pride in their mission and leaders.
There is no better friend and no worse enemy than a U.S. Marine.
Lewis “Chesty” Puller, Sr.
No Marine has commanded more respect and admiration than General Lewis “Chesty” Puller. His bulldog face, his barrel chest, gruff voice and common touch made him the epitome of a Marine combat officer.
His long, distinguished career made him a legend. He was the most decorated Marine in history. He was a descendant of Robert E. Lee and a cousin to George S. Patton.
In a forty year career, he rose from buck private to general. He fought in five wars. On five separate occasions, he was awarded the Navy Cross- a military honor second only to the Medal of Honor.
Chesty Puller was a Marine’s Marine. The men under his command idolized him. He is a legend in the Marine Corps the way babe Ruth exemplifies baseball or the way Yeats stands for the melancholy Irish.
Being his only son would be hard.
Lewis B. Puller, Jr.
Lewis B. Puller Jr. was a sensitive and intelligent man. He is a gripping writer who tells you about his tragic ordeal after Vietnam in his autobiography “Fortunate Son.”
Puller’s story is a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but it is wonderful at the prose level. It tells a harsh and forbidding story that made me think about the larger themes of his book.
Puller’s story sounded so much to me like my own story- only bigger, more intense and much more tragic.
His book is an autobiography, a record of the life of a wounded Marine. His writing is haunting, devastating and his story lingers with you long after his book and life have ended.
His book explores his suffering. His telling of that pain is sincere and brutal. He makes you have sympathy for him. His redeeming quality is his optimism and absolute refusal to give up.
Puller’s thoughtfulness and undiminished patriotism and his heroic battle against injury, alcohol, and depression provide a genuinely moving human drama.
He wanted to reclaim his life despite losing half of his body on a booby trap in Vietnam. He endured years of surgery and rehabilitation, alcoholism and a feeling that he had let himself and his father down.
Puller’s book has the blood-red glare of anger and bitterness. But his story had hope, the glow of morning sunlight of a promising new day. His chronicle was moving and powerful.
Puller writes with simplicity and candor, with touches of spontaneous humor. His outcry of agony and isolation is harrowing. It leaves the reader overwhelmed with wonder at the torture a human being can absorb this side of madness.
Puller makes you bear witness to his pain, rage, and bitterness. Puller had come so far, only to end his own life in the end. His death baffled and disappointed me.
I wanted to explore some themes from the book.
Father and Son Relationships
Puller’s relationship with his father Chesty dominates his life. Chesty was a loving father. Chesty was nearly fifty years old when Puller was born.
Puller wants to make his father proud. He writes about the unspoken assumptions of responsibility of being Chesty’s only son and heir to his father’s heroic legacy. Almost every decision he makes in his early life is in reaction to his father’s legacy.
Chesty was proud when his only son went off to Vietnam as a Marine Infantry Officer. Puller returned three months later as one of the most grievously wounded men of the Vietnam War.
Puller’s greatest contribution to literature is the exploration of the value of human life. Puller constantly wonders how he will continue to “live” and “to function” and most importantly “to contribute and serve” even after the loss of both legs and most of his hands.
Even after a horrific trauma Puller still wants to serve and help his fellow man. His physical loss did not diminish the value of his life to society.
Puller made a conscious choice to do a lot with his life after Vietnam: 1. He became a lawyer. 2. He helped to organize and build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 3. He ran for Congress. 4. He served on clemency board that helped thousands of fugitive draft dodgers return to the U.S. from Canada- his feelings on this issue is one of the best parts of the book.
Puller’s story provided hope and a long overdue appreciation for Vietnam veterans. His story inspired thousands of wounded veterans from his war in Vietnam to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Vietnam.
Puller dared to go on after a savage wound where he lost half his body. He was grief-stricken and angry about the loss of his legs and hands, but he did something heroic by choosing to live.
I think Puller displayed the same steely courage of his father in the face of adversity.
There is a Greek ideal of “kleos”- the glory that comes from a warrior performing a heroic deed, often at the cost of his own life. Marines embody the ideal of “kleos”-self-service and sacrifice.
Pullers felt he made an honorable sacrifice for an unworthy cause. He felt cheated that his great sacrifice was never appreciated and written off by the indifferent public as meaningless.
For years after his physical “recovery” strangers, friends, and acquaintances were “put off” and “uncomfortable” by looking at Puller’s mangled body. This was a constant reminder to Puller how people felt about him and Vietnam.
This is truly a soldier’s greatest fear- for your sacrifice to be unappreciated and forgotten. A soldier can and will endure any hardship as long as he thinks the cause is worth it.
This was the real reason for Puller’s pain. Puller felt he had been tricked into throwing his life away for an uncaring country.
Puller’s second pain was emotional. He was the “fortunate son” of a legendary hero. Puller admired and deeply loved his father. For Puller, there was no other path than to become a Marine.
His wounds cut his military career short. Puller feels he let himself and his father down. His sense of disappointment and sorrow of what might have been haunts the book.
Puller’s grisly physical and traumatic emotional injuries were almost too large to be overcome in a single lifetime. In the end, Puller commits suicide. By that act, he became another casualty of the Vietnam War.
Puller’s book gave me hope. He struggled to find a new point of view which supports his “new” life and the sacrifices he made inspired me. Puller taught me to live beyond my injuries and my past.
Ironically, Puller’s closest he gets to peace is when he was recovering from another bout of alcoholism. While in Alcoholics Anonymous he sees that life is paradoxical. To be happy human beings must often learn to live with two contrasting viewpoints, to make a compromise of what we feel and what we think.
Puller is a fantastic writer. His voice is engaging and honest. It was a privilege to get inside the mind of such an intelligent, sensitive and caring man. He makes it easy to read about tough subjects (death, trauma, and depression).
His prose clear, accurate and most importantly honest. Puller never shies away from telling us about his life, the reasoning behind his actions, even the parts he is not proud of. His unflinching honesty gives the book authenticity and credibility.
I know what it is like to be the son of a powerful and legendary man. My father was a decorated war hero. My relationship with my dad and his early death has dominated my life, the same way it did Puller.
Nearly every decision I made in my life, either consciously or subconsciously, was a reaction to my father’s legacy. Like many dutiful sons, I only wanted to make my dad proud, the same as Puller.
I was blessed. As I got older, I realized there was no one was keeping score. All the decisions I made in my life, were mine and mine alone. My father loved me and was proud of me. He told me so many times.
I know that my father would have been proud of me no matter what I did with my life. I think he would have been most proud that I try to be a good husband and provider for my family.
My dad would have been very proud that I became a writer because it made me happy. He would have adored my wife, Muna.
Lewis B. Puller Jr.’s book taught me the value of a human life. That no matter what has happened to us we choose what our lives become by the choices we make. Our lives are the sum of the decisions we make.
I prayed for Puller after reading this amazing book. His story gave me a balm for my pain and some much-needed closure.
Thank you, Mr. Puller and God bless you. Your service and sacrifice inspired me to write more and to try harder. I hope you finally found the peace that eluded you in life.
I want to tell you about the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.
My mom is a great reader. She passed her love of books on to me. My mom taught me to read when I was four years old.
OAK PARK, IL- July 1979
When I was four years old, my mom took me to the most exciting place in the world. Every Saturday we would walk to the Oak Park Public Library. I had no idea the Oak Park Public Library was only two miles from where Ernest Hemingway was born.
When I was five years old, my dad bought a stack of old Spider-Man comic books. I was hooked. Both my parents encouraged reading.
I love libraries. In a library, you have a wonderful ambiance. All those stacks of books are new friends waiting to be met. Stephen King is up there watching you. John Masters is waiting for you to pick him up. A library is a great place to read and learn.
Discovering Hemingway– STUART, FL- August 1990
In high school money was tight. I tried to educate myself by going to the library every weekend. I stumbled across Hemingway by accident. Hemingway was never “required reading” in my high school.
A buddy told me there was a lot of sex in ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (he lied). The story grabbed me. I thought there must be a mistake. Hemingway used simple words in short sentences. The book was easy-to-read. Hemingway painted a picture with words. It was the opposite of what my teachers told me.
I’d had crushes on girls but had never fallen in love with a writer. I read every Hemingway book I could get my hands on. Hemingway was the “bad boy” of literature. He wrote about love, bullfighting, deep sea fishing and big game hunting. At fifteen-years-old, all I understood was that he was easy to read.
I read and re-read his novels, his war correspondence, and short stories. I learned something new each time.
In the Army- FORT KNOX, KY- April 2003
When I was in the Army, the first thing I did was to find the post library and the local library. Within a month of arriving at Fort Knox, KY or Fort Polk, LA or wherever I knew every library within fifty miles.
Everything I needed to know I learned from books in libraries. Each library book collection is unique. Each new library was a new friend waiting to be discovered.
At War- FOB DANGER and FOB LIBERTY, IRAQ- July 2005/ FOB TOMBSTONE, AFGHANISTAN- August 2008/ CAMP MOREHEAD, AFGHANISTAN- January 2011
In each of the places I was stationed overseas, there was a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). The MWR was a place that gave away free coffee, bottled water, and sometimes sandwiches. Most soldiers remember the MWR for their internet services. I remember the MWR for its stacks and stacks of free books.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the MWR had reading rooms made out of plywood. On the walls of the reading room were five shelf bookcases crammed full of used paperback and hardcover books. Soldiers and the Family Readiness Groups (FRG) donated these books.
I would head over to the Green Beans coffee shop, get a cup of black coffee, sit down on a red ratty old couch and read a book. Soldiers surrounded me playing pool, using a ping-pong table and a dartboard. I am alone, at home, with my book.
When I graduated from high school, there was no money for an education. I made my own homemade education by reading. I was lucky to get a scholarship to go to Kemper Military Junior College. In college, I discovered beer and girls, but I kept reading. Kemper had a fantastic old library
I was fascinated by knowledge and what I was learning. I read books about everything from history, religion, places, and people. My mom taught me something powerful when she taught me how to read: all you have to do is to want to learn.
Teaching me how to read and to love books was the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.
How did I learn to cope with my life-changing injuries after getting blown up, twice?
“You are a success when you have made friends with your past, are focused on the present, and are optimistic about your future.” – Zig Ziglar
Zig Ziglar’s inspirational message of hope saved my life. I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and chronic pain. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantryman.
“I learned some very valuable lessons in war: War is a nightmare. War is awful. It is indifferent, devastating and evil. War is hell. But war is also an incredible teacher, a cruel teacher. And it teaches you lessons that you will not forget. In war, I saw humanity at its worst, but also at its best.”
– Jocko Willink
One morning, in September 2008 my world literally exploded. There was no sound, just a rush of air and heat. There were five men in my truck. Three brave men died. I awoke amazed to find myself alive, but my life was forever changed. I was over my physical injuries in a couple of months. It took me years to realize that my brain was not getting better.
Making Things Worse
I made terrible and life-changing decisions. I started drinking. I dated the wrong women. I didn’t want to deal with what had happened. My situation got worse. I knew that if I opened my Pandora’s Box of issues, I might not be able to close it. And I may not be able to deal with the things that come out.
I had to accept my old life was over. I didn’t feel like a good leader or even a whole man being back home. I spent a few years feeling completely out of place. I pretty much stayed away from people. I felt my life slipping away. I could walk, talk and move, but nothing seemed to be going right. I realized that what I was trying to do myself just wasn’t working.
Having TBI is like a stroke on steroids. I had a ringside seat to my own destruction. Over the years I watched as my brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, and self-awareness … I have many pragmatic deficits because of my TBI. I am hyper verbose- I talk too much. I became tangential- I can’t keep track of a topic.
Before the injury, I could connect the dots. After the explosion, I would hit one dot, skip a dot and see a dot way out in the distance. I have difficulty concentrating, keeping track of time and memorizing names. I spent eight years recovering my ability to think, walk and talk. In my case, although the explosion damaged the left side of my brain, my recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from my right. I started writing.
Potential and Possibility
The Polytrauma team at the Indianapolis Veteran’s Hospital made a difference in my life. It allowed me to look back at my life. To look at the good and bad experiences, to allow me to grow and to learn from what I’ve seen and done.
I know that war is life’s severest school. I also know those who experience war, endure it, and thrive in it have the ability to return home. I found out that if you are willing to learn and grow, you can be successful. If you don’t, you won’t be.
The Polytrauma unit used an interdisciplinary team approach. With cognitive and speech therapy I slowly began to rebuild my brain to reconnect the connections it made before I was injured.
During therapy, we practiced scenarios using an “artificial reality.” We practiced talking to strangers, withdrawing and managing money. We practiced scenarios to put our new coping skills to use. We were in a safe and secure environment to get better. The Polytrauma unit gave me a new lease on life. It was an important part of my reintegration and socialization into normal life. I was free from the shame of my disabilities. I recognized I was not in this alone.
My injuries weren’t just TBI. I had multiple injuries both skeletal and emotional. Multiple parts of my body system were impaired and injured from the explosion. In three tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, I was exposed to a dozen explosions- two of those were massive roadside bombs that injured and killed other soldiers. I got at least ten concussions in those three years.
The area of my brain where my memory and attention are centered were injured. The part of the brain that relays functions became impaired- one part of my brain didn’t talk to the other part of my brain. I could recognize objects, but I couldn’t name them. I would recognize people, but I couldn’t tell you where I knew them from.
I had to develop new strategies and coping skills to keep myself on track. This allowed me to compensate in areas where I was weak. Going to the polytrauma program allowed me to go back to school. It gave me time to reflect, to remember and to leave it there. I had a new family, a family of disabled veterans just like me.
Enter Zig Ziglar
The first time I listened to Zig I was hooked. Zig was the most interesting speaker I ever heard. His message of success was simple and positive. I was spellbound with enthusiasm. The more I listened and read the more motivated became. I found myself happy, motivated and ready to conquer the world. Zig’s message of positivity and personal achievement was a summary of all the positive stuff I had learned in the Polytrauma unit.
I know the Lord put Zig in my life for a reason. I am excited and anxious to share with you what a positive impact Zig’s message has had on my life. His “system of success” has renowned my commitment to God, my family and made me try to be a best man I can be.
The Polytrauma unit taught me that life is more than a physical challenge, it’s the realization that their goals are achievable, one step at a time. I want to become a spokesperson for TBI recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. I want to my experiences with PTSD, TBI and chronic pain to offer a message of hope for others struggling with these life-changing issues.
With Zig’s message I was reminded that my past is not my prologue. Attitude makes all the difference. I am grateful that I am alive and have continued to thrive. I made friends with my past, I am focused on the present with my wonderful wife and my beloved grandson Jack, and I am more optimistic about my future than I have ever been!
I am trying to get caught up on the Boon Reviews. I love reading a good book and then writing about it. Lewis B. Puller’s 1991 book “Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet” won the Pulitzer Prize for biography.
This book hit close to home. I know what’s like to go to the war the son of a military legend. I know what’s like to be wounded and to suffer through years of rehabilitation, depression and attempt to live up to a father’s one-sided legacy.
My own story is nothing compared to Lewis B. Puller Jr.’s. My writing is not as beautiful. This is a brilliant, painful and necessary book. Like Eugene Sledge’s book With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa,” Puller is a proud veteran of the 1st Marine Division. Like Sledge, Puller deals with his demons through writing. The outcome of Puller’s story is heroic and tragic.
The story of this brave Marine made me proud and broke my heart. His journey is one of the best I’ve read about the nightmare that was Vietnam. Muna and I listened to this book on audio. Puller narrated the book. He is a measured and intense narrator. The last ten seconds of the book made us both cry. You’ll find out why later.
Lewis B. Puller Jr. was born in Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1945. Puller was the son of Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine of all time.
Puller served in Vietnam as a Marine Infantry Rifle Platoon Commander. His awards were the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry for his service.
Puller graduated in 1967 from the College of William and Mary, where he also earned a law degree. In 1978, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress. In 1979, Mr. Puller worked as a senior lawyer in the Defense Department. He died in 1994.
Puller’s autobiography recounts his tragic life, a Marine who lost both of his legs and part of both hands while serving his country in Vietnam.
Lewis B. Puller was the son of Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in American history. Puller recounts from the time he was a boy there were unspoken assumptions about the course his life should take.
Puller felt a certain obligation to be a Marine because he was Chesty’s only son and heir to the Puller name. Puller joins the Marine Corps while still in college. Puller meets a beautiful woman named Toddy.
Puller becomes a Marine Officer. Just before going to Vietnam he finds out that Toddy is pregnant. They get married just before Puller leaves. Puller goes to Vietnam as an Infantry Platoon Commander. Within three months he returns home to the States missing two legs and most of his hands.
In the book, he told of stepping on a booby-trapped howitzer round while he was in Vietnam. “I felt as if I had been airborne forever,” he wrote. “I had no idea that the pink mist that engulfed me had been caused by the vaporization of most of my right and left legs.” Wounds That Never Healed.
His body was mangled. Puller was in endless agony during his painful physical recovery followed by years of surgery and rehabilitation. His wife stays by his side through it all. His son is born while he is the hospital.
Puller fights to regain a purpose to his life. Puller nearly succumbed to relentless pain, depression, alcoholism and a father’s unrequited legacy. Against all the odds, he survives his wounds and goes on to earn a law degree from the prestigious William and Mary College.
Puller feels bitter about how America treats Vietnam warriors, veterans of an unpopular and “lost” war. He runs for Congress and loses. To his disgust, he loses to a man who was elected on the strength of his pro-military stance, even though he avoided service in Vietnam.
Puller helped to organize and build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. Puller’s amazing book is an account of his journey from alienation to reconciliation with a nation that had sent him to war.
Even the cover demands your attention and respect. On the front of the book is the image of Puller’s shrunken body perched on a wheelchair in front of the Vietnam War Memorial. The book is beautiful, haunting and tragic.
Lewis B. Puller is a fantastic writer. He is intelligent and caring. He writes with a clarity and accuracy that makes reading about difficult subjects (war, trauma, and suffering) easier to absorb.
His prose at the sentence level is devastating and haunting:
“I listened in on my father’s conversations with his colleagues and acquaintances while I was growing up, and I unconsciously adopted his politics and philosophy as my own. Most of the admirers who came to share his wisdom were already predisposed to accept his words as gospel; Father’s personality was so strong and his delivery so forceful that I saw very few people who ever seemed to express disagreement with his stands on issues.”
Puller sees his emotional wounds and the country’s emotional wounds over Vietnam in a larger context in the book. His father’s long heroic shadow haunts him throughout his life. Puller gives an open and graphic description of his pain and trauma after Vietnam. He talks about his pain-filled struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.
In the war, Puller lost his legs, most of his hands and some of his self-respect. He felt he lost his future, half of his body and dreams to a war that his fellow Americans thought was a mistake. Vietnam destroyed his life.
Puller paid a high-price to make his father proud. Puller admired and loved his father deeply. Puller felt he made an honorable sacrifice for an uncaring country that treated its Vietnam veterans like dirt.
His grisly physical and traumatic emotional injuries were almost too big for any one man to overcome, but overcome them he did. Puller graduated from law school, was married to an amazing women with two wonderful kids, and ran for public office. Puller helped to organize the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
His book is a chronicle of a man who needed to be a kind of different hero, one who overcame his enormous physical and psychological scars to find a courage- and a victory- all his own.
On May 11, 1994, Lewis Puller Jr’s victory in his ongoing battle ended, when he took his own life. His death may be another casualty of the Vietnam War due to his long-suffering from his wounds.
This last part of the book devastated me. After hours of wonderful listening to Puller tell his heroic tale, another narrator cuts in and tells us how he died. I learned a lot from this book.
His wife Toddy Puller said in a statement: “To the list of names of victims of the Vietnam War, add the name of Lewis Puller. He suffered terrible wounds that never really healed.” His death could serve as reminder and obituary for the war itself.
I am addicted to Gilmore Girls. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem, a big problem. Let me start at the sad beginning.
In 2001, when the show was in its second season, I was a recent college graduate, doing a tour in Korea. I caught the show in re-runs on the Armed Forces Network. It was an exciting time, but scary too. Throughout midnight drills that took us to the Demilitarized Zone of North Korea, my new job as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader, Gilmore Girls (GG) was there. A little slice of normal America for a lonely soldier, far from home.
Lorelai Gilmore, a sexy single-mom, raises her witty teenage daughter Rory in the postcard-pretty town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The town is a half-hour’s drive from Hartford. Stars Hollow is a tiny village with a cast of colorful characters, including its own official troubadour.
Lorelai had conviction, pluck and an incredible work ethic. She was raising her daughter on her own. Lorelai had gotten pregnant so young (16 years old), and got her life together with grace and grit. Yes, Lorelai struggled, but she and her daughter Rory had a deep bond that made them more like sisters than mother and daughter.
Rory was a good, reliable, dogged girl. I loved watching the mother-daughter take on life’s difficulties and beat them together. GG with its fast-talking, peculiar, pretend world of the small-town of Star’s Hollow, helped teach me new life lessons each week.
The classic title sequence featured songwriter Carole King and her daughter, Louise Groffin, singing a duet called “Where You Lead.” The song is a tribute to the mother-daughter connection at the heart of GG. The song was not only irresistibly catchy (a fun sing-along), but also set the tone for each episode. It reminded me each week about the unique nature of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore’s oath to take on the world together.
Reading Like Rory
Rory was a bookworm, and the show featured 300+ books! I loved how GG leaned on the intellectual side by throwing out references to literary works and classic and contemporary pop culture fads. Every time I watch an episode, even if it’s for the 12th time, I pick up something new. It’s like going to a fun college for free!
I rediscovered Gilmore Girls on Netflix last year. I got my TV ready with coffee and pop-tarts (a GG favorite snack) I knew this was going to be a bumpy ride. I binged watched all seven seasons in two weeks. One episode would end, and before I knew I would be knee deep in the next episode. I already know how the seasons play out, it doesn’t matter. I know I’m going to be exhausted the following day, again, it doesn’t matter. I am a GG addict, and I love it.
I tried to quit cold turkey. I might as well as tried to fly. It was impossible. So strong was the grip of the addiction that I canceled rare evening plans of wonderful dinner plans with old friends. Luckily, my wife is not a GG enabler.
I tried to come up with plausible excuses for dodging these outings to get another fix. I would procrastinate, telling myself one more episode was all I needed. In reality, I passed up a chance to right a grave wrong by watching another fantastic episode.
I’d sneak downstairs after my wife went to bed for thirty minutes of wonderful of another GG adventure. I had to know what was going to happen in Stars Hollow, you know?
Then last year the most wonderful thing that could happen to an addict, I got a new drug, a return trip to beloved Stars Hollow. I cranked up the first episode of the recent bonus season of a Netflix reboot – “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” Two days later it was over, and I’m left a bereft man. I feel like I lost a limb or a close friend. Yes, I have a Gilmore Girl’s addiction.
By the time I finished A Year in the Life, I had refused to believe the characters in GG were not real people. Stars Hollow, Connecticut was a real place, full of wonderful people whose lives centered on the delightful dynamic duo of a sexy, single mom and her wonderful, witty daughter.
“We can swing by Stars Hollow and get breakfast at Luke’s,” I mused to Muna, she only shook her head. Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about. Lucky for me because she’d probably have had me put on some kind of scary GG detox program.
I want to give you some helpful information by talking about PTSD, TBI, and depression. I have all three. In the last six months, I have made tremendous strides to take my life back.
I know a lot of friends and family members who have these issues. Hopefully, reading about them and sharing what I’ve learned will help those suffering.
My goals in this emails to be as honest as I can. Some of these issues are deeply personal and embarrassing, but If it helps only one person, it will all be worth it.
The Black Cloud
I have an amazing life. I have a wife who loves me. I teach the future leaders of the army on my weekend drills. I write for a living, something I love to do.
Despite all these wonderful things I live with depression. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by overly negative feelings and thoughts.
Sometimes something brings it on like the loss of a loved one or a friend. Sometimes nothing whatsoever brings it on, and a black cloud will form on the horizon of a happy day.
Living with depression is disabling and awful. All the pleasure is sucked out things I love to do. I start to leak confidence and become blind to the good things in my life.
I become forgetful. I can’t keep track of my finances, or remember simple appointments because I am overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing and a loss of self-confidence.
I become a stranger to friends, family and myself. I tell people I am doing well. In reality, I can’t bear to clean the house or simply do the dishes.
The worst thing is I lose all my compassion and become selfish. I feel like a useless, ugly, stupid blob. In this state I become unpredictable, afraid and lazy.
I miss the old me full of energy, brimming with confidence.
Over time I see glimpses of my old self. It becomes harder and harder to get up the in the morning and face the day.
The worst part is how I see myself. I feel like a bad person, a rotten, selfish human being.
I feel like I fell down a black hole. I quit taking care of myself and forget to bath and eat. I feel like I will be stuck here forever.
I lost track of time, each moment feels like forever. I’m completely alone on Depression Island. I am isolated, trapped and nothing will ever be the same again.
It becomes harder and harder to get out this frame of mind, to see any hope.
I am Italian and Catholic- we do guilt, not suicide.
I do know why people kill themselves when they feel this way. It is draining and leaves you so tired you don’t want to go on. You feel once you’re gone you don’t have to feel these negative feelings anymore.
At some point, I decide to fight back. I am determined to be strong and I remind myself I live through this. I usually do something fun to let my feelings flow.
I learned this state of mind has nothing to do with willpower or attitude. It’s like being bald or short. It is what it is.
I have tried all sorts of remedies to relieve my depression: yoga, running, hiking, behavioral, cognitive therapy, regression therapy, group therapy, religion, and meditation.
Some helped, and some made no difference at all.
Sometimes a good night’s sleep was helpful. Sometimes I stay stuck in the hole for a few days. I realized this last time I needed some professional help.
What I learned
Some depression is hereditary like male pattern baldness or brown eyes. I was probably born this way with a temperament towards depression. I think it has very little to do my experiences in the military.
It’s a well-known fact that some families have a disposition toward depression. I am reminded of the “Hemingway curse.” Ernest, his father, his brother, his sister, and granddaughter all killed themselves after suffering from severe manic-depression.
Part of it may be a chemical imbalance in my brain.
The brain is a magnificent organ. It is the command and control of your body.
The brain is very soft. It is the texture of soft butter. Only thin layers of fluid-filled membranes cushion the brain from an impact.
The brain sits in the skull- a hard helmet of bone that protects the brain. The head is full of bony ridges and sharp points. When you hit your head, the brain hits these hard places. These blows cause Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
My real problems began about a few months after I got home from the last tour in Afghanistan in 2012. I started to slip into a parallel world for minutes at a time. Instantly, I was back in Afghanistan, sometimes Iraq, but mostly Afghanistan.
Sometimes it was in dreams, other times it was when I was awake in flashbacks. I had the same feelings and sensations I felt there. It seemed very real.
Once in a while, I would replay the explosion that killed Bruno. Other times it was stuff that happened in Iraq. I would snap back to a former reality during a deployment and exist in it for a period of time.
The war for all the things wrong with it became the defining experience of my life. There I was loved and had a purpose. I took part in the adventure of my generation.
I started to write down what was happening. It was a repetition that became a compulsion. I began to understand that my flashbacks were an overwhelming need to repeat the experience, to resolve it.
I was replaying the movie in my head to get a satisfactory ending. I just couldn’t let go of it. I was living both a nightmare and a dream. This was PTSD.
TBI is a physical injury. PTSD is the mental injury. The combination of PTSD, TBI, and depression is a “perfect storm.” Symptoms of the three can be overpowering and destructive. Sometimes they overlap.
The rate of PTSD is much higher in veterans who have a brain injury.
In 2005, I was blown up in a small explosion in Iraq where I hit the side of my head. It knocked me out for a minute or two. It was not that severe. It was early in the war.
Three years later I hit my forehead on the steering wheel in the initial explosion that killed Bruno. I hit the side of my head on the door, and the roof of the truck as the truck blew apart and into the air. I was knocked out for 10 minutes. I woke up and passed out twice before Jerry rescued me.
Surviving an Explosion
An explosion does horrible, violent things to the human body. A blast wave is like being hit with a tsunami, then an instant later you are pulled back into the ocean to drown. This all happens in an instant.
A complex pressure causes the explosion. A wall of heat, pressure, and sound hits you at over 700 miles per hour. The blast wave passes through your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Air filled organs like your lungs, and gastrointestinal track lose all oxygen. A fraction of a second later, debris and fragments fly through the air.
I hit the steering wheel with my forehead, the roof, and cab of my truck. I hit my head three times in less than five seconds. Each hit was like getting whacked with a baseball bat. I had major problems.
I smacked my forehead where my prefrontal cortex (PFC) is. The PFC is the part of the brain handles decision-making, planning and impulse control mixed in with depression and TBI. I was a perfect cocktail for a disaster.
My brain injury gave me a lot of problems in the years after the accident.
I can tell you from personal experience, having issues mentally like impulsiveness or memory problems is not lack of willpower or a bad attitude.
Compulsiveness is not about rigid people who are over controlling. Understanding and optimizing your brain is sometimes the missing link to being successful in getting better.
A Brain Injury
My problems came from a brain injury. There was no “getting over it” with willpower or a positive mental outlook. A high-performance car doesn’t run with a busted engine, and a cripple can’t walk with a spinal injury.
When the command and control center of the body is injured, everything else is broken.
I had no patience over trivial things like waiting in line or being struck in traffic. I was anxious or frigidity. I couldn’t talk about happened without getting angry.
I was dealing with the physical and mental scars of war. Things had changed while I was away. I lived in four places in two years unable to settle down.
I knew I had to understand what happened to get better.
The Human Brain
The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is made of billions and billions of nerve cells. It is estimated there are more nerve cells in the brain than stars in the known galaxy.
A single piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains a hundred thousand nerve cells. These nerve cells make up your personality, character, and intelligence. It’s what makes us who we are.
Dopamine, the pleasure and motivation brain chemical, and serotonin, the happy and anti-worry chemical, help with anxiety, depression and obsessive thinking. When there’s too much or too little of these chemicals between connections with nerve cells, things get out of whack.
Anti-depressants get things back on track. They can help to regulate, generate and control the flow of chemicals in the brain. I have seen them help some patients and hurt others.
The brain and body connection is amazing. In Iraq, after my buddy Phil died, I started to lose my hair. After getting blown up in Afghanistan what was left of my hair turned white, and I had an unhealthy skin tone.
In three months after getting home, I put on 20 pounds. The mountain of physical and emotional stress took a negative toll.
When you have chronic physical and emotional pain life is a struggle mix in depression, and life can become unbearable. Everything gets mixed up and seen through the prism of pain and jumbled thoughts.
Pain, both physical and emotional, is a very personal thing. Pain is a monument to wartime trauma. Pain makes you divide time into two parts: before the pain and after.
Bruno died in September, I went to my buddy Bruno’s funeral in October- where I told his loving parents how their brave son died, while I lived- and I watched Phil’s murderer be acquitted in December.
In the last three months of 2008 I aged ten years.
From that day on I grew weary and worn out. The experiences drove me like a stolen car. I was run too far, too fast and never maintained. I was broken.
My own combat experience is what baseball players call a “cup of coffee.” It’s a slang term for a minor player getting in one game of major league of baseball.
I saw enough combat for a “cup of coffee.” I’ve been shot at and mortared but never anything serious. A few frantic, scared seconds with a couple of rounds. It was over before it started.
My issues came from PTSD and TBI. It wasn’t about the duration of the experience, but the intensity. My problems were chronic pain, flashbacks, nightmares, and depression.
My worst symptoms were memory problems. Negative thoughts and images lived in my subconscious.
I would be having a normal day and a damaging thought or image would invade my brain. I’d forget where I was and what I was doing. It was ruining my life.
Last fall, with the love and support of my wife Muna, I decided to get professional help.
Over the past couple of years, but more so in the past 6 months, I really had some problems- physically (knee/shoulder/back pain and balance issues), mentally (lack of sleep, memory and concentration issues), and emotionally (withdrawing, loss of interest in formerly fun activities).
My issues snuck up on me. They were cumulative. Being a soldier is a hard life. Physically, mentally and emotionally it can be draining. The physical pounding of over 20 years in the army started to add up.
My real problems were sleep issues. At first, I didn’t see it. Over the years, five hours turned into four hours turned into three hours and 45 minutes.
Good health begins with a good night’s sleep.
Having chronic pain, with PTSD, TBI and sleep issues is like living in a dumpy third world country with a strange language and unfamiliar culture- everything is hard and crappy.
It was ruining my life. Mix in all the fun of anxiety and depression, and you have a perfect cocktail that drained my well-being. All of it makes you feel worn out and far too old.
In the past five months, I did one-on-one and group therapy. I started eating right, taking fish oil and vitamins, exercising for 30 minutes a day, sleeping for at least 6 hours a night and got better at handling the stress in my life.
I feel younger, clearer and vibrant. The best thing I did was start to write again. It’s what I love to do most. I get joy to help others. I can’t draw, so I write.
It is important to re-enter the world when you feel strong. I feel like I can cope and work through life’s surprises.
Depression is tricky. It can be a one-time event or it can be a long haul, lasting days or months. Either way, you’ll have to wrestle with it or hide it when you have to. Sometimes being positive makes you end up feeling positive.
Getting through depression and my other issues is a big struggle. It’s a victory when you start to come of out it. It’s like winning a title bout.
You may be a little battered and bruised but you’ve learned a few things about yourself and maybe you can help others because who have been there.
Slowly things change. Little things start to have meaning again. You survive a little at a time. Things gradually start to get easier. Maybe you’ll want to help others. Maybe you’ll even learn to love parts of yourself.
I hope this posts helps by talking about these problems. It helped by writing about my struggles with PTSD, depression and TBI. Maybe you’ll have some tools for when it shows up again.
This post is for Veterans who have concerns about memory problems. I will talk about how PTSD has influenced my memory and thinking. This post is not a substitution for an evaluation by a healthcare professional. It’s just a simple man’s struggle to come to terms with his own issues.
My Own Experience
One morning, my world exploded, literally. In the weeks following my IED accident in 2008, I realized I had a ringside seat to my own destruction. Over the years I’ve watched my brain functions change one by one: emotions, speech, memory, self-awareness…
With this change went my old self, my self-confidence, and my memories. Amazed to find myself alive, I’ve spent the next nine years learning to cope and recover my ability to think, walk and talk. The IED blast was like having a stroke on steroids.
PTSD and Memory
PTSD “IS” a Memory Problem. The good news is we can do something about it. This is how PTSD influences memory and thinking.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to traumatic or very stressful situations. For veterans, it’s mostly associated with combat and overseas deployments. PTSD has been described as a “survival response in overdrive.” There are a number of features to this emotional response that can interfere with memory:
1. Feature: Reliving Bad Experiences.
Effect on Memory: Your mind is preoccupied with the past, so you pay less attention to what is happening right now.
2. Feature: Avoiding things that trigger bad memories.
Effect on Memory: You are focused on keeping out of danger rather than thinking about what people are saying or what is happening.
3. Feature: Being easily startled, or “on edge” all the time.
Effect on Memory: You are not able to be in the “here and now.” Your brain produces chemicals that make it harder to lay down new memories or experience joy.
Veterans with PTSD and their spouses often say they “zone out.” I misplace items, and I often forget what people tell me. I am still able to do day-to-day tasks, but some days this is very challenging.
Memory is complicated. Learning new things requires three steps:
1. Taking in new information. Sometimes we are not even aware we are doing it or not.
2. Filing that new information. Processing the new information to use as a later time.
3. Recalling the information. Retrieving the new information at the right time.
I can tell you memory is never perfect. None of us remembers everything that happened, even a short time ago. I can usually remember the most important and dramatic details. Memory problems can happen in ANY of the three steps. Being distracted and stressed out makes it harder to do all of them. PTSD often gets in the way of the first step.
For me, my symptoms of PTSD can act like a filter that comes and goes- at times only allowing me to take in bits of the information. At other times information comes flooding in that I would rather block out. Strong emotions can interfere with memory. PTSD affects my memory indirectly, by interfering with my sleep.
An abacus is a counting frame. It’s a calculating tool used by merchants, traders, and clerks in the ancient world. Beads slide on wires to make calculations.
Imagine the beads on the abacus is your memory. Imagine there are 10 beads on wire strings. 5 beads for short-term memory and 5 beads for long-term memory. After my last IED explosion, I have 8 beads for long-term memory and 2 small beads for short-term memory.
I am an autodidact. In the past ten years on my own, without teachers and professors, I’ve learned military history, business management, computer programming, and three other languages. I read two to three books a week. I’ve gone to school, but only to learn more. I can choose a subject, study it and learn a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. I can recall the information almost at will. Sounds impressive, I am sure.
This sounds impressive until you realize the circuits of my short-term memory is fried. I have problems sleeping because my mind never turns off. I dream, I struggle and I get frustrated. I don’t know or how my memory works that way. I’ve worn the same t-shirt three days in a row and not realized it. I’ve had the same three conversations with my wife on the same, not realizing we talked about the same thing two other times. I have no concept of time. I have trouble with social nuances.
My memory is wonderful and awful at the same time.
What To Do?
These are ways that I’ve worked to improve my memory and thinking abilities to make my quality of life better:
1. Focus on the here and now. Recognize that bad things happened, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of your life.
2. Pace Yourself. I don’t take on too much anymore. This is the real reason I am retiring from the Army.
1. I live and die by my calendar. It’s annoying, but I have to write everything down.
2. I take regular breaks when I feel I am getting stressed.
3. I only do one thing at a time. If you don’t do something well, you’ll only do it again.
3. Get enough sleep. Sleep is nature’s medicine. I strive for seven hours a night.
I love the Saturday Night Live Character Stuart Smalley. Like Stuart- I am a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. This is my experience and my experience alone.
It took me a long time to realize I needed help. It wasn’t until I was living with my wife, I realized I was in trouble. She was a mirror and reflected my behavior back at me, telling me what I was doing and why.
My wife made sure she had my attention before we started conversations. She noticed when I distressed or preoccupied. With her love and support, I got my PTSD treated and worked with a Speech Pathologist on some coping skills to improve my memory.