“Where do I belong, when even my own shadow leaves me, when darkness comes?” -The Color Morale
People just don't get it. I’m not just talking about the straights. Vets don’t get it a lot of the time, either .
PTSD isn't a paycheck. PTSD isn't some ailment to mention to your friends so you can come off as some kind of mysterious, battle-hardened, warrior. PTSD isn't what you blame your temper tantrums on, or your shitty outlook, or your just plain, bad attitude.
PTSD kills you.
Not immediately. Nope. It couldn't be that dignifying. It kills you slowly. Over months, and years. And it’s assured that every day is going to be a fucking struggle.
PTSD doesn't allow for a good night’s sleep. Not without copious amounts of drugs. Your mind is flooded with scenes from a movie starring you, and every friend you watched die, every dead enemy you ever stepped over…Sometimes you wake up, screaming, sweating, and can’t remember what your dream even was…it’s become such a routine. This routine creates a zombie, either from the drugs, or the lack of sleep. You begin to coast through life almost apathetically. You're tired and irritable. This is normally the beginning of a long, hard road INTO Hell.
PTSD ensures that creating meaningful and lasting relationships with anyone is a task that teeters on the brink of impossible. No matter the amount of affection or shared experiences, there will always be a disconnect, or a rift between you and the person with which you’re attempting this venture called “love.” There will always be an unspoken stigma attached to you, a scar that will be sure to make you want to hold at bay the people that care most. That lack of connection makes cheating and cutting ties so much easier. This serves to alienate you even more from the ones that love you. Part of you believes that no amount of loyalty you encounter in the world away from war, will ever amount to the love you’ve seen when a man gives his life for another.
PTSD attaches a stigma to you that invalidates any and all feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration. Those emotions and the actions that accompany them, will never be afforded to you without it being some kind of issue related to your “ailment” or “condition”. This only serves to further anger and frustrate you because your feelings aren’t real to everyone else. They are induced by some kind of exterior, foreign, factor and not to be taken seriously.
All of this compounds itself. It all serves to marginalize you from not just society, but from your family and friends. You finally achieve this moment of clarity that your turmoil, which starts getting harder and harder to suppress and hide, has started to affect those closest to you. You start to realize that you aren't being invited out with your coworkers. Your friends stop calling. Your family is on eggshells. None of it is malicious in intent: they just don't know what to say or do to make things better. They don’t know how to approach a subject you barely acknowledge yourself. Your misery and frustration permeates the space around you and crawls into your spouse. Even your kids begin to wonder why Daddy is “always so sad.” You hear your wife cry and ask you what she has to do to find an answer to a question you haven’t even asked. You lie awake next to your wife and can’t help but know she and the kids deserve better. She deserves someone upbeat and happy. Someone that hasn't been “touched” or “affected” by these things that haunt you.
Every single day, you miss your friends more and more. Your teammates might as well be on Mars. Phone calls and text messages help…but eventually become tiresome to the point that you don’t answer your brothers when their names pop up on your phone. You just can’t bring yourself to fake it anymore. You’re NOT ok and you know it. You can’t let them know you’re falling into the same abyss that’s taken so many of us. You miss those whom you watched take their last breaths, laugh their last laughs, and smiled their last smile. You look around you at all the people and think of how terribly unfair it is that such men were torn from this Earth, yet here are the mouth-breathers, trampling each other on Black Friday. Even worse…you think of how unfair it is that YOU are here and whether the life you’re living is worthy of their sacrifices…
Life begins to take a very dark and lonely turn.
Going outside becomes a task. The thought of interacting with anyone else is nauseating at best. Sitting at home, puttering around the house is a much more preferable day than bumping into people, visiting with anyone, or generally being social in any capacity…
Drugs, booze, and sex…solace.
PTSD is oddly enough, a catch 22. On one hand, you’ve had experiences that give you an incredibly deep appreciation for life and it’s small luxuries; and on the other, it drowns you in self-loathing and pain, making you unbearable to be around.
You wake up every day, and see all of this physically manifested in your face. You have a decision to make: Do you give in? Do you become a stereotype or a statistic? Or do you decide quit being selfish and give it one more day? Do you put your head down and put one foot in front of the other? I’m hoping for you it’s the latter. Because for me, it’s a toss up day to day…but so far my OAF Nation tattoo reminds me that I’m still part of something bigger. Therefore, I’m still counting my steps and I’m hoping you are too.
For J.C.-Semper Fi, see you again soon.
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