I’ve been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for nearly eight years and only recently acknowledged it. In those eight years, I was not the husband and father I set out to be in life. I love my children and they love me; I don’t think I’ve been a bad father to them in any way. But I also know I haven’t been my best. The woman I married was robbed of the man who was supposed to make her feel loved, beautiful, and desired. I was supposed to be her companion in raising children and building our family.
PTSD affected me in ways I am still discovering. I never saw my war experience as very traumatic and, when compared to the Marines and soldiers who cleared Fallujah, Iraq, or defended remote outposts in Afghanistan, I have a hard time saying anything was traumatic for me. But it doesn’t matter; it still changed me. My brain chemistry was forever altered after my tours to Iraq, and possibly my later tours to Afghanistan. Writing is my therapy and this book is just a step in my recovery.
I also decided to write this book because I think America has the wrong impression about PTSD. I think Hollywood has portrayed combat vets as combative and ready to explode at any moment. That may be true for a small percentage of us, but what I’ve witnessed is usually the opposite. It is soul-crushing anxiety and fear, bottled-up emotions, and a quiet, unfeeling existence. We’re more likely to retreat to a corner or abandon a party then to choke slam the first guy that insults us. I think most combat veterans learn to cope with a majority of the after-effects without help, even if they are forever changed by their experiences. Others, like me, fail to acknowledge that most of the effects were related to our wartime experiences and neglect to deal with our PTSD-related issues.
I spent seven years thinking I might have PTSD, but didn’t think I met the criteria. I never believed my experiences were very traumatic compared to what I would imagine many combat troops experienced. The life of a combat support soldier, after all, is far less kinetic and violent in most cases. However, almost everything I was passionate about in life changed after just one short tour in Iraq. My motivation and ability to be happy was stripped away because I ignored the warning signs. My anxiety, slowly growing until it exploded one day, was crippling my ability to function at my normal levels of enthusiasm and optimism.
Talking about it, admitting it, and dealing with it has helped me to regain proper emotional heath and while I may never be the man I once was, I believe happiness is once again within my reach. Life can be traumatic, but we veterans are resilient people and with the right help, we can overcome a decade of war and live happy, fulfilling lives. It all starts with knowing the subtle signs of PTSD and encouraging each other to seek help.
My wife of 11 years left me, and I believe the biggest reason we got to that point was because I didn’t deal with PTSD. She is a large part of this story because she is the perfect example of how PTSD affected someone I loved more than anything in this world. My inability to see what was happening to me, and her lack of knowledge about PTSD or how to deal with me after war, led to us falling out of love and to our marriage not working out. If this book paints her in a negative light in any way, please know that’s not the intention. She is an amazing, strong woman who placed our family first and her own desires and needs second. I will never regret marrying her and will always believe she’s the perfect mom for our children and that she was an awesome companion for over a decade.
Please know that this is just my own account. Take the time to research PTSD among combat veterans. It’s usually not so easy to pinpoint our triggers or the source of our anxiety. We endured a lot of stuff, sometimes cruel and unimaginable, other times mundane but scary. I’m still on this trail and haven’t reached the end, but starting the walk is the most important part.
Rather than just jumping right into my triggers, I’ve organized this book into three primary parts. I begin with a timeline of events to help you see how I viewed my own life and situations from the day I joined the Army, just after the events of 9/11, through the summer of 2014 when I finally admitted I had PTSD. I then analyze the anxiety and loss of emotions I felt after 2006, attempting to identify my own triggers of PTSD and the likely events that led to it. Finally, I talk about steps for identifying PTSD either for yourself, your loved one, or your friend with a short introduction to my road to recovery.
My main purpose for writing this book was to better understand my own emotional struggles. The reason I am publishing this personal account is because I really hope other veterans out there that feel the way I did may realize that help and a happy future are within our reach.