By CJ Grisham
I guess I could call this part III of my recovery. Earlier, I wrote about how I've been wrestling with inner turmoil for quite some time. I think I've largely been winning, but wrestling nonetheless (I was a wrestler in high school, so that may be helping). Throughout the years, I've learned how to cope with the hardest parts and other parts were no big deal.
Last week, I went to my first appointment with a local psychologist. My intent isn't to necessarily bare my soul here. It was hard enough to do in that office. My intent is to be an example to others that may be dealing with issues related to their combat experiences that they may be hiding.
The Army DOD has made it clear that they are trying to remove the stigma related to PTSD. It's a fundamental shift in attitude and mentality that must occur from the top down in order for it to be effective. A few weeks ago, I spoke with one of the assistants to General Chiarelli who is a LTC. She told me her experiences with PTSD which are encouraging considering that she is a Field Grade officer. She was likewise nervous about "coming out" about her PTSD issues.
I also don't want to get into this stupid debate about "you were only a signal guy or an MI guy, what are you so screwed up about?" Getting shot at, mortared, or having an IED blow up beside your truck doesn't care what MOS you hold. It affects us all differently. And, yes, there are some people simply looking for sympathy or a handout with claims of PTSD, but those will get flushed out in due time. PTSD is not an easy thing to fake, I would think. Maybe I'm wrong.
The bottom line is that I'm a senior NCO in the Army who takes an active role in his Soldiers' and civilians' lives. I impress upon them the importance of taking care of themselves. I've discussed suicide prevention and PTSD with them till I was blue in the face. But, all of that means nothing if I can't lead by example. How can I convince these troops to seek help and not worry about their clearances or jobs while inside I'm ignoring my own advice.
For over six years, my wife has endured uncomfortable nights of sleep while the man next her jerks, flails, tosses, and turns all night long while feeling powerless to help. I've woken up too many nights to an empty bed because it's easier for her to sleep on the couch instead of waking me up from the little sleep I'm able to scrounge up at night.
For over six years, Emily has learned to recognize when my inner temper is flaring up; to pull me aside before I absolutely explode or lash out. I'm not a physically abusive father, but I lose my temper too easily with my kids. The little things that are just the dumbest excuses in the world will set me off. Later, I just feel like the biggest ass because something so small as not closing a door or leaving something on the stairs sets me off.
I struggle with a deep sense of failure that my kids don't feel like they can come to me with their problems because my response is usually "suck it up and deal with it. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." What a weak response and utter lack of love and compassion for a father to have towards kids who are learning to cope with life! It pierces my very soul when my kids are calling for mom and when she isn't around I ask what they need. Instead of telling me what is bothering them, they say they don't want to tell me because I'll "just get mad at them."
Regardless of whether or not I wanted to set an example for those Soldiers out there reading this that are going through the same thing, I NEED to find my family again. My issues have caused them to adjust their lives as much as mine. They have had to alter how they speak to me or behave around me. The families are just as much affected by PTSD as the Soldier who is afflicted with it. They cannot be forgotten.
Probably one of the factors that helped me cope these past few years is patience and love. The patience and love provided by wife and kids has been met with constant apathy. But, I've made the decision to finally allow that patience to pay off. My family is more important to me than anything in this life except my God. Even if the Army weren't serious about legitimately helping troops and wanted to use this to ruin my career, I simply don't care.
The good news is that the Army IS serious about this. Secretary Gates has put in black and white in no uncertain terms that seeking mental help will NOT affect your clearance. Seeking help with mental issues is NOT a weakness. Walking into that building last week and being surrounded by junior troops was a LOT harder than simply continuing through life hoping I live to see my grandchildren. Baring my soul to a complete stranger wasn't exactly on my list of the funnest things to do in life. But, it had to be done.
So far, I think I've had good command support. I am being given the time I need to navigate this road to recovery and normalcy. They have shown me that they understand the Army's intent. To be honest, I wasn't so sure at first. And only time will tell, but I'm convinced so far that I didn't make the wrong decision, as least as far as my career goes. And I honestly believe the Army wants to help us get through this the best way possible.