Edited for privacy, clarity, and brevity:
I’m a 49 year old divorced father of two young adult sons. I was married at 27 after having served in the U.S. Air Force.
Sadly, after our 15+ years of marriage we got divorced, and she remarried again just 62 days later. Later, my sons opened up to me and said she cheated before she even filed for the divorce.
About my disability and my conditions, I was involved in a car accident where I was trapped and burned alive for 3 to 5 minutes.
I’ve had to have 30 surgeries with this accident, and it has left my lower body severely scarred and damaged, with very limited mobility. Most of the damage is to my feet and legs, making it hard to walk, and painful even just doing simple things like getting up to get a drink, or driving my car.
My situation is more tedious since I only get Social Security Disability Income [because of the accident]. Take out rent, food, gas, insurance, etc., and you see that I have very little left over. I even suffered a bout with being homeless for over 8 months last year, living in a shelter.
Thankfully I made it through that with my mind and body intact and have my own small apartment now.
I know my sons are worried about me, because they remember the man that was a top salesman years ago, and the man they see now is nowhere near him. What they see scares them. They think I will become too depressed and not want to carry on. But I am a W____. Mamma did not raise a quitter.
Anyway, I think I’ve explained things well enough to ask my basic question: Where do I go from here, and how do I get there from here? I’m scarred, scared, and scrambling to figure out what the F do I do now.
How does a divorced, hurt, betrayed, disabled veteran who is about to turn 50 move forward? ? How do I get myself cleaned up, shaped up, and back into looking for new women and trying to approach them and have meaningful friendships and relationships?
What should I focus on? What help or benefits are out there for a older, disabled, grizzled, scarred old Vet like me?
First, an acknowledgement:
I struggled with whether to address this letter or not. It seemed too big, too real.
Anything I can say will, at best, fall incredibly short. I can’t even begin to truly scratch the surface.
But I think it’s important to share this man’s story—to acknowledge how incredibly strong and resilient the human spirit is when it has to be; and to either let others know they’re not alone, or to put things into perspective for the rest of us.
So take all of this for what it’s worth.
Now, onto the show.
The biggest thing that stuck out to me in your letter is that where you are now seems so overwhelming. Of course the heart of your questions is so big: What do I do? What first? When you’re dealing with so much, it can be paralyzing.
So, break it down. Get organized. Begin to take back control of this overwhelming, complex situation by breaking it up into a series of manageable goals.
It sounds to me like the most pressing concerns in your life right now is, coping with your past traumas, managing physical pain, keeping afloat financially, and building social and romantic connections.
1. Set your goals for each major category
First, you might have to manage your expectations.“Being completely pain free” might not be a realistic goal, but “seek out new pain management techniques or treatments,” might be.
NOTE: A lot of experts recommend defined, concrete goals. Hit 150 lbs. is better than “lose weight.” But in some cases like this, having a defined goal might not be possible. Or even if it is, there’s something to be said for a quest for continual improvement.
2. Create a pool of ideas:
These can be anything you come up with from call new pain management clinic in town, to sign up for meditation class, to talk to your doctor about trying a new drug.
3. Decide on what you can do this week:
From your pool of ideas, pick which ones you’re going to take action on this week.
Decide whether you want to focus on one area, like pain management, or several at one time. You can choose to combine a few different action items into one week: Sign up for Bumble. Create a budget. Schedule doctor appt.
Right now one of your lists might look something like this:
Managing Physical Pain
Seek out new pain management techniques or treatments
Call new pain management clinic in town
Sign up for meditation class
Talk to your doctor about trying a new nonaddictive drug
Look into acupuncture
Schedule appt to talk to your doctor about trying a new nonaddictive drug on the market.
[Let’s assume you’re combining this task with tasks from other lists.]
Above all, always move forward:
The most important aspects of this whole exercise is 1) make the overwhelming manageable and 2) simply keep moving forward. Keep improving.
Put ideas on your list. Try them. Cross them off. Keep doing what works. Shelve what doesn’t. Put more ideas on your list. Break some of your ideas down. Try more. Cross them off.
Run out of ideas? Tweak them.
OkCupid didn’t work for you? Try again with a new profile picture. With new profile text. With a new messaging strategy. With a new site.
Some weeks you’ll be able to knock out 15 tasks. And some weeks you’ll barely have the energy or will to accomplish one small one. That’s okay. That’s human. As long as you’re always moving forward, even only a half step.
There is incredible power in having an answer to “What’s next?”
Having options is having hope.
Other Thoughts & Resources:
The right therapist can be an invaluable resource to help you work through your past trauma and help you sort out your life moving forward. If local options are too expensive or not a good fit, try an online session at a place like Talk Space. I like this resource because you can have unlimited sessions for $25 a week, instead of the traditional one or two one hour sessions a week.
I would also suggest finding people who are going through a similar time in their life, whether that’s groups in person or even following YouTubers online.
In the full version of the letter, Mr. W mentions that he writes fiction and plays computer games–both of which are activities with huge and tight-knit communities. Find them.
Mr. W also mentions that he’s a part of meetup.com, which is great. And for anyone else looking to expand their social circle to meet friends or even dates, this is the place to do it.
Plugging Into Life | A podcast about chronic pain management. Keep up to date with other people’s stories, what’s working now, and promising treatments on the horizon.
Info on biofeedback as an alternative treatment for chronic pain management.
You can legally make $1,130 per month on disability.
This doc has tons of resources to help you with job placement if you ever feel able to take on full or part time work again, and can also help you request on the job accommodations–like limited hours or the use of assistive devices–at this new job.
Actually, The Penny Hoarder in general is a great resource.
You mentioned being nervous about getting out there again because of your injuries from the accident, mobility issues, and everything else that comes with that; absolutely hop on Match, OkayCupid, eHarmony, OurTime, but you might want to also check out niche dating sites for those with disabilities.
“Our members say that meeting someone here is far more comfortable than on regular dating sites, as you don’t have to start explaining any mobility issues or conditions you may have, to a prospective partner.”
Acknowledge Where You Are:
Mr. W, I hope you can recognize how impossibly strong you are. You’ve had to endure so much more than so many other people ever have to. Take the time to really realize that that in and of itself is incredible. You’ve proven that you’re strong. You have the strength to rebuild your life. Never lose sight of that.
Good luck out there.