Monday, May 11, 2009

Breaking News: PTSD Tragedy in Iraq

I have written in the past about my personal struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I never fought in a war, lived in a town that was being shelled by Israel, or sat in a cafe when a suicide bomber blew out the front door. I grew up from a very young age (roughly 3 or 4) until age 13 with a very verbally and mentally abusive home environment. Though the circumstances that created the mental illness in me called PTSD are wildly different than the causes of PTSD in refugees and soldiers returning from war...the result is much the same: anxiety, depression, programmed reactions, hyperactive fight or flight instincts, and a host of secondary mental illness (that can include addiction and any number of other mental health coping mechanisms). .

Like many people who suffer from PTSD, I was initially misdiagnosed, put on the wrong pills, and continued suffering from, what was then, an undiagnosed affliction. Thankfully, five years ago, I was diagnosed correctly, given the right medicine (don't be surprised when one of my kids has the middle name Zoloft), and found a life where PTSD plays a very very very minor roll.

I wish the same could be said for the poor, tragic man that opened fire in a Camp Liberty stress clinic today and killed five of his comrades in arms.

While at the gym today, I was watching CNN, and I heard the breaking news that a solider had killed five and wounded several others. The soldier was most likely seeking help from the stress clinic. Unfortunately, help did not arrive in time. These are the stories of war that we hear too little about...the impact on the soldiers...the way that the hearts and minds of thousands and thousands are ripped apart by what they are forced to see, feel, and do.

Tomorrow, there will be people who are calling for this soldier's head. There will be some few that will advocate that he receive help. Others will simply boil it down to him pulling a trigger and the rest is filler.

I have a sister I love with all my heart and a brother who makes me so very proud.
This sister has served three tours of duty in Iraq, and this brother has served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. My little brother, who is just 21 years old, has seen and done things in this life that I can not imagine. For a time, every blog entry on his Myspace page was dedicated to a friend that had been killed in the war. My sister, who enlisted before the war started in order to pay for college, is a brilliant and beautiful woman who once wrote to me telling me about a bomb exploding near where she was sleeping. She was, at the time, also about 21.

When the story broke on CNN today, I didn't see a nameless/faceless soldier. I saw Shannon. I saw Julius. I saw my cousin Vincent. I saw my ex-boyfriend and friend Rada. I saw people that I know and love and who, except for by the grace of God, were not the solider that opened fire today. But they could have been. How easily they could have been.

Right now, I am torn between tears and ridiculous anger. George Bush and Dick Cheney are war criminals. They fabricated a cause for war and have sent hundreds of thousands into battle. They have the blood of tens of thousands on their hands. They have the weight of hundreds of thousands of wounded and damaged bodies and souls and minds on their hands. And though the justice of the land seems to be unable to reach either of them, the justice of God is waiting, and I can only pray that he shows them some of the mercy that they refused to show the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and the young men and women that they sent face their deaths, fears, and nightmares.

It is Bush's fault that this young man walked into a clinic today and pulled the trigger. The solider who opened fire should be taken into care not custody. He should be give the time, space, and quiet to heal and to face the crushing guilt that will come down on him when the full realization of what he has done hits him. He has created a jail cell around his heart and mind as a way to survive what he has already survived. He does not deserve a jail cell around his body.

It should be Dick Cheney and George W. Bush that face courts martial, and George W. Bush, the man who surpervised the most executions of any governor in modern history (and perhaps in the history of the United States) should reap what he has sown. God can be merciful, today, I can not.

My heart and sympathy goes out to the families of those slain today. The blood of your children was shed today, and it never needed to happen. It is time that this nation wake up and understand that mental illness is REAL; it is as real as a broken arm or cancer or any other physical ailment. It is time that we pass health care reform that forces parity between mental illness and phyiscal illness. It is time that we END THIS SENSELESS war. How many more soliders, civilians, militants, HUMAN BEINGS have to die before it ends? How much blood must the beast have before it is sated? How much blood has to be spilled before we, the people of the United States, demand an end. The blood is on our hands as well, and it will take a generation to wash it away.

(Here is a link to an article posted on yahoo regarding today's events in Baghdad)


  1. I agree whole-heartedly that mental illness is as real as any physical illness. The trouble is, too often it is dismissed as someone else's problem, usually that of the person who has an illness. Do they want to be ill -not likely.
    It's a catch 22; SOME people know they need help but either:
    - feel stigmatize and ashamed so are frozen into complacency
    - won't/can't admit they need help
    - can't afford help
    - IF they get help from people who aren't able to help

    Family members have gone through some or all of these barriers and have suffered long and hard as a result. When is enough enough?

  2. Thanks for what you wrote. I agree the war in Iraq was a tragic mistake, but I support our military all the way. Here are a few of my thoughts:

    I don't know why the soldier in question did what he did. But this ongoing issue about reinforcing a stigma attached to reaching out for mental help is crazy! It's the stigma and the people who reinforce it that're crazy, not the individual who needs a little help! And members of the military should be the first to see this! I support the military. But you'd think that the strongest and bravest would recognize the need to get WHATEVER HELP they need.

    You know that if you need military supplies, if they're available, you get them and use them, and you do your job well. Same thing with help for mental health! Where's the problem? If you're a warrior, there's nothing sissy-like about admitting that you have some problem or issue in your life, and reaching out to someone else for a little help. Being a warrior means FACING THOSE THINGS HEAD ON. And having the warrior attitude, it's easy to confront those "enemies" in ourselves! Or it should be easy.

    I think that any military man or woman who's afraid of confronting those dark places in ourselves, or who refuses to confront them, is not a pure warrior, no matter how good they think they do in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever. If you don't have it together on the inside, you won't have it together on the outside, and you won't be able to serve your unit or your country as well as you could. Just one man's opinion.

  3. Don:

    I agree with you partially. Unfortunately, many of our service people develop their mental illness while IN the military in response to military stresses.

    Also,while it does take a certain personal fortitude to step forward and ask for is not only an individual issue...we live in a society where mental health issues are systemically not only do you have to find the inner strength to admit to yourself that you need support, you have to wade through an additional layer of fear that says you may lose the love and support of your friends/family if you come out as needed mental health support. It is not easy. Now...if you are offered help and support and you reject it...that is an entire other ball game.

  4. Hey Billy,

    I'm glad you're getting the help you need to deal with your PTSD. It is indeed a known fact that PTSD doesn't just come from war. For example, a rape victim could have PTSD far worse than any soldier whose been to combat. it's just the God awful honest truth. So once again, i'm happy you're doing what you need to to help yourself.

    ..At first, I didn't want to admit it. when i came back from Afghanistan, I thought after a couple of months I'd be fine. I went to mental health and was told to come back. I have what they call 'survivors guilt', a form of PTSD. I did return for two sessions, but later quit. I was scared. Everyone else wasn't going, so i felt weak. I didn't wake up in cold sweats, or wake up screaming. It was more subtle than that. I didn't realize how bad I was until I went to Disneyland a month later. The fireworks started going off and I panicked. In a crowd full of happy tourists and families, I broke down and started crying. My friend grabbed me and ran me to the restroom. I'd never felt so embarrassed. I could hear the fireworks still going off. I could picture the rockets incoming. The bullets hitting all my friends except me. I felt helpless and weak.. I just wanted to die and join my brothers in arms that had fallen. I felt I didn't deserve life. Why should I get to live when so many great young men had died, some with families and unborn children they'd never see. I felt I cheated death, and I wanted to meet up with him and pay him what was owed.

    I still have flashbacks every now and again. When I'm driving sometimes, I see myself on the roads of Afghanistan, keeping an eye out for IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices). I get ancy when I'm in big crowds. My finger gets itchy, I need to shoot. I yell when there's no need, I freak out when I feel something's not right. I try to get help, but I keep putting it off.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say, I appreciate you brother. Sometimes I get soo angry, because I feel no one cares. The world keeps spinning. But in war, time stops. You're ripped out of society and tossed in a life or death situation. Contact with the outside world is limited. All you can do is sit and count the days. Pray America still hopes for your safety. You say prayers, hoping everyone appreciates what you do. The 1-2 meals a day, 3 if you're lucky. The hiking up the mountains with 80-120 lbs. worth of gear. Not showering for weeks even months at a time. Sweating under the Middle Eastern sun. Watching your friends die and wondering when you'll be next. Bullets flying in the middle of the night. Looking out for Taliban trying to sneak into your base. Rockets and mortars hitting where you live. Taliban toying with you with harassing gun fire. trying to draw you out so their snipers can pick you off. Wishing, that you can make it back for 1 day to be with the one you love. The soldiers on the front lines experience this and I have not forgot. The taliban grow stronger and gain ground. It's hard for me to focus on my current course of life. If I let my guard down, my enemy will become stronger and better than me.

    Take it easy Billy. I'll ttyl.


  5. I love you little brother. Thank you for being out there in the world. Know you have an entire family that loves and supports you. Get the help you need and deserve.



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