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21 April 2012

Alarm, shower, clothes, coffee, car, VA

For now, and the next three weeks, I'm going to be talking a lot about the transitions clinic I'm involved in at the VA Hospital. Hopefully this gives you a glimpse of what "a (student) veteran getting serious help for PTSD" looks like.

It amazes me how hard it became to get up, get cleaned up and dressed, and get out the door for me this past year. Add to that, getting something for breakfast and making coffee and making sure I have the meds I need to take packed up. Is it cold outside? Warm outside? Raining, snowing, sleeting, hailing, etc? Actually arriving early, to get a place to park and get upstairs to the mental health clinic. Sitting down at a table being ready to go on time. Going to class is much the same.

At the clinic, there is always coffee available upon arrival. The VA knows.

Mornings start out the same; each of us checks in, gives a report on what positive things we're doing to get better. Some days, some people just shake their heads and close their eyes with nothing good to report. I try to come up with something, although the first week it was often "I'm here getting help." I've heard people say that you don't get points for showing up, and that may be true. I'm trying to give myself points for showing up. The multiple steps required to move me from asleep to sitting at a table at the VA add up to something I haven't been able to do very well lately. Last Monday, I didn't get there until the afternoon. Wednesday and Friday, I was on time both days.

There's a mindful lunch after that. As a group, we eat slowly and talk about what we're eating. How hungry we are, why we're hungry. What's the food like-- the different tastes and smells and textures. Actually enjoying eating lunch, conversing with others. (When's the last time you had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and knew what it tasted like when you were done?)

Most of the rest of the schedule changes from one day to the next. There's a relaxation skills session, creative expression sessions, and an afternoon group session. After that there's time for appointments with providers-- my social worker, a psychiatrist. On the days where I work at night, I have a good hour or two at home before I have to be at work. I'm a lucky bastard, I live close to both the VA Hospital and work.

At this past week's creative expression session, there was a small painting project. No rules on "how", just grab the colors and brushes and get after it.  When I told a veteran friend about this, he said "Oh, so they look at the colors and tell you if you're an ax murderer?" They don't; each of us had an opportunity to talk about our final result, but in a very non judgmental way. The providers didn't ask those kinds of questions. They didn't even take notes about what we'd painted.

In the various kinds of group sessions, methods used healing from addictions come up often. Alcoholics Anonymous concepts do as well. I suppose in a way, all of us are healing from being addicted to something. Sometimes it's just being in the long established habit of something we learned years ago. 

I jump out of my seat when the fire alarm tests are announced. It's the click that the speaker makes when the press to talk button is pressed. In the Desert, that click meant that SCUD missiles were inbound. It was always assumed they'd be carrying chemical weapons. I got pretty damn good at being out of my chair and grabbing my chem gear bag between the click and the first word of the warning.

I'm enjoying the structure of having to be in the right place at the right time. As a student, schedule is everything, and being able to wake up, brush one's teeth, grab an apple and a cup of coffee-- followed by hauling ass to class-- is an important skill. It is the motions I'm going through as much as the actual things I'm doing that are helping me get back to functioning somewhat normally. There's a difference, even after only one week.

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It should also be noted here that I attended another campus lecture this week. Same lecture hall, not quite as full. I don't presently remember all of the details, but I took notes so I can go back over the lecture, see what I missed-- and see how I'm doing with concentrating and remembering.


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