Anxiety Self-Care and Vacationing

I took a trip to Wyoming recently with my family to visit Sheridan and Gillette and as rewarding as vacations are, I am always happy to get back home.

Flying back into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport

Home means stability for me and it helps me greatly in managing anxiety.  I don’t over schedule myself when I am at home the way I do on vacation.

This vacation, in particular, was a bit more full than I expected.  I had dreams of lounging around a bit more but now that my daughter is 7 years old, she wants to, naturally, do more.  She wants to explore and visit, and being a young child, she is demanding, hates naps, and will squeeze every ounce of daylight when not impeded by her mother.  Unlike when we lived in Wyoming, she is also old enough now to have a fully fledged opinion.  She was “meeting” people for the first time because she didn’t remember them from years ago and she also was insistent on having as much time with her young cousins as possible.  As an only child, she craves time with other children and summertime is the worst time of year for her.  She is not around her school friends and with high temps here, we spend more time indoors.

My daughter does not yet comprehend the stress I carry on a daily basis.  She knows I don’t like fireworks but she hasn’t caught on how a significant change of routine bothers me.  I look forward to vacations but I also struggle with leaving my comfortable environment.  I worry about what could happen when I leave my home, both to my home and the people in it while we are away.  There’s a lot of history recorded in my journals, photo albums, and scrapbooks that I can lose if something happens.  Additionally, I don’t like the idea of someone’s possessions becoming personal effects, to include mine should something terrible happen while we are away.  I considered writing about these feelings when I took my trip to Albuquerque last year but was quite hesitant to do so; while I am beginning to feel more comfortable talking about my personal struggles and coping, I still tread lightly.

I’m not surprised by my sensitivity to people and possessions, but I’ve had 12 years to wrap my mind around the intense situation that was my first deployment.  After spending 12 hours of nearly every day on deployment knowing people died and others were wounded, I became more aware we don’t all get a fair shake at living (and living the way we choose).  Without knowing the true number of people who died on my deployment, it’s still safe to say I have few peers who will ever understand the human toll of a deployment like I do.  (For any newbies, my alternative view of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as incomplete as it is, is available for viewing here. If you check out the video, please also read the blog entry for clarity purposes.  Thanks. )

Some of my most precious possessions

For me, this vacation was a beautiful experience and one of the true breaks we’ve taken this summer as we had quite an unexpected–but necessary–financial burden demanding our immediate attention.  My husband’s service dog tore her ACL in June but was (and is) recovering from surgery and was unable to walk more than five minutes shortly before we left for vacation.  Her recovery will still take months but she is starting to show tremendous progress and is happy again, instead of her morose state when we couldn’t let her do any activity except use the bathroom.  If she had been able to walk, she would have flown with us for the first time and yes, there was some anxiety about that issue as well.  As you can see, she’s not a petite girl and even with my husband, daughter, and I all in the same row, she would attract attention.  I have no doubt other passengers would have inquired about her and peppered my husband with questions.

That happy kid look after surgery was too precious.
She became quite leery we’d take all the fun out of her day with her surgery recovery restrictions.

I’ve made great strides to significantly reduce my chest pains this year through regular self-care, but I had four of them during the course of this trip.  The additional stress of monitoring my husband because he didn’t have his service dog was a contributing factor. While I can recognize times where my husband needs additional support I notice it much later than she can and I didn’t feel quite as prepared to be his “service person”–yes, that’s what we joked I was doing in my caregiver capacity–because she had to stay behind.  Other things, like not being consistent about my sleep routine, contribute to the frequency of my chest pains.  Normally, I like to be in bed no later than 10pm and  I think most nights we were lucky to be back at our hotel room by 10:30 or 11pm.  Different noises also present challenges when it comes to sleep as I have trouble drowning them out; my bedroom at home, by comparison, is kept very quiet.  I do not have a wall clock and after living in my home for a year, I am used to the sound of the house fan when it’s on during hot evenings.  I am also a big fan of blackout curtains; the darker the room, the easier it is for me to stay asleep.  There are other things I can do like moderating my consumption of coffee and alcohol that also help reduce the frequency of my chest pains.  (I know I drank far too much coffee on this vacation, nearly 3-4 cups a day, but I was pretty good about keeping my alcohol consumption in check.)

In spite of my continuing battle with anxiety induced chest pains, the vacation was successful.  I think one of the things we need to keep at the forefront of conversation about anxiety and coping is resiliency.  I’ve had these annoying things for 12 years–and it’s really only in the last few that good medical professionals have worked with me to control this condition so it doesn’t destroy my quality of life.  Occasionally, they have to remind me not to pass up opportunities because I know they may or will exacerbate the stress I already have in my life. They also remind me I’ve been through the worst so the things that bother me are triggers (fireworks, sudden loud noises, people walking behind me surpising me suddently, etc.) and not actually life threatening events.   The fact that I had four chest pains on this trip is a sign I do need to plan better for my vacations.  I am still learning to say ‘no’ and I think because I’m in my 30’s I still feel silly to say I go to bed so early and in many cases, need the additional sleep.  Not everyone understands this issue and unlike my peer group, I find it harder to forgo time with family and do not wish to come across as being rude.  Next time, I’ll also work on cutting back on coffee.  I’m sure it’s not bad to have a day or two with that much coffee but the others I should probably stick to two or less cups.

I’m only taking you on a partial journey of the trip but below are some of the wonderful things I photographed during my weeklong visit.  If you want to see more things from the trip, feel free to check out my Instagram, she_wears_dogtags.

Like always, thanks for stopping in to visit.


The view behind our hotel room
One of the flowers in my husband’s grandmother’s garden
My grandmother-in-law has this sign from her late husband’s job working for telephone companies.
My readers know suicide prevention is important to me and I love how this sign is integrated into community spaces.   
I got to see inside a home built in 1905 and it had all this gorgeous mahogany on the walls and stairs. 
I enjoyed sharing a flight of beers at Black Tooth Brewing Company. (I also learned IPA’s are not my thing.)
My beer of choice at Black Tooth Brewing Company is the seasonal blonde ale.
I’m a sucker for architecture and I’m glad my husband took me to the old post office in Sheridan to check out the marble staircase.
I didn’t get donuts from this little place only because it wasn’t open when we walked by.
This JC Penney’s is where I got clothes after returning stateside from deployment #2 as the only civilian clothes I had were the ones I was wearing.  It was surprising to see the store is closing.
Clearmont, Wyoming
The potato oles were one of my favorite foods when we lived in Cody, WY and they are still as good.  I just eat less of them now.






End of Active Service: 10 Years Later

Seriously, it’s been 10 years.

Ten years ago I left the Marine Corps.  Ten years ago I decided I needed (rather than wanted) to go back to college.  Ten years ago I decided to give up a way of life.  Ten years ago I decided freedom was worth more than a pretty substantial paycheck. Ten years ago I walked away with an honorable discharge (and not much else).

I had acquired very little possessions while I was in.  My wardrobe consisted of a week’s worth of clothing. I owned more Marine Corps uniform shoes than civilian footwear. I left the Marine Corps with only one purse (and it was from Aeropostale).  It wasn’t until I started working again later in 2007 that some coworkers encouraged–ok it was a hard nudge–me to pick up some makeup for myself. I had one ball gown in my possession but nothing else in the way of dress attire.  I lived almost exclusively in my handful of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies.  The minuscule amount of furniture my husband and I owned came from Walmart; he built those items with one of his friends during the course of my second deployment.  Our bed was the same he used in high school.  (We’ve updated our bed since then because a full size bed does not cut it for two people!)

I felt quite inept picking out a civilian work wardrobe that I went to New York & Company, picking up several of the same style shirt in different colors.  I was equally inept in the kitchen which is why I watched different Food Network shows on a daily basis.  The other side of my ineptness was using the word F*ck ALL.THE.TIME.

My sincerest apologies to everyone who met the post-Marine Corps 2007 ‘Me’.  She was constantly using F*ck as a noun, verb, and adjective.  She could barely cook macaroni and cheese and Hamburger Helper.  She put minimum effort into her clothes and worked out even less.  She got another tattoo, pierced her ears two more times, and got a tongue piercing for the hell out of it.  Rebellion that should best be lived out in the teenage years cropped up in full force.  Yes, she was a little bitchy and indifferent.

2007 is not a year recorded well via photographs.  My computer crashed after we lived in Wyoming and I didn’t have many saved somewhere other than my desktop.  These are a few of the photographs I had saved on Facebook.

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I still stand by my decision to separate from the Marine Corps.  Towards the end especially my journey with the Marine Corps was causing more heartache than sense of achievement and purpose.  I grew quite tired of working with people whose maturity level peaked in early high school.  I didn’t like the way orders for deployment were handled with my second command.  In numerous ways, I felt like my life in the Corps would be like the spin cycle in a washing machine and I would be trapped saying, “What if?” all the time instead of going out there and finding out who I really wanted to be.

I learned a lot about myself by leaving the Marine Corps.  I learned how to talk (more) like an adult should speak.  Now I tend to only use the word F*ck when I stub my toe, run late to appointments, get cut off by someone in traffic, my dog craps in my car and subsequently vomits on the seat…ok I still swear a lot.  But I don’t swear as much at work like I used to and that’s a good thing.  (I swore last week when I dropped my water bottle cap on the floor because that’s seriously the grossest thing ever.)  I now dress in dresses; you can thank Stitch Fix for setting me up with a grownup wardrobe.

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One of my favorite Stitch Fix dresses

I am a self-taught cook and baker, mostly because I cannot imagine dolling out big bucks for culinary school.  If you need any examples of my playful devotion to the good food life, you can always scoop out my Instagram.  While I mostly post about food finds in restaurants and at the grocery store, I share a bit about my home food life as well.

One of the best things I did after leaving the Marine Corps was working on responsibly drinking.  I didn’t take the best care of myself in 2005 after returning home from Iraq of legal drinking age.  I haven’t faltered too much since then and granted, I know I wasn’t quite as bad as other people.  One of the worst things I did though was being that stupid person drinking in the back of a car when the driver is also drinking.  I always knew better but for a while I didn’t care.  Don’t be that person.  Don’t let someone be that driver.  It’s a recipe for disaster and thankfully none of us involved (and others on the road) weren’t injured or killed as a result of our poor decisions.

I am proud, on the other hand, that I stuck to my goal of completing a collegiate education.  I am privileged to have completed two undergraduate degrees and a Master’s degree.  Many veterans do not complete an education after separating from their respective service branches and their benefits go unused.  Other times, veterans squander their benefits away by not applying themselves in the classroom and run out of benefits before they run out of classes for their chosen degree plan.

Unfortunately, along the way not all my decisions ended with my desired results.  If I could have avoided my two periods of unemployment my family would be in a better financial position now.  If we had taken advantaged of the depressed Phoenix housing market in late 2011 to early 2012, we also could be sitting on more equity.  If I had been adamant with the VA back in 2007 my journey to get them to see my chest pains as service connected would be easier and the disability compensation could have helped out during unemployment periods 1 and 2.  At the time I made different decisions, I foresaw certain end results.

I’ve benefitted a lot the last ten years as a result of leaving the Marine Corps and having served when I did.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an incredible tool and unfortunately, not everyone utilizes or will utilize it well.  If I had stayed in, I’m not sure how dedicated I would have been with my education; the few times I utilized Department of Defense tuition assistance, I wasn’t applying myself fully to my classes.  I met many great Marines who are still a part of my life now; we all spent a different amount of our lifetime in the Corps and a few are still serving.  It’s good to see the Marine Corps is treating them well and I’m grateful none of them look down on me for leaving.  The freedom we have to stay connected via social media greatly adds value to my life given how scattered we are around the country (and at times, for them, around the globe).  I know social media gets torn apart of lot for being a time suck,etc.  but again, it’s a tool.  Use it wisely.

My life now at the ten year post-separation mark is starting to look pretty good.

My new job lets me work from home occasionally and I’m starting to share that journey on Instagram.  (Don’t worry, not all my lunch breaks include sangria.)

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This year I started a friendship with a former boyfriend’s partner and since February, she and I have developed an unexpectedly supportive bond  We would not have met had my ex and I not served in the Marine Corps meeting at the pivotal point of his return from Iraq.  I might be fortunate to meet her in-person in January if all goes well and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity as well to take a trip out of Arizona.

I also snuck in more family visits this year than years previous.  I received a surprise visit with my parents in April.  My older sister made it out to Scottsdale for job training and we spent two days visiting.  More recently, my dad came out for two very short trips and he and my stepmom might be out again in the fall.

Hopefully 2017 continues to be a good year for me.



Contending with the Inevitable Fireworks

I’m writing kind of early this Saturday but it’s hard to sleep in with puppies.

An hour and a half ago I was determined I would write about the emotional pain associated with the Fourth of July.  Independence Day was something I celebrated with great joy as a child but the holiday lost its magic when my friend Bart Carroll was murdered on July 4, 2002.  Thankfully I still have strong happy memories associated with the holiday but losing him changed the trajectory of my life.  As one of the first loves of my life he left an impression on my heart that was strong enough to inspire me to serve, to finish his mission.

I’ve experienced so much in the fifteen years he’s been gone but like everyone else he touched we tend to think about what he didn’t experience.  He didn’t get to marry.  He didn’t get the joy of bringing children into his life.  He didn’t get to serve in Iraq, as was his desire.  I don’t know what dreams he had for himself that composed a bucket list that will never be complete.

After he died, I thought I would at least enjoy fireworks as a means to find peace with his loss.  My heart clung to this notion the celebratory fireworks would give me solace and a tiny bit of happiness on a day that was tarnished.

Now that fireworks remind me of mortar attacks and more specifically the day Captain Brock was hit by indirect fire I hate this time of year even more.  I can’t even say it’s just the Fourth that bothers me, certainly it’s not my friend, but the days surrounding the holiday get to be my demons, too.

Consumer use of fireworks is permitted from June 24th to July 6th.  For someone who doesn’t suffer anxiety around fireworks the time period is awesome.  I have thirteen days of wondering and worrying fireworks will disrupt my ability to fall and stay asleep.  It’s that feeling of being back in Iraq the day Captain Brock was hit.  I feel a sense of powerlessness I don’t like and have to work through because it’s not like  I have any guarantee on what days and times my neighbors will use fireworks.  I also don’t feel free to go out at night for a walk or dining out, which is a whole other matter.  My daughter is getting to an age where she likes fireworks, too, and I am not ready to take her to any public display nor do I buy fireworks to use in the neighborhood so she gets this childhood experience.

This year is only the third Fourth of July fireworks season for me in Gilbert.  This season I am (hopefully) a bit more prepared than years past.  In 2015, there was zero preparation; I was thrown into a bit of hell only rivaled by New Year’s Eve fireworks.  I didn’t realize how much people love using fireworks in the neighborhood over checking out public displays.  (Public fireworks displays made life easier in Wyoming and I only experienced a small amount of fireworks with my sister-in-law and her family there.)  Last year on the Fourth of July, my husband and I went out to dinner and walked over afterwards to the movie theater.  I had some fireworks startle me on my walk over so I needed a few minutes to compose myself before rejoining my husband for the movie.  This year will be very different for me.

The Town of Gilbert and a local fireworks company are keeping me notified of different public displays and for the first time here, I am venturing out with my husband to have an outing with friends in Phoenix.  I already warned the group I tend to experience panic attacks around fireworks so they’re prepared as well!  We started discussing a Fourth of July get together during Memorial Day weekend so I’ve had time to wrap my mind around the idea of how to handle the situation if I have a panic attack around new friends.  Up until this point, my husband has been the only person (thankfully) to see me suffer through a panic attack and it’s hard to know other people might see me when I am that vulnerable.

As I tiptoe into social outings, I am taking baby steps (as I would encourage any other person who struggles with fireworks).  I was informed I should be able to see the fireworks where we will be without the overwhelming sound/sensation of the explosions.  I haven’t set up a specific amount of time I’ll stay out.  I don’t know how I’ll feel until I’m out and around everyone while being exposed to fireworks.  However, I’ve planned accordingly to have a safe outing as much as possible within my control.

One last thing.  This time of year as well, I implore my fellow Americans to also be  respectful to our refugee population knowing many of them, like a number of our veterans, have also dealt with explosions that jeopardized their safety and the safety of their loved ones.  Too often these men, women, and children are not seen as also needing social support but we need to empathize with their situations.  A number of them have lived through war and conflict longer than many of our nation’s war veterans and yet their needs are underrepresented in the media.  Fireworks may also remind them of painful experiences in their past.

Ok…so I guess I do have one last thing.  If you are going to use fireworks this time of year, please stay safe.  Use fireworks responsibility to prevent injury to yourself and to others enjoying your celebration.

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Image is from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Fireworks Information Center