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One Step At A Time

All Posts  June 30 2009
 — By CJ Grisham

For those that listen to our You Served Radio Show each Thursday evening, you probably missed an announcement I made at the end. Our interview with General Chiarelli went long so those listening live probably didn’t catch it unless they went back and listened to the archives.

I’ve been noticeably missing the past week or so for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is Army business, but I can’t blame it all on work. At the end of the show, I publicly admitted that I’m having issues dealing with life. Not in the sense of ending it, but just coping and interpersonal issues. I consider admitting that I have a problem phase I of my new recovery.

Last week, my company completed Phase II of the Army’s Suicide Prevention program. We watched the video, “Shoulder To Shoulder: No Soldier Stands Alone” (I’ll have it uploaded later) and then discussed some scenarios afterwards. When the training was complete, I sat down with my Soldiers to talk them face to face about what we had just trained on. I explained to them that NOTHING in this life – nothing in this Army – is worth taking your own life for. Life sucks…a LOT. But, it’s never so bad that you should end your life.

I explained that in my experience there is a common thread to people who want to commit suicide. Almost without fail, the inner thought of suicidal people is that “life [for others] would be better without me.” Or, “I’m inconsequential.” A common goal of suicide is to easy the burden of one’s life on other people. What they don’t realize is that suicide only compounds the burden’s on other people. The only thing it ends is that individual’s problems while placing those problems in the hands of someone else. I looked my Soldiers in the eye and told them from the heart that I and the commander are there for them if they EVER feel like life is too burdensome to continue. We will not chastise them, mock them, make light of their situation, or try to convince them that their problems aren’t real. We will do everything within our power to help them overcome whatever in their life is causing them pain and anguish.

I then explained that seeking that help, either from us or real professionals, is not a sign of weakness. I talked about my conversation with General Chiarelli and the Army’s commitment to ending the stigma that has historically been attached to seeking mental health counseling. To lend credibility to what I had just told them, I entered phase II of my recovery – telling my Soldiers that I am seeking counseling. For far too long since returning from Iraq, people both inside and outside of the military have sort of hinted to me that I should seek help. My lovely wife has mentioned it a few times, sometimes joking for fear of offending me. Even my Command Sergeant Major suggested I seek professional help when he spoke to me about my IG complaint. I met each suggestion with either humor, disinterest, ambivalence, or anger depending on whom was telling me. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine. You’re crazy for even suggesting such a thing. Haha, that’s funny.

As most of you know, I started this blog as self-medication. It worked for a few years, but I’m not sure what’s happened in recent months and years. Perhaps it’s the physical pain I’ve been in for more than six years now. Maybe it’s the accumulated lack of sleep that is catching up to me. Maybe there really is nothing wrong and I’m just really tired! Whatever it is, my behavior has changed and it sort of scares me.

I am always tired. No matter how long I “sleep,” I NEVER wake up rested. I toss and turn throughout the night. I lie awake for hours enjoying the company of the beautiful woman beside, soundly sleeping. Sometimes, I get up and walk around the house or surf the internet. I’m not willing to get specific about the things keeping me awake at night publicly, but it’s a combination of bad dreams, everyday stresses, and physical discomfort. I have a prescription to Vicodin for nights that I can’t sleep through the pain that I rarely take. I’m afraid to get addicted to the pills if I take them every time I need them. A bottle typically lasts me about six to eight months. But, when I take them I keep Emily awake. Sometimes, they even keep me awake. I’m not in pain, but they make me itch.

I’m not comfortable being around people. I’m not the social butterfly I pretend to be anymore. This year’s Milblog Conference was the most uncomfortable I’ve been in years. I used to love being the center of attention of making an ass out of myself. I don’t like doing anything anymore. I hate leaving the house and when I do, I make sure I’m always armed. There’s a sense of impending doom just walking out my front door. To at least get me out and about, I’ve turned to geocaching. It’s something I can alone or with my family. It keeps me moving, but I don’t have pay for anything or worry about large crowds. Even when I went to the Tea Parties, I tried to keep mostly to myself and not draw attention.

That is what is so great about the internet. I can have all these friends and be in the company of hundreds of people and I feel perfectly fine. The problem is that I’ve made a lot of GREAT friends online that I truly love, respect and admire. Yet, I dread the eventuality of being social except with certain people. That tends to push people away or cause them to think that they’ve somehow done something wrong or that they aren’t important to me which is completely untrue. I don’t even like hanging out with my own family! My sister just finished a visit and I felt so distant the whole time.

One of the things that keeps me up at night is the fact that I expend a LOT of energy trying to keep my life in order. For many years I’ve had memory issues and it’s gotten much worse lately. I have to write EVERYTHING down or I forget it. I’m not talking about complicated things or detailed things, I’m talking about virtually everything. I forget meetings, appointments, names, faces, promises made, places I’ve been, things I’ve done or not done, etc. The list literally goes on and on. It’s frustrating because I used to be a virtual encyclopedia of information. Now I have to strain to remember anything.

There’s nothing more frustrating than when my commander asks me a question about a Soldier’s issue that I know about, but need to check my notes to brief. Hell, I even forget which Soldiers are at which field offices and I’ve been doing this for nearly two years!! Every day I come into my office, I open up my “go book” that I recently created and read through the list of offices and the troops located there so I don’t forget. I used to be able to spout out with ease when someone was ETSing, in their promotion window, having a birthday, etc. I knew their family members’ names and had them committed to memory. Now I’m lucky if I can get my own nieces and nephews’ names right. I don’t know if this is a result of stress or all the wonderful, cool explosions I had the pleasure of sitting through, but it’s the one thing that I probably spend the most time trying to combat!

There is a bright side to all this. In my quest to deflect the attention I receive, I work hard to draw attention to other, more worthy, individuals. Instead of worrying about myself, I can put all my energy into worrying about my troops and making sure that their achievements are recognized. I try to focus on those injured or killed in combat. They deserve to be recognized for what they’ve sacrificed for their country.

Why am I writing all of this? Well, for the same reason I started this blog – to get it off my chest. To “tell someone without having to tell anyone.” It makes me feel better – a little. The last thing I want/need is sympathy or people feeling sorry for me. I’m no victim here! I don’t want special attention, help, or pawing. I don’t need pats on the back and I don’t want to be a poster child. I don’t want money, congressional testimony, or the support of VoteVets or IVAW who want to politicize these issues. I want other Soldiers to realize that the Army is serious about removing the stigma. I have a problem! And I’m still “Army Strong” in spite of it! Don’t believe me? Screw up and I’ll still nail your arse to the wall and start shooting darts. I’ll still put you in the front leaning rest for a decade or “until I get tired.” I can still pass my PT test, qualify expert on my weapon, and meet my daily suspenses (thanks to Outlook’s “tasks” function).

There’s nothing weak about me because I’m having these issues. I can still lead by example, accomplish the mission, and take care of my Soldiers. And if my Soldiers feel like they can’t trust me or serve under me, tough! Suck it up until your ETS or call your branch manager and get the hell out of here. Thankfully, I have good Soldiers who embody the Warrior Ethos and Army Values. They see that I’m still very much in control as “Top.”

The stigma is hereby dead. I challenge all leaders to understand this and apply it where they can. Our troops need to understand that there is nothing weak about seeking help. I know because it has been much harder to acknowledge these issues than to hide them. It’s been a lot harder knowing I may very well be ending my career by admitting that I’m not all there mentally. Talking about this now after 15+ years – and prior to being eligible for retirement benefits – is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. I am, but I trust the Army on its word and I’m challenging that mentality. And as I do so, I will be documenting most of my progress here. There are still a great many issues I will probably never feel comfortable talking about, but I owe to others out there that may be trying to hide their problems for fear of losing their jobs or risking their reputation. I need to lead by example. And if I can do it, so can you!

Now, I’m gonna go get some sleep and enjoy the rest of my vacation. I’ll be leaving my cell phone in the room tomorrow so I can really relax!

(24) Readers Comments

  1. Very good posting CJ. I am sure it was probably one of the hardest to sit down and start writing and also probably one of the easiest to write once you got started. Hats off to ya bud. Keep your eye on the ball.

    Troy

  2. Well said CJ. You take care of YOU and the rest will fall in to place. Been there, done that (pain and the depression caused by it) and it’s not easy…but it IS worth it!

  3. CJ – I applaud your courage to talk about such personal feelings. Remember that the next step after admitting you need help is go and actually get it. If your memory issue is actually physiological, a doctor might have the right treatment. Also don’t forget your spiritual leaders who have a whole bunch of power on their side…ask them to exercise that power.

    Keep your chin up and know that there is One who has borne this exact burden for you…

  4. Thank you for this post. You serve your soldiers well, and I’m praying your talk, concern and putting the end of the stigma will put an end to the senseless deaths. My son was not so fortunate.

  5. CJ, you are leading by example and that is the best kind of leader there is.

    We all love you and take care of you!

  6. CJ:

    Thanks for posting this. No pitty from me here for you! Loads and loads of respect though. I think what you’ve done as a leader is a huge step in allowing more junior members to not feel guilty about needing help, or needed to talk or needed something. There is so much pressure and we live in a fast paced world on top of that. This is the only way to break the stigma.

    We civilians can not understand nor will we ever comprehend what this two front war has cost people. It’s not enough for us to say thanks – but that’s all I have to offer.

    When I was reading your post I kept thinking of a seasoned Marine I supported (I’ve supported a lot of them so no one will figure out who he is) Anyway, we met up for beers and we were chatting and out of the blue he said “I have nightmares – I can’t explain to people what I saw and what I did”. Honestly, I was stunned and my reaction was just to grab his hands and hold them while he talked – what I could say? I think it was a safe zone for him to verbalize this to someone who had no skin in the game. No back track.

    But it hit me and it’s weighed on me ever since, here’s this guy: strong, good looking,go getter, smart, funny, patriot, multiple deployer, fast tracker – - the look in his eyes.

    So thank you for going for help – thank you for serving, for being strong enough to do this so publicly and if the Army doesn’t recognize this strength in you – we as a nation are in deep trouble, because you deserve the respect that you have earned.

    Thank you,

  7. You’re doing the right thing, CJ; impressing on your Soldiers how serious this issue is. Unfortunately, my Marine son and his buddies pretty much laughed at their Suicide Prevention training. However, it was presented to them in a ‘you have to attend, but you don’t have to pay attention cause it’s a waste of time’ manner. Which I think is a terrible disservice to these young men.

    Hang in there, CJ, we’re all pulling for you.

  8. Becky – have your son and his buddies check out my son’s website. This suicide prevention education is going to be each one teach one, and to get through to the first one, we might have to put a little fear of God in them. Remember the AIDS debacle 20 years ago? It was education, public announcements, politicans, health care workers, teachers – everyone – getting out the “correct” information. This is the same thing, and we need to start with those we can influence (like CJ has) our family, children, friends. Talk about it out in the open – at dinner time, in letters to our service members – we MUST make them understand that suicide is NOT an option. Unfortunately, I was too late for my son -don’t be too late for yours. I can’t send Caleb’s website in the message or it won’t accept the message, but you can contact me at macclan at comcast dot net and I can provide it to you… Stay safe.

  9. Hang in there, CJ. I’m with you.
    NY-David

  10. We love you, CJ!

  11. Just know CJ that I’m always here for you. You’ve got my phone number and you can call ANY time. Somtimes that’s one of the best things you can do, is just to sit down and talk to someone who will really listen. Believe me, being able to admit that you’re struggling and asking for help is one BIG step. I’m SO proud of you!

  12. CJ, I’ve read this blog for some time and I don’t remember if I’ve ever commented, but I just had to say something this time.

    I’m a civilian, but a Soldiers’ Angels member and a supporter of our troops. My dad and grandpa both served during times of war. First of all, thank you for your service.

    You’re right about suicide. My younger brother killed himself when I was in high school, and the impact of that on the rest of the family…we’ve never been the same, and it’s been more than 20 years now. It breaks my heart every time I hear that a soldier has done the same, and I applaud you for properly counseling your brothers-in-arms in that respect.

    And thank you for having the courage to talk about your own struggles; so many people need to know they’re not alone. “Army Strong” is not only for the battlefield. It’s encouraging to see there’s movement to end the stigma about getting help when necessary.

    I pray your words will bring hope to others. Praying also that God will fill you with the peace that passes all understanding, and that hope and joy and healing in Christ will be yours now and always, and that He will also uphold your wife and family when they need lend their strength to you.

    No pity here. Just thanks.

  13. Ditto to what the T-meister said, you have the #’s and they are ALWAYS on for you. Love you, am immensely proud of you and always behind you. And just to add a little levity, Peter would be so proud of you, you said “arse”, LOL, it will tickle his Kiwi heart when I tell him tomorrow morning.

  14. CJ,
    Thank You for pouring your heart out to us and telling us what is going on with you. I have read your blog for a long time too and I throughly enjoy reading here.

    All I can say is hang in there and know that there are those of us out here who are praying for you. I’m glad that you are seeking medical help as well. We respect you so much and care about you! Take care of You!!

  15. I know exactly what you mean. I felt the same way for much of 2008, after having spent 2007 deployed to Iraq. Now being retired from USMC for 4 months, life has never been sweeter. My previous life is gone and almost forgotten, but it is a well of inspiration.

    Best wishes to you, CJ. And hang in there. It gets better on the other side.

    Peace and Semper Fidelis…

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  19. CJ – I just ran on to this via a Facebook link and want you to know its happened to a lot of us. Maybe not to the same severity, but its there. I too have many sleepless nights as well as memory loss and and an inability to concentrate on one thing for too long. It was a part of the reason for my decision to retire. Funny enough, I too have taken up geocaching and have had a number of alias along the way. Currently, I’m Bug&Bonzo along with my second wife. In the mean time I’m reading a number of your posts to catch up with you.

    Hang in there brother, it does ease down after you move out of the environment. I cut my anti-depressants a few months ago because I didn’t feel they were doing anything. Things have been ok. Tomorrow, I meet with one of my former soldiers for the first time in years. I’m a bit nervous about it, but it should be good. Seems you never out live the title “Top” but you wonder if you can still live up to it.

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  21. CJ,

    I’ve delved into a lot of your old posts on PTSD. You articulate so clearly what you are experiencing. It is simultaneously a pleasure and completely heart-wrenching to read your posts. I admire what you are doing for yourself, as you are assisting others with your example. Hang in there!

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