“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15 (NIV)
I am a writer. My job is to tell stories. What follows is the best story I will ever write and my favorite story to tell.
A Thank You
Thank you, mom and dad, for being excellent parents and letting me always know I was loved. Thank you, Muna. You are my wife and my life. My love for you grows daily. You led me to the Lord every day by your example of faith and love.
This past year has been the most wonderful of my life- and the best is yet to come. Thank you, Steve Bruhn, for leading me to Christ and providing the best example of what a Christian man can be. Thank you Jerry Glesmann for being the best big brother, I could ever have. Our daily talks provide encouragement, love, and faith. You truly are the bravest and kindest man I have ever known.
Thank you to all my friends and family who read my daily diatribes. These posts are an expression of appreciation, gratitude, and meaningfulness. You have shared your spiritual insights, faith, and good advice. God bless you and thank you for letting me share my story.
This post started trying to explain my faith. I wanted to share a few simple thoughts on my life and how turning it over to Jesus has helped me. I did my best to capture the message God laid on my heart.
I hope to share three messages with you. Number one is my love and joy for God and the hope and inspiration I found in accepting the salvation of Jesus Christ. Number two, I wanted to share the excitement and benefits following Jesus Christ has done for my life. Number three, I want to tell you how my walk with God has helped me through some very difficult times, even as my memory and health seem to be getting worse and not better.
This post is really about how God has eased my journey through life. I am not a Bible scholar or even a good Bible student, but I did want to share with you a story I felt is my best story. I believe God wants me to share this story. I have felt His Presence as I have written.
There are times as I write I felt the total love of Jesus, my eyes filled with tears and I had to stop writing. Other times I was overcome with sadness, shame, guilt and I lost my bearings, and I had to stop writing. The only thing that was constant and consistent as I wrote was my feeling of God’s presence, love, and understanding. This is how I feel every day of my life after giving it to Jesus Christ.
A Declaration of Dependence
On July 4, 2016, I am part of a tour group visiting Normandy. We are here 72 years after D-Day. Our tour guide today is Rudy. He is a local Frenchman who spent a decade living in Minnesota. His English is better than mine.
Normandy looks like the coast of Oregon. It has ancient trees, mossy growth, a rocky coastline with craggy cliffs, with a constant rain that makes everything damp all the time. Rudy takes us to the Normandy D-Day Museum.
It’s the beginning of July the weather, and the weather is miserable. It’s cold with clouds, drizzle and sometimes hard rain. By mid-morning, we are all rain-soaked.
The Americans had a tough mission on D-Day. The Germans are an experienced army. They’ve conquered have of Europe and won battles against the Allies in Africa, Italy, and Russia between 1942 and 1944. The Germans are dug-in. They’ve been preparing months.
On Omaha Beach, there is a 100-foot bluff overlooking the beach at Pointe du Hoc. The Germans placed concrete gun emplacements on the hilltops. These fortifications make it tough for American naval gunfire to reach the German defenders. The Germans plotted every square inch of the beach. They cover every square foot with obstacles, mines, artillery and machine gun fire.
On that windswept beach, on July 4, 2016, I was “born again.” Unlike most spiritual conversions, mine was not dramatic. The change in me was quiet, almost boring. To me, it was a simple thing. I had found God. And, most important, God had found me.
There was no flashing lights or clanging of bells. Something was missing in my life and now had been replaced with the Lord. This was not an earth-shattering moment of ecstasy just a warm, solid feeling of complete confidence that God was in my life.
That by trusting God and accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, my life would be better and fuller. My life changed for the better that day. I have strived every day since to be worthy of that great gift.
I don’t know much, but what I learned that day changed my life. I was sorry for the things I had done and sorry enough to do something about it. I feel God gave me a “new start.” My past was forgiven, my present secured and my future guaranteed.
I try to pray three times a day. In the morning, at night, and once somewhere in the middle of the day. The middle one is my saying thanks for all the great things in my life and for help with all the things I don’t understand. There’s a lot of that.
When I really need the Lord in a hurry, I use a little mantra I learned to get me in touch with God, “Lord, please see in me, and be in me.”
I pray this prayer before I write something. I clasp my hands and say, “Lord, make me useful to myself and help me to remember that until I am, I can’t be helpful to others. Help me to remember that you are my creator. I am what you made- sometimes the thumb on your hand, sometimes the tongue in your mouth. Make me a vessel which is dedicated to your service. Thank you, Lord, for your many blessings. Amen.”
Easing my Burden
Even in the tragedy, God has given me hope and love. His love has given me a promise of a better tomorrow, eternal peace, and everlasting life. Faith has given me a reason to stay up late at night and get up early in the morning.
I still feel grief and sorrow. Occasionally I still suffer from depression. But now my pain and feelings of sadness are different, lighter and far less devastating. A void existed in my life that God has filled. I’m not talking about joining a church or finding religion. I’m talking about living a life filled with peace and happiness.
Muna and I joined a great, Bible-based church and we try to keep God first place in our lives. I still struggle in my personal life, but prayer, faith, and love for God have made my life better. I am the best version of myself I have ever been because of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for letting me share my story. God bless you, all.
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.