One year ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD. However, I had been living with it (and not dealing with it) for over six years. The more time went on, the more it reared it’s deceptive and destructive head.
After coming across other veterans and reading their stories, I quickly realized I truly wasn’t alone in the things I was dealing with every day and every (often sleepless) night. There were so many soldiers and veterans going through life having to fight depression, anger, apathy, lack of emotion, and so much more. I started seeing it wasn’t just me; there were others out there.
I remember getting chills when I read a list of PTSD symptoms. It was incredible, almost like the person who compiled the symptoms list had been following me around for the last six years. I remember feeling a slight sense of relief knowing I wasn’t crazy or broken. I was affected, but I wasn’t defective. This knowledge spurred me to seek out help dealing with PTSD. I was finally to the point where I could admit I wasn’t the same and that I needed help getting through it all.
I went to the VA, which was very tough for me. I’d had a bad experience with the VA six years prior to this, so I was skeptical. I gave it a shot, though, and the doctor diagnosed me on the spot. She said I was a classic case of severe PTSD. Here I was, for six years, telling my wife and family members I was fine, normal, and that I didn’t need anything. I was still a little surprised by the diagnosis, though I knew I was suffering simply based on a list of common symptoms.
The next year was a time of healing and growth. There is no pill that can magically rid you of PTSD. Sure, I take medicine to help me sleep at night (to fall asleep, stay asleep, and ward off hallucinations and night terrors) but that is just one small tool; it doesn’t help me during the daytime. Counseling, while effective, can only go so far. You need to approach your healing with a multi-faceted approach and go at it with commitment. Again, as I’ve said before, you are your only true advocate. If you don’t seek to heal, you will never heal.
- Talking with a counselor or psychiatrist about your experiences can help tremendously, especially when it is a fellow combat veteran that can relate to where you’re coming from. Look for a local Vet Center where you live. They provide free confidential counseling to combat veterans, and the counselors themselves are combat veterans trained to deal with PTSD and other related issues. They also have group sessions with other veterans. These have been some of the most impacting and healing times I’ve experienced in my journey.
- Use medication as prescribed by your doctors to help balance you health. Keep an eye on your reactions to the medicines and how they affect you and let your doctors know if you think you need to adjust something. Make sure to keep in communication with your team of doctors; they won’t know to adjust or edit your prescriptions if you don’t tell them how they’re working.
- Find a creative outlet. Write a journal (that is how this website actually started for me), play or learn to play an instrument, start painting, or even grab a camera and just take photos of things you find interesting. Sign up for a class related to your interest, and use that time to interact with new people and engage in social activities.
- If you are suffering, apply for VA benefits. The cause of your mental and physical pain may very well be related to your military service. If it is, you are probably eligible to receive compensation from the VA to help out with your life. The process can be long and arduous, but stick with it. Make your appointments, document everything, and don’t play tough guy (or girl) and say things aren’t bothering or hurting you. Be honest with the VA staff and doctors who ask you questions. It may be your only chance to inform them or your issues. While the compensation is helpful, just the acknowledgment by the VA that you are indeed suffering is healing. After I received my benefits award letter from the VA, I felt a sense of relief. I knew all along I wasn’t making it up. My doctors knew I wasn’t faking. And now the VA acknowledged it and are committed to helping me.
- Continue to push yourself. Even after you’ve made progress and are feeling better about yourself and life, don’t stop there. You could risk regressing. Continue to look for ways to grow and heal. It is a life-long process. A great way I’ve found is to help inform others about PTSD and how to heal. I’m no doctor, and I’m certainly no expert. I do know there are too many veterans suffering and thinking they’re alone. Reach out and help them through tough times. Help them realize they’re not alone.
After this last year, I’ve had my ups and downs. Overall, I’ve made tremendous progress in many areas of my life and I can’t imagine I would have come close to this growth had I not first realized and admitted I had PTSD. It isn’t a bad or shameful thing to admit. It just is what it is. If anything, it’s very unfortunate. Don’t waste time healing by lying to yourself. I’ve been able to realize much about myself and have identified some big goals I had long ago nearly let die under the weight of my PTSD. My marriage is the best it has ever been, I’ve started reconnecting with family members and friends I had tended to push away, and I have hope for the future. It is incredible how much healing has taken place in one year, and while I can’t pinpoint the one, singular most effective tool, I can say this: I remained committed to my healing process because I knew nobody else would. The doctors are always overwhelmed with patients, friends and family are easy to appear “OK” to, and the VA isn’t going to acknowledge your injuries if you don’t fill them in. You have to take care of yourself. Then, help out your fellow veterans who might be suffering.
If you have a loved one who you believe is living with PTSD, encourage them to read accounts of other veterans dealing with similar issues. It is a non-invasive way to have them connect with other veterans without have to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. It might just be the little push they need.