Reconnect

One of the most interesting things I have found when dealing with these conditions is how lonely and insecure you feel – as they say, you can be in the most crowded room in the history of the universe and still be alone (well it’s something like that anyway).   The times you are alone wanting someone to talk to but not wanting to bother them – “they have their own problems to worry about, they don’t need me whinging in their ear as well”. So you sit there alone, scrolling through your list of contacts on your phone, looking for that one person who you might call.

I find it fascinating how the mind works – so many friends say to call them if you need to talk but you are reluctant to do so because you don’t want to bother them or be a burden.  Help is there but we just can’t see it or accept it.

One of the most amazing things I have had happen to me since making it known I have the conditions is the reconnection with people who I haven’t seen or heard from in so long.  Yes people, your old friends are out there on Facebook watching you – they may not respond to anything you post but they are there.  When I went public with this stuff, I started to get messages on Facebook and even phone calls of support from people I thought forgot about me a long time ago.

These people probably don’t realise just how much this contact meant to me and how much I appreciated hearing from them. It showed that people do care and can show compassion and love when it is needed – I really do have a great bunch of friends – and many of them also suffer similar conditions. I am so pleased that me getting on here and speaking honestly about the crap I am going through is helping them see that they are not alone.

One particular incident really moved me.  Since 2011 I have been a partner in a business that developed stage shows and managed tours for performers. Recently my business partner and myself had a disagreement on some issues in the business and we decided to end the partnership with me taking over the business.  This event brought my masked conditions to the surface – they had been bubbling away under the facade for 10 years.= – and I lost all interest in continuing with it The thing I loved doing suddenly had no interest for me so I decided to pack it all in.  After-all, nobody had ever told me they liked what we did, how we did it or how creative and good at it we were.

So anyway, I went around the office and packed up all the papers, posters, books, files, etc and put them away in a cupboard – eventually to be thrown away. I just couldn’t be bothered walking out to the bin with most of the stuff.  As a last minute thing, I took a photo of the stuff in the cupboard and posted it on Facebook with a very simple comment, “And so it ends…”. I thought nothing of it really but the response I got was incredible, so many people saying not to end it, we were good at what we did, they enjoyed working with us and lots of other positive comments.  I was overwhelmed by the positivity and love that came from through the screen – I thank everyone who responded. It even got responses from people I never knew were watching…

So anyway, the key to this is there are friends and acquaintances out there you may not have heard from in a long time but they still care about you – try to reconnect with them in some way – talk about the old days, the trouble you got into as a kid, the sport you played together, the business deals you worked on – anything at all.  Remember with them the positive things you have done and the effect you have had on their lives and they have had on yours.  Then you will start to understand that you do make a difference and you do have worth – you just can’t see it when you are in the depths of depression.

My Early Experience with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Hi guys, this blog pot is relatively negative in its tone as it describes my experience with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) abut 15 years ago – I am putting it in here to act as a benchmark to measure how DVA has changed in its dealings with clients. This will hopefully become evident in future posts as we progress down the road to recovery.  I promise the next post will be more positive and deal with re-engagement with past friends.

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I have heard many stories of veterans experiencing difficulties with dealing with the Department of Veterans; Affairs. I understand this attitude has now changed. This is an early experience I had with them for a physical injury from 2000.

After 19 years of service, carrying heavy loads, moving equipment, traipsing across the country carrying packs, rifles, ammunition, etc I decided to change my life and find a more sedentary life in the public (civil) service. Within three months of leaving the Army, I went to the local garden centre and bought a relatively easy to manage bag of garden fertiliser. When I got home and took the bag  out of the car I felt my back crack and immediately dropped the bag. I knew I had done something but didn’t think too much of it – after all, it was not uncommon to have lots of cracks and twinges occur after so many years of physical work.

That evening my back felt a little numb but I thought a night in bed would be all that was needed to fix the problem. Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep very well, despite taking over the counter pain killers. When I went to get out of bed in the morning I was in agony – a grinding pain was in my lower back and the feeling similar to how I would imagine a red hot poker would feel being inserted into my lower back and pushed down into my left leg. I managed to roll out of bed and onto the floor, still thinking things would be okay.

I used the bed to climb up onto my feet with the plan of going into work and seeing how the back went – if it was still sore I would grad some codeine tablets and soldier on. However, the stoic approach was not to be. Standing was agony, sitting was no better – the only relief from the pain was lying in the on the floor in the foetal position. At this stage I thought that maybe I had done more than just pull a muscle.

Long story short I managed to get an appointment to see my general practitioner the next day and after a very, very uncomfortable day and night I was seen and advised to immediately go to the local clinic and have scans done on my back to ascertain the damage. The drive to the clinic was a nightmare – sitting was agony and I found myself having to stop numerous times and lie on the back seat to try to get some relief.

I managed to eventually get to the clinic and was scanned, tested and prodded. I left and was told to get an appointment to see my GP to be given the results. Before I got home, I received a call on my mobile phone (yes it was the relatively early days of mobiles but my work provided me with one) and told to go straight to the GP’s surgery.

Once there, he told me I had burst a disc in my back and needed immediate surgery to have it repaired.  The next day or so is a now a bit of a blur but, within three days I was in hospital and under the knife of a neurosurgeon to remove the disc and scrape its remnants from my spinal cord, reducing the pressure and, hopefully, allow me to continue to be able to walk.

After seven weeks I was eventually able to return to work despite the ongoing pain in my left leg and lower back. After few weeks it was suggested to me, it was odd that lifting a bag that size should have caused such damage an maybe all the years of Army lifting would have weakened my back and, even though I had been out for three months, there would clearly be a link that it would have been a contributing factor.

So I went through the process of making a claim through the department. Mistakenly, I did it by myself, without the assistance of an advocate – I never even knew they existed. Advocates are, generally, ex-service people who are trained by Veterans’ Affairs in managing and submitting claims – they are worth their weight in gold.

So, after attending a number of required appointments and consultations with Veterans’ Affairs appointed doctors, my claim was rejected. By this stage I was exhausted by the process and, even when told I could appeal the decision, I had no fight left in my and just threw the letter into the filing cabinet with a hearty “Fuck that, I can’t go through any more of this shit”. They had won.

Even now, 18 years later, I still have chronic pain in my lower back and left leg and my left foot is numb. But I had been worn down by the system and gave up… I hear the Veterans’ Affairs has recently had a change in policy and attitude so it is more receptive and responsive to the veterans rather than looking for loopholes to counter any claims.  We shall see, as my current claims go through the system… with the help of an advocate.

I would be interested to hear any stories from you guys about your experiences – please don’t just make it a whinge or a story about a friend whose cousin had an experience – just your personal experience would be good to hear.

Try To Use The System

As it appears to be my military service that has caused the conditions that I am experiencing there is a whole government department in place to handle any individual sufferers and their resulting claims – the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Here-say and gossip abounds about how anti-veteran this government agency is and how difficult it is to deal them, especially considering how they seem to be focussed on finding reasons not to support the veteran rather than helping. 

Stories abound about veterans who have spent years being asked to justify claims and prove their injuries to eventually be told that, through some minor loophole, the injury was not a result of military service. I understand the department has recently undergone a refocussing so it is now more veteran friendly.

I have submitted claims to the department for PTSD and Depressive Disorder and have engaged the services of a high profile and well respected advocate. But this is the third time I have done so – the first two times I got part way through the process and withdrew the claims because I never thought myself worthy of any support – see my blog “Recognition of Deserving” – it was a symptom of my condition that stopped me claiming for the condition. I think we used to call that a Catch 22 situation.

However, I am determined to push through this time and, to be honest, up to now all dealings with the department that I have experienced with these claims have been positive and professional – although at times onerous. At the moment I am attempting to complete a Claim For Incapacity. So far I have spent three hours tracking down financial and service details from 18 years ago – where i am going to find some of the information they require, I have no idea.  I will do my best to provide what is wanted and be as honest as I can be regarding the details I cannot find – I expect significant pushback from the department but I am hoping honesty and an appreciation that financial information from 18 years ago sometimes can’t be provided – even the Tax Office only requires proof to be kept for five years.

I must say I am amused by a part of the claim form that asks me to provide my Defence salary information including rank, increment and skill level. This information took a long time to find but I eventually found it – however, further down in the document they say that they will be checking the information against my Defence file – if that is the case, why ask me to get the information in the first place?

Nevertheless, I shall work with them and try to provide anything the department requires and be as honest as I can be with any provision of information. While the system is onerous and time expensive I expect a positive outcome eventually – hopefully before I die of old age.

They key to any dealings with the department seems to be the use of an advocate who is generally an ex-service person and has been trained by the department on how the system works and how best to represent any client. See www.atdp.org.au/atdpMain.php for more details on advocates.

While this blog post has jumped away from the usual discussion on the mental health issues, I think it is useful to follow the physical aspects of the claim process as they arise so you guys can see what you can expect if you decide to go through it. I shall try to keep positive and will welcome any similar experiences by yourselves in the comments below – BUT please don’t just whinge and, please make them your own honest experiences, not those of a friend of a friend.

My next post will be a case study of my own experience with the Department 18 years ago… then we will get back to mental health as there is some interesting stuff happening there.

Do Something You Love

One of the main problems with the Depressive Disorder is the effect it has on your desire to do anything – enthusiasm for everything drops off and you eventually find yourself doing nothing but sitting on your arse in front of the television with some inane rubbish being fired at you… and let’s be honest, the crap on tele now is enough to make anyone depressed and, if you are already suffering, then it isn’t going to do you any good.

In my case, I fell right into the tele trap and found myself watching such drivel as Antiques Roadshow, Escape to the Country, Location, Location, Location and other mind numbing programs. Even when advised by my psychologist to find something I used to love doing, I just really couldn’t think of anything and, anyway, my chair was to comfy and the television was riveting…  It took my first visit to a psychiatrist to get me up off my chair – the good thing about a psychiatrist is that he/she can prescribe drugs to give you a kick start and rekindle enthusiasm.

Don’t get me wrong, the psychologist also has a positive role in any recovery, they give you the chance to vent, to open your soul and to pour out the emotion – all in a non-judgemental environment.  They can also set you goals and provide a map for the route to recovery.  But psychiatrists… well they can prescribe you drugs… and in my case it actually took three different tries to eventually find the right medicine for me.

So, now with a renewed enthusiasm for doing anything (thanks to the drugs) I was able to take some action on the advice from my psychologist and find something I always loved, or wanted to do, and get out there and do it. For three weeks now, I have been away from home and cruising around England chilling out on trains, going to see concerts I have always wanted to see, crashing at friends’ places or just grabbing a cheap hotel wherever my daily journey ends – well this isn’t quite true…

The first week and a half, I found the change in environment a stimulant – deliberately moving out of what is normally a fully and formally structured day was initially a little unsettling but it allowed me to kickstart my brain and start to think positively about the future. The concerts I went to see reminded me of what I loved doing – producing shows and entertaining people. And then, out of the blue, a friend who had no idea I was in England connected with me and said he wanted to talk to me about a new show he was starting to work with. We caught up over a coffee and, BANG, the brain kicked into gear and off it went, focussing on what I loved to do rather than on the depression that had enveloped me for months.

So now I am basking in a positive and renewed enthusiasm but I know the PTSD and the depression are still there and that anything could happen to bring it back – or it may do as it usually does, just reappear for no real reason – just a part of the cycle…

It’s Up To You

When I was first hit with the massive depression session that caused me to seek help, there was nothing anybody could do to help. Those around me could see there was a problem and asked what they could do to help – they cared about me and wanted to help. What they don’t realise is that there is nothing they can do to help you when it hits – all you want is to be left alone and let the demon run its course. Anyone trying to help really just gets in the way and, in my case, risked being on the receiving end of a rather nasty tirade.

In my case the depression was like a tide, it came and it went – in fact it still is – it continues but thanks to the help of mental health professionals and certain pharmaceutical products it seems to be under control. Although everyone reacts differently with different medications, it took a couple of tries with different drugs to find something that seems to have stabilised the tidal action and I feel myself at a level of tranquility with not just myself but with the world – maybe the few weeks I have had away from television and radio news has also helped.

An interesting experience with the tidal swings is that you get used to the ups and the downs so when you are down you know it will only be a few days before you come up again – but on the reverse side – when you are up you know the downslide is soon to come, this then seems to exacerbate the situation so the spiralling down starts sooner than it otherwise would have. And you know it when it starts but there is nothing you can do about it – you either try to hide it or you tell your loved ones to keep away from you for a few days until the climb up starts again.

Eventually though the downs outweigh the ups and you find yourself in a perpetual state of crankiness and everyone just things you are a grumpy git and tend to avoid you – unless of course you are able to develop a reasonable facade of humour, flippancy and fun. Then people think you are a fun person to be around, which is great, until… someone does something that upsets you.

This is when things get nasty – suddenly this nice guy/chick blows up for no perceived reason… because all the ‘normal people’ see is the majestic swan drifting along on the current, they don’t see all the hard work and action going on under the water to make us look as if we are in control. So it was people’s perceptions of me being cranky all the time that coined the phrase Captain Krankypants.  Yes it was funny at the start but eventually the truth came to me – people thought I was a grumpy git and needed to cheer up a bit.

So here I am, getting things sorted at last – after ten years of me, my loved ones and my friends suffering.  But the key to it is, like giving up any addiction, it is up to you to want to do it and then seeking the necessary help from experts – EXPERTS, not family, not friends, EXPERTS.

Recognition of Deserving

Another problem that faces a lot of us is our own belief that we are not worthy. So often I think that I am so weak and pathetic because I have these conditions – after all there are so many other young kids who spent a lot more time in much more dangerous situations than I – they actually killed people, they saw their mates blown up, they saw and experienced all sorts of atrocious things. Me????? Nah I did nothing compared to them. Just flew in, did my job and flew out again.

This is one of the major hurdles still to come on my journey – friends and professionals tell me I am deserving of the support the Department of Veterans Affairs can provide, I deserve the medals that lie somewhere in a cupboard in my house, I deserve to march on ANZAC Day (Australia’s day of commemoration for service personnel) and I deserve the respect and thanks of society for helping defend our way of life.  These are things I am told… not one of them I believe – in my head I am a fraud, a charlatan and a leach who doesn’t deserve anything.  Save all this stuff for the kids who deserve it and make sure they are looked after.

Over the past ten years or so I have every year gone to Long Tan memorial commemorations conducted by the Blue Mountains Vietnam Veterans and Associated Forces Association – every year I have dug out my contemporary medals and mixed with these guys and been accepted as a part of the ‘brotherhood’. But inside all my mind was saying that these guys were the heroes, compared to them I was nothing, they were constantly in danger, the enemy just metres away – and when they finally got out of the hell hole they spent a year in, they were persecuted and spurned by our own country… they are the true heroes, the survivors and deserving all the support we can give them.

So anyway – one day this journey we are on will take me down this path and try to convince me I am wrong in my thoughts – we shall see how successful they are…

A FOOTNOTE – this post is showing how my mind processes this situation and I hope it helps others experiencing the same thoughts see they are not alone.  PLEASE, if you decide to comment on this post, I am not after comments of sympathy or support or a hearty ‘job well done’. Thank you…

Recognition of Problem

You know the biggest enemy of anyone who has these conditions is recognising yourself that you have something going on in your head that needs to be sorted out. For years I had friends telling me that there was something going on and I should go and speak to someone. But, of course, I didn’t need to do that – I was a strong dominant male, it was my job to protect my friends and family, it was my job to be in control, it was my job to mask my feelings and only let people see the strong side of me.

Identifying and accepting that a problem exists is exceptionally difficult and usually only seems to occur after an incident or outburst that affects others around you – suddenly you then realise that maybe you do over-react a bit or fly off at what really are minor things. It seems a fact of life that those of us with military backgrounds are trained to block or delay emotional responses due to the nature and danger of what we do – we then keep those emotions deep inside us until we release the pressure which is usually in an angry outburst at someone near us. A fellow military person subconsciously knows this and when his/her mate has an outburst he/she knows it is a short term release of pressure and no personal offence is taken and both parties move on with their lives with no effect on their friendship. 

When these outbursts occur in front of other people, those not trained (brainwashed) in the military style, these outbursts can be seen as personal attacks and uncontrolled rage rather than the pressure release they are. This causes rifts in relationships and friendships that can be very difficult to repair. By recognising this difference and understanding the reason for the outbursts, maybe the high percentage of relationship failures in military/police/paramedic families could be reduced.

Well Here We Go

So this is the start of the journey,  have never done a blog before so it is a new experience but, hopefully, one that will be helpful in purging my own demons while also helping others out there to understand that they are not alone and there is help and understanding available everywhere.

You are probably wondering about the site name “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough”… well this comes from part of what is going on in my head. I always set myself very high standards in anything I do and I expect the same from others – and it doesn’t matter how well the other person does, nor how good the thing is that I do, to me it is never good enough. There is always room for improvement or a better way of doing it.

While business nowadays calls this ‘continual improvement’ it is something that has been the cause of much conflict between myself and people working with me for many years.  Very rarely I have had staff and friends who switched onto my wavelength very quickly and were actually able to predict what I was after and in some cases beat me to the punch. I won’t name these guys here but ‘S’ and ‘J’ will always have a special place in my heart.

I never realised that these high expectations were not the same with everyone, I just thought it was a normal thing but I now have learned that it is a part of adult ADHD thing where we just want things to be done right.

I don’t want to get right into the technical details of different conditions at this stage – stay tuned for that in the future.

Other things you can expect to see are the journey to recovery/normality (whatever that is), the evolution of my own attitude and behaviours and follow the expected battles with not just my internal demons but also the bureaucracy that is the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

So anyway – hopefully this opening blog gives you a bit of an idea of what this whole thing will be about – please feel free to share amongst your friends and get them involved. It’s going to be an interesting journey…

T