Lost in the Fog of War

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I was at Walter Reed for a full year. They say that the best chance of healing from a traumatic brain injury is during what's called the "golden year," the first year after the wound. As I neared my discharge date, my mind raced with thoughts of hopelessness.

I still feel that way. My golden year was up a long time ago.

I've lost a lot of what I've done. I've lost memories going a long way back, childhood memories. Even daily memories aren't there. I get into arguments with my wife about things I thought I told her. I have to set my phone to tell me when to eat, when to take medicine, and other trivial tasks.

An IED, found near Baghdad in 2005, comprising of 4 large artillery shells plus an anti-tank mine, all connected together via detonating cord. This would cause the 5 devices to detonate simultaneously.
Photo: U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Often, I have to figure out what is my memory, and what is someone else's memory. Do I remember this, or did someone just tell me about it?

Every day now I am tormented by this feeling of living in the shadows. I struggle with my perceptions of what I am told, often distorting it. My ability to maintain my attention and to concentrate for more than 30 minutes is hell. Things that were amazingly easy before are now very difficult tasks.

I have anger that I never had before, and I struggle with high anxiety. I'm sensitive to light, and to random and loud noises. I developed severe alcoholism for a few years, trying to cope with my frustrations and not being the same.

The worst problem, aside of the memory loss, has to be this headache. Imagine how bad a typical migraine is. Now imagine, if you can, a migraine that never stops. That's what I have. My head hasn't stopped hurting since I was blown up.

To this day, I feel like my mission isn't over. I feel like I should still be able to go back. I should still be able to fight. I should still be able to save a few guys from getting hit by IEDs.

I was an IED hunter. Even if it meant my life, I understood that every bomb we found meant that there was one less that could hurt someone else. I always think that if I could have found one more, I would have been satisfied. But in my heart I know that I wouldn't have been satisfied until I found them all. I would have never stopped hunting.

Often when I am driving or staring out a vehicle window, I feel like I’m still hunting IEDs. Like I never stopped hunting.

In a way, I feel like I never came home.

The author deployed to Iraq from August 2006 to April 2007. He now lives in California and continues to be treated for his brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.