I have already posted about my issues with PTSD but from a combat standpoint, I have no experience. Hence I had my husband write his perspective on this topic. So the below post is credited to my guest writer and husband, Aaron McCrea.
This month is PTSD awareness month. What does that mean? And what does that mean to veterans that have PTSD? My name is Aaron and I was in the Marine Corps from 2007 til 2011. I did 3 deployments one of which was to Afgan in the Hellma province, in the city of Marja. The situation of the city was simply: push back the enemy and win the hearts and minds of the people. My company was tasked with the main road on the south east side of the city. The engagements were mainly kinetic (meaning small arms fire). There were IED’s, however, they were mainly in the main road. The IED’s that were off the road where DFC ( directional fragment charges) and very few pressure plates.
One of my good friend Jason Pacheco happen to step on a pressure plate and lost part of his leg. There was a fire fight every day. It didn’t matter which team was going out, a fight was waiting for you. It was mainly small arms fire with support of snipers. The enemy would set up and wait, as soon as we came in they would hit us, but as we pushed to their positions they would run. They didn’t want to fight toe to toe, at least most of the time, but more of fight and get as much damage as possible until we hit a line of advancement that they could no longer keep fighting with risk to their lives. I cannot remember all the fire fights I was in, but I do remember specific ones, around 15. Since this glorious time in my Marine Corps career I have been dealing with the after math.
I have been out now for 5 years. In that time I have dealt with many things. There seems to be some basic problems that most Marines have to deal with when they get out. This is going to be my personal opinion and depending on the mental strength of an individual will depend on how things affect them. Example: In a fire fight you can have multiple different accounts of the event even if they were all in the same fire team. Why is that? I believe it has to do with their mental stability. To some a fire fight is why they joined and to others the most terrifying experience of their life. Just based off that statement you are going to have two different accounts of what really happened.
There are some key points that I would like to point out that the average person may not be aware off. Life in combat is simple. Yes, that’s right it is simple. There is no distractions of the world such as tv, computers, and money. Your main purpose is to do a job that’s it. My job, push the enemy back and win hearts and minds of the people. What that really entails is simple, conduct combat patrols, rotate 24 security for our protection, keep weapons and equipment operational, eat and sleep. That is simple, I didn’t say easy. Strangle enough, living that way felt more real and normal than living in the states. Let me now transition into how combat veteran’s have issues back home.
“PTSD,” post traumatic stress disorder. This is a term that is now over used and is misunderstood. PTSD is different for different events. Meaning, a person in a car accident is going to have different PTSD than a combat veteran. They both fall under the umbrella of it but not the same and not dealt with the same. Even the name is vague, “post traumatic stress disorder.” Let’s look at the first part, post traumatic. All that tells you is that it is after a traumatic event. That could mean anything, and that means what ever is traumatic for that person. For most people a small accident could be traumatic, which in turn they could have PTSD. The second part, “stress disorder.” Anyone that has anxiety knows exactly what that means and feels like. Situations cause uncontrollably stress resulting in extreme reactions and high emotions with a lack of clear thinking and good judgement. Coming to the conclusion that anyone and everyone can and may have PTSD. I didn’t mention different severities for a reason and I will get to that. Now having more knowledge into the term and the issue lets get into how this affects combat vets.
The word normal comes to mind when I think of combat vets. If anyone knows a combat vet then they know they are anything but normal, however, I believe this to be true. If you look at most of the world the United States are not the same. Our life in the States is quite different. When I was in Afgan it felt normal. That is odd but if you look back at history that was the norm. Look back 100 years and the States were quite different. I guess what I am trying to convey is that in war it is hard to explain to anyone that has not been there and when a person goes from one extreme to another, being the states, it creates problems. Ask the question of why are our vets coming back with issues and not just some of them but most to all of them? There is a real reason and I believe it has to do with our culture. We are more concerned about what actors and actresses are doing when they do nothing to be idolize for. They are not leaders like the ones I know who have been in countless battles and still lead to the best of their abilities and trice for greatness and for what less than 60k a year. Because they believe in what they are doing. They are protecting this country so our people can care about the dumbest things and not know what the world is really like. The good and bad thing about this 10 plus year war is that it is not on our soil. Yes, we have had some attacks but have not had war on our soil. I am not counting 9/11. I am referring to everything since. Life is not simple in the States, most people are so stressed and in debt, our priorities are backwards, what we think is important, mainly famous people, doesn’t mean anything. People in different country’s have conflict yearly and are used to the violence. However, a country that was built on war and violence is now scared of it and doesn’t understand what war really is and what it really means to be an American. This country was build on blood and war and fighting was understood, not always the answer, but knew it was necessary at times and we stood together as one.
Now, coming back from a war that is not understood or accepted leaves vets isolated. My issue with going back to the work force was I expected the same from normal people as I did my Marines and most people don’t understand what we did or why. Only a few know what struggles we have been through. One big issue is relating, the only people I can really relate to now are either combat vets or convicts. Why, because they are like vets, have been through what you can’t explain and know that the world is not what it seems. I live my life knowing at any point there can be an attack. I’ve gone a little off topic, let’s get back to the issue at hand.
My struggles since I have transitioned from the Marines to normal life. Well, it doesn’t hit you at first, the first 6 months was a piece of cake. But about that 6 month I went through some interesting changes. Before that however let me tell you that I went right out of the corps and into college. I struggled with the other students who where around 18 to 20 and I was 22. They had little to no life experience and strong opinions on matters they knew nothing about. Strange. There seemed to be a lack of being personal and real, well at least that’s how I felt. So I didn’t get along with most of the other students. Add in that I had developed a fear of crowds. Why? Because bad things happen in crowds and it is unsafe, too many people to watch and too many unknowns. Then came some good old PTSD. I started becoming really angry then super emotional. I had to hide out for a couple weeks because I couldn’t explain or control what I was going through. After that subsided I would have triggers that would set me off in either anger or any other state of high emotion. But 90% of the time was complete numbness. Didn’t feel for anyone or anything. Let me say that my combat was not as bad as others. I count my experience nothing compared to other vets who have really been through it to which only a few came home. With that comes more severity which breeds more extreme behavior.
There is a difference between what you can control and what you cannot. I am a person who strives to do better and because of that I saw I had some issues, after my wife had pointed out many of times, however, I didn’t really know there was issues until I had made a family. I noticed my anger was out of control and I had no patience with my son. I strived to get it under control but there was this confusing that I cannot explain that I kept running into. I could only get so far until I hit a wall of confusion that I could not mentally get passed and it did not allow me to move forward in anything. I had to drop out of school and start working, and when dealing with my son I could only do so much before I would have to leave as to not create anxiety in him. Finally I broke, I was only able to get 2 hours of sleep, I was extremely angry to the point that if someone would said anything and I didn’t like it I was going to blow up, so I went to work. Once I got to work I knew I needed to leave. I went into my bosses office and told him that I was unstable and had to leave from there I went straight to a vet center, which is a veteran run counseling office. I asked to speak with someone and I was lucky to get a counselor who helped me get past my wall of confusion. I have made great strides ever since. Now my anger is under control and my mind is clear to think effectively.
It took me about 3 to 4 years to get to were I am and like I stated before my combat is not as bad as others. In our brains we have something called a sympathetic nerves system or, fight or flight. What it does is it is the controller for your adrenaline. Now, what most people don’t know is when your body is being pumped with adrenaline it provides oxygen to your muscles but starved your brain. Combat vets sympathetic nerves systems are now broken. Anything can set it off, which leads to the wall of confusion and unable to think clearly. This same issue has to do with many people that have PTSD. I have a number of issues ranging from screaming in my sleep, social anxiety, easily startled, to hyper vigilance. I was lucky enough to be able to see the issue and work on it, others have a much worse plate than I and are unable to deal with it on their own without medication and therapy. But at the end of the day if the individual is not mentally wanting to get better they will not or if they do not believe there is an issue. All veterans have adopted the term PTSD from our society but that is the truth. There are a number of issues that come into play that are over looked, one of which is how the VA handles this; pumping vets full of drugs and not working on their mental stability. For some it is a chemical imbalance of the brain and other it is actually TBI, traumatic brain injury, not PTSD because they have similar symptoms.
In concluding, being aware that PTSD is not a disorder per-say, but a different state of mind that was developed by living in a different world. A world that has death and violence constantly unlike that of the states. I am speak of the majority not the minority of the country, like I stated convicts and gang members are similar because they also do not live in the same world as the rest of the states, a sub-society. Going from one extreme to another is alway going to come with conflict. I hope this help some better understand PTSD and if you know someone that has it ask them about it, I am sure they will be willing to share. Just don’t ask if they have shot anyone, no one likes to answer that question.