PTSD & The Blues
I was supposed to be there on a peacekeeping mission that would take 6 months. But the deployment was extended for another six months. This was very disheartening news for everyone. We had been taken from the snow in Alaska to the middle of the desert. It was a completely new environment.
Keeping the peace.
This was the late 1980’s just before the invasion of Iraq during desert storm. It was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission. We drove around taking strategic locations and trying to help the locals. We offered them food, water, and even medical care if needed. Despite our wonderful intentions they were not so happy to see us. They did not want Americans there meddling in their affairs.
We had to expect hostile intentions and were even prepared for this but were on strict orders not to instigate anything. You went out on patrol not knowing what you would find. You stayed in a constant state of stress and anxiety.
Expecting something to happen you became tense – your pulse quickening as your reflexes readied you for the unexpected. You mind is coiled up like a spring or a cobra. Ready for action but never knowing when it would come.
Expecting possible danger that never came was probably worse than the danger itself. The feeling of unease kept building as you waited but never acting so the tension could subside. Some were not able to keep it together. This constant fear and anticipation wore them down till they snapped. We were all feeling tense. I would hear these stories about other units that went out on patrol and all the crazy shit that they saw and did.
At night you would need to wind down before you could even attempt to sleep. This was a process in itself and could take hours as you lay awake at night staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to take you.
Between guard shifts you would get an hour to sleep or two before it was your turn again. For me it would take at least an hour trying to wind down enough to sleep and then it would be my turn again. Some nights I didn’t manage to get any sleep at all.
Being in the military is not like having a job. You can’t just switch it on and off. When you go in the person that comes back out will never be the same. The life becomes automatic without will or volition. It becomes muscle memory.
You can’t just leave it all behind.
Not really anyway. Your body may come home but your mind gets stuck over there. The bad stuff never stops happening. It lives in its own kind of dimension. You keep playing it over and over in your mind.
Your friends and family are asking if you are okay and you say, “I’m working on it”. There’s no good explanation. The truth was worse. Maybe not as much for them but it was for me. You just hide it all beneath the mask of composure.
Because to say it out loud was to admit to yourself that your were losing it. It was both fear and shame. Fear of losing yourself in all the noise and shame that you weren’t strong enough.
I was just an actor. Playing out my scripted lines. Irony mixed with tragedy. Sometimes you just make yourself laugh. The repetition was an act of poise. A balance between the line of crazy and not crazy.
Right and wrong was indistinguishable sometimes. Before I went into the military I felt that I new knew the difference. What’s right moves over into what’s wrong and before long you just don’t know if what you are doing is something you ought to be doing.
I’m telling this story in hopes of relieving some of the pressure in my dreams. Even now it makes me squirm. As a confession does. If you don’t care for obscenity then you probably don’t care much for the truth.
When guys go into the military they come home talking dirty.
You come over clean and you leave dirty. Some make it intact and others don’t make it at all. There are times when I miss the danger and adventure though. It’s hard to explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
There is this untamed fear and untamed pleasure as you lose yourself when you know you are risking something.The endorphins and adrenaline begin to flow as you become more intimate with danger. Becoming in touch with the far side of yourself. Discovering new possibilities inside yourself.
Over the 4 years I was in the military (1988-1992) I only saw my family 10 months. I was used to being gone. What I wasn’t used to was being a husband, or a father. Picking up the pieces of an old life I almost didn’t recognize wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
The first few months I was home was not an easy transition. It’s exhausting to view the entire world as a potential threat. I would just start sweating and couldn’t turn it off. There was whole days like this. I would take a shower mid afternoon and change my clothes because they were soaked in sweat.
Rubbing holes in the sheets.
I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t lie still. At night I would toss around in bed. Rubbing holes in the sheets. Half awake and half in a dream. I had gone over the edge. There was no telling up from down.
Lying in bed, I saw these bizarre pictures spinning around in my head. I couldn’t get my breathe. There was this tightness in my chest. Even now I can feel it and I want you to feel it too. I would just lie there and squirm around half nuts with frustration at not being able to still my mind enough to sleep.
I remember there was this fear. The kind of fear that squeezes you inside yourself. It cuts you off from the outside world. As imagination takes over your mind starts to roam. Tiny sounds get heightened and distorted.
I began feeling this electric tingle. I coiled up and held my breath. Tightening my muscles. My pulse is ticking in my head. It was hot and heavy sleep for just a few hours before waking with sore eyes and a foul temper.
My thoughts just kept racing. The sleeping pills had not worked. During the day I would spend most of my time daydreaming. My mind just slipping away without me even realizing it.
Have you ever been so lost in thought that you lose all sense of your surroundings? You go about your day doing the mundane tasks that are required of you almost mechanically. Not seeing or hearing anything.
Everything becomes part of everything else.
It’s a dullness of the mind. Unconscious of everything. I felt hollow and unattached with the numbness that followed.
The hardest part by far was making the bad pictures go away. Like a stone in my stomach it would come back to me every night to haunt me in my dreams.
For many years I lived in depression. But the time came for me to move forward. After taking some actions to improve my life the limbo subsided.
After my time in the military came a newfound appreciation for life. With intimacy with danger comes a corresponding intimacy with life. I would notice things I had no time for before. A blade of grass at my feet. A small round pebble. Jokes were funnier. Green was greener.
I started to appreciate even the smallest of things.
An ice cold beer. Or even just the feeling of kicking off your boots, freeing your toes to move about in the fresh air. You can’t help but to love.
I have been treated for Ptsd. Costing thousands of dollars. Some of it worked but nothing worked as well as the blues. The blues is my way of talking about what happened to me over there.
I loved to play music since I was a kid but didn’t try to pursue a career in music till after I left the military. Playing and writing songs really helped me in transitioning back to civilian life.
It’s the vehicle by which I tell my story.
And I want to share these stories with you and in doing so to become part of the same tribe. Sharing the same blood. You can now listen to the latest milestone of this journey by clicking the link to my latest album, “Crossroads Of My Life”.
As a thank you for taking the time to read my blog post I want to give you a free track of mine. I want you to have it as a thank you. You can get it right here by clicking the link. It’s called Ptsd blues.