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28 May 2016

Don't waste a second

Memorial Day is one of those days during the year where I tend to want to keep to myself, even more than normal. I know that for a lot of people it's a vacation day-- a day to spend with friends and family, often cooking out or doing general outside things if the weather's nice, and indoor things if not. Some people will go to a parade, or visit the grave of a relative who was a veteran, but most won't. More people will go shopping because there's a Memorial Day sale on something they want (or think they want) than will stop to consider what the day really means.

I'm not completely okay with that, but then again I'm not planning to do anything veteran related with the day. I've been in parades. I've been at the cemeteries leading and participating in the ceremonies. It's not something I really want to repeat-- when I was in VFW, the preferred thing to do after all of the ceremonies to honor fallen comrades was to sit at the bar and get drunk. Which I'm definitely not at all okay with. This Memorial Day, I'll be going to work just like it was any other Monday.

I do want to talk about veterans-- certainly me, since I'm a veteran, but about other veterans too.

It's strange, in a way I didn't really understand until recently, to be a veteran of a war that's not the latest war. My war was in 1990-1991, which isn't that long ago but is ancient history in terms of what's changed since then. It had a profound impact on my life, and to varying degrees on everyone who was there or involved. In terms of PTSD it happened yesterday afternoon and on bad days is still happening right now, but it's not a TV show that everyone can watch. It's a book that I read and generally (other than here and in therapy, I suppose) I don't share.

Afghanistan and Iraq were the next chapters, and they were both big and messy and complicated. They overshadowed the Persian Gulf War quickly and completely. Many people don't know that there was a war in the Desert before 2003, or don't have any sense of it. It's not forgotten, so much as it's something that people don't think about. This is even more true in my current environment, a college campus, where most of the people I interact with every day don't even remember 9/11.

As part of my shift out of full time school/part time work, and back into full time work/part time school, I'm trying to network. The PTSD and social anxiety get in the way. I've had a string of bad years where people I trusted to help, or at least not make my life worse, did exactly the opposite. So it's hard to trust anyone when they say they'll help or try to help. I'm also an introvert, mostly, so just walking up to random people and making small talk and such isn't always easy.

Honestly, in social terms I'm kinda out of the loop and have been for a while.

Still, I'm trying to make contacts where I can. Being a veteran, a natural avenue to take is talking to other veterans. I'm finding even that to be difficult though, because I'm not like a lot of other veterans. It might be that the PTSD and social anxiety are coloring my opinion on this, but I don't think that's a complete explanation.

It's easy to find examples of people who were once in the military, then got out and went to college, then graduated, and now they're doing this and that and the other thing etc. Often it's just described as a stint in the service that they once did and left at that. If there were difficulties in these veterans adjusting to civilian life, or with PTSD, they're not documented. Forrest Gump is a perfect example-- everything went right even when things went wrong. Even Lt. Dan found redemption.

When people write about veterans, they seem to consider us as one contiguous group of people who all have the same things in common. It's not really like that at all.

Most veterans I encounter that are in tech or trying to get into tech are Post 9/11 veterans. It's the same way with a lot of current programs for veterans-- many of the organizations and programs that exist either assume you're a Post 9/11 veteran or outright limit their services to Post 9/11 veterans. There is a dividing line-- either you're Post 9/11, or you're not. I find that among tech people, I'm almost always the only Desert Storm person in the room.

It's true, usually, that if you put two veterans in a room we'll find each other and always have something to talk about. I've found that the rule breaks down when one of the veterans has been homeless. I've been noticing that the veterans who are working in tech, or especially trying to find work in tech, are not veterans who have been on the street. Kinda like, duh, right?

So I really don't know where I'm going with this, other than to say it's sort of socially awkward and a bit confusing to have been homeless, and to have had to very loudly fight for accommodations at work, and at the same time be easing into a world (tech) where the things that have defined life for me over the past few years start losing their importance. Or relevance. Or something.

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If you want to honor those who have given their lives or limbs or sanity for your freedom, live your life to the very fullest you can, each and every day, You have the freedom to do so because someone else made it possible. Don't waste a second.

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