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Remember Them, Even When They Are Back Home

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I have lived in a dark place, a place where there is no sun, and the pit is deep. And try as I may to climb out, the earth keeps giving way beneath my fingers. But what I have not done is lived in a dark place with memories and images etched upon my delicate brain. I have not closed my eyes and frequently seen things too graphic to be drawn,
and I have not seen faces, situations, or places I would rather forget. I am not often afraid to close my eyes, wondering what will be on the other side of slumber. And the tears I have shed have not been for “brothers” and “sisters” whom I have lost.

• What is PTSD?

I have heard noises that are too much for me to bear when I am trying to shut the world out. But the noises have been high-pitched squeals from my healthy children or music that just does not allow me to concentrate. What I have not done is hear noises that bring me back to a place I would rather not be. I do not go to sleep and hear cries that do not exist nor do I hear gunfire. I do not remember the screams of those lost and hear the sounds of war. I do not open my eyes in panic because explosions have resounded in my head. And I have never associated a slamming door with prisoners being taken away or tanks I must enter.

I have lost my appetite and said things I probably should not have while struggling to get a handle on my depression. But what I have not done is lost my appetite and refused to speak of my struggles. I have never had to walk around with the stigma of being a soldier who should be “tough enough” to handle her feelings. I have not had to bury my heart deep in my chest for fear it may seem that I am not “strong enough.” I have never had the pressure of feeling I cannot “burden” others or deal with the struggles I am trying to cope with.

And I cannot imagine that life. I cannot imagine removing myself from reality and then trying to enter back into reality as though there was never a time when I was gone. I cannot imagine removing myself from family and then not having family understand why I have changed while I was away from them. I cannot imagine having all of my senses be awakened by a nightmare and then feeling I cannot talk about the nightmare itself. I cannot imagine giving myself for people who do not know me and then wondering if those people even care about what I have done for them.

So this Remembrance Day, I will adorn my jacket with a poppy. But more than that, I want our veterans to feel that when they are home, we will embrace them back as different and changed and new. PTSD, depression, anxiety, or whatever may come home with them in their back pack of possessions, is ok. And we will welcome them back with open arms, regardless of whatever they may be afraid to unpack.

Let us stand up for our minute of silence but help them break their silence. Help them feel safe, and be compassionate because the trauma of war does not end when they return home.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Thinkstock photo by alek seykh

Originally published: November 15, 2016
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