I tried to kill myself a few times. The VA had turned me down several times, my untreated panic attacks had turned into agoraphobia, I had lost my job because of said panic attacks, and I didn't know that what was happening to me was PTSD. The VA was not eager to diagnose this.
The signiture weapon of that war was the IED, the Impromised Explosive Device, usually concealed at the side of or in the road itself. Lots of veterans came back from that war flinching at trash bags, mailboxes, or stranded vehicles. (The Hurt Locker, which was set in the time and place where I was, is utter trash, by the way.)
I felt fine for the first few months home. A big kid came charging at my back door one day and I lefted the Iraqi officer's sword I'd just unpacked and unsheathed it as far as the doorway allowed. That distinctive ringing of sword rattling against the scabbard made quite the impression. He about-faced like a humingbird and disappeared. The refrain, "What are you going to do, shoot me?" Started to pop up in conversation. Been there, done that. Tee shirt.
Then the time changed and I started going home at night on the bus. That had been my decompression time, relaxing mindlessly till I got home. One night after getting off work, I started having tunnel vision, difficulty breathing, distorted hearing, a feeling that there was a belt around my chest. I got off the bus to throw up in a MacDonald's restroom.
It didn't happen every time. For a while. Then it did. It seemed to take hours to get home or get to work. One day I splurged on a cab. Then again. It worked for a while. Then it didn't. Then I had a panic attack at work. I passed out. The boss stopped returning my calls.
Only later when an NCO saw this did anybody tell me these were panic attacks. The city buses at the time smelled and sounded exactly like an armored Humvee, a sound I hear in my nightmares.
Another time, I had the same symptoms at home. I rushed through the house, aware enough to realize something was wrong. I happened to catch a glimpse through the front door. Out in the street, a road crew was filling a pot hole. What do you think it smells like when a bomb blows up under soft asphalt at about 6,000 fahrenheit? It's not something you notice at that moment. You're too busy concentrating on other things.
The nightmares were indescribable. I would relive things I experienced in Iraq, except I would either see certain death approach, or have to watch other people would die. The more fond I was of them, the more horrible were their deaths. I served with human beings who didn't strut around like movie heroes. Well, okay, there was one guy who approached our sardonic XO one day. "I just lifted more weights than I ever have!"
"I don't care."
There's an intimacy in nearly-getting-killed-together that erases a lot of barriers. Shakespeare was so right that I sometimes wonder if he were a soldier. "We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us."
It is always unexpected, the way you get a quiet moment during a battle, and find that the person you once hated now benefits in comparison to those currently trying to kill you. People show aspects you never would have seen before. That new appreciation for these men and women made their nightly loss the worst, intimate shock.
To make it a total horror show, the dreams felt utterly real. Nightmares are no big deal, right? That's what I got told. I wonder how many other female soldiers got likewise dismissed. You women are so hysterical and dramatic.
I got treated really shittily. I discovered that prowar rah-rah-rah types hate the troops who point out that war isn't glory or conquering shit or that the enemy isn't evil. "It's not like you're the only person who went to Iraq, you know!"
That was a relative.
"You just have ONE tour in Iraq, I have TWO college degrees."
That was another relative.
"I don't care about Iraq, you're not as funny as you used to be."
That was a former friend.
The Army had a clever trap for returning troops. There was a questionaire in Kuwait where you were asked if you felt you had any symptoms of PTSD. If you answered yes, you didn't go home. You would be placed on a medical hold indefinitely, in Kuwait. If you answered "no", that was used against you later.
"Well, you SAID you didn't feel bad....."
Nobody felt bad at that point. Instead you felt an indescribeable bolt of confidence from surviving that year. You had lived. That lasted a few months. I went to work and literally went toe to toe with the occasional cop. When you know you can take some guy's gun away, it adds a certain spring to your step and a gleam to your eye. So much for that "good guy with a gun" bullshit, too. You need to worry about that woman you didn't look at twice because you're the sort of asshole who thinks A: women aren't in combat, and B: that "I-like-the-ones-who-didn't-get-captured"
I got so little sleep that I could barely stagger from one end of the house to the other. My legs felt like they did when I finished a long, fast run. I heard voices that whispered to one another that I was still awake, that wondered if I knew they were outside my window, peering in. I was on the second floor.
I suspect certain people will deny it, but our society thinks women should shut up and take care of other people, not need help themselves. And what if you get UGLY? Facebook won't let me repeat certain things. PTSD is hilarious! Look at that crazy.....female dog.
There's stuff that happened in Iraq that I will never talk about. There's things that happened when I came back that fall under that, too.
I was absolutely convinced I was a terrible burden. No, asshole, telling somebody to "ignore it" only works for the scumbags imflicting the very crap they want you to ignore. If you fired a gun at somebody, people wouldn't tell you to ignore it. Why----especially when the target is a woman-----do people just-----oh, wait, never mind. Because women are supposed to be society's punching bags. And other women often do the punching for men because it's easier than fighting injustice.
Guys face different barriers that get ground in before they're aware of it. We give baby boys toy footballs once the umbilical's cut. My dad told funny, ironic stories about WWII-----but I know he fought in the south Pacific for at least part of his time in the war. He was a paratrooper who jumped out of planes. Fifty years later, he'd get up in the night and drive, sometimes hundreds of miles. I was too stupid to know what it was. When Alzheimer's finally stopped his nightmares, the sweet, betrayed boy he once was surfaced. My paternal grandmother was a woman who should never have had kids.
The VA refused to help me for years. They turned what should have been a simple, basic case of PTSD into what felt like psychosis. I just don't want to repeat all that. Just in the past year they finally identified those vivid....experiences.....as flashbacks. Ten years. Eleven years.
By the time I tried to kill myself the first time, various people and treatment had turned me into a wreck. It wasn't like they didn't know, either. Some of them were VA staffers. I couldn't get to the main VA without a panic attack and throwing up, but they treated me like a potty training toddler. They dismissed my back and shoulder injuries as "arthritis." Huh. Combat arthritis, who knew?
What gave me some temporary respite was the shocking experience at the ER. The paramedics took me to a civilian hospital. I was shocked to find out that people who worked at hospitals were *nice* to people in pain. Even the security guard was kind and considerate.
The other thing was the realization that suicide was permanent. For a while, I felt a certain shaky sense of optimism. That lasted till I informed my shrink that the anxiety meds weren't helping. She casually told me to just increase the doseage. This was AFTER the first suicide attempt.
As an effort to stave off suicidal feelings, I started cutting. It felt like if I punished myself a little, it was temporary stay of self-execution. My shrink told me if she caught me doing this she'd involuntarily commit me. So much for THOSE office visits. Even after I finally won my case, I had to fight to get a new doctor. I told one shrink that I felt like a sniper had his sights trained on me when I went outside.
She asked me why.
I've called this number myself as recently as July of last year. If you have to take it one hour at a time to survive, do it. If it's one minute, do it. If it's one second, do it. I want to say so many things that I can't put into words. There are people who are far luckier than you and I are, or faster, able to lift more or less weights, or run faster or slower. That doesn't make you who are.
Depression will whisper in your ear. It will lie to you. It will tell you all your flaws, but fuck it. Do you know how *horrible* a perfect person would be? They'd be a robot. *Shakespeare* gets bad reviews. *The Bible* gets bad reviews.
That voice is strongest and loudest when you are exhausted, drunk, high, paranoid, or whatever. It kicks you when you are down. It is an undertow that grabs you in what feels like an inescapable grip, threatens you, lasts for what it tells you is an eternity.....but it's lying.
Here is the hard part. You have to stop fighting. It will take you.....but it will let you go. That is the lie. Live one more second. Grab that breath of air when you surface. It WILL release you. One more minute.
Talking helps. 1-800-273-8255 Depression is lying to you. I'm not going to tell you it's easy.....but it IS temporary.