I need your help to organize a social-media enhanced road trip from Las Vegas, NV through Fort Worth, Texas and ending in Washington, D.C. with the goal of furthering the discussion of the challenges affecting families of Veterans dealing with Mental Health Issues. The inspiration for this project comes from my own family's struggles over the past three years trying to help advocate and support my father - a Vietnam Veteran - as we dealt with his own mental health condition. The frustrations that we have faced along the way have been extremely stressful and heartbreaking, but the truth is that while it doesn't have to be this way, I am not the only one with this kind of story. This trip will primarily serve to move my mother and I back East safely to regroup with our extended family, but it is my goal to also use this opportunity to address the needs of the families of Veteran's with Mental Health Issues and encourage those suffering in silence to speak out by sharing my story. I plan on using Twitter and Vine to document our journey and compiling the posts to create a chronicle I can share with lawmakers and groups to advocate for the families of Veterans trying to cope with these obstacles.
This chapter in my story began in November 2010 when my father came back to our home in Texas after working in California for three years. My mother was at her worst with her battle with Atrial Fibrillation and Congestive Heart Failure, and her rapid decline was overwhelming for our family to process. As he settled in, I could tell something wasn't right - he wasn't sleeping, he was constantly moving or twitching, and he was sensitive to the point that it became almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion. I knew that we were all stressed and was willing to assume he was simply having trouble adjusting back into our family while my mother was sick. It was as time went by and he had trouble remembering things or going to the grocery store to pick up a specific item that I began to worry that this was more than stress. I tried to schedule appointments for him with our family physician, only to have him say that everything was fine or skip the appointment altogether. I tried to get him to go to the VA to register himself and also get our family involved with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to assist in the medical care for both he and my mother. To my knowledge, he never went while we were in Fort Worth.
As more time passed, my mother regained some of her health, but my father's seemed to deteriorate. He was experiencing a variety of medical maladies, and as the arguments between us grew more heated, I was on the receiving end of the blame. I would regularly hear that I was making him stressed. He couldn't help me clean around the house because he had other things to do which seemed to mostly be sitting by himself. I came to recognize that his constant sighs were a passive-aggressive effort to instigate, because every single one made my body tense knowing that an argument was coming. I became used to hearing abusive language directed toward myself when he was down, only to be told how good a job I was doing keeping everything together when he was up. I still didn't recognize it as the signs of a possible mental health issue because enough of the mood swings and fatigue went up and down with his blood sugars so I read more about diabetes and accepted the term "abusive diabetic."
These patterns continued through 2011, 2012, and into 2013. In late 2011, we downsized our belongings to three storage units and decided to travel using rewards and offers we had received over the years to recharge after all we had been through and start 2012 with a better mindset. The intention was also to be relatively mobile while my father and I looked for employment to help our family move forward. My mother's health continued to improve, and she regained much of her mobility and became much more equipped to manage her condition. For a time, even my father's outlook seemed to improve. Unfortunately, the sleeplessness, the sighs, and the twitches never left and actually got worse. I now know that this is because those with mental health issues can have difficulty with travel and disruptions to their schedules and preferences.
Unfortunately, while 2012 was rich in new experiences and opportunities, none of them panned out quite the way we had hoped. Job interviews went nowhere and while we were able to make life on the road work, it started to take it's toll on all of us. Everything came to an abrupt head this past July during our trip to Las Vegas when I asked my father to stay in one place while my mother and I checked on a hotel, and wait until I came back to get him. A short time later, he came and found us and proceeded to argue that he had no recollection of that conversation. My mother and I tried to talk to him about seeking help as a family, which, as usual, became a heated discussion. He finally stood up and said that he was going to get his things and go to the VA and he left. We found out later that after going to the VA, he had to be transferred to a private psychiatric facility because he was not registered with the VA. This facility in turn kept him for nine days during which time we received limited information regarding his treatment and were told we were severely limited in our ability to take a role in his care. It was only after his release when we were able to review the discharge paperwork that we realized the reality of his hospitalization and observation period along with his diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.
After we were able to get him out, my mother and I recognized that we needed help dealing with this. We reached out to his family in Florida, only to be told that they weren't in a position to assist. We tried talking to him to learn more about what he needed for medical care and scheduling appointments to move forward. We quickly fell back into old patterns when he didn't follow the directions on his medications, blamed my mother for the side effects, and said he didn't remember why he had been hospitalized for nine days. A few days after that, he made the decision to step away from our family leaving my mother and I without a source of income or shelter in a city where we have no friends or family to help us adjust to what is obviously our new normal.
As we have tried educating ourselves both on his condition and on the resources available to us, we have continued to encounter serious obstacles in our opportunities to help him or ourselves because of his recent decisions. As we have spoken to and overheard conversations with other Veterans families, I have only begun to realize just how broad and pervasive these problems are to the families trying to either hold on to or pick up the pieces that are left.
Our extended family on the East Coast is encouraging us to move back to be nearby as we regroup and recover from our experiences. This is why I need your help. I need to get myself and my mother from Las Vegas, NV to Fort Worth, Texas in order to pick up the belongings we wish to take with us and get us back East safely. Compounding matters is the fact that I do not have a car, and my mother is medically unable to fly and must take breaks to stretch and move to decrease the risks of a blood clot. I have found a relatively inexpensive car rental to get us from Las Vegas to Fort Worth, but I do not have the means to pay for it or the gas it would take to get us there much less any incidentals. I am working to find a solution to get us from Fort Worth back East, but I have yet to find an option under $1,200. I also need to pay the bills for storage, our cell phones, insurance, etc. as my father has expressed no interest continuing any kind of assistance though he maintains the expectation they will be paid. I am realizing that this break between reality and expectations is a part of his current condition, and that it is not something I can fix by trying to present the facts.
I have poured my heart and soul into keeping my family together through all this, and I have to accept that for the time being it is not meant to be. At this time, my first goal has be supporting my mother as we navigate the next set of challenges that will face us as we determine what is best for us as my father is taking actions behind the scenes against being a family in the future while telling us that he would like to move forward together. After that, I want to use my background in political campaigning to help others facing similar circumstances and continue to raise awareness and advocate for the families of Veterans like my dad.
If this campaign is a success and we are able to hit the road, I want to use Vine and Twitter to document our journey as we stop and share our story with those we meet. The biggest thing I have come to realize in the roller coaster that has been the last few weeks is that there is no comfort or solace in remaining quiet when dealing with a loved one's mental health issues. However, there is strength in speaking out. There is hope in speaking out. There is help when you speak out and say you need it. Right now, I need help.