13 Feb

Changing the Way We Look at PTSD

                                       

Today, I had the honor of standing and saluting a great American hero as he passed through our small Texas town. Unfortunately, that honor had to be done posthumously. Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were killed last week while attempting to help a fellow veteran deal with his PTSD. The funeral procession began in Kyle’s hometown of Midlothian, Texas, and proceeded to Texas State Cemetery where he was laid to final rest. Texas Department of Public Safety said this may be the longest in U.S. history. Thousands of Texans lined virtually every overpass between Dallas and Austin to pay their respects to a true hero.

Here is some raw video I took from my vantage point of the 6th Street bridge in Belton, Texas, that crossed over I-35.

YouTube Preview Image

I wanted to take a moment to mention something that doesn’t get much or any publicity. I had a couple of email exchanges with Chris over the past year. It was only three separate conversations, but they were deep.

We hear about the man that murdered Chris and Chad who had PTSD. We always hear about the maniacs who had or claimed to have PTSD committing heinous or violent crimes. But, when we read about PTSD in the paper or see on the news, we don’t usually hear about it associated with someone like Chris Kyle. That’s because, like most veterans with PTSD, Chris found positive outlets for dealing with his combat experiences. And he used his coping strategies to help others.

PTSD does not make a killer. It does not make a robber. It does not make a spouse abuser. It does not make a thief. Some turn to drugs to numb the pain it’s possible that the drugs may lead to one of those. But PTSD is an anxiety disorder. And it’s manageable.

What we don’t hear when the Chris Kyle murder is discussed is that the killer, Iraq veteran Eddie Routh, is a criminal. He was most likely a drug addict as well, based on what authorities were told by his sister. She said that Routh told her “traded his soul for a new truck.” So, while PTSD may have led to Routh’s drug use, it didn’t cause Kyle’s murder; criminal behavior did.

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD officially in 2009 I thought my life was over. The label rested on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. I was a successful First Sergeant. I was on my way to Sergeant Major. The last thing I needed was something holding me back. I had swallowed the stereotype that continues to dominate the media when discussing people like me. I was perpetuating the stigma inside.

After much internal struggle, I decided to do what any good leader would do: lead from the front. I pulled my company together and explained that I would no longer be their 1SG. I explained that I had been struggling with PTSD for six years. Friends and family alike were telling me to get help and I kept blaming them for being nosy or being the problem. There was nothing wrong with me. I wouldn’t be so angry if people would just stop pissing me off. It was pure deflection. It was costing me my marriage.

During one argument with my wife, she said the words that still burn hot in my mind: “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

I thought I was going to lose the love of my life, a woman I had been with since we were both teenagers. The mother of my three wonderful, smart kids. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I like to say that when you have PTSD you have two choices: learn to live with it or die from it. I made a commitment to learn to live with it. But, I needed help.

As a blogger, I also decided that I was going to document my struggles as I set about getting better. I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t just going to write about my progress, but I would also share my setbacks. I hadn’t written so candidly since starting this blog back in 2005. There would be no filters. My hope was that those reading my words would be strengthened by my successes and avoid my pitfalls. Friends privately told me I was making a mistake, that the Army wasn’t ready for an open, honest discussion like I was about to undertake.

As it happens, Troy and I were interviewing then-Vice of Staff General Peter Chiarelli about his efforts at encouraging Army leaders to take an active role in removing the stigma of seeking mental health counseling.

“This issue is real and must be addressed,” Chiarelli said at the 2009 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition. “Contrary to what some believe, PTSD and TBI are not phantom conditions exhibited by weak soldiers trying to get out of a deployment. This is something that affects real warriors.”

He implored NCOs to take a different approach to the traditional one that was present at the time.

“If you believe anxiety and depression are signs of weakness, so will they,” he said. “This is the great challenge of your generation. And how you respond will impact not only the soldiers who serve beside you today but those in future generations.”

Going public about my struggles with PTSD has been a blessing and a curse. Some have attempted to use my writing against me, claiming that I’m a danger to myself and others. Others have said I should never be allowed to lead troops. Some have said that I should have my guns taken from me.

Even the great State of Texas has given me grief about my PTSD. When I went to renew my driver’s license, there was a question about seeking mental health counseling. Answering honestly because of my PTSD therapy, I was forced to retake the written and driving tests for my car and motorcycle license. The lady that literally right before me must have been in her 80s easily and needed a cane to walk, she wasn’t even forced to redo any part of her license, but because I had dared to seek treatment to deal with my combat experiences and I was honest about it on my application, I was singled out as someone who may not be capable of driving.

It was infuriating and I made sure that my Texas representatives knew what I thought. I contacted the DPS leadership as well. Everyone assured me that the employee helping me shouldn’t have done that, but how many other Texans are going through the same thing? How many are afraid to seek help because of this one question on the application or for fear of being denied their basic right to self defense and owning guns?

I would gladly take all my critics tenfold and would gladly take 1000 driving tests because the positive experiences I’ve had through my writings far outweigh any inconveniences I’ve experienced.

I’ve had the opportunity to share my story of PTSD and that dark night I thought seriously about ending my life. Over the past few years, I’ve literally had several dozen troops approach me either by email or in person to talk about their pain. I’ve had service members from nearly every service reach out to me for help because they didn’t know to whom they could turn. One Soldier approached me after a presentation to his company and said that he had a plan to kill himself that weekend until he listened to me. I personally sat down with that Soldier and convinced him to get help. I had the honor and privilege of taking him to a counselor and didn’t leave until he and I both knew it was safe. He is doing 100% better and still communicates with me when he gets a promotion or award, things that never would have happened had he decided to end his life.

Had I decided to end my life, I never would have been there for him. When we are in the deepest depth of despair and contemplating suicide, we may feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I sure didn’t. We may feel like it’s just too much frustration, anger, and disappointment to keep on keepin’ on. In those moments where we are at our lowest we can’t think rationally. We don’t see the big picture and are focused too inwardly so that we lose insight. It’s at THAT moment we should reach out because those moments are nearly impossible to handle alone. Don’t pick up that gun or that bottle of pills; pick up the phone. Call someone, anyone. Keep one of the phone numbers I list below on your speed dial or favorites list. If not for you, then in case you need it for a friend. The suicide solution is no solution.

Dealing with PTSD is not a destination, it’s a journey. You will ALWAYS have the memories of your traumatic event. Those won’t go away. But, the way you deal with those issues in a positive and healthy way is possible. There are coping mechanisms and measures you can take to overcome the feelings of fear, anger, depression, anxiety, loss, and guilt. I know this isn’t popular, but there are also medications that help.

While I’m on the topic of medications, let me offer some words of advice. I went through three different medications for anxiety and depression before finally finding one that worked. As a matter of fact, it worked so well I thought I was cured and just stopped taking them! Big mistake. It was shortly after stopping cold turkey that felt the urge to take my life. ALWAYS take your medications as prescribed. If they aren’t working, get with your doctor and have them titrate (incrementally decrease or increase) you over to another medication. There is no be-all end-all solution for every person. If you are prescribed a medication and you don’t think it’s working, don’t give up and just stop trying. I have found what works for me, but the same may not work for you. Not everyone needs medications and I urge you to try getting better without them first.

Finally, when you make a decision to seek help don’t give up. Like medications, no one doctor works for everyone. If you don’t feel that a doctor or a program is working for you try another one. If that one doesn’t work, try another one. I have talked to so many people that simply don’t get counseling because the ONE time they did, they got nothing out of it. Don’t give up. Don’t think that PTSD is just something that is going to ruin the rest of your life and you might as well accept it.

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf.

The Army’s comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil.

Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training_sub.asp?sub_cat=20 (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).

Information about Military OneSource is located at http://www.militaryonesource.com or by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647 for those residing in the continental United States. Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource website for dialing instructions for their specific location.

Information about the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at http://www.army.mil/csf/ .

The Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at Resources@DCoEOutreach.org and at http://www.dcoe.health.mil.

The website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is http://www.afsp.org/ and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is found at http://www.sprc.org/index.asp.

This entry was posted in Military, PTSD, True Heroes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 at 10:35 am
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16 Responses to Changing the Way We Look at PTSD

  1. Nan G says: 1

    CJ, you have me in tears.
    Not just sad tears but angry ones as well.
    I also know many people, some from the Vietnam era, who went to get help once, it didn’t seem too good, so they quit.
    My first fiance was going to marry me after he came back from Vietnam.
    But he came back very changed and his own family made it hard for him to begin again so he re-upped after about a 3 month attempt at civilian life.
    He was killed during that 2nd stint.
    His fellow soldiers said he acted like he didn’t care about his own life, only theirs.
    It was just a matter of time before he went too far in his ”heroics” and got killed.
    It was PTSD back when it had a different name.
    I really appreciate your comments about not giving up when you need help.

    I was with you and the other mourners on the funeral procession route in spirit.
    I’m sure a lot of other Americans were, too.

    ReplyReply
  2. retire05 says: 2

    CJ, I appreciate your posting on PTSD. But unfortunately, too many of our veterans slip through the cracks.

    I have a good friend whose son is a SAPPER. After his first stint in Afghanistan, he tried to get help for PTSD. He was, after months of waiting, handed a hand full of anti-depressants and told to call if he had anymore problems. He never got actual treatment, just bottles full of pills that don’t work. He is currently on his third deployment to Afghanistan, leaving behind a marriage in shambles and two beautiful children that are afraid of him. Oddly enough, he can go hunting with his dad, and the sound of gunfire doesn’t bother him, but let a car backfire, and he hits the ground.

    We need to make sure that people like him get the treatment, not just pills, that they need. PTSD can be overcome and there is no reason why any veteran should be saddled with it for the rest of their lives. Why is it that many of the groups dealing with this problem are not connected to our government, but to soldiers, like Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, that do what they can for their brothers in arms?

    ReplyReply
  3. Scott in Oklahoma says: 3

    Thank you CJ, for your service and your honesty. I’ll let ya in on another little secret, the military aren’t the exclusive owners of PTSD, emergency service workers (law enforcement, fire, ems) all have their fare share too. And it goes pretty much unrecognized or addressed as well.

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  4. Brother Bob says: 4

    CJ, thanks for sharing, and thanks for your service.

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  5. Skook says: 5

    CJ, I am nothing special, but I am a good listener. You can get ahold of me anytime of the day or night through the FA moccasin telegraph. I will stop what I am doing and listen with no silly judgements. If you want advice, I will do my best. It’s not much, but you can count on me, anytime. The truth is, you are a hero to many of us. You can take that to the bank, anytime my friend.

    Skook

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  6. Kevin says: 6

    Thank you, CJ, and all who have served for our country.

    For anyone else in my boat, who have little else to add here, please note that the first of CJ’s links http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org [and I'm sure others] has a click-through to a “donate” button.

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  7. CJ
    YES YOU GOT ME IN TEARS ALSO,
    and I thought about those who commit suicide in AFGHANISTAN,
    how horrible to learn that there are some of the BRAVEST IN AMERICA,
    THE BEST TREASURES OF THIS NATION, TAKE THEIR LIFE BEFORE GETTING HELP,
    IT’S NOT RIGHT, AND NOT ACCEPTABLE ,
    YOU HAVE PROVEN TO US HERE READING YOUR ANSWERS TO THE ATTACKS DIRECTED AT YOU,
    ON SOME OF YOUR POSTS, which you always make them hot enough to burn some keybords
    with the fingers included,
    and you kept your stance like there is noting which can shake you,
    on the contrary, you’re the one shaking the nut case,
    I would not miss any of your POST, because of the human factor you bring in,
    like this post where another HERO LEFT SO YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL INSIDE OUT,
    WITH A GREAT SKILL WHICH HE ACCOMPLISH WITHOUT RESTRAINT,
    HE WILL BE REMEMBER AS A GREAT WARRIOR THIS AMERICA WAS PRIVILEDGE TO HAVE,
    BEST TO YOU

    ReplyReply
  8. CJ
    THE VIDEO IS VERY GOOD AND SO MANY WHERE THERE TO PAY RESPECT,
    THANK YOU FOR HAVING IT HERE FOR US,

    ReplyReply
  9. CJ says: 9

    The video is live now.

    ReplyReply
  10. Wordsmith says: 10

    God bless you, CJ. Stellar post. The kind that makes a difference in this world; the kind of post that can influence and save lives.

    ReplyReply
  11. johngalt says: 11

    Dealing with PTSD is not a destination, it’s a journey. You will ALWAYS have the memories of your traumatic event.

    That is an excellent way to describe it, CJ. And PTSD is not just confined to returning soldiers and what they have seen in war, either. Many who responded and witnessed tragic single events, like people jumping out of the WTC windows on 9/11, suffer from PTSD to some degree. Many of the first responders to tragic accidents and murders over the years also suffer from it, again, to some degree.

    And it is through the support of family, friends, and especially fellow travelers on that road that people find a way to live beyond what they have experienced.

    Thank you, CJ, for the post, for what you do for this country, and for the help you give to your brothers and sisters. We all appreciate it.

    ReplyReply
  12. TEXAS, DEAR TEXANS,
    YOU SURE KNOW HOW TO HONOR THE HERO ,THANK YOU FOR SHARING IT WITH US.
    CHRIS KYLE DESERVE THIS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. FROM AMERICA AND THE FREE WORLD ALSO.
    GOD TOOK ANOTHER HERO, FOR HIMSELF, TO FIGHT THE DEVIL
    AND CAST HIM DOWN IN THE HELL OF FIRE.

    ReplyReply
  13. CJ
    I heard that one who shot CHRIS AND HIS FRIEND,
    TOLD HIS SISTER that he swap his soul for his truck,
    that had me puzzle, and what came out of me is that he could have made a deal with haters to kill CHRIS KYLE
    ANY TIME IN HIS LIFE BEFORE,
    I say anything is possible with what we’re against,
    maybe it should be investigated,he is still alive to be push to say the real truth,
    bye

    ReplyReply
  14. CJ says: 14

    @ilovebeeswarzone: True. The reason Kyle and Littlefield were killed was criminal in nature. Routh was a druggie and a thief, plain and simple.

    ReplyReply
  15. CJ
    yes, but it’s possible those kind of people can make a deal with the devil
    meaning he might have met a MUSLIM hater in this AMERICA WHO KNEW
    ANOTHER FROM ABROAD WHO WANTED CHRIS KYLE DEAD, HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE MIDDLE MAN TO TRADE A TRUCK FOR A MURDER OF ONE WHICH THIS GUY COULD HAVE ACCESS WITH,
    YOU KNOW THERE SOME IN THE AMERICA,FOR SURE, and this guy was under a hospital care, EVERYONE KNEW CHRIS KYLE WAS HELPING THE SICK SOLDIER,
    he had to be for CHRIS KYLE TO PICK HIM OR THE OTHER WAY, MEANING THIS GUY ASK TO BE HELP BY CHRIS KYLE, AND HE WAS IN THE RIGHT PLACE TO KILL HIM AND COLLECT HIS TRUCK,
    ANY WAY THEY DID, IT WORKED AND THE KILLER TOLD HIS SISTER, I SWAP MY SOUL FOR A TRUCK
    AND THE MUSLIMS ARE WORKING IN ALL KIND OF PLACE WITH PUBLIC CONNECTION AS A NURSE FOR EXAMPLE, I CAN BET THERE IS SOME IN THE POLICE, OR OTHER PUBLIC WORK LIKE TSA,
    ANOTHER EXAMPLE AS A PSYCHIATRIST LIKE the TERRORIST HASSAN
    DEALING WITH PTSD MILITARY AND
    trying to push his MUSLIM faith to them, this one really hit me hard, when I learned it ,
    beside his killing THE SOLDIERS after,
    THAT’S MY POSSIBLE SCENARIO, IN THIS, I find more complicated exactly because hard to believe
    and perfect for not being suspicious by THE AUTHORITY TO INQUIRE,
    BUT DEADLY POSSIBLE

    ReplyReply
  16. CJ
    WHEN I start to come here at FLOPPING ACES in 2008,
    I was so poor in ENGLISH LANGUAGE WRITTEN SPECIALLY,
    I HAD A HARD TIME TO EXPRESS WRITTEN WORDS,SOME HERE HELP ME ,AND
    SAVE ME FROM THE INSULTS FROM OTHER,
    I looked like a nutcase to many , because I stayed on, trying hard, BECAUSE I LIKED IT,
    anyway, at that time a bit further, there came a SOLDIER, I’M CRYING NOW REMEMBERING HIS CALL FOR HELP, HE SAID THIS PERSON HERE I CANNOT UNDERSTAND HIM,
    HE SAID, I KNOW I’M SCREWED UP, AND I’M HERE TO GET HELP BUT THERE IS NURSE AND DOCTORS
    WHICH I CANNOT UNDERSTAND, HE SAID MAYBE BECAUSE I’M SCREWED UP,
    HERE I WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO TALK TO HIM, NONE AT THAT TIME,
    SO I GOT IN WITH HIM TOLD HIM TO TELL THE HEAD OF THE HOSPITAL AND COMPLAIN,
    AND I REALIZE THAT HEAD WAS HIS PSYCHIATRIST, BUT THE FUTUR CAME ABOUT THE TERRORIST PSYCHIATRIST MILITARY KILLED THE SOLDIERS, AND THEN A HOSPITAL PERSON COMPLAINED ABOUT HIM TRYING TO PUSH HIS FAITH TO THE PTSD SOLDIERS, AND I MADE THE CONNECTION,
    AND FOLLOWED THE TERRORIST STORY FURTHER,
    I was sure it was the one that poor soldier was talking about,
    this is just to support my previous suspicion,
    HASSAN IS ONE AND HE IS NOT ALONE,
    BYE

    ReplyReply

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