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16 February 2017

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

A while back, I reinstalled the Facebook app on my phone. I'd uninstalled it just after Election Day, when the signal to noise ratio went batshit over Trump being elected. I reinstalled it for the purpose of looking at my list of several hundred friends and paring that list down to people I actually might want to still be in touch with. I wrote a single post that said I was more or less stepping back from Facebook, and that if anyone wanted to get in touch they were welcome to do so via Facebook Messenger. Then I uninstalled the Facebook app again.

No one's been breaking down my door to get in touch. I'm not surprised. I haven't recently talked to many of the people that are still my Facebook friends, in some cases for years.

I have sort of stuck with Twitter; the majority of people I follow there aren't people I know, but are people whose work I'm interested in. I follow a lot of information security people, a lot of software developers and companies, and a lot of just plain 'ol hackers. Some are rock stars, some are not. I learn a lot from what these people tweet-- tools, research, best practices, just cool shit.

I have a personal rule that I don't listen to political endorsements (or political opinions) from celebrities. That you are an actor/actress, singer/musician, or whatever, doesn't qualify you as an expert. You're completely right to have an opinion and speak your mind, but I'm not going to agree with you just because I liked that one movie you were in. Airing one's thoughts on political issues is one way for a celebrity to continue to be a celebrity; this has always been true, but it's especially true on social media like Twitter.

I'm a hacker. I want to know everything. I want to learn new things every day. One of the ways to do that is to watch and listen to what other hackers are doing, see what tools they talk about, and read the papers and articles they write. Some days I can do this very effectively, some days I'm fighting off anxiety and depression and PTSD (all of which make it hard to focus and concentrate and work and learn). Signal-to-noise ratio matters. I can only process so much, and the less noise I have to sort through the more I can actually learn.

I'm also a veteran, and as such I see the world through that lens as well. Many of the people who are saying the most about politics lately aren't veterans-- they're people who never served in the military, have never seen the world in the same way as those of us who have. One of the factors in me bringing PTSD home from the Desert was what I saw every day, so when I see people loudly proclaiming things about foreign policy I ask what qualifies them to do so. The answer is often the same as it is for celebrities-- nothing.

I don't see people organizing protests against veteran homelessness, or diversity efforts towards hiring veterans, in the same way as I see these things for other types of people.

Over the past couple of weeks, especially since the inauguration, I'm finding that I can't spend more than a few minutes looking at Twitter. I used to spend a lot more time than that. Honestly, now it just pisses me off and I find myself wanting to change the channel-- except that there are no channels to change to. So I unfollow people here and there, I turn off retweets for some many people. Some people, I've decided to only follow their blogs rather than their Twitter posts, since those tend to be more technical in nature (and therefore more useful for me to read).

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A late update (this post was written a while ago, I'm just now catching up on getting things posted): I'm doing much the same thing with LinkedIn, going through my list of contacts and removing people that I know I'll never interact with again. I don't see the point in having n > m followers or contacts just to say you have that many.

Why I'm done with the Vet Center

Yesterday I had an individual counseling appointment scheduled at the Vet Center. At 0900 they called to tell my that my SW is out of the office today, so my appointment has been canceled. They don't offer to have me call if I need to talk to anyone, don't offer to have me come in and talk to anyone else-- just, you need to call to set up a new appointment. This is the second time in six weeks I've had an appointment canceled. The first was due to weather, and I get that snow and Atlanta don't mix. I was in fact letting that first time slide, for just that reason. It was the same thing though-- your appointment is canceled, no alternatives offered, it's on me to reschedule.

There might be a very good reason that SW wasn't able to be there today, just as there are a ton of legit reasons why any regular person might not be able to make it in to work on any given day. I'm not trying to say that SW did this on purpose, just to hurt me. This isn't personal.

Truth is though, I really *needed* that session today. There was some stuff about the group last week, plus some of the things about the primary care appointment yesterday, on top of the stuff we'd talked about two weeks ago that I'm working on. I wasn't going to the Vet Center just for shits and giggles. I'm trying to build some kind of support network up, part of that is the VA (for better or for worse), and it doesn't make sense for me to have support people that aren't going to show up. I've had enough of those kind of people in my life and I'm done with 'em.

It takes a lot, to go to a Vet Center and say you need help-- by doing so, you're admitting to yourself (and possibly people around you who know you're going there) that you can't do it alone. It's not admitting defeat, but it is saying that you've tried, or you're trying, and whatever you're doing on your own isn't working. Maybe you go there on your own, maybe you're referred there by a friend, maybe your wife or husband or girlfriend or whatever tells you you fucking need help, and that's why you go. At a certain level, you go there, and you decide you're going to try to trust them and listen to them, try doing what they say, and maybe that will help with whatever problems you're having.

Personally, it takes a lot of energy for me to go to a session. I have to think about what's really wrong, what I want to say, what I want to ask about. I talk it out to myself, I pace around the room, I write. It takes time, it requires work.

The first three weeks, and most of the fourth, were just a standard list of questions about me and my life. Last session (two weeks ago), we talked about me trying to do some things to establish a foothold here-- looking into setting up my own shop that's PTSD compatible, and checking out some options for making new friends and getting out and about with people in general. This week was supposed to be me talking about answers to those questions.

The short answers are, first with regard to setting up my own business, ain't gonna happen. If you can set up and run a business, then you're not disabled and you stop getting disability payments. Which is fine if the business is a success, and you make enough money to live on. If you don't, and the business dies (as most startups do), then you might not be considered disabled again the next time you apply. Reality says that I, with my social anxiety, depression, and PTSD, am probably not the ideal candidate to run a business so the likelihood of success isn't that great. This is a bitter pill to swallow. It means I'm basically retired, something I didn't want to be (or become). I didn't plan for this, and probably couldn't have anyway, but now what do I do?

The second answer, which relates to the first, and to the cancelled session today, deals with social life/social anxiety. The year of group social anxiety therapy I had was before I was diagnosed with PTSD, so none of that therapy dealt with it-- but there were some really valuable things I learned from that year of weekly group sessions. One of the most important was that in relationships, it's okay to ask for what you want and expect to receive it. If you don't get what you want from being in the relationship, it's okay to not be in that relationship any more. This is speaking in terms of romantic relationships, but it applies to friendships and professional relationships too.

It's telling that now, when I say I want something out of a relationship with another person, suddenly things change. Yes, I am going to wear this black tshirt today. Yes, my hair is going to remain this long. Yes, I have PTSD and I need you to stop making that noise. When I request ADA accommodations, I really do want and need them. And yes, if you are a SW and you make an appointment with me for a session at the Vet Center, I expect you to be there. You're getting paid to be there, while I'm burning gas for a 90-minute round trip to get there. You're sane, you have a steady career, I'm unemployed and disabled and effectively retired.

I could get back into the things I did during my social anxiety therapy-- one of those things was setting a goal of going out and doing things with people three times a week. I accomplished it a lot of weeks by participating in Meetups (see meetup.com). At one point I was in several groups, and I went to a lot of different events and met a lot of different people. At one point I had a girlfriend who I'd met through a Meetup group for singles. A few clicks, and my social calendar will be full. I could join the American Legion, or the VFW, or both. At any given post there are officer slots to be filled, volunteer work to do, etc. There's always enough to keep someone busy.

The problem with all of these things is I've been there, and I've done that, and that was all before everything that's happened. That was all before failing out of school again and again, it was all before being homeless, it was all before PTSD really started messing with my life. I haven't learned, or figured out, how to manage to do all of those social things in terms that include PTSD.

The other problem is that of all of the people I met, some of whom I called friends, are gone. When I went back to school and was too busy with that to keep doing all of those social things, those friends slowly faded away. It was the same as all of the people I knew from bowling, and darts, and pool, and softball that disappeared when my ex-wife and I split up. It was the same with the hackathon community, who tolerated my presence (and respected some of my hacks) but when it came down to it didn't care anything about me as a person.

I can build up a new group of people I know, make new friends, do all of those things, but there's nothing about life right now to suggest that the same thing that's always happened won't happen again-- after a while, after I make decisions about my life that they're not interested in, they'll all disappear too.

I could call the Vet Center tomorrow and reschedule.

That would mean that my next individual session with SW would likely be in two weeks, since next week I have a group session scheduled. If that's how it works, then it's a month between individual sessions. If I go to group next week, I'm going to be pissed off and triggered when I get there, which will (would) suck and not accomplish anything.

Me calling and rescheduling would also say to the Vet Center that it's okay to do that, to just cancel an appointment the morning of (and to call me at 0900 and 1100 when I've asked them more than once not to call in the morning). It's not right to just leave me hanging. Whatever else my SW had to do today, it was more important than talking to me. Whatever else the rest of the SW's at the Vet Center had to do today, it was more important than talking to me.

As I'm writing this, it's around 1600 the next day and I haven't heard anything from them. Which means that I've fallen through another crack. The only thing I'm really asking of the Vet Center, and anyone that works there, is to listen. I just need to talk to someone that's a veteran who will listen and hear and make an honest effort to understand. Maybe they can offer advice to change things, maybe not, but I need someone to listen.

There is a line, where once you reach or go past that line, the world changes. Until you get there, as long as you're on the good side of the line, there's still hope and still another way. It's the line where when you cross it, you give up hope and give up on there being another way. The doors are locked, the keys thrown away. All the fucks to that you've ever had to give have been given.

You can't see the line, so you don't know how far away it is or how close you are to crossing it. For some people, when they come back from the Desert or wherever, it's right at their feet and they can't take a step back home without crossing it. For others it's way out on the horizon, always in the distance. Maybe those veterans never reach it. For the rest of us it's somewhere in the middle, waiting for us to get to it.

The line, when it's crossed, is where the other shoe drops. It's where the last wheel falls off.

On the other side of the line, you show up for work with a loaded rifle and lots of ammo. You stick up a gas station. You hurt someone else. You crawl inside a bottle, never to leave. You decide that living on the street is better than trying to get off the street. You take your own life. All of the times that you've read about where someone who's a veteran does something like that, they've reached the line and crossed it.

I fear the line. I never want to go anywhere near it, much less cross it. It's my theory that the closer you are, the more likely you are to reach it, so I do everything I can to keep away from it. One of the things I do to try to stay away from the line is that when things get bad, even if I have to swallow pride to do so, I go talk to someone.

Vet Centers are supposed to be one of those places where veterans can go to talk to someone, to get help. To stay away from the line, to keep from crossing it. I didn't have the highest of hopes on January 3, when I went to the Vet Center to talk to someone-- I thought maybe I'll get to sit down with someone for about 15 minutes, long enough to share some idea of what I'm going through, get something started.

This week, my appointment was just cancelled without explanation. So much for building a support network, and so much for actually talking to someone who might understand. I'm no farther from the line than I was when I started, and considering how I've felt yesterday and today I may have moved closer to it.

I'm proud of myself, for getting up the nerve to go to a Vet Center in a city I've never really been in, telling complete strangers that I'm a veteran who's having trouble and that I need some help. It's not an easy thing to do. It took months to get myself to the point where I could even do that.

I tried for *six weeks*, 45 minute drive each way to get there, money for gas, Atlanta Traffic. Talking about all of the bad things that have happened in my life, filling out a checklist, but without being offered anything to make my life as it is now a better place. I feel worse now than before I started.

That's why I won't be calling the Vet Center to reschedule my appointment.

Primary care, finally!!!1

Primary Care. Finally.  Actually, it was earlier this week. I'm getting caught up with posting, finally.

Clinic 1: where my intake appointment is. There's a kiosk where you're supposed to put your ID card and check in, so I do that. On screen it asks for my date of birth in big enough letters that just about anyone can see, so I try to block view of the screen. As usual, it doesn't check me in, it tells me to go to the Desk. Desk has me fill out a "means test", which if you're unfamiliar is an income/health insurance coverage disclosure form. At the Desk there is some confusion about my address, because the form asks for my address and I included my permanent one, in Wisconsin. Someone at the desk (probably a supervisor) figures this out and explains to Desk person.

(Perhaps all of the fuss I went to about getting to see a doctor here as a traveling veteran did some good.)






The clinic lobby: about fifteen chairs, none of which face the door. Five have backs to a window. I decide to stand. There is a wall mounted TV with the volume on, for no apparent reason. There is coffee, and a table of cookies and cake. The floor is wood (or wood tile), and since there's nothing to dampen sound, it's noisy-- several veterans who are waiting are talking, and the workers behind the main Desk are talking. I move several times when someone decides they want to walk or stand or whatever behind me, until I'm leaning against the corner of the wall by the door. I get increasingly triggered until RN opens the Door and calls my name.

The exam room: A medical chair, with paper. A weird self contained computer workstation. There is one of those white noise generators making noise from on the windowsill, and after a few minutes of trying to figure out WHAT THE FUCK THAT NOISE IS, I ask RN to turn it off. I explain that my blood pressure and heart rate are likely to be high from that, and from my experience in the lobby. Yup, they're both high. Pulse is 102, to give you an idea. Vitals will need to be taken again later, they are, and I've settled down a little. (Twenty minutes later, pulse has dropped by 12.)

Lots of questions, many duplicate the questions from the Vet Center intake. I've answered all of these before. I explain yet again that I'm here helping family and all of that. I also explain that it's been more than two years since my last primary care appointment, but here are the medical and mental health issues. RN mentions that I'm supposed to have lab work done and asks if I've eaten anything today; the appointment letter didn't say anything about fasting, so I didn't. The result of this is that I'll need to visit the clinic again on a day when I have fasted to do lab work (meaning a 90 minute round trip for me just to have blood drawn). Questions are asked about mental health, which I expect, and which I answer.

After about an hour of all of that, I talk to the Doctor, who asks me some of the same questions RN asked. We talk about medical stuff, go over all of the prescription drugs (medical and psych) I no longer take. There will be referrals-- to mental health, vision clinic, etc.-- but as expected not a lot actually happens. One of the things I need is a retinal scan, and for that I need to go to the nearby clinic that does that.

Clinic 2: check in works fairly quickly, clinic 1 called and let them know I was coming. Waiting area is several long rows of chairs that actually face the window/door. There's coffee, and yet another table of cake and cookies. There's yet another wall mounted TV that's on with the volume up for no apparent reason. Technician comes to get me, I get my pupils dilated, I get pictures of my eyes taken. I'll need to call the vision clinic on my own next week to get an appointment there, but I'm assured that this will happen and I'll be able to get (desperately needed) new glasses.

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Overall, primary care isn't that terrible an experience once you're "into the system". The appointment was on Tuesday, on Wednesday I already had a call from a nutritionist that I'd been referred to (still waiting on mental health though).

It's an important thing, me getting back into primary care-- it means I'm doing something to take care of myself, and I'm proud of that. The past almost two years, I avoided the VA entirely. This was done with good reason, but I'm important. I'm also getting older, like it or not, and I need to keep track of things.







Vet Center therapy, careers, dating, social anxiety

Like the past two posts, this one is a bit late in being posted. It was supposed to be split up into different posts, but even though it's a little disjointed at times I think it's better being mushed into one.

There's a lot here. I talk about individual and group therapy at the Vet Center, careers, dating, and social anxiety. All of this took a couple of cups of coffee to write, and well may need a couple of cups of coffee to read as well.

Today's Vet Center Appointment; Feb 3

Today was an anniversary-- one month since I'd first gone to the Vet Center to talk to someone. I'm going to talk (and perhaps rant) on that a little; my main reason for going there in January was that especially after Christmas I was having a lot of problems with PTSD (and anxiety, and depression). The goal then was to talk to someone, hopefully a veteran, who'd been there that would have some understanding of what I might be going through. My secondary goal was to get refered back into the medical/mental health side of the VA, hopefully without a lot of red tape (hah!).

Secondary goal is easy, Vet Center shrugged it off and said "not our problem". No help at all.

Main goal: it took three one hour appointments to get through the intake (!), which is a long form with lots of standard questions about me and my life and service and etc. All of the questions were looking for answers that I've already provided at one time or another, meaning they're in my records somewhere, but had to go through all of them again. I'm feeling frustrated by this, just as I am every time I get a new social worker or counselor or intern or whoever and have to tell my life story yet again. It's also a half hour drive each way, meaning I'm burning gas that I have to pay for because the VA isn't efficient enough to look at my records. (Which is approaching whining, I admit, but it still needs to be pointed out.) And, finally, the most important part is I'm not getting any actual help with PTSD. I'm just answering questions and telling my story.

It does feel, now, a lot like it felt in the months after ETS. Different place, different people, don't know much of anybody here, don't have a full time job, not altogether sure which direction to start walking towards.

I've had a number of interviews at Tech Companies Whose Names You Know, and a couple at companies whose names you don't know, and the result has been the same. There have been a couple that almost said outright that I'm too old. but most just mumble something about cultural fit or abruptly stop calling back altogether. In the same way that I've begun to accept that I'm probably not going back to being a college student any time soon, I'm probably not going to slide into a traditional corporate job either. So one goal is to look into resources for veterans who want to start up a business. Last of the freelance hackers, or something like that.

There was also a goal that social worker sort of created for me, that I'm supposed to look into local opportunities to do tech work for someone (even if it's just volunteer work). Meh. At one point I mentioned that I was having trouble evaluating American Legion and VFW posts online, because a lot of pots really don't have an online presence-- Social Worker's response was that that might be a source of something productive to do. Like I said, meh. You want a functional static web site, I can do that-- but there's no intellectual challenge in doing it. (I built my first static site for money in 1996.)

I'm also going to join a group therapy thing that meets every two weeks, where there's a moderator and the veterans get to talk about whatever. Now we're getting somewhere. I'll start going to that next week (which means it'll be a total of about five weeks to get from initial visit to actually talking about what's been bothering me. Ugh.)

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I have a primary care intake appointment coming up as well; if the first thing they say is "do you have any health problems?" I'm probably going to scream, because that will mean that no one will have looked at my records and I'll have to answer a lot of the same questions I just answered. Yes, I'd like a referal to mental health. Batshit crazy PTSD. Second floor of the hospital, right? I'm approaching the idea of the mental health clinic here the same as I'm approaching the Vet Center-- tell me what you have to offer, and maybe it fits what I need right now and maybe it doesn't.

Bear in mind that is will, again, be an intake appointment, so I'm not sure how much actual "do things to make Opus healthy" stuff will happen. Since the appointment is next week, it'll be about six weeks to get to an actual medical or mental health thing.

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I'm thinking out loud, probably going in circles.

I don't regret my decision to leave Wisconsin. I'd taken being there as far as I could (and perhaps even a little bit past that). Things were only going to get worse for me, had I stayed. It's not home if there's nothing there to go back to, so my recent depression hasn't been because I'm homesick.

Over the past two years, since I got off the streets and back into my own apartment, I did pretty much the same thing every day. Wake up at around 1400. Pace back and forth for a while, a couple of hours, doing the self talk thing trying to get focused. Clean up, get dressed, get out the door, walk to campus and try not to get hit crossing the street or on the bike path I walked on. Find something to eat before either going to work or finding a place to sit down and work on my own projects. Work on those projects, or work at work, until the building closed. Then either stay (hide) at work until almost dawn, and then go to the only place that's open all night for food, or go straight to that food place if I wasn't at work. Sometime immediately before daybreak, walk home and silently pray that I wouldn't encounter some weird scary drunk person, which almost always happened anyway.

Most of the time, other than the time I spent hacking or working, I was pretty miserable.

Still I miss having a place to go and a sense of purpose, even if that sense of purpose was mostly all in my head. It meant something that I worked at a help desk and was the most experienced person there, and it meant something that I was a software developer. I liked that I went to the computer science building to work. Getting there every day, even if it was just to work on my own stuff that no one else cared about, was a victory. I knew my time there was going to come to an end, and I had hope that all of the work I was putting in would be something that would get me to something better.

At my last Vet Center appointment, the last of the intake questions was setting up goals. What do you hope to accomplish with Readjustment Counseling? We talked for a while about having a Plan B, in case Plan A doesn't work out-- if Wisconsin was Plan A, I'm on Plan B now, so what is Plan B really? I'm struggling with the answer(s). Certainly I'm not happy with the way things are here and now. I'm anxious, depressed, often triggered. I planned for something, and somewhere, different. Where I am is actually a lot nicer and more comfortable than what I'd planned for, and I'm not sure if that makes it easier or more difficult.

What do I want to accomplish here? What do I want my life to be like?

Much of the past few years has been (or has felt like) struggling for survival. Every day a struggle, every day you live to see another day is a victory. I'm not struggling to that extent right now. I don't have much money, I can't afford to go out and do much, I have to be careful with what I spend even on essentials like groceries, but the basics of food/clothing/shelter are covered.

Shelter is probably the weakest link, because all it would take is one argument that ended in "GTFO" and I'd be living in my truck. I don't think that will happen, and I hope it won't, but it's a valid concern. I'm where I am because someone else was generous enough to let me stay here. I'm told I don't have to worry, but the thing about having been actually homeless is that you know it's possible. Up until the point when it happens, you can get by not believing that it will ever happen to you, but once it does you can't ignore that it's not impossible.

So I keep a $20 bill in my wallet, even though I never use cash, just in case my debit card doesn't work for some reason like my bank doesn't recognize where I am and puts on a security hold. I have a bug out fund, money that's set aside to get me moving again just in case I have to leave here. I have a strict rule that I won't have more material goods here than fit completely inside my truck, in case I need to GTFO on short notice. I keep a blanket and a pillow, and a jacket, in my truck in case I ever need them. I haven't worked out a set of possible places to go from here, places that I can get a cheap room to chill while I figure shit out, but I'm working on it. If need be, I can be packed up and out of here in a couple of hours. (Where I go from that point is anyone's guess, it's just that I don't ever want to go through all of the stuff I went through the first time I was evicted.)

One thing I'm supposed to do before my next Vet Center appointment is look into being self-employed, or starting my own shop. The interviews I've had with potential employers have gone pretty much the same way-- you're very technically capable, you have a lot of interesting experience, and let's see here... oh. You're old. Ok, bye. Based on my experience working in an open office at Wisconsin I'm probably not going to fit into someplace with an open office well, even with accommodations (and do I really want to go through that battle again). One alternative is working for myself.

A side note here: one of the neat tricks interviewers like to play, instead of asking how old you are (which it's illegal to ask) is asking when you graduated. Another equally neat trick is asking when you got out of the service. 



Short answer, that doesn't work. Long answer: Social Security sends me money every month because they consider me disabled. If I start up my own business, then I'm not disabled. The worry is that if I were to lose the benefits I have as a result of being disabled, and me being my own boss doesn't succeed enough for me to live on, then I a) don't have work income and b) don't have disability income either.

(It would be a ton different if I could convince the VA that my PTSD is service connected, because the compensation you get for that has different rules. You can still work, and in fact if you have a service connection and you own a buiness you get preference for things like federal contracts. For right now, that's not an option that affects anything; I've been fighting that battle for years now.)

Another goal that came out of last week's Vet Center appointment was finding local resources for things to do/get involved in. I've sort of been doing this on my own anyway, trying to Google recon Legion and VFW posts and such. I made the point that it's been difficult because posts often don't have much of an online presence. I'm a hacker. If your post doesn't have its own web page that says something about your post, I'm willing to bet that as a hacker there's not going to be much at your post to catch my attention. It's not even a generational thing any more, really, I've just had more than my fill of hearing "oh, you're a computer whiz". No, I'm a hacker. There's a difference. I don't expect that everyone at a given post will understand that, or even be into tech, but it's 2017 and a website that says something meaningful about your post just isn't that damn hard to come up with.

There was more discussion on this, things like finding ways to help other veterans-- there's certainly a need for peer support among veterans, but it felt a little odd to have that come from someone at a Vet Center. The first rule of First Aid (as I remember it) says that in trying to help someone else, don't turn the situation from one person needing help to two people needing help. Resilient though I may be, I'm not sure that right now I'm qualified. I might be wrong, maybe I'm more qualified than anyone because of all the shit I've been through, but right now I don't quite feel up to it.

It's also important to realize, and I'm not sure SW understands this, that "here" right now is *just another place*. I don't have a sense of home anywhere, except maybe the sub-world of airports and train stations and hotels and truck stops and rest areas. Where I'm from is just where I'm from, it's not a place where I have anything to go back to-- and here I'm a stranger until I'm not, and even then I'll always be a person that's from somewhere else. This isn't my first time living outside my home state.

A number of years ago, when I did social anxiety group therapy (this was way before I was diagnosed with PTSD), one of the ways I got out and did social things anyway was through Meetup. There was one group in particular that I did a lot of events with, things like going out to dinner and mini golf and all kinds of things, and overall it did me a lot of good. I even found a girlfriend through Meetup, a relationship that lasted about two years (until I started really having serious problems with PTSD and found myself dumped). Another group I was involved in for a while was an outdoors group, made up of people who were way higher speed than I was. These were people who scoffed when I said I bought stuff from REI, because it wasn't serious enough gear. That's a longer story, but it bears mentioning. Finally, there were a lot of other events that I attended that were just events, just things to do. They got me out of my apartment, if nothing else. Once I was back in school, I didn't really have time to do Meetups, and most of the people I'd sort of met also just sort of faded from view.

I could go that route here. There's certainly no shortage of Meetup groups around Atlanta metro. Most of them, getting involved really only requires joining the group and RSVPing that you're going to be at a particular event. It usually takes checking out a few different groups to find one that fits, but there's probably at least one that does, so there's a lot to gain and not a whole lot to lose.

Before all of this PTSD shit happened, before I was in school then out of school, before I was homeless, etc., when I met new people all I had to say was that I was divorced and working at shitty company A. That put me on pretty equal footing with most people. That I was a veteran really didn't come up in most conversations, and so it really didn't matter that much. It didn't even come up that I was in therapy for social anxiety.

Life's become more than a little more complicated. Now, I'm a veteran with a disability. I live here for now because I'm here helping family but I don't have a job. I'm from somewhere else, so I don't know the inside jokes that everyone knows who's lived in a place for a long time. I don't know and don't care about your sports teams. That's all before I get to the part about (social) anxiety, depression, PTSD, and just in general being something of an introvert anyway. Who might not be here in six months.

Yeah, just the kind of person you're looking for, I know. Kinda defeatist, right?

The answer (or the challenge) to that is, "you don't have to tell anyone all of that", and that's true to a certain extent-- wearing all of that on one's sleeve is the same as keeping one's shields up to make damn sure no one can hurt you. I've spent a lot of time pretending, hiding in plain sight, looking like I belonged wherever I was. It was out of necessity, being homeless you learn things like how to blend in because the alternative-- that someone finds out you're homeless and don't belong there-- is that at minimum you're humiliatingly escorted out, at maximum you're arrested.

I've had enough of hiding.

-----

So, group (therapy at Vet Center). I'm not going to get into great detail about the people of the group-- it's one thing for me to talk about what's in my head, but it's another to talk here about what other veterans say. Nunya. I do think it's important to talk about the mechanics of the group, in case someone's wondering what a group therapy thing at a Vet Center is like.

Most of us are there early, so we're waiting in the waiting room outside the Door. There aren't that many places to sit; one of the few pieces of furniture is a couch, which forces people to sit together on the couch. The TV is on, for no apparent reason. I wonder if some interior design person thought it would be a good idea to try to make the waiting area look like a living room to make it more "comfortable", and I decide that they failed miserably. The coffee pot sits alone on a counter, unused; there's no one inside the Desk, so I didn't check in, but at this point I've given up on ever being offered coffee.

SW1, the same person I've been talking to, opens the Door and beckons. Handshakes are not offered, but I've given up on ever being offered one of those, too. We follow into the Back, where there is a Conference Room. In the Room, there is a circle of chairs. We all sit down, predictably filling all of (and only) the chairs that face the door. I point that out, which produces some nervous chuckles. There's a white board with a one word theme for the session. There's another moderator here, SW2.

Standard procedure, a handout with the purpose, goals, and guidelines for the group. We go over that. SW1 and SW2 introduce themselves, then we go around and each introduce ourselves. It's cordial, all of the participants are veterans after all; I get shit about being the lone Air Force flyboy. I give it back. Discussion is friendly, but guarded-- I've been in enough therapy groups now that this is ok, I'm with my people now, but not everyone has. For some this is their first group therapy thing, and they're a little nervous. (I am too, truth be told, but I have practice both hiding it and seeing it.)

We find things in common pretty quickly; we're all brothers and sisters here. It's a friendly (without being sprinkles and rainbows and bullshit) atmosphere. No one's arguing or pushing in any particular direction-- my feeling is that we're sort of feeling each other out, and getting used to this group therapy thing. I'm convinced that I'm at least as much of a basket case as anyone, but the point of the group is to help show that we're not alone in what we're feeling and dealing with. As far as that goes, we don't get much into specifics. Even among (and perhaps *especially* among) veterans, it takes a little to get to the point where you can really admit what's going on inside your head to someone else.

As I've felt and thought in other groups, I wonder if it might be better to close the door and leave all of us there to talk amongst ourselves for a while instead of trying to make it a guided group. A SW as a moderator is something of an authority figure, and that's sometimes a limiting figure. It can be hard to be completely honest if you feel like someone's taking notes to ask you about what you said later.

Afterwards, a few of us cluster outside by our cars chatting for a few minutes. Again, nunya, but it was friendly. Not everyone wants to stick around and talk. People have other places, jobs, families, school, etc.

I see, in each of the other veterans in the group, a little of myself. I also see bits and pieces of the people I worked and served with. I'm not sure what the others in the group think of me as a person, and to some extent I don't care (which sounds horrible but isn't meant that way), but respect and trust are important. I want to be able to be honest about things in the group, to be able to share stuff that will help me (by talking about it) and them (by sharing something helpful that helps someone else sort shit out).

If you've been reading for any length of time/number of posts, you've no doubt noticed that I carry around a lot of anger and a lot of disappointment-- most of it directed at the VA. Someone has to say something. If I'm having all of the trouble I'm having, not just recently but over the past several years, there are others having the same problems getting help. If *I* were elected president, the first executive order I'd issue would be one that said that any VA employee that shrugged their shoulders and muttered "well that's just the VA for ya" would be immediately terminated. Let a veteran fall through the cracks? Same thing. GTFO. Before being confirmed as Secretary, a person would be given a DD214 and be required to get themselves enrolled in VA health care, using just the resources we're given. Maybe then someone would understand.

See? Anger and disappointment.

These negative emotions overflow past the VA and become a lens that I'm using to look at the world. Tech. College, the University of Wisconsin specifically, but school in general. People. The Country. Whatever. I've been punched enough times in the gut that it doesn't matter who's throwing the punches, I just don't want to take another one. Anger and disappointment, being the grumpiest veteran in the room, is a way to let people know-- whoever they are, it doesn't matter-- to think twice before trying to be that next punch.

It takes a lot of energy to keep those shields up though, and there are those times lately when I wonder just how to let the shields down a little and take a few breaths. Going to the Vet Center here was the first step-- it was either that or pack up the truck and drive somewhere, anywhere, but running isn't a solution. I've been lots of places, on both coasts and in the middle, and no matter the place when I close my eyes I still see the Desert. So if *that* isn't going to change, something *else* has to change, or nothing that's really important can change.

Make sense? Nah, didn't think so. :)

I've actually had scattered moments, over the past couple of weeks or so, when the fog clears for a little while and I can sort of concentrate on what I'm trying to do. I make small progress, win small victories like getting ntp working right so all of the computers in my lab have accurately synced clocks or making changes to some of the small scripts I've written but not looked at for quite a while-- the same kinds of things I've done when I've felt like this before. I'll look at an app, or a web site, and find something wrong with it-- and know that I can do it better. Sometimes, most times lately, those positive moments are just that. Moments. It's frustrating. It's there, and then it's not.

This week I finally have my primary care intake appointment, during which I can ask for (and I should get without incident) a referral to the mental health clinic. I don't know what they'll specifically have to offer other than another (!) intake appointment but it's worth checking out. I'm going to note for the umpteenth time that since Jan 3 when I started this whole process, I've yet to discuss my PTSD directly (or at all) with anyone. Hopefully talking directly to mental health will change that.

I'm going to stick with the individual readjustment counseling, and the group, at the Vet Center for now. If nothing else it gives me something to go and do once a week that's at least a step in the right direction (or at the very least, it's me getting up and out of the house).

Update: I'm done with the Vet Center. Reasons here.







Traveling Veterans - Seamless Care

This was actually written two weeks ago. I apologize if the time offset makes times and dates confusing. I've been writing, but things have been busy and complicated and I'm just now getting to actually posting.

My actual primary care appointment was this week, on February 14th. Six weeks from initial contact to actually talking to a doctor. 

More posts coming. 

I received a phone call from a (the?) Traveling Veteran Coordinator at the VA Medical Center here in Atlanta. This means that I'm cleared to receive medical and mental health care at the Atlanta VAMC while I'm here in Georgia, even though my "home" VAMC is in Wisconsin. There is such a thing as Seamless Care for Traveling Veterans, which is what I'm talking about here; you might find it useful to read this: https://www.va.gov/HEALTHBENEFITS/access/seamless_care.asp if you're not sure what I'm talking about.

To recap, this process started in early January. It took that long to get a primary care appointment.

I first called the Madison WI VAMC (my "home" VA hospital) to see what I needed to do in order to be seen/get a primary care yearly appointment at the Atlanta GA VAMC since that's where I am for now. They said call Atlanta, and Atlanta would be able to help.

I called the Atlanta VAMC and spoke to someone who said I needed to re-enroll in VA Healthcare-- bring in a DD-214, and completely reapply and reenroll, to get into primary care in Atlanta. Same person said that when I returned to Wisconsin, I'd need to take in a DD-214 and completely reapply and reenroll again there. That didn't sound right-- why would someone need to go through all of that?

I did some research and found https://www.va.gov/HEALTHBENEFITS/access/seamless_care.asp, Seamless Care for Traveling Veterans. Cool. Got all of the required information together, logged into MyHealtheVet, and sent it to my primary care team in Wisconsin via secure message. From there, they'd talk to the Traveling Veteran Coordinator in Atlanta and set things up. Except that's not what happened-- primary care said I needed to talk to someone in Eligibility in Wisconsin to set up a consult the next time I was in Wisconsin because I'd been detached from primary care, because it's been two years since my last primar care appointment.

No, that's not what https://www.va.gov/HEALTHBENEFITS/access/seamless_care.asp, Seamless Care for Traveling Veterans says, and what I'm trying to ultimately do is set up that yearly appointment with primary care so I can reattach. So I call Eligibility in Wisconsin.

I explain to Eligibility in Wisconsin that I am a traveling veteran (now that I know the term) and I am in Georgia, and since there exists a program for traveling veterans, I'd like to get a primary care appointment through the Atlanta VAMC. The person there doesn't really know about Traveling Veterans, but promises to find out and puts me on hold while she goes and talks to a supervisor. The result of that conversation is that Atlanta's full of shit, I neither need to bring a DD214 or reenroll, and Wisconsin is going to contact Atlanta to get things et up.

This week (two weeks later) the Traveling Veteran Coordinator from Atlanta calls, lets me know everything is set up for me to be seen in Atlanta. She can't set up a primary care appointment, but she does contact primary care and they'll contact me. I let TVC know that I am working night shifts, and that when someone does call they should call in the afternoon-- as in, after 1200.

Wednesday this week: Primary care from Atlanta calls at 1100 and leaves a voicemail with a name and number and extension. I try calling back three times-- at 1526, 1543, and at 1619-- and each time get that person's voicemail followed by a message saying I cannot leave a message because the mailbox is full.

Thursday this week: Primary care from Atlanta calls at 1119 and leaves a voicemail with the same name, number, and extension as yesterday. I call at 1435, 1441, 1444, 1450, and 1621 (I'm reading these times from my phone) and each time, the call goes straight to voicemail and I get the same message that the mailbox is full.

Friday this week: I haven't slept much, because I'm beyond irritated that a) Atlanta VAMC keeps calling when I've told them I'm asleep and b) I'm expecting the phone to ring this morning and I want to catch the call when it comes in. It doesn't. I try calling the same extension again, and again get the voicemail message that the mailbox is full.

This is the third try, them calling me, and in the past when someone has tried to call me three times without reaching me from the VA, they check a box on a form that I'm unreachable and that's the last I hear from the VA. Can you say "fall through the cracks yet again"?

Ok Google. Directions to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur Georgia. We're going to find/see the Patient Advocate's office.

It's about an hour's drive from where I am to the Atlanta VAMC. A highlight of the trip is that it took me right past Stone Mountain (yes, that Stone Mountain). While I'm on my way to the Atlanta VAMC, primary care calls again but I don't answer; I'm driving and I can't call back anyway because they don't answer.

After a couple of misturns getting into the parking structure, I'm in the VA hospital. I find an information desk, ask where to find the Patient Advocate, and a few steps later I'm there talking to an Iraq veteran (who is from the PA's office), shaking her hand, and briefing her on me being a traveling veteran, having jumped through the hoops, and been contacted by the right person only at times when I couldn't answer and that I'm not able to leave a voicemail back.

I mention the person from primary care that I'm trying to reach, and the PA recognizes her by first name immediately. I don't work for the VA, but I can imagine that the PA knowing your name in a bad way that well can't be good.

PA tries calling primary care person, gets voicemail.

PA emails primary care person, with read receipt enabled so we'll know when/if primary care person sees the email-- primary care person reads it almost immediately, which means she's at her desk. Primary care person calls PA (might be other way around). Pleasantries exchanged. PA reminds primary care that the veteran drove an hour to the VAMC because he couldn't get in touch with anyone. I get to talk to primary care, who does not apologize but says she's been very busy because she's just back from leave. I make it a point to remind her to learn how to delete old voicemails.

An appointment is made for me, finally, on February 14th at one of the satellite primary care clinics.

This process started January 3, when I first went in person to a Vet Center here-- the Vet Center offered no help or assistance with getting a primary care appointment at the hospital/a clinic (they just shrugged and said "primary care? nope not us"). Now, the VA will say that took less than 30 days for me to get an appointment, so everything's cool-- but in reality it took all of this for me to get scheduled for an intake appointment at a primary care clinic:

* One ~80 mile round trip to a Vet Center
* A certain amount of time doing my own research online
* Two phone calls to my "home" VA medical center, one involving a supervisor
* One phone call to the Atlanta VAMC which was no help
* One secure message to my home primary care team which was no help
* One or more calls from Wisconsin to Atlanta
* One call from traveling veterans coordinator in Atlanta
* Three calls to me from primary care in Atlanta
* A shitton of calls from me to primary care in Atlanta trying to reach them
* An email and a call from the Patient Advocate's office to primary care
* One ~100 mile round trip to the Atlanta VAMC at my expense

AND THIS IS JUST TO GET AN INTAKE APPOINTMENT AT A PRIMARY CARE CLINIC.

-----

I didn't complete my bachelor's degree, but I did work in technical support for eight years. Someone says they're too busy to clean out their old voicemails because they just came back from leave, I call bullshit. It's this person's job to schedule primary care appointments for people. That they responded immediately to a email from someone in the Patient Advocate's office tells me that they're at their desk and can hear the phone when it rings. It's 2017, and you can see the caller ID of who's calling, at least the number-- how many people in the 608 area code is someone at Atlanta primary care in contact with, ESPECIALLY people that they are supposed to be calling and getting in touch with? You'll talk to the Patient Advocate, but you won't talk to the patient?

No one in the Patient Advocate's office was particularly surprised that I'd hopped in my truck and been willing to drive in two hours of Friday in Atlanta traffic just to get in touch with someone. The PA I talked to knew the primary care person by first name. Ugh.

I could have let it go, said fuck it.

Primary care did call again late on Friday afternoon when I was awake, but I was already almost to the VAMC by then. If I'd not been in the truck driving, I might have heard the phone ring-- and then answered and talked to the person and got the appointment set up. Maybe. If I'd missed the call I'd still have had no way to call back, because the primary care person's voice mail was full-- so the next thing that would happen is primary care would note that they'd called me three times and I'd not answered, and the process would stop there.

It's happened to me before. Primary care knows (because I've told them) that I work nights, they ignore the note, call in the morning, and then give up after they've made three calls.

Since I was already "detached from primary care" I'd have stayed that way. I didn't finally get a primary care appointment because the Patient Advocate helped, or because Eligibility in Wisconsin helped, or because the traveling veterans coordinator helped-- none of them would have done anything at all if I hadn't been a pain in the ass and kept calling and writing and showing up in person.

It's the same as when I got myself off the streets and found an apartment on my own. My limit of two years in VA transitional housing would have been up in November 2014, and when I was evicted in April 2014 they still hadn't even filled out the paperwork for HUD-VASH-- a process that takes months to years. There never was any post-homelessness follow up.

It's the same as the last Vet Center I talked to, where the counselor said "you're fine, you don't need to come back for anything" even when I was pretty clear that yes I actually did.

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS.

-----

It's Sunday afternoon now.

Friday night I didn't sleep well after my trip to the VAMC in Atlanta (I hadn't slept well Thursday night with all of this happening, either). Most of Saturday, and to some extent even today, I'm not feeling all that well. PTSD is really kicked in. I can't concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I'm jumpy, any little noise sets my heart racing. My fuse is really short, I'll go from zero to pissed off in half a second. I was already anxious and depressed, and now it feels a lot worse.

I am trying to find the right words to explain just how draining it is to have to go through all of this nonsense with the VA. I'm not a runner, but maybe this works. Imagine the finish line at a marathon, where it's getting dark and most of the participants have long since finished the race and gone home. There's that one person who is down to their very last breath of energy when they finally cross the line, and they collapse as soon as they do. I've never run a marathon, so I can't say that's exactly how I feel, but I can imagine it feels something like that. I'm exhausted in a way that will take time to recover from.

Think about that for a minute. I'm that exhausted from setting up an intake appointment.

Chances are that at the intake appointment I'll talk to yet another nurse or physicians assistant with a clipboard who hasn't looked at my records and will ask me all of the same questions I've answered a hundred times before. Maybe they'll take my pulse and temperature and blood pressure and have me stand on a scale, take some blood samples, have me pee in a cup. There won't be therapy, there won't be treatment, but I'll feel exhausted after the appointment too.

-----

Is it worth it, going through all of this? Lately I wonder, but it is true that I need to do something to take care of myself-- no one else is going to look after me. I'm pretty self sufficient, most of the time, but if I get physically sick or injured, or if I need to talk to someone from mental health, it's a lot easier if I have a place to go to. So I need the VA, because I don't have an alternative. This-- getting everything arranged in Atlanta-- is necessary. There are things I still want to do with my life, I'm not done yet.

It really bothers and concerns me, how complicated this all has been. I'm pretty damn stubborn, and on a good day I can figure some shit out. I've got a lot of experience with this stuff now, so I know to look at the VA's website. I know to use MyHealtheVet to send written requests for things, so there's a record that I asked. I know to ask to speak to supervisors, and I know to talk to the Patient Advocate.

If I'm going through all of this shit just to get an intake appointment at primary care, knowing what I know, how bad is it for other veterans? How many of us just give up after talking to the first person from the VA that says "no" or hands us a bundle of red tape to unravel on our own? How many brothers and sisters get that response from the VA and then start sliding downhill from there? How many brothers and sisters do we lose every day, just because the energy needed to ask for and get what they needed from the VA was more energy than they had?