Dreams & Nightmares

Have you ever dreamt about losing teeth?  I mean, really losing teeth?!

For a number of years, I frequently experienced nightmares about losing lots of teeth all at the same time.  It wasn’t just teeth simply falling out but looking at my face seeing bloody gums and teeth coming out in handfuls.  Most of the time, it was like I had rows of  teeth like sharks do; I would freak out in the dream watching these teeth falling into my hands.  Those dreams are a big part of why I am creeped out when little kids lose their teeth.  I am the kind of person who is disgusted seeing kids with big gaping holes where teeth should be.  Blah.  (My daughter’s only lost a few teeth but I am not looking forward to when she is missing two or three teeth in a row.)

After beginning my graduate degree in 2014, my dreams shifted.  I started to experience nightmares around midterms and finals.  This change started my first semester in graduate school and instead of teeth falling out, my nightmares focused on military service.  I am not surprised.  I was working full-time with active duty personnel, veterans, and their family members while studying issues tied to military and veteran communities.  The last nightmare I recall occurred after graduating last spring.  When I am particularly stressed though I still dream about being back in the Marine Corps.

Last night I had one of those dreams.

It wasn’t complicated or anything.  I knew I was back in Iraq and I was showing a fellow Marine how to inspect her gas mask.  The only “conversation” I remember is reminding her (like you have to do with people in general) that the gas mask carrier is not to meant to store other things (extra rounds, food, etc.).  It may sound silly but people will do it.  In the dream I was stressed knowing my daughter was missing me; she’s never been away from me for very long and it was difficult to know my departure caused her grief.

Today has been a difficult day as I’ve had on and off again chest pains.  I find when I dream about being back in the Marine Corps, chest pains often become part of the daily packaged experience.  I struggle at times to stay focused when the chest pains last for a long duration.  Today the pains felt like someone kneeling repeatedly on my chest, like it “normally” does for longer episodes of chest pains.  When I experience the shorter pains, it tends to feel like a stabbing pain.  Those types of pains were more typical the first few years after my chest pains began.  (The pain today didn’t dimish significantly until after lunch today and started shortly after 8 am.)

For the most part, I tend to listen to music to keep my focus when I know the chest pains aren’t going away.  I like listening to music anyways while I am working so it’s nice to be in a position where I am not frowned upon to be “distracted.”  I am also not interrupted in my work the way I was in my past student facing position so it’s becoming easier to listen to multiple playlists throughout my day. (Yeah!!!)

My musical tastes are somewhat sporadic and typically I’ll listen to some country, pop, and rock throughout the day. I’ll jump from country to pop to rock depending on what I’m feeling with the songs.  If I need to calm down I’ll find some good country songs.  When I need some energy I’ll listen to pop songs and when I need to feel like I can accomplish anything, I definitely listen to rock.  Haha.

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Today’s songs included:

Last Call (LeAnn Womack)

The Way I Feel (12 Stones)

I Wonder (Kellie Pickler)

Room to Breathe (You Me At Six)

The Heart Won’t Lie (Reba McEntire and Vince Gill)

Angels Fall (Breaking Benjamin)

We Are Tonight (Billy Currington)

Erase My Scars (Evans Blue)

That Don’t Sound Like You (Lee Brice)

Stories (Trapt)

Beautiful Disaster (Kelly Clarkson)

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I know the likely source of my current stress is upcoming fireworks, namely consumer use of fireworks.  Starting on June 24th, my fellow neighbors are permitted to use fireworks and can use them until July 6th, and I know from past experience plenty will use the illegal mortar tubes ones.  The $1,000 possible fines are not enough of a deterrent to keep people from using them.

The good news is I have another coping tool in my toolbox this year.  While I cannot determine when my neighbors will use fireworks, I now know when permitted public fireworks displays will occur in my local area.  I didn’t know this notification was possible until I was startled by a public display in late May and reached out to the Town of Gilbert’s Fire Department on the matter.  From there, I was connected with the main fireworks company so I could get on their notification list and the Fire Department notifies me when other companies have fireworks displays around my home.

I would encourage other veterans who experience anxiety and panic attacks as a result of fireworks displays to see if their municipality also offers a similar service.

Fingers crossed I don’t have any more chest pains tonight or dreams about being back in the Corps.  That’s all I need for a good Friday night.

~Cheryl

Role Models & Positive Coping

Good morning, everyone!  It is just after six a.m. here but it is fairly normal for my family and I to be up before 7 a.m. on the weekend.  During the week I wake up for work at 5:30 a.m. and today was just the same, without the alarm clock.  Since I’m up and motivated I thought I would share with you an inspirational story one of my coworkers recently shared via Facebook.  The story of Sergeant Elizabeth Marks is one that I did not know before and like retired Marine Sergeant Kirstie Ennis, Sergeant Marks also continues a physical fitness intensive regime in spite of her injuries.  I am impressed and motivated by the determination of both these women in the face of such great odds and in the past few weeks have worked on incorporating fitness back in my life.  I let that aspect of my wellbeing suffer greatly while I was working full-time and also working on my graduate degree.

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I think one of the most powerful messages shared was her choice to wear the 22Kill ring in honor of her friend who committed suicide.  While suicide victims are not just limited to individuals who serve (or served in the military) this profession, like other high stress employment fields, has a higher percentage of suicides compared to the civilian population and this percentage is higher for both men and women who serve(d).  Even Marks’ physically small but powerful gesture represents a continuing effort to bring awareness to suicide prevention.  Other organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are also ensuring work continues to help save lives.

Another message I wanted to share with you today was about the careful construction of Sergeant Marks’ leg tattoo.  I thought it was beautiful the ESPN article discussed at length her choices for the design and the meaning behind those symbols.  I have many peers who have service-related tattoos and the ones that commemorate fallen peers and pride of service are among the ones that catch my eye the most.  Finding the right tattoo artist to craft those messages is something that I think many veterans can relate to and is worth the effort (and money).

I don’t believe I’ve spoken before about the tattoo piece I will have done later this year that commemorates my time at Camp Blue Diamond.  I made the appointment for this tattoo about a year ago.  Justin Nordine, who owns The Raw Canvas in Grand Junction, Colorado, is who I chose based on his watercolor work.  The more I thought about his style the more I realized there wasn’t another single American tattoo artist whose work I came across that made me feel he or she was capable enough of conveying the complex emotions associated with my deployment.  When I was explaining to one of our work studies how I am trying to find a balance between not only light and dark, but also feminine and masculine perception I thought more about the challenge this desire creates for the tattoo artist.  I think the only thing I am hesitant to include is the color red because red is powerful in many ways that other colors are not especially for its representation of blood.  The photographs below (copied from his website) are a small representation of his amazing skill set however I highly encourage you all to check out his Instagram page if you are on Instagram.

Take care and have a great weekend.

~Cheryl

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