Haunted by 40 Months in Iraq

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I don’t feel comfortable at home anymore. My threat tolerance and response to perceived threats is so finely tuned that I felt safer in Iraq. Here, every stranger looks like a possible threat. If I am driving near my house and a car pulls in behind me, I will take several extra turns to make sure that I am not being followed. When I am home I feel like I am being watched. At night I leave the lights off in my house and the blinds drawn so no one can see inside. My dog thinks I am an idiot because I am always running into him in the dark.

Soldiers raid a building in Iraq
Photo: Justin K. Thomas/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

People don’t realize how PTSD affects us. They don’t understand why we are hyper-alert and always looking for threats. They don’t understand why we are always angry and want to be in a controlled environment.

At least in Iraq I had an armored vehicle and body armor, and I carried and operated several weapon systems. Most importantly, we had skilled soldiers watching each others’ backs. At home, I have none of that. I have no protection and I do not have any authority to tell people to get out of my way or to stop moving. If I had a choice, I would still be in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

People don’t realize how PTSD affects us. They don’t understand why we are hyper-alert and always looking for threats. They don’t understand why we are always angry and want to be in a controlled environment. I have had family members tell me that I should just relax and get myself under control. They think it is just a matter of self-control, and that it should be easy to fix. It isn’t. Do they think we want to be like this? Don’t they understand that if it was that easy we would not need to be in treatment? Then they wonder why we don’t want to talk about it.

My family is upset with me, because I do not stay in very good contact. But I don’t like them asking questions. I guess I should feel lucky that I have a family who cares about me. None of the feelings I have right now are really rational anyway. One of the biggest frustrations of having PTSD is that you feel differently than your logic tells you to feel.

I had a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb in Iraq, so my memory is not good at all now. I get lost driving around my hometown. I forget what room I am in at a hotel and I forget appointments and conversations with people. I cannot seem to concentrate and I can no longer read like I used to. I have to re-read the same page over and over, then the next day I have to read it again. This adds to the frustration and anger that I feel every day.

I am now at the Pathway Home, a residential recovery program in Northern California that is helping me with my PTSD. I like Pathway’s quiet, calm environment. I feel safe here and I am getting some very good group and individual therapy.