My Battle With PTSD
I feel it’s time I come forward and talk about something I’ve been trying to hide for the past four years. It’s a very serious issue that’s become extremely problematic for veterans in our country, and is something many vets struggle with on a daily if not hourly basis.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term I’m sure many of you have probably heard before, whether it be from listening to the news or hearing the topic thrown around in conversations with family or friends. But, how many of you have personally heard from someone who suffers from PTSD?
Before I get started, let me first admit that I am a combat veteran who struggles with PTSD, and I was first diagnosed with the disorder in September 2011 after I returned home from Afghanistan. Now, I’ll be completely honest with you. I truly believed (in my early Army days) that PTSD wasn’t real. And yes, looking back, I’m very ashamed to admit that I was that ignorant — but hindsight is always 20/20.
For those of you who are unaware of the how destructive war is, I’ve embedded a trailer to the excellent documentary ‘Restrepo’. For those not aware of the film, Restrepo follows an Army Infantry unit on a 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley of northeast Afghanistan. The Korengal Valley flows north to the Pech Valley, which then flows east to the Kunar River valley on the border with Pakistan. This area was where I was deployed to in 2010 and 2011, and was one of the deadliest places to serve in the war. This clip offers a brief glimpse of what life was like for many of us overseas, and hopefully, this offers some background and context to what I’m discussing here.
After I returned home to the United States in May 2011, the first symptoms began to occur, and deep inside myself, I knew something wasn’t right with me. Nightmares soon started, which would usually involve getting captured and being shot in the head or having my head cut off. Most times, I would immediately wake up once the gunshot would go off, and it would be extremely difficult to then fall back asleep. Because of the lack of sleep, severe depression set in, along with anxiety that would be debilitating (it still is). Because I was a part of a macho organization driven by toughness and strength, I refused to get help and refused to admit I was struggling severely. As many veterans do, I turned to alcohol to help cope with the numerous symptoms, which obviously made things worse.
After having an extremely bad week in June 2011, my wife talked me into seeing a behavioral health clinic at Fort Campbell for help. I remember that day because as I was driving to work, I was thinking about my time in the Afghanistan and about the soldiers who didn’t make it back. Tears were streaming down my face as I was driving through the gate and I did my best to wipe them away as I handed my military ID card to the security guard.
Unfortunately, I left that appointment with only more medication, and I was very disappointed with the overall care I received that day due to the severity of my symptoms. (I’m sure many veterans can relate with that and offer there own experiences too) Now, I’m not saying there aren’t excellent doctors within the military community, because there are. But on that particular day, I left feeling like just another number, which spiraled me further into a deeper depression that would take me years to dig myself out of.
The thing about PTSD is, the symptoms vary from person to person. Many service members have uniquely different experiences during their time in the military, and this is especially true when serving in combat. And If I were to describe how PTSD feels to me personally, (sorry if this analogy isn’t the best) it feels very much like a dark cloud that follows you everywhere you go. For example, sometimes the cloud brings an overcast day, and on other days, it brings a little rain. But sometimes just after a couple of days, that very cloud can bring a thunderstorm that is extremely destructive and downright scary. And the bad thing is, after that bad storm passes and you think you’re in the clear, you look up to the sky only to see that fucking cloud still looming overhead.
For me, I’ve finally accepted the fact this disorder is now a part of who I am, and as much as I hate the never-ending depression, constant anxiety, and other related issues, I don’t think I would change a thing about me, if that makes sense. I hate having to explain my feelings regarding the topic using this blog (it’s extremely difficult to talk about this if that makes sense) but after so many years of struggling with this, I guess there comes a time when you stop worrying about how others will view you, or how/if their perception of you will change when/if they find out. I guess I finally learned not too long ago that being honest with yourself, and honest with others, is more important than trying to hide something just because you’re worried how others’ perceptions will be. And that is the first and possibly most important step in the healing process.