Recognizing signs of PTSD and TBI

My name’s Schuyler. I was in the Army, active
duty, six years. I think the overall experience
of being in a combat zone stays with you forever. I think my vehicle got blown up
directly maybe four times, and indirectly a handful
of times. So I think there’s an anxiety
that sticks with you about stuff like that. Getting out of the military– it’s scary. Because you have this whole
life that you learned. For me, it was six
years active duty in an infantry unit. Now I have to all of a sudden
go be a civilian. I didn’t have any Army
buddies around. So I didn’t have people
that I could talk to and hang out with. And I kind of felt alienated
from the civilian world, because I didn’t share
anything in common. When I got out, I didn’t
think that I had PTSD. I almost thought PTSD was
something that people who couldn’t handle the intensity
of their job had. And when I got out, I didn’t
think that I had any issues or mental health issues that
would affect in the civilian life. I found that I was having
trouble controlling my emotions sometimes, my anger,
my frustrations. It was easier for me
to get frustrated. And when I did get frustrated,
I took it more seriously, as if something serious
was going on. If I was running late to a
movie, I felt like I was running late to a mission, and
people’s lives were at stake. But that wasn’t the reality. That personality characteristic,
that intensity, that drive, makes you
succeed in the military. But it doesn’t in the
civilian world. It alienates you. And I had to back off
and let that go. And that was hard. It took a lot of other people
coming up to me and telling me, hey, I think
you have PTSD. Or hey, I think that you have
things going on that you need to talk about or you
need help with. And I said, no, I don’t
think I have PTSD. What could I have PTSD from? And I was always thinking
there has to be some specific event. I don’t have a constant
nightmare where I wake up and I’m reliving a specific
situation. I’m not constantly bunkered
down in my house behind sandbags waiting for the
invading army to attack. No, I don’t have any of
those things going on. But there is something
kind of wrong. I do have this agitation, this
anxiety, this hypervigilance from time to time. Maybe something’s not right. So I went down to the VA. And they asked me, they
said, have you ever been blown up before? Or have you ever been
exposed to a blast? I said, yeah, quite
a few times. And they were like, how many? And I told them. And they were like, wow. Well, you probably have
traumatic brain injury. They helped with my memory and
concentration issues, and how to regulate my mood and
stuff like that. And that was a really productive
experience, because at one point, I felt hopeless. I felt like I’m on the road
to not recovering. I’m on a downward spiral into
some abyss of mental disability. But working with speech
pathology and TBI clinic at the VA, they had me turned
around quick. And in a few months,
I was in school. I go to the Boulder Vet Center,
but there seems to be one located within proximity
of every VA hospital. My therapist was an
infantry soldier. He was deployed to
Vietnam twice. And speaking with him, working
with him, it made me feel comfortable to talk
about my stories. Because I knew they were
familiar to him. He knew what’s up. He knew the same emotions
that I knew. He had the same feelings
I had. Vet centers are great because
they have this group dynamics aspect, where you meet all
these other combat vets. And I think that requirement
alone creates a little bit of brotherhood that makes
me feel comfortable walking into a group. Because I say these guys know
what I’m talking about. They know what I know. They’ve seen what I’ve seen. If I’m going to open up or feel
uncomfortable or be in an awkward situation, it’s not
going to be awkward, because they have those same feelings. And any advice they have for me
is going to be beneficial. And I can take it to heart,
because it’s coming from somebody with the same
experiences. You’re a civilian now. And the best way to, I think,
come to peace with all that stuff, the best way to come
to terms with all your experiences, is to
talk about it. Is to find other Vets in the
community, is to go to a local Vet Center, down to the VA,
and talk about those experiences. The first thing I would say to
anybody is it’s not abnormal. All the issues you’re dealing
with– you’re not alone. You are not the only one. You’re not weak. The second thing I would say
is go down to the VA. There’s no better place to get
help for a Veteran than a place that is employed by
Veterans, run by Veterans, and is designed to work
around Veterans. I want to be a behavioral and
cognitive therapist that works with combat Veterans. So I’d go from Schuyler the high
school dropout to Staff Sergeant Schuyler to rugby
player to doctor. And that’s a path that I
couldn’t have even started without the VA. They set you up for the
road to success there.

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