A Soldier Returns Home, Honest Account Of Living With Ptsd. Psychology Homework July 2010

17July2010 By Charles Scott
In this weeks homework assignment I was tasked with the objective to explain a behavior that would be considered strange, unusual and/or abnormal. I have chosen to recall my own experiences and attempt to explain the cause and effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the effects on personal relationships.
Chief complaint after returning home from my second deployment: I feel like my soul is haunted.
The classical definition of P.T.S.D. is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one's physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate. The person's response to the event must involve intense fear, helplessness, or horror (or in children, the response must involve disorganized or agitated behavior). The characteristic symptoms resulting from the exposure to the extreme trauma include persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness, and persistent symptoms of increased arousal. The full symptom picture must be present for more than 1 month, and the disturbance must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. (Reference: mental-health-today.com/ptsd)
My struggle started while still in combat. I was a Medic attached to an Infantry platoon that patrolled one of the oldest districts in Baghdad known as Al Dora. It was a suburb that was known for harboring Sunni insurgents, as well as top ranking Al Qaeda freedom fighters. I was deployed in that district for a total of 15 months and exposed to a innumerable amount of hostile activity including machine gun battles, improvised bomb attacks, children throwing grenades for money, car bombs, mortar attacks on us and civilians, examining torture rooms, and as a medic I was tasked with the mission of recording and documenting the mutilated dead left on the streets. I was hit by 6 improvised bombs, while on mission during the deployment, and have also been diagnosed with having a traumatic brain injury. I refused to carry my weapon 6 months into the deployment because I accepted that I was going to die, but refused to kill others in the process. At that point five of my friends had been killed, including a fellow medic and my best friend in the Army, Sgt. Kim. I took it personal and didn’t have a lot of sympathy left for “Haji”. The remainder of the deployment was hell. I had stopped writing home and felt myself starting to withdraw because of the horror of what I was living through. It is impossible to process those events in a normal way while still having to go through them on a regular basis. They become repressed in order for me to survive and to be able to help my friends survive. This is the root cause of my disorder.
Upon returning home after getting out of the Army, I knew that my life would be different from then on. I had become numb to natural human emotion while still feeling as though it was the way all people felt. I had slowly at first, started isolating myself from society to the point where I would not leave my home. When I drove my car I avoided manhole covers for fear of explosives under them. I scanned the rooftops of homes and kept my eye on corners waiting for attacks. My awareness was heightened to a point of unimaginable magnitude. I was still in survival mode. The only thing that would slow me down enough to accept the normality of everyday life was massive consumption of cannabis. This was only a precursor to my battle in returning home.
I soon realized the severity of the emotions I had repressed. I began to feel spite towards everyday Americans because I felt they were responsible for sending us there and didn’t care if we made it home alive. When I was asked stories of my experiences I took control of conversations and instilled the horror of war inside of whoever would listen. I was trying to bring down others mental health to my level. I started believing that people were going to rob me or come to take my life or my families’ life at any point. I set traps on the inside of my fences made of plywood with screws coming up from them. I locked my doors and windows at least 3 times before going to sleep. If and when I did sleep I was woken every night with night terrors, sweating and having the smell of burnt human flesh in my nostrils believing I was covered in blood again. There was a collection of a thousand thoughts that would overcome my mind on a consistent basis. I saw no way out and wanted the whole world to burn so that they would feel my pain. I became chaos. I was haunted.
I had become extremely aggressive towards the ones I loved. I screamed at the top of my lungs at my wife, wanting so bad for her to understand what I was dealing with even though I didn’t. If any stressor was encountered throughout the day I destroyed things. There was one day I was sponsoring a family barbeque at my home, I walked by a full length mirror in my bedroom and glanced over to see my own reflection. Looking back at me was not a man I recognized. I hated the man I saw. I punched the mirror with all my might, with bloody hands it set off a trigger inside of me from being a medic. I was back in Iraq. I took off my shirt and smeared blood all over my body and face. I splattered the walls with my blood while screaming at the top of my lungs. I became war; I wanted the world to live in my terror. That day will forever be known in my mind as a turning point inside of me. I knew deep inside of myself that the way I was living was wrong and from that point on I became determined to never let my past experiences be a excuse for my actions. I carried a lot or regret and shame at that point but I was also determined to show compassion again.
The first step in starting to recover was for me to accept that I had a major problem that was hurting me and those I loved. I broke down repeatedly and let myself cry uncontrollably. I began looking for help from people who would understand, from people I could trust. A friend of mine Daniel Diaz (also a patient of mine in war, he was severely injured by a rocket propelled grenade.) He was a major help and meeting his family and hearing their love for me was a major help. I began counseling at the Modesto Vet Center on a one on one basis at first. After I began trusting the people there I started going to anger management there. I then started writing down every time I felt my life was in danger in my journal. A thousand stories came up that I had forgotten about. I looked for answers online and read as much as I could. Knowing that I wasn’t alone and that however hopeless I felt, it was normal to feel the things I did. That had helped me release the shame I carried. I’ve learned it has become, and will always be a part of me. I’ve also learned how to work through my stress and by doing the things that work for me; I began finding hope in the future again. I continually look for my triggers. One day something stirred in my stomach that put a huge smile on my face. I knew that everything was going to be alright.
My theory is this: War is a game of survival; people will take any steps necessary to live due to the life instinct. The abnormality and extreme nature of combat will stick in the unconscious mind due to repression and need for survival, but it will not lay dormant forever. Through a strong will to change, strong support structure and dedication to obtaining knowledge, the past can be worked through. By persevering a human can return to his autonomy and possibly be able to reach out to others and help them find theirs.

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2 Responses Jul 22, 2010

Your story is amazing and inspiring. Thank you.

Wow thanks for the inside of what is going on in a vet with ptsd. My dad is vietnam era and still suffering i aleays want him to talk to me but he keeps it all bottled up. Then he explodes on us or himself by yelling or the silent treatment with slamming doors. Glad to have a insight and i hope all of our vets can someday find piece