Category Archives: PTSD

About my struggled along a jagged path to healing

Band of Brothers


Mom brought some old pictures when she visited last week. We had the opportunity to go through them and talk about them. Some of them I want to share with you. This is a photo of my Great Grandmother Burns and her six sons. All the boys served in World War II, most of them seeing heavy action. It was a miracle they all returned home alive.

Going from left to right:

John Burns – Navy

John was the only Uncle I never met, I don’t know anything of him. He passed away when I was very young. I don’t know where he served, if he ever got married, had kids or how he died.

Bob Burns – Army

Uncle Bob came back from the war and married his sweetheart Vera. They lived a simple life on the South Side near Idora Park. They were a private couple. One year the family got together at one of Uncle Clarence’s birthday bashes and I found myself sitting down with Bob over a few beers. He started talking about the War. Turns out he spent the war as a Captain of an Army unit in Burma. Burma was the longest campaign in the war and arguably the most ferocious. Bob told me stories about operating hundreds of miles behind enemy lines and ruthless hand-to-hand fighting. His unit was the model of the formation of the Army Rangers. His most horrific story, by far, was about the end of the war when he entered and released starving American GI’s from Japanese POW camps.

Lillian Burns – Mom

I never met her for she passed before I was born

Jim Burns – Army

Uncle Jim and his wife spent a lot of time together with Grandma and Grandpa. Whenever we visited their house on the West Side, it was always a happy place. The ladies meet every month to play Bridge for over 50 years. Jim and Grandpa shared their love of fishing. Uncle Jim spent time in the European Theater, including, I think, heavy action at the Battle of the Bulge.

Clarence Burns – Navy

We called him Uncle Monk. He and his wife Mildred both lived into their ’90s, having being married together for over 60 years. Both of them had incredible senses of humor. I don’t know much about his service in the war because he never talked about it. I think he served in the Pacific.

Floyd Burns – Army

Sadly, I don’t remember anything about Uncle Floyd. Someone once mentioned he was at Anzio. Mom recalls him fondly.

Frank Burns – Navy

My Grandpa. Look up the definition of a crusty seaman and you’ll see a picture of him. He was a tough little guy who could build and fix nearly everything. I guess that’s why they made him a Sea Bee. He said that when the Marines bragged about landing in the Solomon Islands his unit had built an airstrip and piers before their arrival. Once he told me of seeing his best friend take a shell, killing him instantly.

Strange Days


This past week was a huge one. Savannah’s High School Graduation was going off. I had lots of family flying in from Ohio to celebrate the occasion. I was nervous. Too nervous to write in my blog.

Mom flew in for the week. So did my Mother in-law, two of my Brother in-laws, my Sister in-law and two nieces. I hadn’t seen any of them since the Funeral in Ohio three years ago. I have not spoken to the in-laws for two years.

The last two years have been very good for me. Meeting Alex is a blessing for the both of us. My therapists have done wonderful work, I see things now without the prism of PTSD. And it has been eye-awakening.

Mom doesn’t listen to much of what anyone tries to tell her. Many times she’s blown off people who were only trying to help her. We didn’t get along well in the ’80s. I had chalked it up to just her Irish stubbornness. Since then I’ve discovered Dad and learned about the heartbreaking events in her life. And for the first time ever I saw her in a new light. She is the strongest person I have ever known. She has purposely submerged in her mind all the bad things that happened. To Mom, they didn’t happen. Maybe I am wrong to try to dredge up the past with her. This is her way to peace.

My In-laws? Well, they are different. Not different in the sense of good vs bad. Just different. I realized that my lifestyle just doesn’t mesh with theirs. Perhaps I was foolish to try. Don’t get me wrong, they are fabulous people, honest, ethical, hard-working. Just the type you want to be neighbors with. Trustworthy, caring. After all, they flew X-Country to see Savannah’s Graduation. We thank them for being here.

I held the In-laws to a standard to which they do not share. We grew up differently. We have different appetites for life. We evaluate risk differently. We see religion differently. None of us have anything to apologize for because none of us did anything wrong. We responded to Janet’s demise in our own way. I hope my In-laws understand.

Putting Things Behind


I had a comment on my last posting. It went like this:

Why do you post this stuff, Kenny? There are many of us who love and care about you, but who also loved and cared about Janet, too. I understand, completely, that you were very hurt by the things she said to you, but posting your resentment for all of us to hear, well, I struggle to rationalize what would compel you to have to display it like this.

This is my blog. I write about my children. I write about philosophy and morality. I write about myself and the the hell I have gone through. Writing helps me heal. Pulling my thoughts out and putting it down on paper is my way to re-integrate my mind. It isn’t resentment or revenge.

What happened on June 12, 2010 was tragic, the worst sort of bad luck anyone could have. took our family’s tragedy and hammered me. No, they sledgehammered me. What they did was reprehensible. They have no idea of the career they ruined, the harm they did to my family, and the struggle I have with re-building my life. The impact has lasted years and spread far.

Some people have made it nearly impossible to deal with her death with decency and dignity. They know nothing about our relationship. Janet lied about me, lied to me, lied in front of our children. She told people that I was a violent drunkard. That I was having an affair with two ladies simultaneously. That I was abusing my children. Just incredulous stuff, all untrue. Friends have relayed to me her lies. They couldn’t believe the things that Janet was saying about her husband. In nearly 23 years of marriage I can’t think of once where I disparaged my wife. Not one time ever.

There are a few people who can’t leave it behind, and continue to make life difficult for our family. I have a neighbor, Alan Volbrecht, who recently verbally accosted me in front of Douglas, scaring him. Alan also gives me “mad dog” looks whenever he see me. His wife Chris is on record writing things such as “the children need to be protected from their father whether or not he did anything to Janet” and “I will protect the kids from Ken anyway I can.” The “anonymous” call to Children’s Services accusing me of abusive behavior. This posting on my blog by an In-Law, under the pseudonym, “How do you put this last bit of pain away? Reflect on the things you did and the things you didn’t do and then pray for forgiveness. If you happen to find someone else as wonderful as Janet to share your live with, history will repeat itself unless you learn from it.”

I stayed married to a woman for 23 years out of love and devotion. If I argued then I was labeled unreasonable. If I disengaged then I was labeled as not caring. If I got upset then I was a tyrant. If I called out her behavior she denied it until our relationship was past done. I was always “wrong”, always “selfish”, and always “not caring”. For wanting to see my friends, for wanting my own life, for not wanting to deal with being insulted or emotionally abused. And the worst part was that I believed every word of it. I spent years feeling like I was an awful person, and feeling scared of her. I felt like leaving the situation would just prove that I really didn’t care/love her enough, and that would make me a bad husband, a bad father, a bad human being.

Janet would be happy that I am taking very good care of our children. They have emerged from an incredible loss. They are happy, healthy and thriving. Teachers, coaches, parents and friends all have stepped forth and helped us. Alexandra has been a rock for us. They have allowed me to deal with my wife’s death with grace and dignity. I am very grateful to these people.

I will continue to call out those who slandered and libeled me. None of them have the courage to apologize to me and my family for the hell they put us through. None of them have offered any support to my family. I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to do so. I can’t change their misperceptions. They’ll believe whatever they want to believe. For them, opinions matter more than facts.

There was more to Janet that what she projected in public. Borderline Personality Disorder is an incurable mental illness, a darkness that tore our marriage apart. Those who live with it knows what hell is like. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of living with this woman and the fallout from her passing. Truth be told, I loved that woman, but I didn’t like her for what she became.

Sticks and Stones


Sticks and stones may break my bones. But names will never hurt me.

I disagree with this. Words are powerful. They can cut like a knife, they can traumatize you, they can destroy a marriage. There are loaded words that only serve to hurt, control, scare or intimidate those who are close to you. Three words are particularly harmful. I don’t allow them to be said in my home.

Today I read an article by Julie Orlov. It describes the three words and how Janet used them to harm our relationship.


Never implies a sense of hopelessness and finality. When you use “never,” you’re telling your spouse that they are no good, will never be any good and that there’s no hope for change. It’s an all-or-nothing phrase that does not lend itself to listening, compromising and creating good will.


Always implies a sense of rigidity and righteousness. When you use “always,” you’re telling your spouse that they are wrong, you are right, and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. It’s also an all-or-nothing phrase, and it does not lend itself to understanding, learning, or healing.


Divorce. Threatening to divorce, suggesting divorce as an option, or accusing your spouse of destroying the marriage will lead to just that. A divorce is a very serious decision, and using it as a weapon or method of control creates anxiety and despair. It’s not conducive for effective communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, or intimacy.

Craigslist Redemption


It was time to get rid of the last vestige of my disastrous marriage. I didn’t have the heart to throw it away, as it was still in excellent condition. So I threw up a Craigslist ad. Then the fun commenced.

A lady emails right away, saying she wants it. We set a time for the next day. The time comes and goes, a no-show. So I respond to a few more emails saying it’s still available. Another lady calls, says she’ll be over in a few hours. I wait for her and then she arrives, ffirst thing she says is “Where is the box spring?” I said the ad stated clearly no box spring, she says “oh well I must have not read the ad clearly, so I can’t take it”.

I call up another contact, they can barely speak English, kept asking me if it was free. I though no way do I want them over my place so I hung up. Then I call another contact, she says “Good, it’s still available. I want it. I need to think about it and I’ll call you back.” I say “Ma’am, it’s free and in great shape. You need to come now if you want it.” She said she’d call me right back.

Some dude Mike then calls me, straightforward as all heck. “You still have the Mattress?” I reply “Yes”. He says “Good. What’s your address in Santa Margarita? I’m 10 minutes away and I will leave now”. I give him the address.

Five minutes after I hung up with Mike, the last lady calls saying she’s take it. I tell her sorry, but another person is on the way. She acted all disappointed. I reminded her that when she last spoke she was “thinking about it”. Doofus.

So Mike pulls in the drive, driving an old Chevy ¾ ton. This big bear of a man hops out the driver’s door and immediately goes to the crew door and retrieves an adorable little girl out of the child seat.

Mike and I go over the mattress, he asks a few questions about where the mattress was used, if I was the original owner, where it had been stored, etc. He says “I liked your listing and had to come see this”. He says he’ll take it.

I help load it into the bed of the truck and we get to start talking. Turns out he’s a single Dad, with custody of his Daughter, and looking for steady work. He offered me $15 for the mattress. I said no, go buy your daughter a treat. He gives me a big hug and drives off.

For all the assholes you run across while dealing on Craigslist, it sure gives me faith when people like Mike show up.

Alex Writes About My Hearing Loss


I am happy to bring today a guest post by Alexandra Robin. She is my soulmate.

At this moment starting to write this I’m distracted by the television with the volume turned way up. A rooster is crowing outside. My fingers are bouncing away on my keyboard and I hear the tapping on the soft keys. I pour another cup of coffee, hear the slurp of the French Press and the sound of my cup filling like notes moving up a scale. Very faintly I hear the fan on my laptop, a sound that I generally tune out. Someone is running water and I easily place its location in the bathroom down the hall. Birds twitter outside the open window somewhere. The stretched spring of the kitchen door out to the garage squeaks open and closed. The door of the car thunks closed out there.

My life has always been filled with sound. Mom and Dad met at the The Juilliard School of Music, where she studied classical piano and he was the sound engineer. Mom taught piano while she was pregnant with me, I still imagine the muffled sounds of Brahms and Rachmaninoff, Chopsticks and Hot Crossed Buns. As a kid I remember days lying on our blue couch, tired from a day of playing outside, listening to Mom accompanying Dad on his viola.

Dad’s career moved onto writing, producing, and directing educational films. When I was about eight I got to be in one. It is called “Forces Make Forms,” and it introduces junior high school-aged children to physics and the concept of how the energy of a physical force creates a form as its result. It is a beautiful montage of many examples of this such as a child moving arms and legs to create an angel in the snow, and an ice cube dropped in a hot pan bouncing from side to side finally disappearing with a sizzle. It won a film festival award for “Most Educational.”

My voice ended the film. My dad recorded me and an oscilloscope got center stage. He had me say the words, “Forces make forms” using three different styles of emphasis: “FORCES make forms.” “Forces make FORMS.” “Forces make forms?” The audience watches the oscilloscope change form with the inflection of my voice.

In college I studied broadcast communication. I worked at the college radio stations at both universities I attended, then went on to work in television production for a few years after graduating. I could spend hours in those college days, going around town and recording every-day things as sound effects, mixing tracks back in the control room putting radio shows together for class, creating Public Service Announcements, and doing endless on-air radio shifts. I got very familiar with the sound of my voice through headphones and how loud to speak to someone in the room when the headphones muffled my hearing.

Enter the love of my life: my soulmate Kenny McCarthy, a man who is essentially deaf without his hearing aids.

Dad taught me a sense of wonder mixed with the intelligence to think about the nuances that may result in the physical world. As I type this last sentence, Kenny has sat down across the table from me without his hearing aids and he started to watch an YouTube video on his iPhone and the music is blasting! Not until typing half-way through this do I realize he doesn’t even know there was sound let alone realize that I’m now dealing with the distraction of the blasting TV behind me and his music in front of me! Had he known, he would have shut it down immediately. He is a writer himself and knows distraction. With grace, not frustration I smile. How apropos.

So imagine not being able to hear your own voice, your own cough, blowing your nose, a knife slicing an apple, or walking through the gravel. I know I use my hearing to have a sense of the heat of a stove burner when I’m cooking. If I couldn’t hear, I’d have to retrain myself how to fry an egg.

Now imagine the people closest to you not considering anything deeper than a surface reaction responding to your lack of hearing with with statements like, “I told you yesterday!” or “You never listen!” or after asking what was said being told, “Forget it.” or even, “You heard me… I know you heard me!”

People have told me that thought Kenny was arrogant, yet knowing him personally I know this is far from the truth. He will continue talking in conversation when hearing people would stop and allow the other to interject in the pace of conversation. The other day I realized that the moment a hearing person hears the other start to speak and allows the conversation to flow is probably shorter than the time it takes Kenny to process that sound, so he’ll continue talking. His voice then covers up the sound of the other’s voice and he never heard the interjection in the first place. Hearing people consider this rude when there was no intention of such.

Try sticking earphones in your ears and have every sound amplified through them for an entire day. Not only to experience what hearing loss feels like, but to experience just having something stuck in your ears for an extended period of time. Go outside and listen to the birds and the wind chimes on your back patio, the truck driving down the street a block away. Go to a trendy echoing wine tasting room and have a conversation when another group of four or five loud adults are celebrating one of their birthdays. Ride a bike. Kenny is a rider. He rides in rain, hail, snow and wind, but he won’t hear it. I can’t fathom this.

Kenny doesn’t use sign language. He taught himself to read lips. We were having a summer dinner on the patio last year when I told the kids so and they didn’t believe me. At the time I had known Kenny for less than a year. So they tested him and they were amazed. They had no idea. What this told me was these kids had never been educated nor given a sense of compassion to understand what it was for their dad to be deaf. I hear their frustration, yelling at him as if he were a hearing person who was ignoring them, negligent, or didn’t care. I’ve heard them complain when he asks to have a window closed in the car as if he’s being mean or bossy when it only has to do with not being able to hear the conversation with the wind blasting. To their credit they will use a louder voice as needed if his hearing aids aren’t in, but I see that they have little sense that not hearing isn’t as simple as turning up the radio. This isn’t their fault. I just see it as a loss of learning about a caring love for a parent; not sympathy, just taking the time to step outside of oneself.

About twelve years ago a co-worker of mine was given a cochlear implant. He was 32 years old at the time and had been deaf from birth. He said the first thing he heard waking up out of surgery was his wife saying, “Hi Honey, I love you.” I was able to witness the before and after of this amazing event. He explained to us how he had to educate his brain to hear, to learn how to place sound in a noisy room. He said it was exhausting.

I remember things by saying them out loud. If I want to remember a phone number I say it aloud and then I can rely on my ears to remember it. I may even say something in rhythm to help this along. The same goes for speaking Spanish. Mexican friends say my accent is perfect. I’ve always figured this was a result of my well-trained music brain. Kenny is a voracious reader and has been his entire life. His reading speed and rate of comprehension would put Evelyn Wood to shame. His vocabulary is huge, yet he has to memorize how to pronounce words. Words like “conscious” and “conscientious” get mixed up. It’s not that he doesn’t know the definition of each. It’s sound. The two words are very similar. And when we can hear the difference he has read the difference and has then has to memorize the definitions and phonetic pronunciation rules of each.

At the end of the day, Kenny will remove his hearing aids and exhale a huge sigh of relief. He’ll give his head a little shake as if to clear out the last rattles of distraction. He’ll lean back, open the MacBook and read in the peaceful quiet of his own mind.

The Audiology test you are seeing was done in 2003. I’ve lost another 15dB since then.

A Life Examined


You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

You may find yourself in another part of the world

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

The Talking Heads Once In a Lifetime

So, what happened to put me where I am today? What does my past mean? What if I was to write down the most vivid memory for each year of my life, starting with the first one?


Seeing the deep blue sky


Dad hitting me in the back seat of the car because I was crying after reconstructive facial surgery


John Sprankle breaking into our house/room and trying to hurt Mom. The “Here’s Johnny” scene in The Shining.

City of Youngstown uses Eminent Domain to kick us out of house, woke up one morning with the excavators piling dirt onto the sides of our house

Undergo multiple electric shock therapy sessions to cure my Bell’s Palsy

Started speech therapy

Uncle John returns from Viet Nam in a closed casket

Mrs. Scott pulls me out of special ed saying, “This child doesn’t belong here.” Best. Teacher. Ever.

Moved to new house on Clarencedale, left my best friend Kenny King

Got grade 4 concussion falling from roof of garage

Overheard Mom and her boyfriend in bedroom having sex

Bancroft school closed, started busing to Sheridan School

My best friend John moves away

Fabulous vacation at Cedar Point, followed by my Grandmother giving Mom heck for having to had pay for it

Tore ACL in left knee

Got dental partial, sent to school on that very same day, publicly humiliated when I couldn’t talk

Bully Bobby Mitchell torments me in high school

Moved out from home and into trailer

Severely injured in hit-and-run accident while training on bike

Started wheel-building,

Another severe concussion in second hit-and-run accident, nearly died

Road 9,000+ miles training, got good results in races

Grandma moves in with me so she doesn’t have to go to nursing home

Started college

Met Janet

First of 3 solo motocycle trips out West

Janet coerces me to come home early while climbing/riding in WV on Spring Break

Graduated from Youngstown State University with a 4.0 GPA in my major

Married Janet

On vacation in Crested Butte, rode rental bike to the top of Pearl Pass without Janet

After 20,040 wheels, ended wheel-building

On vacation with Janet, bagged Mt. Whitney in 1 day by myself

House flooded, bought first house 3 days later

On vacation, 70-mile ride in Key West. Janet rides along on a scooter, only time she rode with me

Started at Dick’s Sporting Goods as Buyer, Grandma dies, Savannah born

Looked up and found Dad and 3 previously unknown siblings that were given up for adoption

Janet miscarriage

First date with Janet since Savannah was born, Courtney born via C-section

Bees swarm Courtney’s 1st Birthday party

Janet falsely accuses me of having a liason while we were on a business trip in Lake Tahoe with my boss and his wife

Recipient of Buyer of the Year Award at Dick’s Sporting Goods

Bought second house, Douglas born

Resigned from Dick’s Sporting Goods under duress

Took sabbatical to walk Appalachian Trail

Started as Marketing Director for YESCO Electric

Moved family cross-country to California as Buyer for Copeland Sports. short-sold my house in Ohio

Started at VAS Entertainment

Let go by VAS Entertainment due to “strategic re-structuring”

First argument in front of kids, Janet diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Janet cleared of cancer

Failed merger at CBO and let go, Janet dies

Coached Douglas’s Little League team to championships on anniversary of Janet’s death

Engaged to Alex

Putting it this way, I see a very clear picture of myself. My Mother was the only one strong for me, Dad abused and left us. I initially resented Mom’s boyfriend because of his extramarital affair with Mom. He tried to get close to me but it only worsened the trauma. I eventually grew to understand him late in his life, I wish he was still here for Mom and me.

I stayed married to a woman for 23 years out of love and devotion, even when she was hurting me. If I argued then I was labeled unreasonable. If I disengaged then I was labeled as not caring. If I got upset then I was a tyrant. If I called out her behavior she denied it until our relationship was past done.

I was always “wrong,” always “selfish,” and always “not caring” for wanting to see my friends, for wanting my own life, for not wanting to deal with being insulted or emotionally abused. And the worst part was that I believed every word of it. I spent years feeling like I was an awful person, and feeling scared of her. I felt like leaving the situation would just prove that I really didn’t care/love her enough, and that would make me a bad husband, a bad human being. I was unknowingly married to a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder. A lifetime of trauma left me always defensive, constantly alert, hyper-vigilant.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after prolonged exposure to psychological trauma. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. I’ll make it though this just fine. I always do.

I’m Kirk, You’re Spock


It never made sense to me: Why should play a character that I didn’t want to be?

The year was 1967. I had moved into the neighborhood the prior year. Clarencedale Avenue was all things to a little boy – a wide, tree-lined street, expansive yards and lots of trees to climb. The block was built on the site of an apple orchard. Everyone had an old apple tree or three in their yard.

Clarencedale had lots of boys near my age. John, Teddy, Scott, Randy, Mike, Tony, Sam, Rich, Kevin, Mark and Richard. We played baseball on the corner lot on Southern Boulevard and football in the yard next to our house. It was a plethora of small-town ambiance mixed into a mill-town existence.

Star Trek had begun playing on TV. My friends and I were mesmerized. We started to play-act the show. Teddy would be Scotty and John played Doctor McCoy. I wanted to be Captain Kirk. Our friend Scott Speirs thought otherwise.

Scott was one of those pugnacious kids, everything he had or was involved in was the best, and he’d let you know it. He had a Schwinn Sting Ray, he’d tell me it was better than my Western Flyer. His Dad’s Chevrolet Caprice convertible was “higher-class” than Mom’s AMC Gremlin. His Hot Wheels collection was awesome, he had the Red Baron car. He had the GI Joe Arctic Soldier ensemble, with the miniature snow-white M-14 rifle and matching snow suit.

Scott couldn’t ride a bike to save his life. He never talked about his absentee Dad who was an abusive alcoholic. Scott never took his Hot Wheels cars out of their display case to play with. Same with the GI Joe stuff. Scott was all talk and no action.

Scott always insisted on playing Captain Kirk. Scott told me I was Spock because I was smart like Spock. I resented that for two reasons.

First, I associated Spock’s Vulcan ears with my Cleft Palette. I hated that association because I wanted to be normal like all my other friends. I just wanted to fit in.

Secondly, I was the fastest, most athletic. I was the best baseball player. No one could tackle me in our backyard football games. No one schemed as well against our up-street adversaries, in countless raids against a numerically superior gang we usually won. I was the leader of our gang. That made me, as Spock would say, the logical choice for Kirk.

Scott never agreed I played a better Captain Kirk. I regret I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to a bully like Scott. I watch Douglas play with his friends and how he’s emerging in the mold of a Captain Kirk. That makes me smile.

There are Times

….where I don’t have the time to write. I don’t want to reduce this blog to a simple status update thingy. I’m wanting to write quality and eventually pen a book. So, happy Friday. Peace.

Seeds of Doubt


A child’s bond with his or her parents is the most precious thing in the universe. It is special and very important to a child’s healthy development.

Why some of my neighbors and in-laws suggested to my kids that I had something to do with their Mom’s death is unfathomable. Their meddling into a situation that they had no understanding of is reprehensible.

Those seeds of doubt they planted into my children’s minds has done more harm than their grieving over their Mother’s death. For that, I can never forgive them.