laughing matters

“It’s good to be here. I’m just trying to go through life without looking stupid. It’s not working out too well. ”
Brian Regan

https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/98398.Brian_Regan

Laughing at oneself is a skill only a few can make into a successful career. And doing so, consistently and without throwing in “F-bombs”, sexual humor, or biting political satire in the mix is more rare. Brian Regan is one such successful “clean” comedian. After years of working in mentally-challenging careers, me, with rapidly-changing priorities, technical challenges to resolve, and demanding schedules, and my spouse performing management and ‘crisis’ counseling of staff, students, and the bureaucracy of an educational institution, we are exhausted. With family drama in one spouse’s family, or the other, or our own for more than a decade, we have relied on laughter to help one another. Laughter is really the best medicine. Next to exercise and improving our diet.

family bonds

Forty-two years ago, a kid from a dysfunctional family got off a bus from the airport at the entrance to the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command, San Diego. The following eleven weeks for me and my fellow recruits physically, mentally, and spiritually reshaped us into a military unit and family. Through shared sufferings, goals, and mindset, we changed from unruly civilians into Sailors.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. – Richard Bach, novelist

http://www.wiseoldsayings.com/family-drama-quotes/

After a few years in the military and several more as a civilian, the Navy again became my “family”. Abandoned by an unhappy wife (she later was diagnosed with mental illness), my military family was preferable and predictable. During the years that relatives would not talk with one another – or with me, one divorced parent lay dying in hospice and the other was living purposely alone in the Sonoran desert. I rarely spoke with one of my mother’s siblings, never with the other or her daughters, and only after my mother’s passing have I deliberately and earnestly sought conversations and visits with my father’s relatives.

Here’s a news flash: No soldier gives his life. That’s not the way it works. Most soldiers who make a conscious decision to place themselves in harm’s way do it to protect their buddies. They do it because of the bonds of friendship – and it goes so much deeper than friendship. Eric Massa

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/eric_massa_481858

Over twenty-six years in the military, twenty years of fellowship in my church, eighteen and a half in marriage, and in fourteen years with a company where I just retired, did I develop a trust, a bond, mutual respect and joy with people I was related to only by common experience. My marriage is a gift of trust and joy shared not through shared DNA; it was her children accepting me and them accepted as “our kids” – proving that DNA does not define family.

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13: 35 (NIV)

So when you see two or more veterans gathered together, laughing, crying, and swapping stories, they likely are not related, nor may they even be from the same service, or of the same generation, but all have common experience. They are family.

“Gray Area” to Blue retirement

My previous post talked about the not-so-smooth process that members of the Retired Navy Reserve (“Gray-Area” reservists”) who are turning sixty in 2019 are facing. For my shipmates and their families, I need to pass on what I have encountered to help you with the process.

First things first

The first step is to submit the member’s application for retirement pay to PERS-912. While the Navy’s website instructs the member to apply within six months of her 60th birthday, it would be more prudent to apply nine months to a year beforehand. An article in the Navy Times from August 2018, describes that the Navy was not prepared for the number of applications the last of the Baby Boomer Navy retirees submitted. And the current website advises the department is processing applications received eight months ago.

One unusual detail, which seems to justify an experience I had with the Veterans Administration evaluating me for disability (things that occurred during my last period of Regular Navy (DD-214-issued) service), is the Navy Retirement branch not possessing complete military records for the period after the member transfers from Active Duty service to the Navy Reserve. I remarried while I was Reservist, and though that information was entered into my Reserve record, into DEERS, and I received pay accordingly while activated, PERS-912 – four months after my January submission – asked me to provide a marriage certificate.

Blue ID card after 60

After the member submits an application (forms DD-108 and DD-2656) found on the PERS-912 website, the Navy clerk should contact the member acknowledging receipt within a week. A letter from PERS-912 usually follows in the snail mail. In subsequent months, the member turns sixty, and requires a new ID card, before eligibility for medical benefits and other access privileges are “turned on”. While I am unfamiliar whether “Gray Area” reservists who had enrolled in TriCare ( the medical insurance system for military members and their families) prior to turning sixty have the same issue, the TriCare enrollment site does not allow a member to enroll from the expiration date of one’s ID card until it is renewed. However, there is no information provided on the website clearly describing why the links are unworkable. Thus this tidbit is instructive.

On the website to request an appointment for a new ID card, there may be a statement about a window from sixty to ninety days prior to card expiration to renew, but that is NOT APPLICABLE to Reserve Retirees turning 60. The member can only renew on or after his sixtieth birthday.

Patience is rewarded eventually

Should efforts to contact PERS-912, the clerk that contacted the retiree about processing one’s record, may prove unsuccessful, there are additional contact numbers though not intuitively obvious. After the first of the month, when the member might expect to receive retirement pay (via Direct Deposit) comes and goes without payment, the obvious step is to contact first DFAS, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. MyPay, which is the same one used during the member’s service period may have an ambiguous non-statement. Contacting a representative requires a telephone and a lot of patience. Waiting on hold may take an hour or more to speak to someone. For Reservist retirees, use this number:

1-866-827-5672, Option 1

Be prepared for phone disconnection, the computer system to be “down”, and the like. If DFAS does not have your retirement pay being processed, the member is directed back to PERS-912. To avoid more confusion, but not the “on hold” of an hour or more, call

1-833-330-6622

At least, from every indication that one may find via social media from fellow Reservist retirees, payment does come through, and backpay is provided to the date of eligibility. It is not clear whether those members who first apply for retirement pay AFTER turning sixty will receive retroactively.

Not “Switzerland”

In a war everybody always knows all about Switzerland, in peace times it is just Switzerland but in war time it is the only country that everybody has confidence in, everybody.

Gertrude Stein; https://www.brainyquote.com

When my sons and I now debate the polarizing topics of the day, we still can see the others’ point of view though we disagree on positions, evidence, and interpretation of those differing opinions. My spouse, who deals with conflict in her job has on numerous occasions stated to us and to others that she is “Switzerland” when we all try to bring her to our side.

But there are times when the family rallies around one another. Nobody takes a position of non-intervention or turns a blind eye to family crises. Politics, gender, religion, age, birth-order, and sports are not discussed when a family member is hospitalized. Berating individuals about life choices and mental fitness are banned, delayed or withheld, in order to support the suffering member.

Perhaps we are fortunate. Or that we have a unique perspective. But I do not think so. Our family has six adults, one by marriage, and a grandchild. Our “empty nest” has been re-nested with the same suffering family member recently. Our family has been touched by illness, substance abuse, divorce, step-parenting, military service, job loss, overwork, financial issues, car accidents, and even a fire in our home. Everything from hospitalized parent (the author’s and his wife’s), online stalking, high school shootings, and even a student suicide have touched the life experience of members of this family.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the end what holds us together as family is more permanent than what makes us individual. In the world, the concept of “family” means different things to different people. But in ours, there is no room for anyone to sit on the sidelines.

Armistice Day, 11 November

In many countries,  the eleventh of November is remembered as Veterans’ Day, the day honoring military veterans of all conflicts. However, many hold it as a day of remembrance and not a public holiday.  A century ago, this was the day the Allies and Germany signed the armistice ending World War I.  The Armistice went into effect during the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 formally ended hostilities.  

What do you hold as the most valuable “thing” in your life?  More to the point, what is worth risking the exchange of your life or health:  Ideas?  Reputation?  Property?  Human rights and dignity?  The lives of your loved ones?   Man has been fighting and dying for millennia over territory, religion, and to fight for, or to prevent someone else’s desire for power and conquest. In the last century, the world went to war to prevent genocide, to oppose totalitarian rule, and to secure ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – ideals enshrined in America.   When a continent is plunged into war as Europe was, in 1914, by the war machine of the Kaiser,  or in 1939, when Hitler’s Germany annexed its neighbors and started to systematically enslave and exterminate people,  alliances called up armies.   For the last eighteen years, the premeditated attack upon civilians against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fear generated by using commercial aircraft and hostage passengers as weapons motivated several nations to rise against them.  Sadly, military men and women, ours and the nationals being trained still bleed and die in ‘suicide bombings’ by agents secreted among them in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  For a century and more, the attack upon civilians, whether the sinking of passenger liners by Germany in the First War, or civilian and military targets at Pearl Harbor in 1941 or on 9/11 propelled our nation to defend our citizens and the right to freely travel and trade abroad.

On Veterans’ Day, we remember those who sacrificed their future for ours.   Many of those who recognize and remember loved ones particularly on this day have stories to tell.   And as far as I have learned about my forebears, in almost every generation I have so far traced,  a young man – or in the last half-century, woman relative – has served as a soldier, sailor, or marine.  A hundred and some years ago,  the War to End all Wars,  World War I, was raging in Europe.  And one of my distant relatives,  a young man in his late teens, gave his life in a bloody battlefield in Belgium.

Edwin Blow Kertland,  was the nephew of his namesake, one of the Blow family in what is now Northern Ireland. The Blow family whom I trace one branch of my maternal ancestry, for nearly three hundred years had been merchants and businessmen.  In Britain, for hundreds of years, the gentry passed property down from eldest son to eldest son. The younger sons were apprenticed to learn a trade and make their fortunes, some went into ministry, and others into the army or went to sea as crewmen on merchant ships.

Edwin Kertland went into military school and earned a commission in the second decade of the Twentieth Century.  An assassination and political alliances plunged the world into war the resulting scale of carnage – in toll of lives – still sets a painful bar.  Nearly seventeen million people,  ten million military and seven million civilians died, and another twenty million were gravely injured as a result of the conflict.  The war pitted men serving the Kaiser and their allies against other Europeans, the British Empire and Americans. Poison gas, mechanized artillery (tanks), aerial bombardment (aircraft), trench warfare, and other weapons technology changed the efficacy with which men can harm each other.  Along with millions of youthful Britons, Frenchmen.  Americans, Russians, Germans and their allies, the horror of war killed him.  He was nineteen.

To the cynic there is no solution to the periodic hatreds that flare between people, and prudently,  they prepare, train, and arm themselves to protect home and homeland.  And there will be those who are willing to put on the uniform of their nation to defend against tyranny, or more personally, to defend their comrades fighting alongside them in the trenches.

super Sunday bowl

There’s kind of a Zen aspect to bowling. The pins are either staying up or down before you even throw your arm back. It’s kind of a mind-set. You want to be in this perfect mind-set before you released the ball.  – Jeff Bridges

 

 

My church has started an outreach and special support ministry for Active and former military veterans and their families.  Supporting the deployed Sailors and Marines,  serving their families in the area,  and sharing the Word of God with others is a privilege.  Cutting up at the bowling alley on the Naval Base  is just pure family fun.

There are things I thought about when we first talked about going bowling as a first “activity” for our growing group. An odd cult movie I watched twenty years ago, “the Big Lebowski”,  which starred Jeff Bridges and among many inappropriate themes in that film was a lot of bowling.  Just thinking about it,  I have to repent again!

But bowling or pool or darts were a few of the activities that I could join and never get overly concerned about my lack of skill and just enjoy the friendship.   Probably a couple dozen times over forty years I’ve been to bowling alleys, half of the time while in the Navy and the other half,  as a teen,  or as a post-forty year old adult family man with other families in our church fellowship.   However, this was the first time we gathered to bowl as part of a “military ministry”.

Most, well all,  of us absolutely stunk as bowlers.  But  we know from scripture, where two or more followers of Jesus are gathered,  He is with us.  So I have some hope that Jesus will help us with our game.  Whether knocking down pins or gaining new friends and saving a few souls in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Support: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, PTSD

“Before you can break out of prison, you must realize you are locked up.”  – www.healthyplace.com

Everyone is affected by a terminal condition called “life”.   In every family, there are emotional or physical Illnesses that affect one member – the sufferer – yet also affect others – spouses or partners, parents, children, or siblings.   To a lesser degree, friends, co-workers, or neighbors may also be affected.   Disease and genetic disorders like  Lyme disease, asthma, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy or cancer are chronic conditions and are lifelong disabilities physically but emotional disorders, many linked to genetic predispositions, traumatic physical events or lifestyle choices can can radically change the family dynamics no less permanently.

In most cases, there is no preparation. no schooling or a “recommended reading list” in one’s formative years, for family members when a loved one has a mental illness like anorexia, depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders like agoraphobia.  These can also accompany or be elevated by an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances.  A casual relationship may not reveal the extent of a sufferer’s condition.   But in a long-term relationship, marriage or one with frequent connection or intimacy, between spouses, or parents and children,  clues early in a person’s life may exist.  Of course, everyone experiences an illness, accident, depression or difficult circumstances that are temporary.  It takes long-term observation to note patterns that may indicate unhealthy behavior.

When a participant (an active observer, or even a co-dependent personality type) is not a professionally-trained counselor, experience, level of empathy and often spiritual foundation are the only tools available.  Behavior that later manifests in addiction,  mania and depression mood swings,  obsessive-compulsive activity, hyperactivity, sleeplessness or its opposite, and emotional disconnection may be subtle at first or have sudden onset.   With PTSD,  post-traumatic stress disorder, a life event such as death of child, a combat experience, a severe accident, sexual assault or abuse can severely damage a formerly healthy individual and ripple emotionally through a family. Triggering events may be a tone of voice, a certain time, a season, a smell, sounds or a characteristic that one person displays.   For someone in a relationship with another who experienced a traumatic event -even years in the past – “walking on eggshells” becomes normal.  Often in hindsight to a failed relationship, injury or death of the sufferer, particularly when a victim was unwilling or unable to seek help, guilt may emotionally affect those in the victim’s circle for years.   Yet PTSD is not a terminal condition, but requires compassion, professional treatment, cooperation, and ongoing engagement on the part of the sufferer and her close personal relationships.

For many, when it is a close family member, in late adolescence or early adulthood, it is a natural response to think the behavior  including addiction, is just a “phase” he or she is “going through”.   From the outside looking in,  the addict, when rational and sober, seems to be functioning individual – but it is a ruse.   Some are able to hold a job for a time.  They may frequently change jobs due to work stress or the addiction’s toll on a person’s performance.  It is a natural self-defense mechanism or social response for people not to ‘get involved’,  or to overlook indicators, but these are not compassionate responses of family and close friends.   However, an addict can also mask his or her  problems by being outgoing but shallow, and very reserved (personal details) to coworkers, family members or others in his or her circle of acquaintances.  One sort of behavior that may be due to embarrassment,  or pride is a need  to appear to be “holding it together”.   Limited engagement,  that is,  keeping visits short with family and family friends at holidays or other gatherings.

When the sufferer is an adult, who arguably is not a “danger to themselves or others”, there is little one can do more than to suggest, advise, or urge the sufferer to seek professional help.  The longer the addiction continues, the more the addict does damage to themselves physically and emotionally.   Hospitalization and treatment of the symptoms may give the addict an opportunity to be sober for a short time.

Treating the problem – the addiction – without a sustained, professional program to treat the emotions or physical underpinnings, is a temporary measure.   In the meantime,  the family and close friends have to endure their own emotional pain to partner in their loved one’s recovery.   For some,  replacing the destructive addiction with a positive one particularly through physical activity can be successful when partnered with professional counseling.  It may well be a lifelong activity. A new ‘normal’.

For those who are willing to consider a spiritual component to ongoing wellness,  study of the Bible offers examples of successful lives though suffering from illness, depression or anxieties.  The Bible offers hope in illustrations of several figures who suffered from depression.  King David is lauded as one of the most devout leaders in the Old Testament, but his Psalms are full of outpouring his anxieties, fears, troubles, and anger to God.

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God  – Psalm 42:11

Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament is another.  In 1 Kings 19:4

while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush,(A) sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life;(B) I am no better than my ancestors.”

the passage illustrates his depression.  Job also battled depression.  Examples:  Job 3: 26

26 I have no peace,(A) no quietness;
    I have no rest,(B) but only turmoil

and Job 10: 1:

“I loathe my very life;(A)
    therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
    and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.

While these figures went on to have great impact in the Bible and to adherents for thousands of years, there is no indication that they were freed from the emotional and physical ailments that people still endure today.

One of those who has been successful in ongoing recovery from anorexia, BeautyBeyondBones, offers her personal experience and resources that are instructive for eating disorders and other communities who are seeking support with emotional and physical disorders.

In the following article, there are some good tips for families dealing with the various demons affecting their loved ones.   But it is only a starting point.

Family Support: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, PTSD