After twenty years of official adulthood, I’ve come a long way. First, four years proved challenging nearly seeing me kicked out of the military. That’s when I met Little Man’s mother. From age 22-31 (9 yrs) I had a successful career. Over nearly ten years, we built material, financial and professional wealth. In terms professionally, while being on a full mission ready status (Within 24 hours, able to deploy anywhere in the world), we experienced war four different times. After Little Man was born, his mother and I deployed without him to over 25 countries. From age 31 to today, life dramatically changed, some of it by choice. I chose to leave the active military to return to Little Man’s side, complete my college / bachelor’s degree and seek out a new profession. Enroute to that line of work, the world changed for me and my family.
For the next eight years, I would be over come by something we couldn’t see. It was clear in my behavior as I dealt with the civilian world. My behavior wasn’t affected by civilians, there were many terrible choices threaded between resentment and things I couldn’t control. Choices to use a drug on my own to treat what would later be called an injury or mental wound proved to backfire on me. Because I went underground attempting to keep it a secret, I confused, frustrated and angered all my friends and family. Everyone except Little Man. The entire time from age seven, until now, he has never backed down giving in to the attempts to explain why I was the way I became. Meaning, he didn’t give into the bull shit. He knew I was struggling and never stopped supporting me.
Problems started highlighting where we became aware after a visit to the Veterans Affairs (VA) Mental Health clinic in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Taken there by Little Man’s grand parents, I arrived as I always did, casual clothes and a knife. Meaning, as a warrior, we carry things like $200 Bench made knives for work. Where I came from, it was normal to carry this knife. To us it was simply a tool becoming a part of our daily life, no different from wearing a watch or carrying a cell phone. To the world I now lived in, I was a threat. However, near the end, when paranoia became overwhelming, I became a threat to everyone. At least, that is what they told me.
These threats making me paranoid made me appear harmful to others. They mirrored what we felt in Afghanistan and Iraq. For some reason, I brought them home with me. To the point, I was downing three bottles of dextromethorphan (Cough Syrup DM) a day. Why cough syrup? It was something friends introduced to my first year in the military. At the time, we did DM for fun, a terribly stupid choice. Over ten years later, after returning home from war, DM came up again. Don’t ask me how, but next I find myself sucking it down again. At first, DM worked and made me relaxed taking away anxieties. Soon enough I would learn it was creating a drug-induced psychosis…simply put, I was losing my mind becoming psychotic.
Psychosis scared the hell out of me. When the doctors gave me that ridiculous assessment, not only did I tell them to go to hell, for the next seven years I fought every source of help and treatment. To the point, I nearly…so very close ended up in prison. After several episodes where I ended up in jail, in between, forced by courts, authorities and my family, I entered mental health facilities in the VA. The very place we are all afraid of. The very first time came when I sat in that VA office with a psychiatrist. The moment he found my knife; he pushed some hidden button where the police entered the room.
Next thing I know, the cough syrup in my system is making the entire world a threat. I calmly follow the police, you could tell they were highly trained and skilled. They prevented the situation from elevating. Next thing I know, I find myself locked down on a Gurney with my hands, and feet strapped down. Like a child, just like that night on the Harley, I’m frickin yelling, choking, angry, furious, scared to the point I’m crying like a child or woman again (Sorry to the women). The “second” time I fell to tears within two years. The first time since my father passed away ten years earlier. With my head tied down, the fluorescent lights above zoom by, my vision turns blurred yet my emotions are pure. Purely angry, scared, filled with rage and resentment at the world who no longer recognized me. Saddened, fearful of what was happening.
Being pushed down that long basement hallway of the Ann Arbor VA, just like in warfare, I’m naturally reaching deep within myself trying to calm myself down. On its own, my mind/brain pulls images from deep within to comfort me and find relief. Flashes of my ex mixed with images of Little Man and Jojo. Yelling out their names, I could see them disappearing out of the grasp of my hands. Pushed into a secured elevator, the doors closed taking away the life I had built with blood, sweat and tears.
Being in that hospital was one thing, being away from my family tore at me where the anxiety ripped my brain apart. It was the reality that pulled into a mental ward, it was all over with. I entered a place I feared worse than warfare. We all fear mental wards. Its forced on us by culture. In this case, I was a special operation’s warrior still in the community about to experience termination of my livelihood. People were not only labeling me as insane, they treated me like I was crazy and a threat to the world I loved and defended. What hurt the most was how mental health issues are unacceptable where I had come from. Because of this fact, in a matter of minutes my warrior life would come to an end. A purpose in life I believed I was born and raised to do. Something I had wanted as far back as my memory takes me.
The doors to the elevator opened leading us into the mental ward. The moment we entered; the doors slammed shut and locked behind me officially ending that life I described. They took me into an empty room and parked the Gurney with me laying alone. Next, the doctor arrives with a syringe injecting me with a drug I had never experienced before. My eyes become tired and close. When I wake, it is two days later. Thirsty, dehydrated and exhausted, I still find myself alone in the same room, a room with one door with a small window. As I look around, I immediately notice the camera posted in the ceiling. Within a minute of waking, a nurse unlocks the door enters smiling asking me how am I doing. Telling them to fuck off, I chose to stay quiet. After I had my first meal, I started throwing up, and chose to go back to sleep. 24 hours later, I’m still in the same room on the Gurney experiencing withdrawals from the DM drug I had taken for over a year.
Choices to go alone proved only to make matters worse. Their efforts at treating me didn’t mean anything to me. No matter what people tried to do for me, I sabotaged every effort. Being in that hospital scared the hell out of me. Labeled mentally ill, I fought every effort to treat me. To me, I believed I could handle this situation on my own and didn’t need dramatic care. Why? Because if I didn’t destined to lose my teammates. It is this change in my life that I believe Jojo stopped communicating with me. She too didn’t understand me or what was happening. Hell, I didn’t understand it.
Once I recovered somewhat, taken to another room, the nurses gave me pajamas, socks, towels and blankets. My first request was a pen and paper. My intent was to get letters out to Jojo immediately. At that time, I was already divorced for six months. Their response was to give me a dull pencil and sheets of paper. Shaking my head, I just went with it and told the staff to leave me alone. Looking throughout the room, I noticed out of the three beds, it was me and another ex-soldier. I would later learn he was a Vietnam veteran struggling with Kidney disease. He would eventually be the only person I would talk to. The first and last patient in the entire ward who had combat experience. To me, everyone else was weak only using the VA system to get prescription drugs and to use the system to gain money and benefits. In time, I would prove correct in many ways. However, in many ways, I was wrong. There are many, many people who require the help of mental health. At the time, I didn’t know this. Just like most of American society, no one knows this. Perhaps those who need real help from mental health professionals, don’t go for fear of the stigma.
Today, I recognize how something changed within me. Call it what you may, mental illness, combat mental illness, PTSD but don’t call me psychotic. Under weeks and months of cough syrup WITHOUT specific prescription psychotropic medication, anyone who went through what we did would come across psychotic. By no means did I reach levels resembling a Schizophrenia where I saw things on TV commanding me to do something, or worse, heard voices. What I felt was severe paranoia resembling war. My hair would stand up leaving me to search the area. Dextromethorphan makes you relate everything together. As if new people you meet may come in contact with you to either observe you or threaten you and your family. People’s comments would throw me off. Their behavior was strange or stood out. Something, anything would spin me off being paranoid. Not once did I hurt anyone or want to attack. It was all defensive. The closest I came to hurt anyone was after two police officers cornered me being forceful even arrogant. After slugging the officer to my right and seeking the exit, they immediately tazed me twice taking me to jail for the first time. Keep in mind, I had a torn ACL injury in my knee; I knew I wouldn’t get far. Literally limping, thank god, they caught me.
This post could go on and on covering eight years, I’m not certain I want to share the experiences. Where I went is fucked up, a nightmare that seemed would never end. To the point I was in places housed with criminally insane, child molesters, and adults who cannot care for themselves. Most likely, you wouldn’t want to hear what I experienced anyway.
What I do know is how I’m not the only special operation’s warrior to experience mental health problems after war. There are others. From all generations, there are millions. Literally, since 9/11, over 700,000 soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines have sought help for combat mental illness from the VA. It’s just a fact that I was part of the first to enter Afghanistan, meant, three years later; I was one of the first forced to seek mental health treatment. When I entered the health care system for these problems, repeatedly I was told to stop my behavior because I was being inappropriate. Here I was a warrior with a proven reputation, now being treated like I was insane.
People and professionals simply didn’t understand me because it had been thirty years (Vietnam) since doctors and nurses experienced or witnessed PTSD in action. The generations of professionals experienced had left or retired leaving another generation completely stunned. Since 2004, nearly a million people have reported the same problems. If that is not an epidemic, I’m not certain what you would call it. Combat mental illness is a fact of warfare. The very reason we should not go to war. Reality is human nature will not allow this…not going to war. It’s sad but a fact.
In conclusion, what I hope happens from this experience is our society learns and stops getting caught up in the stigma associated with mental illness. I understand the fear. It’s the strange behavior that pisses people off, as if what they are experiencing is contagious. In some cases, mental illness truly resembles a disease, others an injury. Mental illness can now be treated and managed with medication and therapy resembling physical therapy. For now, we as a society have come a long way where professionals are solving so many of these problems. Medicine is proving to conquer what once considered unacceptable to the point, authorities jailed even put to death those suffering with traumatic mental illness. We understand mental health better today, to the point, we can overcome stigmas where those impacted become productive members of society versus a burden.
Give me some more time to collect thoughts and memories. I didn’t get too graphic in this post. However, I think I proved a point. What I’ve witnessed with mental health makes me sick. Meaning, to this day I cannot believe I experienced problems to the level we did. Not once in my life before that had I experienced that level of struggle.
Prepare to Cross Over
- Cough Syrup law a step in the right direction for preventing teen drug use. (myteensavers.wordpress.com)
- Training police to deal with the mentally ill (theglobeandmail.com)