WHAT A SUMMER! Really, what a year 2016 has been. Does it feel unusually long or is it just me?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we applied for a couple’s Project Odyssey through Wounded Warrior Project. As we have attended other similar events, we did expect some type of group therapy discussions.
We were housed at the beautiful TPA Saltgrass Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach (I highly recommend the Fried Green Tomato Pimento Cheese Sandwich if you are ever in town). The folks at this Marriott were beyond kind and went out of their way over the couple of days to make sure we had what we needed. This location caters to corporate meetings and they have a Starbucks located inside. How genius is that?
The staff from WWP were great. Their intent was to facilitate all kinds of discussions through thoughtful discussion, art projects and bonding exercises. As with most groups of military families, this can devolve into herding cats. A lot has been going on in their corporate offices and they handled it well.
I am not a big fan of team building exercises (in corporate environments I have seen the quickly go awry). A similar thing happened on this venture but with a lot more emotion. On our first day we were kind of thrown into tandem kayaks with no instruction and told, go to this point down river.
What a mess.
Our guide was knowledgeable, the area was beautiful and my Veteran had the most epic melt down in the history of melt downs out in the middle of the water. In retrospect, it was HILARIOUS, but at the time it didn’t feel like it. We had to work through some things for sure but I could have done without the trial by fire.
The next day was a team exercise where half of us were blindfolded and had to come from a room off the larger area into a place where the other half was to make us sit in chairs but no one could talk. In preparation, my team half developed more than one plan cheerfully and were ready to go. My Veterans team half apparently fought the entire time.
What happened next was even worse.
Being unable to see and have people grabbing on you brings up all kinds of issues. Whether you are a Veteran or not, if you have trust issues or space issues or all of the above from a trauma, this reignited all of that. To say that there was some emotion and crying is an understatement.
The next day’s beach activities were much more beneficial. Everyone worked together and felt supported. It was nice to see.
We have talked often since about whether we would have participated had we known any of this in advance and I am not sure. They don’t give a schedule so you are forced to roll with it but that resulted in being ill prepared wardrobe wise and very stressed when it came to times for medications.
It could have been handled better.
The results, however, are hard to argue with. There were conversations that needed to be had that finally started. There were plans to be made that finally were. There was thoughtful consideration of personal goals which had been lacking. I am glad for the experience of it but not sure I would recommend it for everyone. If you aren’t in the right head space for that or not in the place in your relationship where you are ready to work on things, you would be miserable.
I knew I would be busy this summer but I didn’t expect it to disappear in the blink of an eye! There was a great deal of awesome sprinkle with a bit of not so great. Isn’t that how life really is most days?
Our retreat to Boulder Crest was AH-MAZING! We went for the Songwriting with Soldiers retreat mostly because this appealed to our youngest daughter and came away HUGE believers in music therapy. Everyone was so kind and interested in helping in any way they could and I highly recommend retreats with either group that you may be able to do in the future. What’s great about Boulder Crest is that you can also rent a cabin with them for a week! YES, REALLY. It’s beautiful, quiet and peaceful there. To get up to date on all things Boulder Crest, you can check them out HERE. For more information on Songwriting with Soldiers and their events, you can check them out HERE. If you are interested in the songs we wrote that weekend, you can check them out HERE. (YES, I am the lassie from Tallahassee who is all about the fun!)
Our girl on fire competed in the Outdoor Nationals which was held in tiny Decatur, Alabama. The weather was quite disagreeable but it gave us the opportunity to take her to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. She very much is still on the “I am going to be a scientist and go to work for NASA” career path so she was blown away. Sometimes life can really get you down but those are the kinds of moments that are my favorite, when we can watch our kid light up like a Christmas tree. I don’t think she stopped smiling for days. At that point, we made the resolution to no matter why we are traveling, fun or not so fun, that we take a break to have a little side trip. So many amazing places in the country and sometimes we just drive right by them! WELL STOP IT!
My father was moved to hospice home care shortly afterwards so I have made three unscheduled (read = EXPENSIVE) trips out of state to visit. While I love my family, it is not fun to watch the drama that unfolds surrounding this. My dad, a Vietnam Veteran, has had decades of substance abuse without seeking therapy or treatment, so while it is sad, it is certainly not expected. It has been very hard living out of state and juggling the animosity that brings up for some people but the fact is, I am also primary caregiver to a Veteran that lives in my house. I also have minor children to raise. I also can’t do everything. UGH.
Back to school started and it is always weird to see my youngest just a little bit older and closer to going to college. She has set high standards for herself and we are mostly just trying to get out of the way! We are hoping once she is there that there are more scholarship opportunities for children of disabled Veterans. Currently there is a surprising lack of those I have found.
I finally got to head out on a caregivers retreat and I will write more about that in another post but that is something else that is critically important, yet not enough of them! Right after that, I had my first experience with surgery at a VA facility, also another blog post, and that was interesting to say the least!
The holidays are coming up, are you guys doing anything fantastic? We are going to attempt a family reunion of sorts in Orlando. Since the way we handled things last Christmas went well and my Warrior loved it, we thought why not invite everyone? In a way it also helps avoid more of that drama that keeps popping up and I am all about less drama. Why waste time being miserable on any holiday? It is okay to do something different and just order pizza. No one will die and what if you end up having the time of your lives? It’s possible, ya’ll know that right?
This is the time of year I both look forward to and simultaneously dread.
Am I the only one?
It seems like my TO-DO list always has 10,000 things on it and some of it gets done but it never completely goes away. When you pile no more school, nice weather, a teenagers social engagements and archery season it already feels overwhelming.
For us, this is added on top of fighting with the Veterans Administration to complete a claim, trying to find a public servant that feels like taking up our cause, getting an advocate to shuffle us to the top of the every growing mound of cases and trying to navigate the VA healthcare system as a Caregiver, it’s downright maddening.
So how do you program in time for the good stuff?
I am trying to make a habit this month of carrying the magazines and books with them every where I go. I put this stuff off but it’s truly on of my favorite escapes and who needs that more than me? That’s right, ALL OF US. In doing so, when appointments go from “real quick labs” to “waiting room hell for an hour” I have found that I am actually getting through some of them and it makes me happy!
I started my seeds directly in the garden this year. It is a bit more risky but it seemed like to me if it worked, it would be a lot easier in the long run. While I still have mulch to put down and soaker hoses to run, I am on my way and oh yeah, I am getting some sun and fresh air along the way. As difficult as it is to take time for anything, I finally figured out that I could do some of the work, a little at a time, when I take the dog out. She has to go out any way so why not multi task?
This summer we have archery trips, a teenager getting a learner’s permit, SAT classes, camp and maybe a fun trip. There will be house projects to finish and new things to learn. I am already tired.
What will you guys be doing this summer? How do you program in stuff just for you? What is your favorite escape?
Cross posted to http://www.qoftu.com
Some days it is hard to remember when I wasn’t struggling to get my Warrior to remember something. Then those days come that I have too many things that need remembering in my head and then I forget. HOW IRONIC.
I talk about different ways to help him all the time but one of the easiest ways to help a TBI/PTSD patient work different parts of their brain is to get them to read. Not the easiest thing, granted, but there is really something for everyone out there. It’s worth a shot.
One thing about my Warrior is that he LOVES action (big surprise there) anything. Movies, television, books. One of his favorites is historical fiction books, particularly anything related to other warriors (see a theme here?) I can’t even remember how our household stumbled upon Giles Kristian only that it happened furiously and all at once. It wasn’t possible that we could get enough of him.
Then a funny thing happened…
My Warrior inadvertently became the best fan of Kristian. I don’t say biggest because that’s not really what I mean. I say best because a TBI/PTSD patient is likely the BEST kind of fan because they are constantly setting down books and forgetting where they put them. Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it is hilarious. During our travels, many Kristian books have been left behind in hotels rooms across the country, like some sort of Viking Gideon Bible program. We laugh about it now and imagine all the new fans we have inspired because we leave a book behind somewhere. I can’t remember how many times we have bought each book but it is safe to say MULTIPLE times.
Why keep buying them, you ask?
Because they are just that great. When we first started buying the books, they were not available in the US. I literally would scour EBay after each new release to find which bookstores in the UK and Australia would post them for sale (I bought from both.) When he announced via Twitter that they would be released in the US, we literally had a WOO HOO moment out loud in our house. Now we are hoping for a series of movies based on the books!
Books are the best gifts. Especially Viking books.
One thing my Warrior noticed once we started working on a sleep plan to try to help with the memory loss that sleep deprivation adds to the TBI/PTSD patients problems, was that if he was watching too many of his action/drama type movies, they seemed to activate those parts of his mind that caused the reoccurring nightmares. When I suggested that we switch to reading before bed there was a dramatic decrease in those nightmares. But what happened when he began reading the Raven series was something different altogether.
He was excited to read.
There are a great number of things I could say about the way Kristian writes but largely, for our household, the greatest thing is how he so richly captures the life of a warrior. There are sad and terrible events, but there is bonding, friendships and loyalty. More importantly, he deftly depicts the HONOR. Too many times Warriors return from any number of conflicts and are not revered or cared for. Sadly this continues but one thing so prevalent in Viking culture and shines through Kristian’s stories is the honor in which these warriors live their lives.
I would recommend reading any and all of his books. There are often social media contests in which you can win book copies (both of us have each won once) and you will not be disappointed in any of them. I had the great privilege of previewing his short The Terror and as usual it is full of fierce loyalty, warrior competiveness and love. What is better than that?
That’s right, NOTHING.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
My Warrior is off on a rigorous challenge this week through the Soldiers to Summits group. We don’t really know much about the organization from friends so this will be a new opportunity to check out a new organization. If you are looking for something that is different from the traditional recreation event, they look like the have some amazing options.
I asked him to take a ton of pictures and write-up what he learns each day so that I can post it here for you guys next week. Fingers crossed that it’s a good chance to learn about himself and be better balanced in life. Isn’t that what caregivers want most for our Warriors?
When I got the offer from Operation Homefront to attend a Veteran’s Recognition Day, I wasn’t sure what to think. Immediately my mom brain said “YES OMG THE KIDS WILL FREAK OUT” and right after I said yes, my caregiver brain freaked out. I started going through every single thing that could happen and what to do in each scenario.
In short, I was a mess.
Every one was excite, with my Warrior being the exception, but after so much progress and classes, it seemed like the ultimate test for how far he had come. He agreed as long as it wasn’t going to be at a significant financial cost because that sort of thing just stresses him out even more. Luckily, I am the master of rewards programs so I scheduled our free nights in the area, rented the car at a ridiculously cheap rate and put it on the calendar.
No idea what to expect, really.
My brain worked over time trying to figure out what could possibly happen in advance. Much to my surprise, it seemed like the team at Operation Homefront had really thought through a lot of the details. When I found out we had valet parking, I cheered out loud. There would be no forcing my Warrior to snake through a huge parking lot, getting frustrated and tired. We handed over our keys and reported to the tent to pick up our passes. It was our assumption that they would be giving us day tickets and we would just enjoy it for whatever time my Warrior could tolerate it.
Instead, a miracle occurs.
There are t-shirts, season tickets, refillable cups, vouchers for lunch and gold parking passes. We make our way, dumbfounded, into guest services to get registered. We arrived early because we thought that would be best for my Warrior and that by the time he became a bit stressed later; we could leave when the crowds got bigger. Once we were done we had a bit of time for rides and then headed to eat before meeting the group at the gazebos for a “program.” Again, zero expectations here but the schedule indicated we were getting a VIP tour.
I had NO idea what that really meant.
After a check presentation and a moment of silence, we were then assigned our tour guide. We were assigned Jonathan Sims II and I must say, he was THE best person we could have gotten. Ever. Like so great, if you go to Atlanta and do a Six Flags VIP tour, you should ask for him. He is the most professional ambassador for the company that they could have, really, he needs a raise! What did VIP mean? APPARENTLY it means unlimited snacks and getting to cut in the front of the line. Like WAY in front. Even in front of Fast Pass guests.
I almost cried.
We hadn’t thought we would stay past lunch. The crowds had begun to swell and my Warrior gave me that look. You know the one. The “I gotta get outta here in about 30 minutes” look. Instead, I now found us being escorted to the front of rides that he would never have been able to tolerate the line for. Aside from the length of time in a ride, the narrow, winding ramps of irritated hot waiting riders would be too much for someone who needs his personal space and NO ONE standing behind him.
It was glorious.
Jonathan was kind, patient and enthusiastic. He would go anywhere as long as we wanted him hanging out with us. My Warrior got to act like a kid, ride coasters and laugh in a ways that he hadn’t in years. It was beautiful to see.
Props to Operation Homefront
In all of the invitations we have received or events we have attended, this was hands down, the BEST experience. We felt cared for and that thought had gone into what a Warrior needed to make the day feel, well, normal. Our normal isn’t everyone else’s and honestly, it never will be but these folks went out of their way to make sure that it could FEEL normal. That is something I could never have paid for and I will never forget.