My Struggle with PTSD and the Epiphany that Sparked My Recovery

Guest post by Charlie Watson

I used to think that psychiatrists were for those that have either lost their mind or are too emotionally insufficient to deal with their problems effectively.  I used to think that the entire psychotherapy industry was just another side effect of an age where Darwinism takes a back seat to the demands of society.  One day in September of 2004, however, I was put on a course that would eventually lead me to rethink this attitude.

At the time, I was a Private in the Army serving in Iraq (Third Platoon, 84th Engineer Company, 2nd Cavalry).  My unit was doing a routine sweep for weapons caches.  Everything was going as routine as any other day, before an IED went off about 10 minutes south as we were leaving Baghdad.  Since we had some mods welded onto our Stryker, the IED felt like we just got T-Boned by an 18 wheeler, but aside from a couple torn ear drums, we were all unharmed –- all of us, except my buddy, who was manning the .50 cal turret, which was exposed enough to subject him to some shrapnel from the blast.  Some of the shrapnel went in through his armpit, slicing his axillary artery.  As those of you who have seen a ruptured artery already know, it’s not a pretty site if blood makes you squeamish.  Fortunately, however, we were close enough to base to have him rushed into surgery, where the artery was clamped and he was stopped from bleeding out.  In addition to some nerve damage in his arm, he has for the most part made a full recovery.  While that incident was the first taste of “battle” that I had experienced during that tour, I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until several months later when I returned home.

I first noticed something was wrong when I began having recurring nightmares.  I thought it was just a side effect of the shock of having to readjust to civilian life after living in an environment that forces you to be hypervigilant every second of the day.  It wasn’t until my girlfriend told me that I seemed extremely distant since I came back –- that I was acting like I never even knew her.  To be honest, I had kind of realized this too, but I assumed it was also just part of not being around her for so long.  It wasn’t until several months later that she couldn’t take it anymore, and gave me an ultimatum to see a psychiatrist.

I was diagnosed with PTSD, as well as a mild case of Depersonalization Disorder.  The psychiatrist put me on Paxil, which didn’t work, and then eventually Zyprexa, which also didn’t do much.  Over a year of trying (and failing) with the medicinal approach, I tried psychotherapy, where I was encouraged to find the source of my PTSD instead of treating the symptoms.  Before long, I realized that although I didn’t necessarily view the IED incident in 2004 as traumatic, I had blamed myself (since I was the driver) for my friend’s injury and loss of feeling in his arm.  Ever since this revelation, I have become closer to the person that I used to be every day.

I guess the message that I hope some of you will take with you is that psychiatrists and therapists aren’t just for “weak” minded, and that mental disorder can effect us all, regardless of how tough you are.  As they say, admittance is the first step to recovery.

Charlie Watson is a retired Army veteran.  He is also a freelance writer and is a contributor for  anxiety.org.

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.

 
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