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16 February 2017

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.

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