Saturday, February 14, 2015

Unraveling

I apologize in advance if this post seems overly personal and the thoughts extremely scattered.  They are and it is.  This is merely MY experience coming home.  From deployment.  From a combat zone.  From a trauma hospital.  Back to my life that has completely changed in the time since I've returned.  I'm not the same person who left over a year ago.  That girl is gone...

Dear Mom,

I've been home almost four months now.  Four months since I set foot on US soil again.  Yet some days it feels like I left yesterday.  I've struggled to put this all into words... but I'm going to try because I feel like it may be a form of therapy, and trust me, I could probably use that about now. 

People constantly ask me questions..." How was it?" "How are you?".  Such well intentioned, innocent questions.  And yet the answers still allude me.  It's not that I don't try to answer, but in all honesty I don't think I can.  So usually I just give the same answer, "life changing."  It was...

They prepared us so well to go there.  Every element of trauma, combat, and life covered in excruciating detail.  Of course they glossed over the things we could expect upon return... and then again as we processed out in Germany.  But we barely listened.  We were tired.  Really tired.  Bone deep kinda tired.  Seven months in Afghan land will do that to a person I guess. 

We were given lists of symptoms we might experience as we returned to our "normal" lives.  And I truly think if life occurred in list form I may have understood the signs.  But that's not the way it works.  Life isn't organized like that.  Life is messy.  Sticky fingers, kids yelling, people shouting, world changing kinda messy.  It was easy to miss the signs.  I missed the signs.

Put me in a small space with crowds and you'll find me pressed against a wall on the verge of tears.  Normal. Perfectly normal.

Sleep... or the lack of it.  Waking up every few hours from the nightmares not always of things I'd seen... but of being trapped, unable to get home.  Of course sometimes there were bombs and broken bodies, but that isn't always the case.  Normal.

Racking sobs at a commercial or a movie trailer that vaguely reminds me of life there.  Tears running down my face dragging my mascara with it.  Normal.

But it's not normal, is it?  I'm not "normal" anymore.  WE aren't normal.  Those of us who have lived in that place aren't normal.  We have to adjust to our new normal, but we aren't the same.

But why?  I wasn't beyond the wire constantly on guard and fearing for my life with every step.  I wasn't wearing my body armor knowing it was the only line of defense between me and an IED.  I wasn't the one rolling into the trauma bay on a gurney and full of blood.  That wasn't me. 

I've been a nurse for a while now.  I've worked in a trauma center since day one.  I've seen death on every level.  The expected, the senseless, the hopeless.  I've seen it all.  I've held hands as life has slipped away.  I've been the only witness to last breaths and final prayers.  Why was life and death in this place so different?

I've figured out a small piece of that difference.  A small string in the unraveling of this post-Afghan life.  It was about walls.  Those high, almost insurmountable walls I had built around my heart.  In the states we all know that every patient has a story.  But I don't know it.  I don't live it.  I can keep them at arms length and not let it get to me.  Those walls came down there.  The patients there were not merely patients.  Many were friends, comrades, brothers and sisters in arms. 

The boy in trauma bay one had sat at the next table at the DFAC that morning.  The girl in bay four had passed me on the street on her way to the motor pool to head out on her mission.  The Major standing at the foot of the bed had been in front of me at church last Sunday.  The boys milling about the trauma bay had been here before, many times.  Some so often they'd earned nicknames.

I'd stood beside them at countless Purple Heart ceremonies.  Seen their faces in too many crowds.  Knew their names.  They were fighting for me, with me, next to me, in front of me.  They were so familiar to me that every time my pager went off it came with the fear that I would know the face in front of me on the gurney.  These patients were personal.  They were not nameless.  I knew their stories.  Even if I didn't know them directly, I lived the same life they did.  I wore the same uniform. There were no walls.  Only us against them.

While I still don't entirely understand the why of it all, this is a start to figuring out why a piece of me will always be at the base of those mountains in Southern Afghanistan.  A piece of all of us will be... and in that we have an everlasting camaraderie and kinship that will last a lifetime.

I know this is only the beginning of putting these pieces back together.  It's a long road and I'll always be a bit different now.  But I'm not broken, just bruised.  Fixable.

Life.  Changed.

XOXO,

Me

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Low Down Skinny (or Healthy)

There's a reason this blog was named Identity Undecided.  Basically this girl goes down so many different life tangents it would have been impossible for me to stick to one topic, so I gave myself the ability to be ADD with this blog (didn't need hindsight for that revelation!).  That being said, I'm sure many of you are wondering what the heck I'm doing lately with this "fitness coaching" stuff... let alone with a multi level marketing company like Beachbody.  Well, let me tell you a story...

In reality, this was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.  My journey to coaching started years ago.  When I was a new nurse on night shift I was tired.  Like Tired (with that on purpose capital T).  There isn't quite a tired like the after night shift tired.  But a girl needs to look good in those scrubs and stave off the dreaded nightshift weight.  I wasn't really training for any crazy run or triathlon at the time (and I hadn't gotten the CrossFit bug yet) so I needed to do something.  I had heard about this program called Insanity.  It seemed totally something I'd be in to.  So I conned my friend (fellow nightshift nurse) Alli into joining me in this program.  We'd meet daily to complete the crazy, heartpounding, sweat-inducing suffer fests (I say all this tongue in cheek because I LOVE Insanity).  Turns out, that sh*t works.  Like really works.  I felt comfortable rocking a bikini after that program.  And then I moved on to Insanity Asylum... and then P90X.  I did them all... with Alli, alone... whatever it took.  I loved it... every awful second. 

And then I found the next race to train for and got lost in my world of endurance sports... joined the Navy Reserves, and eventually deployed to Afghanistan... where I fell in love with CrossFit.

But before I left I saw that my coworker and friend Jaclyn had begun her Beachbody journey.  She has always been someone I've looked up to.  She is a beautiful soul who has poured her heart into her business, her coaches, and her customers.  Her love of people and their fitness journey was inspiring.  She reached out to me but I wasn't quite ready to join her... leaving for deployment kind of threw a wrench into life.  I told her then, over a year ago, to keep me in mind... something in her journey resonated with me...I felt like that could be my niche.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  I was post surgery, looking at months of rehab and not going back to full time nursing in the very near future.  Jaclyn reached out to me again.  She wanted me to join her team.  In the year I'd been gone she had built a thriving following.  She was real, genuine, and truly had a heart for helping people reach their goals.  I wanted a piece of that.  A chance to help people reach their best version of themselves.  An opportunity to enhance wellness instead of combating illness.  So I said yes.  I jumped in, became a customer and a coach with Beachbody...and haven't looked back since.

You know, it becomes exhausting as a nurse to constantly deal with illness.  Don't get me wrong, I love what I do with a fierceness.  But there is something so satisfying about helping someone along the road to wellness.  Not popping a pill, but truly getting into the nitty gritty of life.  The dirty laundry of bad habits, poor nutritional choices, little to no exercise, and an overall lack of accountability (or anywhere on that spectrum really).  To be a ray of hope.  A voice of reason.  Someone to hold a person accountable and tell them that you know what... you can do this.  Honestly.

But let's be fair.  Beachbody sells products, right?  Yep, they do.  Great ones at that.  I have never been one to sell things I don't believe in.  I have to be fully invested and in love with something to even think about promoting it.  And I love Shakeology.  I love Insanity.  I love P90X.  And I'm loving my 21 Day Fix kit.  I also love running, biking, swimming, and CrossFit.  That will never change.  I've incorporated the products into my life.  Sipping my Shake O after a tough workout.  Popping in a DVD when I really don't have time or energy to get to the gym.  I'll never be the girl who exclusively works out at home.  And honestly, right now I'm so limited on what I can do that I'm relying heavily on my 21 Day Fix and it's portion controls to keep me in check.  And you know what... again?  That sh*t works.  Like really works (I'll prove it soon).  Fancy that.

So really I say all of this to say that I'm not here to be a gimmicky salesperson.  I'm here to help you.  Honestly.  Genuinely.  I want to join people on their journey to health.  And I want to be joined on mine.  I want people on my team that have the same vision as I do.  I want people who push me to be the best coach I can be, and I need accountability too.  I believe in the products Beachbody offers.  I spend my money on it...I work hard for that money and I believe in investing in my health and the health of my family. 

I hope this gives you all a clearer understanding of this new "thing" I'm doing with my life.   I'm happy, working towards healthy, and ready for this new adventure.

Got questions?  Please ask.  I'm an open book. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Time


I feel like since leaving Afghanistan I’ve had what I can only describe as writers block towards putting a proverbial pen to paper on my experiences being gone for a year.  I have scribbled notes and half written blog posts from along the way... but nothing worthy of posting just yet.  Many moments couldn’t be written about at the time due to operational security risks.  But now I’m home.  And it's time.
 
It's time to give voice to the crazy memories made over a year.  Many were wonderful, some were terrible, others were life changing.
 
It's time to put in words the vast sacrifices we all made.
 
It's time to validate the time I took away from my family... to list reasons (if only for me now and maybe someday for my children) why I had to be there... why I made a difference.
 
It's time to at least slightly crack open the vault on moments I never, ever want to forget.
 
So here it goes... mostly in letter form as before... some in poetry.  Starting from where I left off (which was months ago).  Wish me luck, it may be a bumpy ride...
 
 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Boots On Ground

 
 
 
 
 
Boots On Ground...literally
 
Mom,
 
I know it's been a while since I've updated you on life here...but unfortunately now that I'm "in country" there is so much that can only be shared in retrospect.  So I may be quiet for a long while, but know that eventually you'll hear about my life and adventures in this crazy place.  For now I'll share a bit of what I can about my new world and daily life here...
 
I've been here for about two months now (I think)...time is a funny thing here...you never really know what day it is or what time zone you are on when you initially get here, but also, everyday seems to blend into the next and each day is roughly the same.  It's like a perpetual groundhog day, same faces, same food, same job...and yet the time just flies...
 
Starting right away on the night shift really helped me adjust to the time difference as I essentially stayed on the same time zone as home.  I have since continued on that shift since our move to teams.  It's been quite a transition though.  When we first arrived we came in every night for orientation and then came to meetings in the afternoon...so I had about 10 hours of sleep in about a 72 hour period at one point.  Needless to say I was a total zombie and wasn't very communicative with anyone! 
 
Things have continued on that busy trend and there are some days where I'm mostly awake for over 24 hours.  You know I'm a huge fan of sleep...so this has been quite a lesson for me, but a helpful one (learning how to be less of a brat on less sleep).  I'm so lucky to have a team of people with me daily who tolerate my tired antics, lack of a filter, and hangry (tired and hungry) tendencies and know how to support me when I'm down.  I think this is one huge benefit of living/eating/training/breathing with the same group of people since day one.  Although there is room for lots of drama...there is also room for understanding, support, and tolerance.  We know each other...sometimes too well.  The best example is my roommate and I...not only do we live together but we work on the same team.  We live,eat, sleep, and work the same schedule...and usually spend a significant amount of our down time together.  This could be a really bad deal if we didn't get along, thankfully we do and I am so blessed to have her.

Bis, me, and the roomie Smo
 
 
As for daily life...the base is actually quite nice...for Afghan standards.  We have beautiful barracks (I'm not being sarcastic here) that are rocket proof.  The hospital is also rocket proof...which is a huge blessing.  The strangest thing I miss however in terms of my surroundings is color...any color other than brown or grey.  I miss trees...and flowers.  The only scent blowing on the breeze is the one that comes from the pooh pond.  I miss the ocean terribly...any body of none pooh infested water actually.  It's easy to get lost here because every conex looks like the next...the cement walls that protect the buildings from rockets all look alike, except for the occasional graffiti that differentiates one from the other.
 
The food isn't awful..well it is...but I've become accustomed to it I think (I constantly say that my standards have dropped significantly in all areas of my life).  We currently have 4 DFACs (dining facilities) to choose from...all serving roughly the same menu, with a slight difference between the Bristish one (the Cambridge, and my current favorite) and the Asian one (the Far East).  There are lots of selections, but some I can't even pronounce, let alone recognize...breakfast is by far the best of all 3 meals here and I religiously attempt to make it to a DFAC in time for the full meal...otherwise I am stuck with midrats, which are a pared down version with only fake, powdered eggs and all the meals leftovers.  We don't have a DFAC at the hospital so I've stocked up some food I had sent from home or friends have sent in my cubby to eat during my night shifts...that and candy sustain me!

The NATO gym is beautiful and close to our home.  It's usually pretty busy but there are plenty of machines and I haven't yet had a problem getting onto a machine I want.  I also found the spin classes there, you have so sign up super early (or have a good friend do it) because they are really popular...but it's allowed me to attempt to keep my bike fitness thousands of miles away from my beautiful bike and winding San Diego roads. Honestly though, my heart has gone the way of Crossfit and I've been a regular there since we arrived. I love the workouts and getting stronger, but I keep coming back for the people...an international group of friends here for many different reasons and jobs all coming together to suffer for an hour.  Lately the number of Navy yellow has been increasing...they say we multiply like flies, I think they are correct.

 

There isn't much to do here on a regular basis...you could hang out at the USO, the MWR, or the liberty center...or you can simply walk the boardwalk, and watch the people.  The motly crew of contractors and troops from every corner of the globe is a feast for the eyes and ears.  In one sentence you can hear French, Dutch, German, Afrikanns and Pashtu...or english with any flavor of accent you could dream of.

Overall things are going well and time is flying.  When we aren't working we are on call...so it's a constant thing here...we are tied to our pagers and you internally (or externally) curse whenever they go off...because unfortunately it's never good news.  Everyone here also rotates through the duties of charge nurse and OOD (officer of the day...the civilian equivalent is the house supervisor).  After this deployment I'll have plenty to add to a resume!  I'm also going to be working in the trauma department starting in May.  They added a fourth team and needed another nurse...and I'm so blessed to have the opportunity.  I'm even more blessed to be able to be working with Warner again.  We haven't been able to see each other much with our vastly different schedules, but now we will and it will be awesome.  Our doc is Aussie so deciphering what he's saying will be a challenge, but a hilariously welcome one.

I'm excited about being here...though I really miss home, it's a strange mixed emotion.  But we are truly doing great work...creating miracles in the midst of chaos.  I'm blessed to have a hand in it...especially during this pivotal time in the history of this country.  I never knew what this would feel like and I believe that even I will struggle to put this experience into words as I go...but I'll try.  For my own sake...so I don't forget the lessons I'm learning.  Lessons more in humanity than medicine...in compassion and empathy.  This place will change me, I know that now, in subtle and not so subtle ways...but all for the better I hope.  I know if that isn't the case I'll have you to whip me back into shape when I return.  Until then know I love you and miss you all so much...you all are always in my heart.

Afghan sunsets are still beautiful

 
Love,
 
Me

Where all the magic happens
 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tracking?




Cold and hungry


Mom,

As we near the end of our pre deployment training and look towards our long months in the desert I can't help but reflect on the crazy experience this has been thus far.  I don't think there is any way to truly capture it all in words, but I'm going to do my best with some help from my battle buddies!

When we arrived at Camp McCrady (a small sub camp of Fort Jackson Army post) it was late at night.  We were hungry, tired, and freaking cold.  We had waited for hours at the airport in CA to catch the flight to SC.  Needless to say we were all slightly crabby.  We filed into a classroom where they thankfully had a hot meal waiting.  Normally I would have been not too happy about the soggy veggies, powdered potatoes, and greasy meat... but on that night it honestly looked gourmet to me.  We filled out paperwork and awaited our room assignments.  We then had to drag our seabags to our hooches (one of the many interesting words that is used around here.... this one describes our barracks).  In contrast to NEMTI where we had just come from this place was a huge upgrade.  NEMTI was cots in a wooden sea hut, these were bunk beds in a normal building.  Complete with lockers to store our gear and an attached bathroom that didn't require walking outside (I'm realizing on deployment it's the small things that make you happy).  We proceeded to pass out and sleep quite well on our 2 thread count sheets and wooly green Army blankets.



The first week was plenty of classroom time.  Most of us medical types started to get a little cabin fever... little did we know we should have appreciated the time spent sitting and relaxing, because things got a lot rougher!  We were fitted for our vests and Kevlar helmets and given 2 huge seabags along with a large rucksack of gear.  We had already been given one seabag in San Diego so now we had a total of 4-5 depending on how much personal gear you brought.  We were told that we were only allowed to bring 3 seabags, the rucksack, and a carry on with us into country... yeah, you do that math, packing will be interesting considering moderation is not my strong suit.


We were then issued our weapons.  For the nurses we will always have a sidearm, but for the benefit of total weapons immersion and familiarization we were also given a rifle to carry.  And by carry I mean never have more than arms length away from you.  It reminded me of the flour baby I had to carry in middle school... you had to have it at all times and care for it like a child.  Now my "child" was capable of deadly force... minor difference I guess.  We also had to clear both weapons before entering any building.  And clearing is not a one man job, you always had to have a battle buddy with you.  Need to use the head (bathroom)?  Bring your buddy cause you can't take your weapons in there... so your buddy stands outside like a husband holding his wives's purse.  Want to go to chow?  You better hope someone else is hungry cause those bad boys must come with you and be cleared prior to entering the DFAC (Army cafeteria). 




Week two ushered in our new normal...hours upon hours spent at the range.  Wake up before dawn, put over 40 pounds of gear on (along with layers upon layers of clothes to combat the inevitable cold), file onto a bus with your platoon, drive to the range, sit in the bleachers watching the sun come up and get ready to shoot your weapons all day.  Sounds like fun until you know that a few lucky ones have been at the range since 0430 loading ammo for the day.  Or that almost every range day happened to be cold and rainy (30-40 degrees usually).  Lunch every day was an MRE (and I may never eat Skittles again).  Firing positions normally would be fine... but pile all that gear on and the kneeling fighting position turns into me looking like an arthritic grandma trying to hobble my way to the ground.  And don't you dare drop anything because a gaggle of Narmy sailders (Navy sailors trying to be Army) will just stare at it helplessly hoping someone else picks it up because bending over is a lesson in balance and strength with all that gear making you entirely too top heavy. 

 

 
 

There were also days spent learning other important combat skills such as rollover drills for the vehicles, convoy tactics, base security, individual movement techniques... too many to tell... but I will say one of the most valuable lessons is my new vocabulary... I'll give you a quick lesson...

First, there are many, many ways to say OK in the Army.  They include but are not limited to hooah, er, yut, tracking, good to go, and ra.  For example, "Place your weapon on safe and holster it before you leave, tracking?"   The correct response to this... simply a return "tracking", said with motivation!  So a conversation between us all sometimes is like cavemen communicating with sound... it's entertaining and entirely normal.  Next there are the subtle differences between Army and Navy lingo.  A bathroom is a latrine, not a head.  We are living on post, not on base.  And we shop at the PX, not the NEX.  Then there are just the plain old interesting terms and phrases we've picked up:

Police up the brass - pick up the shell casings on the range after shooting all day.
Battle rattle - the full set of gear we must wear at all times including the vest, helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, goggles or ballistic sunglasses, and gloves.
If you're walking you're wrong! - refers to the sense of urgency required when going anywhere.
Treat everyone with respect but have a plan in mind to kill them - enough said.
Shootas, sailas, killas - said before every time we would shoot on the range to get our attention.
Brain bucket - helmet.

There are so many more, but now you might be able to slightly understand what I'm saying.  In all seriousness though these past few weeks have been some of the hardest I've ever experienced.  There have been moments where I honestly questioned my place here... exhaustion will do that to a person and I didn't know tired until I could easily fall asleep on the cold rocky ground without a problem while others are shooting their weapons yards away.  There were some nights that a shower was far too much effort (my hygiene gets relegated to baby wipes sometimes!).  The food is definitely questionable, but by dinner you just appreciate a hot meal.  The togetherness gets overwhelming at times, but you realize you have all your battle buddies suffering with you and it makes you feel slightly better.  The drill sergeants are unrelenting in their quest for everything we do to be perfect, but they are some of the most motivating and inspiring people I've met in my life. 

 





In the end, however, it's all been worth it.  Sitting on the other side, looking back, it's one of the best experiences of my life.  I'll never forget the lessons... some may save my life or the lives of my battle buddies.  I'm more than ready to move on but so thankful I had this time to learn more about myself and my tolerance for embracing the suck that combat training can really be.  I've gotten tougher, stronger, and live the motto of Semper Gumby (always flexible) everyday.  I'm ready for what's ahead and thankful for what's behind. 

Hooah!

Love,

Me

Sunday, January 19, 2014

One Day Closer



Mama,

Well yesterday was the day...the beginning of the deployment.  It's kind of like ripping off a band aid, it hurts so much in the moment, but then...once the initial sting wears off...you realize you will actually survive.  And we will...all of us.

Now we can countdown instead of counting up.

Just so you understand the way this all works...there is quite a bit of training that has to be completed before we can step a boot on the Afghan sand.  So I'll be playing Narmi (Navy personnel doing Army training) for a while until I actually arrive in theater.  But honestly, it already has proven to be some of the best trauma training I've ever experienced.  And after the theater specific medical component of our training we'll switch gears to combat training and become as familiar as possible with daily life in a war zone.

I'm sure the thought of me in full "battle rattle" (all the combat gear we have to wear) isn't pleasant for you... but I will say I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to learn these possibly life saving skills.

I also have to say a bit about the team I'm with.  Here, at our first training stop, I live in a hut with 12 women.  Some are mothers, some are wives... but we are all nurses.  In this we have already formed a bond.  We take the teamwork and "having each other's back" adage to heart and look out for one another, even this early in the game.  We are all well aware that it's going to be a long, stressful deployment and we must watch out for our shipmates... always.

The other nurses, doctors, and corpsman here with us are also wonderful.  The biggest lesson through all the training is the stress on teamwork.  We are to live and breath this daily.  Through our teamwork, lives will be saved...a lack of it could cause deadly gaps in care.  The instructors started this lesson off early with a drill on team building yesterday... let me tell you, a bunch of military members doing PT in a team environment is especially hilarious (all I'll say is 4 count everything).

We have been warned that the next few weeks will be difficult physically...but our time in theater will be even harder, mentally and emotionally.  Although I'm apprehensive, I'm excited.  I'm ready for the challenge and entirely looking forward to the training ahead.  I promise to keep you as updated as I possibly can despite the crazy training schedule.

I love and miss you guys already.

XOXO

Me




Friday, December 6, 2013

The In Between

Mom,

I'm not even sure how to explain this to you but I figured you might understand, so I'm going to try.  I've got about a month left until I check in... until I can start counting DOWN the days to coming home instead of counting UP the days until I leave.  Logistically I'm almost completely ready to go save a few little things.  Mentally I'm as prepared as I think I'm going to be to do this.  Emotionally... not quite there yet.  I think I'm fine... and then a song will come on the radio and I'll start crying.  Someone will ask me a question and I'll ponder it a bit too long because I've become lost in thought.  The kids will suddenly look at me and say something profoundly sad... that's the worst of them all.

The other night I went into Shanne's room to say goodnight to him... he sat up in bed, grabbed my face with both of his hands and said, "Mommy, please don't leave."  What do you say to that?  I didn't have words for that one, only a long hug as tears rolled silently down my face. 

But the most heart wrenching moment was shortly after I returned home from Alabama.  Addy must have heard me talking about some of the stories I heard from the nurses and medics who have already been down range... the inherent dangers associated with flying MEDEVAC missions in country.  I was in the kitchen when Addy came up to me with huge tears in her eyes.  I asked her what was wrong and her response nearly knocked the wind out of me..."Mommy, I don't want you to die." Then she started crying.  I held it together as I held her... but once she was settled down I went into my bathroom, sat on the floor, and sobbed.

There is no easy button for this part, is there?  No words to pacify the pain... no hug that will ever be tight enough to last 9 months... nothing to make up for the moments I'm going to miss.  The most difficult part is how I feel.  I'm ready to go... excited to go... looking forward to the challenge.  But the flip side of that coin is that I have to leave you all.  Leave my babies.  It's such a strange place to be. 

After all my years on the home front side of deployment I can now say with certainty that it's harder to be the one leaving (especially as a mom).  As the planner I not only feel responsible for making sure everything is ready to go at home... but I have to deal with the emotional fallout of leaving.  I will never diminish the challenges we, as military wives, face when our spouse leaves for a deployment.  But as the one at home you still have your version of normal everyday.  You see your children, tuck them into bed at night, watch them grow and change.  The one leaving doesn't get any of that.  They get a strange place, a strange land, with people who will ultimately become a surrogate family (for that I am eternally grateful).

So here we sit... one month to go... so much to look forward to between now and then.  Embrace it all, right?  Enjoy the time... but be ready for the pain.  Here goes nothing.

Love,

Me

XOXO