I took a break recently from memoir writing. It wasn’t entirely planned but I’m in a class that’s more difficult than I expected so the easiest thing to take off my plate was extra screen time. My eyeballs are pretty tired nearly every day from work and school work that places me behind a computer.
Life has calmed down a bit after the New Year’s fireworks, but I am still learning to navigate life–and triggers–here with an eye on building supports along the way. I am not sure if you’re familiar with the idea of instructional scaffolding but this approach has become evident in how the trajectory of my post-deployment care routine and coping has changed over the years.
As resistant as I was to the idea of having others’ support along the way, it has helped me manage chest pains related to anxiety and work out a better routine while working, going to school, and trying to maintain a social life. The more I’ve been able to identify things that bother me, the better I am at minimizing the stress these things add to my life.
I realize my life, particularly after leaving the Marine Corps, has included seasons of repair and growth worth discussing today.
2007 and 2008 were probably more reparative years than seasons of growth. I left the Marine Corps in July of 2007 so I wasn’t completely cognizant some of my Marine Corps habits weren’t helping me on my way back into civilian life. I joked recently with extended family about the competitive nature of drinking in the Marine Corps, but that’s a good example of unproductive habits. I also harbored a deep resentment of medical professionals given my lackluster visits with medical while serving. I did not have a proper diagnosis regarding my chest pains and I was not confident in the civilian professional who concluded stress played a role in their presence.
2009 to 2012 were significant years of personal growth. As I stepped away–not entirely willingly–from employment, I had the opportunity to build my life in other ways. I mostly lost access to my military community because we were not located near a Marine Corps base and I kept in touch with friends via Facebook. It was a good time period to be surrounded by friends in similar life phases as mothers, college students, and future mothers. While I was pretty vulnerable living in an area not surrounded by my own family, I found my footing in the classroom and learning to serve others by building my culinary skills and using this gifts to build my community. Food culture is a means to gather and learn from each other and honestly, I’ve learned a lot about myself because I’ve failed more in my culinary pursuits than I have in an academic classroom setting. I was blessed my friends were willing to try my new creations and many of those friends are still part of my extended family today.
2013 was a difficult year for me. Nothing seemed to be going right for me and I was pretty bitter my first year out of college did not produce the opportunities I expected it would. I was naive to think holding two bachelor’s degrees would serve as an insulating layer against life’s problems. The year did pick up as I found a role working with veteran students and it invigorated me. I also managed to start improving some personal relationships which restored my confidence.
2014 was the start of a significant transformation in my life on a financial and educational level since I returned to academic, entering my first graduate program and utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill® that helped reduce the burden employment had placed on my family.
2015 became another season of repair for a myriad of reasons. Ten years after my first deployment, this year brought on a lot of the same personal challenges I felt after my first tour in Iraq and coincided with the city of Ramadi being taken over ISIS. I was–and am fortunate-my support circle stuck by me. I had the chance to see I don’t have as many “fair weather friends” in my life that I encountered with some people back in my Marine Corps days. I recognize not everyone wants to handle the stress of Marine Corps life–friendship or otherwise–and it’s easy to see the same struggle in the veteran community. Some people walk away and never return. The people who stuck by me the most this year have helped make the years since some of my most productive.
2016 proved to be a strong year for me (for the most part) as I completed my graduate applied project and learned more about my deployment than I ever expected I would. I am not saying it was an easy endeavor as it brought a lot of personal issues to the surface, but I found strength I didn’t know I had. The first six months of this year were exceptionally tough as I figured out a new area in my life after losing a friend in November 2015.
2017 and 2018 were both years where repairing my life and growing from adversity occurred. I made the decision to stay in higher education for my professional career but moved from being student-facing to a behind-the-scenes capacity. This change in work environment allowed me the breathing room I needed and the autonomy I wanted in this particular role. Working from home has provided an unplanned bonus when we faced a series of unexpected and expected veterinary expenses with the added burden of dogs convalescing from surgeries.
My entry back into higher education with the pursuit of a Master of Public Administration is a blessing and a burden at times for the additional demands it adds to my weekly routine with the additional benefit coming at the completion of the program.
To juggle the demands over the last few years, I’ve coordinated more with non family members to mitigate stress in my life, particularly those episodes that increase the chest pains I experience.
While I started working with a great nurse practitioner back in 2012, we only started working on a plan in 2016 to combat the chest pains. I was pretty fortunate to coordinate with her through last year until her and her family moved out-of-state. Another civilian care provider has helped me think about my deployment in new ways that has not only aided me in school but helped me cope more productively with the regular fireworks seasons in our area. Her insights have also helped me think of how to share my deployment experiences with others. The fireworks notifications from the local fireworks company that runs most of the public displays were pretty regular until my point-of-contact left.
The reality is I am a veteran who has had more coordination with non-VA resources with the exception of VetSuccess on Campus at ASU than regular support from the VA. The trajectory of the situation has meant finding other educators to determine why my post-deployment health issues exist and how to deal more effectively with them. With the initial involvement of these persons in my life, I have also learned how to advocate for my own needs, including updating my disagreement with the VA’s decision. (“Funny” story by the way, the VA’s website states it takes approximately 12-18 months for a Notice of Disagreement decision but when I logged into my account yesterday, the internal site indicated it takes approximately 13-30 months.)
I am fortunate with the tools I’ve been given and the people who serve as coaches and support crew to get to the point where I am in my life. The last few years I’ve found a good plan of action to help reduce the frequency and severity of chest pains. This pathway was something I was initially against but the patience of my former nurse practitioner changed my opinion. She was quite patient and willing to let me slowly check out my options because I have not always felt confident with medical professionals I’ve dealt with previously. I’ve been asked about my deployment and why it strikes a sense of duty in my work now and been reminded I am not responsible for things outside my control. This avenue has been important because it helps me identify when I start to experience a panic attack in anticipation of or during fireworks. With the inconsistent fireworks notifications this past year, I am also more willing to reach out to others to avoid future surprises.
In high school, my mother left me a journal sharing her insights that she saw I was like her in having trouble relying on others. She mentioned that “we all need a helping hand once in a while” and for me to work on my self-confidence. So this entry is me sharing that same message to you all. Our lives are full of good seasons and bad seasons. My mom told me confidence would take me to places I never imagined.
Let my mom’s words help you out today:
“God has you here for a reason, everything has a purpose good or bad.”
Look at your seasons and the people who cross your path. There’s a reason for them to be there.