What I am about to describe may sound very familiar to a lot of veterans and their families...How the story ends is the outcome I most fervently wish for all of them. That being said, many veterans believe that getting help is a sign of weakness -- especially male veterans. It is a common belief that 'sucking it up' is the 'manly' thing to do. This story is directed at those veterans...
When I was serving in Iraq, I witnessed a friendly-fire incident. It really destroyed me, emotionally and spiritually. It may sound horrible but it would have been much easier to accept if the soldier would have been killed by the enemy. I ended up paranoid and broken, a danger to myself and others...so they sent me home.
When I returned home from service overseas, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My life was a mess, a complete disaster area. I was hyper-vigilant, agitated, depressed, paranoid, easily angered, and rarely sleeping. If I didn't feel in complete control of my environment, I would lose my temper and lash out at the people that loved me the most. The irony is that I was so concerned about controlling everything around me; I didn't notice that, physically, I was a mess. I wasn't bathing regularly, my laundry was out of control, and I wasn't shaving. I bottomed out and realized that I needed help about two months after I got home. I was freaking out about something; I can't even remember what it was. My father tried to calm me down. I got so angry at my dad for trying to offer a logical solution that I almost hit him. My father has always been a kind, understanding, and generous man. The fact that I almost assaulted him made my whole world collapse around me. The façade that I put on for everyone, the one that told everyone how well I was coping, was irrevocably shattered. I finally admitted to myself that I needed help.
With the love and support of my family and friends, I went to get help. I went to the local VA Outpatient Clinic. I was assessed for disability and diagnosed with PTSD, acute, continuous. This was something that I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life. So I started learning how. I started attending regular counseling, I was put on medication, and I attended a support group. I was leery of taking medication at first. To this day, I still don't notice any difference in the way that I feel or act from day to day. It was the people around me who love me that have been the key to understanding what the medication was doing for me. They were the ones that could tell when I was forgetting to take my meds. In my individual counseling sessions, I learned how to recognized triggers for my PTSD, coping mechanisms that helped me understand what I was feeling and how to assert control over my actions and emotions. The support group gave me the greatest gift of all -- validation that what I was going through was real, that I wasn't crazy. Life was starting to make sense for the first time in a long time.
In the fall of 2004, I decided to take the next step and enrolled in college classes at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. I made sure that the disabilities office at Kutztown had documentation of my disability and they made accommodations for it. I communicated to my professors that I had PTSD and their compassion and understanding allowed me to thrive and succeed. I was holding down a job, working towards my degree, and settling into a routine. It felt great.
In March of 2006, I met the person who changed my life forever. I met the woman who would, later that year, become my wife. I was happier than I could ever remember being. So I stopped taking my meds. I stopped going to therapy. I thought I had everything under control. I graduated with High Honors and a degree in International Business in the Spring of 2007. After graduating, my wife and I went through over two years of me being out of control. I hit rock-bottom...again. My wife put her foot down and made me return to counseling and made me realize for myself that I needed medication to remain balanced and focused. She never once judged me for all that I put her through during that stretch. I wouldn't have blamed her. I was a miserable person to be with. We had been moving around a lot. We came home, I got back into the VA system.
I talked with my wife about what I wanted from life and what kind of job I needed to stay happy. I am now happily employed by Wegmans and my wife and I are expecting our first child. We have the world in front of us. I still have to cope with my PTSD, but I have finally made a stable life for myself. If you are a veteran or family of a veteran and you identify with what I have gone through, I hope that putting my struggles down on paper will motivate you the get the help you need.
I will end with this thought:
If you are a veteran who is struggling with these issues, which is better -- To get help and admit you have a problem or continue to hurt everyone around you that loves you? Men, is it manlier to 'suck it up' and continue to have issues holding down a job or is it manlier to get help so that you can be there to support your family? I hope you take this warning to heart before you put everyone and everything you hold dear at risk.