This is Brendan. He is a former colleague and good friend. Especially poignant this week, he has chosen to share his PTSD story with us. Just like us, he has discovered that sometimes he is just not ok. My heart aches that he is going through this, but I’m glad he has stepped onto the Yellow Brick Treatment Road. Welcome to the club, my friend.
I’m new to the PTSD scene. My trauma most likely comes from my deployment to Iraq in 2005; I didn’t have someone qualified look me in the eye and tell me I had it until very recently. It’s a very strange transition. Part of me always knew my brain was not quite working right in certain situations. The other part of me thinks about people who cannot live their lives at all because they are so traumatized. If I’m honest, I didn’t believe I had the right to not be ok.
That all changed recently. One of my friends from the military took his own life. None of us saw it coming and to this day it still doesn’t feel real. While my friends and I sat down to relive the good times and remember our friend, it struck me that maybe it was time for me to take my mental health seriously. After all, it can’t hurt to go get it checked out right?
Turns out, it gets a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. My appointment with the VA went horribly. The psychiatrist made me feel like a money-grubbing idiot looking for a handout. His efforts to understand what I myself didn’t understand yet just made me blindingly mad. Once I processed how I was handled, I decided this would not be the last word. It was time for a second opinion.
Thank God I did. Two hours into counseling with my new therapist, I asked if I had PTSD. I felt like I was asking permission. She responded, “yeah you do.” She was so matter of fact it actually stunned me for a minute. It’s hard to explain what happens when you see someone who knows what they are talking about confirm something you didn’t believe yourself. Or, I should say, tried not to believe. I know literally hundreds of Veterans who had it a hell of a lot worse than I did. I didn’t have a cakewalk, but what right did I have to start saying, “I’m not ok”?
If there is one thing I’ve learned from my friend’s suicide, it’s that this type of thinking is just as dangerous as the disease. It keeps us quiet. It makes us turn our turmoil inwards. It keeps us from reaching out for help when we need it.
And just knowing you have PTSD is not the end. Since the diagnosis came through, I’ve battled two different challenges: first, figuring out how to fight it, and second, getting the people closest to me to understand what it is.
Figuring out how to fight it seems to be a pretty straightforward process. I have to find out what my triggers are. They could be anything and they can be some nonsensical things. I’m a war Veteran, but I can watch a war movie and not have an episode. I hear unexpected loud noises and have no aftereffects. However, stick me in a bar with someone spouting off about their military exploits and watch my color change from white to red. If I feel cornered with people I don’t like, I can literally feel my body temperature rise.
The second battle is more hurtful. I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people in my life how my mind works. A theme has emerged. “Well, those things annoy me too. I don’t have PTSD.” Yes, I know. However, when something triggers me, I don’t get annoyed and then get over it. I spin into a rage which may or may not be discernable on any level – language, appearance, or nonverbal physical response. It does not dissipate as soon as the jerk leaves the bar. Instead, I stew. Sometimes for days. And then, when the anger finally passes, I am exhausted. The type of exhaustion which leaves me wiped out for days. Yes, everyone may find these things annoying, but they are mental poison to me.
Anyone who reads this site knows about Claire’s “monster.” I’ve only recently met mine, but I am learning how to deal with him. Most importantly, I know I’m not ok. And that’s ok.