When I was in middle school we had a teacher that had served in Vietnam. I never personally had the man for a class, but it was widely rumored that “Mac”, as he was referred to, had epic bouts of flashbacks and shellshock, which in the modern day is referred to as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There were the stories of how someone dropped their book on the desk and Mac dove behind his own desk and lobbed an apple like a grenade and such other over – dramatized scenarios where he thought he was back in country. As I can’t say I ever witnessed him experience one of these episodes, I can’t say that it was necessarily true, but more than likely it was just the overactive imaginations of a group of pre-teens that were only vaguely aware that people from that era did indeed have psychological issues from the events they had witnessed and been a part of. Looking back, I see that we, a bunch of juveniles, had no real grasp that someone with PTSD was nothing to laugh at. It’s a terrible condition that many of our warriors suffer from today. Had Mac actually been as bad off as the student rumor mill made him out to be, I would certainly feel awful for the way that students portrayed his reactions. Rather than find it comical that he flipped out in class, I would hope that Mac was able to get help that he needed.
PTSD is no joke.
I deal with it on a near daily basis. After seven straight months of IED’S, rockets, and mortars [and even being personally bracketed by enemy mortars] on my first deployment I think it’s fair to expect that loud noises and large crowds are going to get me a little worked up. Generally PTSD is overhyped because of situations like Mac’s, people just don’t understand what it is like, and then a friend hears it from a friend that he jumped a little when a book slammed (a reasonable reaction) and then tells another friend who tells another friend who then tells everyone they watched him jump behind the desk and yell “Charlies in the trees”! In all actuality, an episode of PTSD can range big and small, but is generally like being really anxious and you just can’t turn it off. I’ve watched and had breakdowns where it’s been all consuming. I’ve watched it be as simple as guys just being avoidant. Usually it’s filled with a lot of introspective thought and remembering the events of situations that you just don’t want to think about. Sometimes guys are lucky enough to be able to see a counselor over it. Some never get that opportunity. I found myself being fairly fortunate.
When I did my break in service, I was able to see a VA counselor. Up until that point. I avoided them like the plague. I thought this guy was either going to just say I don’t have PTSD and send me on my way, or he was going to declare me crazy and then I’d never hold a decent job again. He proved me wrong and after a short questionnaire, he informed me that I do in fact have PTSD, but it was fully understandable that someone with my experiences have a heightened state of alert. He told me that after what I had gone through, he would be more worried if I wasn’t having reactions. I left with a better understanding of why I acted the way I did.
I still struggle to keep it in check from time to time, and eventually, after coming back to active duty I had to get a physical done for readiness purposes. The doc asked me some questions about it and then we discussed how it affected my work and home life, which is minimal. The doc did tell me about a study that had been done, however. Apparently, for veterans with PTSD the game of Tetris is a life changer. The study found that Tetris provided just enough critical thinking and quick response to distract the brain without overworking it and making it stress out more. The doc recommended that when I am have an episode or just feeling overly-anxious, that I play a game of Tetris to help settle myself. Well, doc was pretty much right. Tetris has definitely done the trick a time or two over the last couple years and every phone I’ve had since then has had Tetris loaded onto it.
PTSD is very personal subject. I don’t take claims to it lightly. Especially when the claims are from people saying that Twitter Trolls caused them to be bed-ridden for months… Melody Hensley. (Old story, I know, but it’s relevant)
Guess what’s easy, not getting on Twitter. I could only imagine social media causing me to have an anxiety attack. Holy hells, whatever would I do with myself? Go outside? Get some fucking sunshine? Climb a damn mountain? Do amazing things that don’t involve establishing a matriarchy as a replacement to the patriarchy? The possibilities are endless. But rather our superstar PTSD victim here, jumped right back on to social media and cried about the crippling fear she has from the very thing she was posting her crippling fear on. Makes perfect sense! Bitch, I’ve seen people die! I’ve had people literally TRY to take my life! I still get out of bed every day! You get NO sympathy!
That being said, it doesn’t take combat to have very traumatic experiences. Any one can have anxiety for no good damn reason. But usually if there’s not some amount of danger to life or limb, you probably don’t exactly qualify to run around saying you have PTSD. To caveat that, I myself have waited until the 10 year anniversary of my return from my first deployment to even muster up the effort to write anything where I openly admit my situation. And that’s what makes it different. When you really, truly have issues, you don’t want to discuss them. You don’t want to talk about it. You just don’t want to feel different. You don’t want to be judged by those who don’t relate. You try to just hide it and be normal. But it’s always there, like the tinnitus that hangs around after being rocked by an IED. You mentally muffle it for a while, but then once you notice it, its there to stay for a bit.
This is why we have a problem with our veterans committing suicide at the rate of twenty-two PER DAY. They hide it, they try to deal with it on their own because they don’t think people will understand. They feel they are going to be judged by their peers. Like they’re going to be locked up in a looney bin and have walls with pillows for the rest of their lives. They’re scared and they feel alone in dealing with their issues. AND THAT NEEDS TO CHANGE!
If you are a veteran and you have been dealing with any of this that I have mentioned, there is help out there. There are good people that will respect your situation and do what they can to comfort you and help you get through it. I urge you to talk to a counselor if its available to you. Don’t let it consume you to the point that you see no way out. You did your time being responsible for way more than anyone else your age, be responsible for yourself and know that sometimes even us warriors need a hand. Below are some links and numbers to various groups and agencies that you can use as a resource. If none of that works for you, go to my Facebook page and shoot me a message. I’ll at least listen if you don’t think anyone else will (I do work and have a family life though, so if I don’t get back to you in 5 minutes please don’t do anything drastic). Please, use these available resources if you feel your issues are getting out of your control and let’s help to bring that suicide number down.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline / Veterans Crisis Prevention Hotline
1 (800) 273-8255 (Press 1 for VCPH)
National Center for PTSD
PTSD Safe Helpline
Gambling Hotline – 1-800-522-4700
GI Rights Hotline – 1-877-447-4487
Homeless Veterans Hotline – 1-877-424-3838
Reachout Hotline – 1-800-522-9054
Military One Source – 1-800-342-9647
VA Caregivers Support Line – 1-855-260-3274
(M-F 8a-11p; Sat 10:30a-6p EST)
Vets 4 Warriors (Peer Counseling) – 1-855-838-8255
Veterans’ Families United – 1-405-535-1925
Stay hidden; stay safe.