HomeNewsArticle Display

Living with PTSD: You Are Not Alone

June is National PTSD Awareness Month, a time to learn and understand the signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Shawn Sprayberry)

June is National PTSD Awareness Month, a time to learn and understand the signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Shawn Sprayberry)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Tex. --

I live with PTSD.

It’s not a badge of honor but it’s also not something I’m shy about. Why? Because the only way we can really destigmatize it, is to talk about it.

I was diagnosed in 1995, well before the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’s inception. My leadership was helpful, but they also had expectations of performance. They looked at my behavior as they would anyone else and were quick to punish if I acted out of line. However, they were also aware that I was dealing with something they didn’t fully understand and gave me the room to go to appointments for counseling and deal with the crushing weight of what was going on.

It all started in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti during a deployment in support of UN Peacekeeping forces to the country. My role as a security policeman was to provide security for a group of RED HORSE engineers rebuilding schools and an administration building at the hospital in the heart of the city. Every day we were there was a challenge. Every day has been forever etched in my mind.

When I returned home from that deployment I immediately went into counseling. Unfortunately, the mental health doctor I worked with had no experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, so everything he did was a new experience for him. Over the course of the year I spent with him, we talked about everything, but the traumatic events. We tried everything, but exposure therapy.

That was the first mistake.

At the end of the year of counseling, I was given a choice to either separate from the military or find another job. Since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a civilian I chose to retrain. I also stopped all medications and ceased all treatment as I was told there wasn’t much more they could for me at that point.

That was the second mistake.

My third mistake was to self-medicate. I drank. I worked out. I worked hard. I lived life as if riding down a hill on a skateboard. The board wobbled and threatened to throw me a couple of times, but I managed to stay upright for most of the ride.

Until 2012.

That would be the year that all of the failed attempts at therapy would come back to haunt me. I had a relapse in symptoms and felt like I was falling apart.

I remember when it happened. I was at work, sitting at my desk, when suddenly I saw a face of someone I hadn’t seen since 1995 and felt I had been transported back to the city. The smells were there. The feeling of the heat on my skin. It was a sudden shock to not be in the “now.” It was my first flashback, and it caught me completely unaware.

Over the course of the next few weeks I started to experience a whole range of symptoms, from nightmares to frequent flashbacks. I was easily startled and found my overall mood crashing, leaving me depressed and anxious.

My primary care manager prescribed me medication and sent me to behavioral health to see if there was anything they could do. At this time, they were conducting a test of a new form of exposure therapy, one that took the normal 12-week course and shortened it to 4-weeks. During the sessions I would have to write out a narrative on a traumatic event and then read it back. It was horrible. Exposure therapy is not a pleasurable experience, but it does work.

Unfortunately, for me, the new version they were using was not effective. My trauma had occurred 17 years before and had been buried with poor coping skills. Over the course of the next 8 years I would struggle. Some days were good. Others…not so good.

What I learned over the last 8 years is that I cannot do this alone. Isolating myself is what made things worse. So, I sought further treatment through the Veteran’s Administration. They set me up with a counselor who spent 12 weeks reframing my thoughts on what had happened. I found myself relearning how to view events and started asking myself questions I never thought of before. As the counseling went on, I started to notice a decline in some, but not all, of my symptoms. For the first time I started to see that I could actually do things without being on constant alert.

It was not easy. It’s still not easy. There are good days and bad days, but at least now I can see that I have more control than I did before. I’m nowhere near “cured” but I have found the things that work for me and that is a step in the right direction.

If I were to give advice to someone who was suffering through PTSD, I would start by saying, “Get help.”

I know it’s scary. You’re probably worried about how it will impact your career. I get it. Guess what though? Your career is a small part of your life. Without the help, you will suffer for a much greater part of your life and may have a harder time getting back to a new sense of normal.

My other piece of advice is, “Don’t do this alone.”

Reach out to your friends. Those you deployed with. Talk to someone you feel may understand what you’re going through. The more you connect, the easier it becomes.

I realize I still have a long way to go. There will be challenges ahead, I’m sure of it. But I’ve made the decision that PTSD will not define me, it will only be something I cope with.

 

Twitter
#HappeningNow the first ever AFW2 Fit Games is on full effect! 💪 Tune in and witness our #Warriors take on this aw… https://t.co/uSGLBql0rm
Twitter
Happy 73rd Birthday to the world's greatest @usairforce! Our team stands proud to be serving our #Airmen and thei… https://t.co/ydcm2cFezL
Twitter
Our #AFW2 team had the great opportunity to speak with @cmsaf_official during the 2020 @AirForceAssoc Virtual Air,… https://t.co/loFoReyEio
Twitter
This #warriorwednesday we recognize retired Senior Master Sgt. Cornelius Twohig. He joined the Air Force in 1976, s… https://t.co/fDb4UOuils
Twitter
The @AirForceAssoc virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference is happening now and #AFW2 has a virtual exhibitor booth… https://t.co/j1gR8O0fKk
Twitter
#HappeningNow SMSgt Benjamin Seekell shares his perspective as a first sergeant on how a unit copes with the loss o… https://t.co/CXuqTIItd1
Twitter
Don't forget to tune in to the #AFW2Socials planned for this week @usairforce ! We're keeping the conversation goin… https://t.co/4CbSlSD6UW
Twitter
We will #NeverForget the tragic events that took place 19 years ago that changed the lives of every American. Take… https://t.co/RBTQZeJKMY
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Tech Sgt. (ret.) Joshua Arnett joined the @usairforce in 2004 as a Power Production Speciali… https://t.co/N2tEwjCfcK
Twitter
Powerful testimony on #Suicide Awareness and Prevention. Take the time to listen and #BeThere . https://t.co/3mdLBUFNbC
Twitter
This week has given our #Warriors and #Caregivers a new motto to live by and move forward in their #recovery! What… https://t.co/fnzI1RrtoV
Twitter
#DidYouKnow our AFW2 Caregiver Program equips #Caregivers with the tools and resources they need to allow them "me"… https://t.co/03NwZYs08f
Twitter
#Teamwork is what drives our #Warriors and #Caregivers to success and is something our #AFW2 team embodies each and… https://t.co/uohpbgENHo
Twitter
We are rounding out our last day of the AFW2 #VirtualCareWeek and what a week it has been! Our #Warriors and… https://t.co/wFGqM6SfVB
Twitter
#HappeningNow We are showcasing our first ever #virtual Care Fair where various service organizations will be tunin… https://t.co/0m4AaAAf9t
Twitter
Our #Warriors are learning that there are many ways to stay #active and maintain their physical and mental well-bei… https://t.co/UBWlxLpAUS
Twitter
#Connecting with others is what our #VirtualCareWeek is all about! Our #AFW2 team continues to exemplify what it tr… https://t.co/WOMcmJiJJB
Twitter
We've had so many first time #VirtualCareWeek attendees! Our #Warriors and #Caregivers are really embracing the con… https://t.co/ky7AKs9020
Twitter
Wanna see how our coaches use this #virtual environment to train #woundedwarrior athletes? Here is a sneek peek. Te… https://t.co/rV9dzFOc0n
Twitter
Day 3️⃣ of the #VirtualCareWeek is in full commence @usairforce! Click the link below and watch what our #Warriorshttps://t.co/CJrMrreoEF
Twitter
5,539
Follow Us