Commentary: Mystery of post-traumatic stress disorder
July 8, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (July 8, 2011) -- Some may wonder how a civilian journalist would have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or any other behavioral health issue and be able to relate it to what service members and their Families go through.
I can relate better than some would think.
Not only am I an Army civilian, but I am a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve, a military spouse and a mother. I’ve deployed three times, once to Kosovo and twice to Iraq. I was treated and am still under a bit of medical care for adjustment disorder.
It’s not quite PTSD, but many of the signs symptoms are similar.
Does having a behavioral health issue make me weak?
Not at all.
I had no clue what it meant my first deployment when I was only 19. My second deployment I was 23 and a single mom. I came back in time to celebrate my 25th birthday and my daughter’s 2nd.
I refused for a while to believe I had much of an issue.
My biggest issue was I was angry,
I snapped at people for little things and I would just breakdown and cry for no apparent reason. After a few complete breakdowns at work, I finally got the help I needed. I knew for this most recent deployment if I recognized anything I did from last time, I wouldn’t wait six months or more again to get help.
This deployment was rough from the start.
My then fiancé deployed to Afghanistan and I was on my way to Iraq. I heard about the things they were going through and felt guilty. They were on a remote base, didn’t have much and were in regular contact with the enemy.
There I was in Baghdad.
I knew almost every day I could easily get a shower (except when the water ran out), I could walk to the dining facility any time I wanted, I had a small post exchange I could go to and so much more.
Not long after I arrived in Iraq, my grandfather died. Not long after that my then fiancé was hurt. He lost most of his hearing and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He fought to stay out with his troops, but eventually the docs won out and he was sent home early to get the treatment he needed.
When I came home on rest and recuperation, we decided to no longer wait and to get married.
Our Families supported the decision.
It was odd being home. I was learning to deal with some of what he was going through and yet honestly trying not to get wrapped up too much in it because I would soon be going back to Iraq and had a job to finish.
The hardest part was early on and he didn’t always get my name right. He knew who I was, but names weren’t a strong point. He started calling me more by the nickname he gave me than by my name.
After I returned, I had even more issues.
I was trying not to stress too much about not being there for him.
Then I got an email from my little sister. I wanted to call home as soon as I read it, but I had to wait.
Waiting out the clock was impossible. She informed me the doctors found a mass in her head and that it was bleeding into itself. She’s had surgery since I’ve returned home and I got to be there to support her through that, but she now has other problems as a result of the surgery and it will be at least six months before they think she will be ready to return to work.
It was all just adding up.
While still in Iraq, I had breakdowns at the office. I was escorted to the chaplain’s office by one of the sergeants first class in my unit. I met with the chaplain at times and I was talking with combat stress.
I was still fine with going out on missions. I managed to keep it all together well and focus on my job. It was during the down times that were hardest and my thoughts would start racing on all the “what ifs” and feeling guilty about not being there for my husband and my sister.
It got worse at the end of the deployment. It was close to nine months ago, October 26, 2010.
I had gone down to Basra to cover some different stories. My last one was a mission where I was with a group of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers escorting the State Department for an agricultural project.
We never made it to our destination. After all, the bad guys didn’t care the U.S. called an official end to a leading role in combat operations in September.
I was riding with four other Soldiers in the lead Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
I was in the back talking with one of the Soldiers. Next thing you hear the boom and the vehicle fills with smoke and dust. You hear the gunner scream.
Is it from pain or the adrenaline rush?
I honestly for a second or two wasn’t sure what happened. The other Soldier in the back was the one who said out loud we’d been hit. It was an improvised explosive device - an explosively formed projectile, better known as an EFP.
The gunner dropped and was held down because he wanted to get back up. The second you saw his face we wondered if he was burned. He just had that much soot and dirt on his face.
The rest of the convoy had no clue what our status was. We had lost communications. It seemed like an eternity, but I’m sure it wasn’t long until the radios were back up and we could communicate.
The rest of the convoy moved in to secure the area.
Everyone who needed to be contacted was. It was the Iraqi Police, the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Explosive Ordnance teams who were our first and main responders.
I was amazed. It took an incident like that, but I got to see first-hand how the training my fellow service members had provided them was paying off.
All of us in the vehicle walked away from the incident.
I have learned though that whiplash seriously sucks and that you’re expected and pretty much allowed to be angry after someone tries to blow you up.
I’ve been home since December. For a while things weren’t easy, but they are constantly getting better. I’m still angry more often than I would like, but usually at myself.
Crowds drive me batty. I don’t always feel like I fit in to the civilian world. Some days I just don’t care and have to force myself to be motivated (having a 6-year-old at home seriously helps me to be motivated even when I don’t want to).
I hate driving, but do it because I have to. I get mad at myself for this all bothering me because I know others who dealt with more, but I know it has seriously phased me and does not make me weaker.
I’ve been getting the help I need. It was easier this time to admit it.
I also knew better of where to go. There is anonymous counseling through Chaplains, Military Family Life Consultants, Vet Centers and more. They only let someone know if you are a danger to yourself or others. Medical providers also offer help. I get help through the Veterans Affairs medical system.
There are so many options. Don’t be afraid to get help.
Admitting to having an issue doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t make you less of a Soldier. Admitting you need help means you are truly living up to the Army Values and you are trying to be Army Strong.
I shake as I write this.
It all still gets to me more than I admit. Some days are worse than others, but it is getting better. I am doing my job as a Soldier, wife, mother and civilian. I may have a behavioral health issue, but I do not let it stop me.