Let me ask you a couple of questions. What do you think Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is? What do you think it feels like to live with PTSD? Do you know someone with PTSD? I ask you these questions because there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to PTSD. So many people believe that those who suffer with PTSD are rage filled and dangerous. There is a stigma attached to having PTSD which leads to so many people suffering in silence! It’s time to get rid of that stigma and start speaking out. That is what my ultimate goal is and it has to start with me!
I served in the Army National Guard for 8 years. Yes, I said the National Guard. However, I returned home from Basic Training and AIT in May 2003 and was informed of my fast approaching deployment by November 2003. We didn’t return home until 2005. It was a long and difficult deployment, especially since I was 20 years old and spent an entire year of holidays as well as my 21st birthday away from everyone I loved. I didn’t even experience life in the National Guard. I pretty much went from my initial training to almost 15 months of deployment. To top it off, I was a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II rotation. That means that we were the first group in after the initial invasion. We were there setting everything up and the war was just ramping up.
As a 20-year-old girl, because I was still just a girl, war was traumatizing. To think that I wouldn’t come home with PTSD is almost laughable now. I was part of the initial war though, so PTSD wasn’t widely known or researched. Granted as a Nation we had faced other major wars prior to this one; however, those amazing Veterans weren’t treated for many of their ailments. Now, we know that those Veterans likely dealt with PTSD as well. It just took our generation to really bring to light that something isn’t right and it’s because of war.
I suffered in silence for a very long time. I returned home in 2005 but did not start receiving care for my PTSD until 2009. That’s 4 years of nightmares, moodiness, flash backs and unfortunately too much alcohol. Before I started therapy, I was moody all the time. Likely because I hardly slept due to constant nightmares. I would be driving down the road and freak out because I couldn’t find my rifle only to realize that I wasn’t deployed anymore and therefore didn’t have my rifle. I would see trash on the side of the road and almost slam on my breaks because I thought it could be an IED (improvised explosive device). To dull some of those side effects I would go out partying and drink. Some might say that I was partying and drinking because that’s what 21 year olds do but now I know better. Mix all of those issues together (plus a few more unmentioned ones) and it’s an obvious sign that I was suffering from PTSD but no one noticed. It wasn’t until the nightmares just became too much that I called Military OneSource and they referred me to a therapist. (I received 12 FREE session through that phone call so please call them if you are silently suffering as well!)
So why didn’t I catch it? Why didn’t my friends or family catch it? Honestly, I think I knew deep down but I was in denial. I had gotten a full-time position at my National Guard unit and I didn’t want to lose that. (I didn’t and Military OneSource is totally confidential!) If I wasn’t at work then I was out partying with my friends who were young and doing what young 20 something year olds do. When talking to a couple of family members about it, they said that they just thought my moodiness was just who I was. That kind of hurt but I know that PTSD wasn’t widely known at the time and I was young so it could have just been hormones in their eyes. I gave them a pass on it. In reality I was suffering and I didn’t admit it or want anyone else to see it, so how could they have known?
My life was a disaster but then there was the light. The light of therapy, which I still do to this day. Don’t get me wrong, it has taken a lot of hard work and a long time…from 2009 until now, 2018…for me to get to a point where I can say that I don’t suffer from PTSD but that I do have PTSD. So, what do I mean by that? I have PTSD and will always have it. The difference is now I don’t suffer. Now I have a self-care plan and after spending years talking about the traumatic events, I have found peace. I VERY RARELY have nightmares anymore and don’t have flashbacks at all. I do still deal with anxiety, especially when in crowds but my self-care plan helps minimize that.
In case you didn’t catch on, I have been in therapy for almost NINE years! That’s a very long time and a lot of hard work on my part. It will be hard work but you can have PTSD and have a your version of a normal life. You don’t need to suffer anymore! If you want to read more about my PTSD then check out my post Living With PTSD – Overcoming Daily Struggles. Most importantly, the stigma needs to vanish. While some with PTSD may struggle differently, it doesn’t discount that their struggles are from what they experience in war. Instead of judging them, help them! And if you are one of those who is struggling then please know there is a better life available. You too can have PTSD and not suffer from it. I am always here to lend an ear or you can contact Military OneSource.