I have PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am one of millions who are affected by it each and every day. Millions of men and women have varying symptoms yet manage to maintain a normal lifestyle. I, along with my cohorts, have been classified as a potential powder keg just waiting on that spark to set us off into a murderous explosion of ire. This is not the case, as I am just as normal as you.
At the end of each and every day, I lay my head down in an attempt to sleep. That in itself is no different from you. But when my eyes close and I should be drifting off into a peaceful bliss, my mind takes over, and I am tormented in my dreams with a vivid and exaggerated version of every combat encounter witnessed. There has been nary a night when I do not experience this, and I have not had an uninterrupted night of sleep for years. Yet in the morning, I rise with the consistency of the sun, roll out of my sweat soaked bed, and shake off the remnants of the nightly battles and start my day…just like you.
I am functional in society, but I am a little more vigilant than you. I am always on the lookout for danger, avoiding large crowds and loud places. But somehow, I can still manage to go out and eat, shop for my clothes, and drive my car. I pay close attention to those around me. I see the drug deal that just took place on my right and notice the people who just don’t belong in a certain situation. You may not have evil intentions, but I will notice nonetheless.
I have guns and weapons. As a matter of fact, I just about always have one on me. Or at least I used to have one on me at all times, especially when I went on a shooting range. You see, even though I have PTSD, I am still a Sheepdog watching out for my flock. I don’t brandish my weapon, and most of the time you won’t even know I have it on my body, but it is there. I used to carry a large knife in my pocket, one that could cause serious injury or death if used improperly, or used with properly in self-defense. Now that I have a wife and a young daughter, I simply carry a pen and my keychain with me all the time. I have never used any of my weapons in a malicious manner and I never will, but in my duties as a Sheepdog I will not hesitate to draw on you should the circumstance warrant it. I may be armed, but I am not dangerous.
There are times when I am extra medicated. My PTSD comes in cycles, and when things get bad I need that extra chemical push to regulate me. I accept this and because of it, I do not drink alcohol or coffee or even caffeine-free anything. I have other physical problems that could easily warrant an addiction to painkillers, but just like most of us with PTSD, I avoid them.
I have never committed violence in the workplace or in public, just like the vast majority of those who suffer with me. My co-workers as well as family and friends know I spent time in the military, but they do not know of my daily struggles, and they won’t because I do not want to burden them. When I was working I could still communicate with my subordinates and supervisors in a very clear and concise manner. Up to this point, I have not gone berserk or “really” threatened anybody around me. I have never physically assaulted anyone out of anger or rage.
It pains me when I listen to the news, and every time a veteran commits a crime (or commits suicide) their action is automatically linked to, and blamed on PTSD. Yes, there are some who cannot control their actions due to the wounds in our souls, the imbalance in our heads, the injuries in our bodies, but don’t put a label on all of us as if we are incorrigible. Very few of us are bad. There are more of us out there who are trying to do well than the lesser alternative.
Do not pity me. I know who I am and recognize the journey that has shaped me into who I am. I have no regrets about anything I have done in the past and look forward to many wonderful years in the future, most especially, since I have a loving wife and beautiful daughter. I freely take every step of life during the day, knowing that there is something that will haunt me at night.
Note from the blog editor: This piece and more by Patrick Ignacio can be found in The Storytellers: Veterans and Family Members Write About Military Life, available at www.amazon.com.