What You Need to Know About Combat PTSD
Broken. Guilty. Pained. Alone. These are just some of the words that explain the feelings I go through on a daily basis.
You see, I am a combat veteran who served two deployments and my experiences haunt me day and night. In 2011, while deployed in Iraq, my convoy was ambushed while crossing a narrow bridge. Our lead truck was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) and we began to be attacked by gunfire on all sides. As the battle went on, I found myself physically standing in the turret of a truck being used to shield others from the attack. I remember every detail of that night as if it was only moments ago. From the smell of the trash on the road to the sound of the explosions and gunfire to the view of adults sending children out into the war zone to try to kill us by parents who ran away and hid.
That night was my first experience with direct combat with the enemy. And unfortunately, that night the enemy we faced were nothing more than children who probably didn’t even know what they were doing. The images from that dark night are forever engrained in my memory and torment me on a daily basis. I lost brothers that night — brothers who stood by my side in the worst of the situations this world had to show us. They gave their lives in service to their country, but their sacrifice saved my life and countless others in the process.
A few weeks following this event, I was sent to speak with a mental health professional as those closest to me noticed I was just not the same as I once was. I was distant, not eating, not sleeping and irritable with almost everyone. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suddenly I felt as if my world was slipping through my grasp. Anyone who has served knows that hearing those letters means your career is never going to be the same.
Following the conclusion of this deployment, I came home and no longer felt emotion for anything or anyone. My family and friends all felt like strangers, the coping strategies all became alcohol abuse, and insomnia kept me awake for weeks at a time. PTSD had consumed my world and taken away my life.
So, as time went on, people would try to understand but I wasn’t in a place to be able to explain. How could they understand when they didn’t witness and experience what I had? Isolation took over my life and those who meant the most to me seemed to all but vanish from sight. I began to think about what even mattered anymore and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find the answer. I attempted suicide in 2012 and again in 2015, both not completed which I thank God for every day now.
So now, years later, I sit here late at night and ponder the thought of what could I have done to help myself. What could I have done to help others to understand? As a 100 percent disabled combat veteran who now spends my time training service dogs for other veterans, I want my experiences to help others in any way they can. So, here is what I’ve come up with:
1. Allow yourself to be helped.
First off, admitting you need help is not a sign of weakness and should never be considered one. Strength comes from knowledge, and knowing yourself is essential in life. If you know you’re struggling, seek help. Allow others to be there for you and support you in your journey.
2. Have understanding.
Secondly, there are things I wish others knew about PTSD and how it affects people like me. We feel broken. We feel like we are an empty shell of who we once were. It is hard for us to open up as we have learned and become accustomed to keeping it all inside to prevent that pain from reaching those whom we care most about. We struggle with trust and insecurity from experiences of being betrayed in the worst of ways. Often, it is not that we do not trust our significant others but that we’ve seen the darkest of what this world has to offer and now we are protective-minded from the threats we’ve witnessed. We feel overwhelming guilt for we came home, and our brothers and sisters did not. They sacrificed their lives and it is hard for us to understand why we came home and they did not. We do not want to be a burden on those for whom we love and care, but our struggles are internal and talking about our experiences takes time, so please be patient.
3. We’re not “crazy.”
Lastly, if someone has PTSD, it does not mean we are “crazy.” It does not mean we are dangerous. It simply means we’ve experienced the worst this world has to offer, and we persevered and made it through. On a daily basis, I’ve experienced people who judge me and view me as a hazard when they find out I have PTSD. These occurrences only make it harder for people like me to open up and seek the help we may need. We may never be the same as we once were but who would be, after seeing the hell that war can be? We may struggle and have our bad days, but supporting us to get the help we need is ultimately what is necessary.
So, when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder, just remember that not all disabilities are visible and it’s important to treat all with respect and love. No two people experience the same event in the same way, due to us all being different. That’s the beauty of this life. Although we are all different, together we are what makes this world the amazing place we all live in. Don’t judge others. I’ve seen enough war to know all that really matters in this life is how you treat others and love is essential. Self-care and knowledge are what makes us all move forward, so be supportive and care for one another.
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash