PTSD and IEDs: Everything Changed After My First Deployment

PTSD was something I never thought I would have. I was social, went out to and hosted parties, and did all the normal outgoing things you would expect popular guys to do. I loved hanging out with my friends and I loved travelling. My friends and I would go out to the club to flirt and dance just like any other twenty-something year old. As much as I loved doing all those things everything changed after my first deployment in 2008.

You know, most people get one thing wrong about PTSD; they think that there is this one catastrophic event that has to cause it. The thing is, PTSD can also come from unrelenting stress. The kind your body doesn’t have a chance to relax from.

When I deployed, my unit was part of counter IED operations in the Baghdad area. We did something called route clearance. We would go out on mission and look for IEDs while driving at all of four miles per hour. Sometimes we’d be out on mission for six hours, that’s a very short mission, and sometimes we’d be out for twelve hours. We never knew how long we’d be out because there was no way to tell if we’d find anything or not.

You see, my unit was full of combat engineers. These guys specialized in explosives. The main mission of any combat engineer is twofold. To deny the enemy movement and to ensure all friendlies could remain mobile. I was a medic my first deployment. The only medic for the platoon. As such, I went out on every single mission, around two hundred and fiftyish in total.

I was the paramedic essentially, which meant that I was in charge of any and every medical emergency that might pop up and it was my responsibility to keep my guys alive. That type of stress wears you down over time. It had peak moments of course, like anytime we were sitting on an IED without any way to tell if there was another or if this was a setup for an ambush, or the time we got shot at.

When I got home in 2009, I noticed a few things were different. I was drinking heavily and doing dumb stuff like driving drunk. Luckily for me I was never pulled over and I never hurt anyone but looking back I see how stupid I was for doing it.

I would get startled by loud noises, swerve out of the way of trash in the road, and deal with looking around and still seeing Iraq. Finally, I decided to bury it; bury all of it. I pretended it wasn’t there and didn’t let anyone see any of the signs. I hid it away as best I could so that no one would know.

Fast forward to 2013 and I’m deploying again, this time to Afghanistan. I was with the same engineer unit, but this time I was running operations for the unit. It sounds much more glorious than it is. I would submit reports and requests, monitor communications, relay information, and make sure my guys in operations that were under me were doing their jobs.

I was watching a live feed from a unit attached to our battalion that was down in Kandahar airfield. They were rolling out of the gate in Strikers, low to the ground troop carriers.

About seven hundred meters out of the gate they disappeared. I couldn’t see anything but smoke. About ten minutes later the smoke began to clear up a little. There were pieces of the striker spread out over about one hundred and fifty meters or so, it was hard to tell from the live feed.

This striker was hit by a five-hundred-pound IED. I had just watched all of these soldiers, these brothers and sisters in arms, die. Their lives came to an abrupt end out of no where and seeing it all happen like that has never left me.

When I got back from my deployment, I was a bit more reclusive than when I left, and I started noticing some of the symptoms creep out. My wife would notice them too and would constantly tell me I needed to talk to someone, but I refused time and again. I pushed it all down and bottled it all up.

Years passed and as they did, I found myself more depressed and more agitated. All the things I used to do I shied away from. Everything finally boiled over one day. I couldn’t get myself out the door to report for duty.

I was so anxious that I was having panic attacks and throwing up. I spoke with one of our officers and told him what was going on. To make a long story short, I’m now in the process of a medical retirement and regularly get seen at the VA clinic in town.

Despite all of the trouble PTSD has caused me, I have learned of a few ways to deal with it and the depression that came with it. The first thing to say is get help. Don’t bottle it up or else you’ll explode one day, and it won’t be pretty.

Use grounding techniques, they keep you in the moment, so you don’t drift off into a flashback as easily. Focus on small things close by and then expand your bubble of awareness for where you are. Force yourself to get out of the house and do things.

I started only being able to go out for fifteen minutes at a time and now I can usually go an hour before everything bothers me. Finally, tell your friends and family what you’re going through. Most of them won’t understand, but they will be there for you anyway and that will help to keep you strong.

By: T.L. White

Thanks for reading. Please comment if you can relate.

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