2018: Looking Forward and Backward

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Fireworks “season” is over and I couldn’t be happier.

This year’s festivities haven’t been as traumatic for me as years past, but there are a lot of behind the scenes work this year to get through 24 December to 3 January when fireworks are permitted here.  It doesn’t matter to (many) fellow Arizonans the mortar tube style fireworks with report are illegal, and those are the ones I must contend with this time of year and from 24 June to July 6th.

Don’t mind the fact I will probably complain about these two timeframes for as long as it takes for my brain to adapt to these circumstances.

Aside from this seasonal frustration, things are looking up lately.  I have some changes going on at work, but this change represents an opportunity to take on more responsibility.  Hello, extra responsibility always looks good on a resume.  Not that I’m changing careers anytime soon. I like working with veterans and I like where I am working. This opportunity is a chance to grow and explore.

The VA recently received my Notice of Disagreement as well.  Yes, I’m nervous about traveling down the road with the VA again, as it often leads to disappointment.  The first time I submitted medical documentation to the VA in 2007, I thought the process would be somewhat smooth.  I felt the VA could make a connection between my service in Iraq and the chest pains I developed in March 2005.  (Joke’s on you “2005” me…the VA isn’t that great at making natural connections.  They need LOTS and LOTS of documentation to have that “aha” moment.)

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The funny thing is when I saw a civilian care provider in late 2007 or early 2008 who told me my chest pains were stress induced, I did not believe her.  It sounded like the craziest thing someone ever told me, more so because I didn’t experience them on my first deployment. They developed shortly after returning stateside.  For many years, I figured there must have been some environmental exposure (chemical/substance/etc.) that caused me this significant discomfort, but I was unwilling to open up to other medical care providers other than to indicate the issue was part of my medical history.  No one pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and these pains persisted.

These pains continue however my willingness to work with care providers now to address anxiety-related chest pains and the triggers in my life is making a difference.  I do not know if I would have been willing prior to 2015, but losing a friend to suicide became my impetus to change.  Losing him was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced. Losing him reminded me of the personal guilt I felt on deployment not being able to prevent our forces from losing service members.  After knowing him as long as I did, I felt I should have seen something and I didn’t.  The first semester after losing him was the hardest because everywhere I walked on ASU’s Tempe campus reminded me of where we would run into each other.  I don’t know if I have enough words to convey the high level of stress I felt going to work each day knowing he wasn’t there and would never be back.  There is no way I could have successfully dealt with my grief without support from the medical community and to do so meant opening up about a lot of my personal struggles after serving in Iraq from August 2004 to February 2005.

In the last few months of 2017, I took a somewhat unconventional approach to share my personal struggles with the VA. My military medical record was insufficient for the VA to make the connection in 2007.  Instead, I’ve drawn a picture for the VA through a personal narrative because classified work is not an easy thing to document in the military.  This area of my life was far from black and white when I served. I knew the rules between who had a “need to know” on deployment but it was quite unclear for care-related purposes how to communicate what I experienced and why it impacted my life the way it did.  I am just as much to blame as the military medical community I worked with during that part of my life.

At this point, I can only wait for the VA’s answer.  I might terrify them a bit with all the casualty information I presented.  The VA might terrify me a bit and ask for an in-person meeting, requiring me to speak about this difficult life experience.  It’s all a waiting game so I am working on my positive aspects of my life.

I am shedding my hesitance to write a memoir.  There’s a lot for society to learn about digesting war on a social and personal level.  I don’t have much to share on my progress right now, but it’s a lot of free writing and getting emotion on the paper.  My goal is to complete a few pages during the weeks I’m in class.  When I’m not in school, nightly writing is my assignment.  If I can spend the first six months of this year tackling this project, I will be happy.  I spent far too much time worrying that others would criticize me for having a voice and sharing those sentiments.  Now it’s time to be serious and maintain momentum.

It may take a few years to publish, and I’m ok with that reality.  I’m not in a rush for that part of  the project.  I am devoted to another representation of war to be publicly visible and I can only do so if I find the right partners for the job.

Here’s to 2018.

~Cheryl

 

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