Military service and mental health

I had the opportunity to sit and talk a few days ago with a veteran.  He had returned from military service 18 months ago.  He came in complaining of forgetfulness ..of important dates, meetings, etc. and yet of also common, unimportant things…what drawer he puts his socks in, where they keep the broom  at home.

Eventually, we got around to addressing the possibility that his military service experiences may be playing a part of his current trouble.  He was skeptical about the connection.  Further, he did not want to talk about his experiences because talking about them brought up such bad memories.  Yet…he knew he needed to talk about them…with someone.  They were such a burden to carry alone.


He related that due to his military training, he was able to do things he never thought he would do…namely kill another human being.  He recalled with great detail one particular situation.  He related that he knew at the time of the incident, that he was able to do what he needed to do due to his training and out of a sense of survival (“It was either him or me.”). Yet he also knew what he did (kill another human being) was against every fiber of his being.


Since we have begun talking about the experiences he remembers the most, the forgetfulness has subsided.  He still struggles with other issues…intimacy, snap reactions to strangers, etc.


After he returned home, he didn’t feel the need for counseling.  So why is he forgetting things now or at the time he started counseling?


Upon returning from military service, psychologically, he was still in survival mode.  After 12-18 months at home, he began to psychologically calm down and only then did the memories of what he had done remain for him to contemplate.  It is like listening to a loud  band at a bar.  After you leave, your ears are ringing but after a while, your ears stop ringing but you can still recall the lyrics of the songs the band was singing.  And you start to think about the lyrics and what they mean….and how it applies to your life now (as opposed to when you first heard them at the bar.  At that time, you were busy attending to the music, lights, sounds, people, etc.


More later…

Happy Holidays?

My Christmas this year lasted 2 hours long…Christmas morning, roughly between 10 am and 12 noon.  That is when I was making my daughters breakfast.  Yes, I did recieve some presents from them and I gave them some and spent time with my family…but my primary gift was cooking them breakfast.  Later, we spent time with my family and after 5 hours with my family, I went home and was in bed by 8pm.!

My point: I decided what my Christmas was.

It seems to me some of the depression that occurs at this time of the year has to do with people not having the Christmas that society expects us to have…you know, the kind of Christmas that is seen on TV with lots of presents, lots of food, etc.  For me, that (the TV Christmas) is not real and I am tired of trying to live up to that.  So, I decided what my Christmas would be…cooking my daughters breadfast.  I decided how long I would spend with family.  I decided it was ok to go to bed at 8pm(despite it being Christmas!).


I’m not saying all my Christmas season or even all my Christmas day was wonderful.  It wasn’t and I have decided that that is ok, it is normal.  Was I disappointed by some of it?  Yes.  I would have loved for them to have been with me all weekend, be there from Christmas Eve, had mountains of presents to give them and recieve from them, etc.?  Yes. But that is not the case in my life now or probably ever.  Part of my mental health is accepting situations, this Christmas, for what it is and making the best of it.  I did and I had a very good Christmas.


Consider New Years….  Would I love to be at a wonderful party at the stroke of midnight, dressed in a tux, sipping champaign, kissing a tall blond? Sure.  Is that going to happen? No. Instead, I look realistically at what could happen, what I want to try and make happen and set my expectations from there.  Are these plans low? Compared to the above party with the blond…yes.  But they are MY plans, not someone else’s and they are what I want and can do.  I don’t have the money to make the party with the blond occur or have the connections to be invited to such.  But I can do what makes me happy.  Will I think at times longingly about the party with the blond?  Honestly, yes. BUT I have learned to catch such thoughts and remove them.  Why? Because they are really not my own thoughts.  They have been put there by TV, movies, commercials, etc.  And when I examine them, I know they are not mine, they are not what would bring me happiness…so I let them go and go back to what would make me happy…my own thoughts, plans, etc.


More later.


And PS…I don’t have a thing for blonds!

Surviving the Holidays

I see alot of people who are very ernest about trying to provide for their children the magic of Christmas they remember…with little success.  Most often, they comment on the stress of trying to do all those things they recalled from their childhood…making cookies, driving around to see lighting decorations, attending school parties and preformances…aside from their own obligations…office parties, church functions, shopping, wrapping, cooking, etc.

Here is an important thought to consider for reducing stress, at least some of it and at least that part of it connected to trying to give your children a special Christmas…

Memory is cumulative…

You have a childhood of memories that you draw on when you think about the Christmas you’d like to give your children.  All the Christmas’ you had since you could remember….age 1, age 2, age 3, age 4…  You think about all these memories when the holidays get close and, my impression, people think they must create all these activities so their children will have these memories.  THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE!  You can’t recreate all those activities, of your childhood, in one holiday season.  Besides, you can’t control what your children will remember even if you do recreate some of your childhood activities.

Stop trying to recreate your childhood Christmas activities that you recall believing your child will remember them as you did.  Accept the fact that your child will remember what they remember of Christmas, good or bad (hopefully good).  And, instead, focus on creating one or two activities that your child might remember…letting the rest go until next year.

This year, I have focused on two activities to do with my daughter, making those peanut-butter cookies with the chocolate kisses in the middle and driving around and looking at Christmas lights.  If I do more, fine.  If I don’t do more…also FINE.  This allows me to let go of all those other expectations, focus on just one things at a time, go to the obligation-required activities(church, school, etc) and not push and stress her and myself out because I’M not living up to MY expectations about HER Christmas.

One other thing…this method requires that you have faith in yourself and your children to remember the good you have provided in the past at Christmas.  You need to believe in what you have tried to do in terms of providing a good Christmas in the past or you will to chasing your tail forever.  Likewise, you must allow your children to have the memories they have…good and bad.  You can’t change a bad memory of a Christmas past.  You can try and influence a new memory in the future.

More later…