Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on the the Ranger objective and complete my mission, though I be the lone survivor. Rangers lead the way.
After I came home from the Surge, I could no longer conceal the problems I had for years. In crowds, I got so overwhelmed that I would almost pass out. I had to stop driving because I almost ran off the road twice, when I thought there were IEDS. Panic attacks almost made me lose consciousness. The mTBI symptoms were worse then, limited spatial awareness and vertigo characterized my life. When my neurologist recommended an inpatient program, my battalion executive officer told the personnel officer that he did "not have time to deal with a Captain with PTSD and mTBI," while I sat outside his office. I was the most battle tested officer in that battalion, and I felt like Boxer from Animal Farm: once I was used up, my battalion was happy to ship me off to the glue factory. My doctor stuck to his guns and I went to an inpatient program in Richmond, Virginia, and then in Salisbury, North Carolina. During my hospitalization my ex-wife decided that her chemistry professor was a better choice.
Needless to say, life was not going well and I was leaving the Army just days after getting out of a hospital. I was packing up my home to put it on the market when I looked at a Beretta pistol. Why not end it all right now? The unit I fought in for years thought I was a piece of shit, my family had not even seen me after I came home, and my wife was shopping around for a replacement. I still had the hospital bracelet on and now I was about to be on the street alone. No pay, no purpose, no family, no support at all. Just alone in my thoughts. I cocked the gun, but before I could lift it up my Ranger brain took to action.
The flood of the, stress chemical, cortisol, was something I had become accustomed to using in combat. In most cases you use the surge of cortisol to fight or fly, but as an officer I employed it to think through outcomes. When I held that gun in my hand I thought through what would happen. The Army would do nothing... I would just be another number. Maybe friends might find out, and be more sensitive when they had soldiers struggling with PTSD. Probably not though, they always had their soldiers' best interests at mind. My mother would be devastated, but my father would just write my suicide into his latest narrative of war making me a sinner, and turning me against God.
Serendipitously, my boots from Ranger school were in my eye-line and reminded me of what I was capable of handling. Sure I wanted all of that to end, but I felt that way in Ranger school too. I used to say to myself, "I don't want to quit, I just want this to end." When you're walking in the middle of a swamp no one is coming in with a jungle penetrator to take you home. I would just make it to the next rest halt. This was the same, but what was the point? What was my purpose anymore? I left the Army because I wanted to make a difference with my pen. All of my "disabilities" were going to make that nearly impossible. So you're saying there is a chance. I was never a smart Ranger anyway, I was always a tough one. Everyday I was at sick call getting something drained, taking crazy low distribution antibiotics, getting all the skin taken of the bottom of my foot, yet everyday I would smile while humming the Ranger school hymn, "I'll Fly Away."
I knew how to find my way in misery; without thought I dropped the magazine, removed all the rounds and threw them into the woods. At the time I had no idea of what my mission was, but I was damn sure going to fight onto that objective. The whole world seemed to have turned on me, but, so what, just hum that hymn, drive on and somewhere in the process I will figure out how to get better, or learn how to enjoy the suck. I kept one Ranger school boot on my desk and one on my dresser so I would always be able to remember what I was capable of overcoming.
I can't tell you why things got so bad for me, but what I do know is that I did nothing to cause it or deserve it. I certainly am not weaker than I was before. If anything I am tougher mentally than my body is physically, and I should take it easier when my body is giving me queues like "Hey stupid, your wrist has second degree burns on it... someone else can clean the floor later on." More importantly, when you have stepped up to save your own life, every milestone gets a little sweeter. My relentless mission focus is, more often, an annoying characteristic that pushes me way too hard, but it also brought me through the most difficult time in my life. A time when I had no support at all. Now when I hold my wife, play with my dog, drink with my friends, and work with my colleagues, I am so grateful for the man that pushed on when there was no indication that I could never make a positive impact on the lives of others again.
|You can see my burn and Darby's awesomeness|