“Call it (post-traumatic stress disorder), call it whatever you want. But it’s still a war.”

article http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2014/mar/28/farrell-gilliam-marine-suicide-amputee/

 

He rarely spoke of it. Not to his family or best buddies, fellow Marines or medical staff watching over him.

But Cpl. Farrell Gilliam had endured far more by the time he died this year at age 25 than most people could comprehend.

The Camp Pendleton infantryman survived three months of combat in 2010 with the “Darkhorse” 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan — one of the deadliest battlegrounds of the war.

Amid firefights and insurgents’ bombs, Gilliam saw limbs strewn across the ground. He loaded broken, bleeding bodies for medical evacuation, and grieved for the friends they could not save.

Gilliam’s tour ended early when his legs were blown off by an improvised explosive device, or IED. “Farrell’s Fight,” his struggle on the homefront that his big brother helped him chronicle online, included more than 30 surgeries and three years of rehabilitation.

It was a story of triumph over wounds that would have been fatal in earlier conflicts. A story that was coming to an end, but not how anyone who knew him expected.

Gilliam was months away from a medical discharge from the Marine Corps and a new life as civilian college student. Physically, he had one surgery left to remove hardware in an arm. Psychologically, he was suffering from invisible wounds he hid behind smiles and upbeat banter.

Or so his family discovered on Jan. 9, when Gilliam committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in his barracks room in San Antonio.

Gilliam finally succumbed to his battle wounds, said Sgt. James Finney, his former squad leader in Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger — to him Gilliam was killed in action just like the other 25 from their battalion.

“It was an 8,000-mile sniper shot,” said Finney, 27, now an infantry instructor. “His passing was directly due to a situation because of his wounds received in Afghanistan. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

The suicide rate for active-duty troops spiked in 2012 to nearly one a day, a record during this era of warfare and twice as high as a decade before. At least 350 took their lives that year, more than the number of service members killed in combat. (Final numbers for 2012 and a year-end tally for 2013 are pending, a Pentagon official said.)

Last year, 45 Marines committed suicide and 234 tried to. It was by far the highest number of suicide attempts for the service since at least 2003.

Among veterans of all the armed forces, at least 22 commit suicide daily, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gilliam’s death blindsided his family and friends. Amid their raw first waves of grief, anger and irrational guilt, they pray that sharing his story might inspire others to stop suffering silently. Or spur a family to intervene. Or close a gap in support or education.

“I want no family to have to go through the pain that we are going through. If there’s just one person who gets that help that saves them … then it’s worth it,” said Gilliam’s brother, Daniel Lorente, 30, of Palo Alto, who cared for him full time as his non-medical assistant early in his rehabilitation.

“My little brother would be next to me right now if it wasn’t for what happened to him in Afghanistan,” Lorente said. “It’s all a tragedy of this war. Call it (post-traumatic stress disorder), call it whatever you want. But it’s still a war. It’s still going on. It’s on our own soil, with our own soldiers.”

 

 

Read the rest of the article here… http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2014/mar/28/farrell-gilliam-marine-suicide-amputee/

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday Dear Jarhead..Here’s a Nightmare for You

I open my eyes suddenly and its still dark outside, my breathing is short and my skin is damp in a cold sweat. It’s eerily silent except for the dull puring of crickets outside the window. The only light in our room is from the blinking red numbers on my alarm clock. The power must’ve gone out at some point.

My eyes quickly adjust to the dark and I can make out everything in the rest of the room. The tall dresser in the corner, the rocking chair, the chest at the end of our bed, and the scattered pictures on the wall.  My mind acutely alert as if I hadn’t  been deep in slumber just seconds earlier. I had a nightmare I’m sure, but like most of the others I can’t recall it. Maybe this was my minds way of protecting my sanity, or maybe my head really was crippled.

T-B-I … Traumatic-Brain-Injury… P-T-S-D … Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. THERE. How’s that for memory exercises doc. As if on cue the anger and resentment fills me like a tidal wave. And then washes away leaving only the broken and scattered shell of a man, a dull aching depression and numbness. Anxiety still lingering in the shadows ever present and ready to jump out and strike at an moment. The rapidly clashing emotions within me leave me feeling broken and on edge.

“Baby are you ok?” Comes a sleep heavy voice from beneath the covers and I realize I’ve been sitting up on the edge of the bed.

I slide back and lay down beside my wife’s petite frame, wrapping one arm behind her head as she snuggles into my side, already on her way back to dreamland.

“Yeah baby, just a bad dream go back to sleep..I love you.” I try to keep my voice as even as possible, trying not to give away my anxiety and keep her awake in my suffering with me.

I must’ve fallen back asleep because the next thing I know I’m waking to light and I can hear a soft familiar voice speaking my name.

“Jake..Jake, wake up baby..I have breakfast for you.” My wife is standing at the door of our bedroom in her robe with a plate of what smells like eggs and bacon, my favorite.

When she notices me stir and wake she takes that as her cue to come to me. She’s a smart and sensitive woman, she knows how to wake me up without scaring me and potentially getting hurt. Something  I wish she never had to think about.

I sit up as she crawls next to me and offers up the plate. I take it thankfully, but as I look down at it I realize I have no appetite. This was going to be a long day.

I know my wife must notice quickly when I’m having one of these days because she always does the exact right things. She doesn’t push me and she’s like an angel sent from heaven. The only person I care to have in my presence on days like today. Yet if she notices you couldn’t tell by the way she acts. She doesn’t act scared or timid around me like a lot of people, specifically significant others, might. She doesn’t push me like she might otherwise but she doesn’t act like anything’s wrong or abnormal either. She’s the only thing that makes me think I could be a “normal civilian” again sometimes. And when she acknowledges that I’m struggling with PTSD or having an episode its short simple and to the point. My wife is definitely not one to beat around the bush and I like that, especially in this situation. Other guys in my circumstance don’t always like acknowledgment of their faults or ailments but I appreciate it. Then she leaves it alone after that, she’s Incredibly caring and I know she worries, but she knows just when to keep it from me. She tells me I’m her knight in shining armor, her hero, and that I’m always there for her so it’s the least she can do when I’m going through this. But this woman is my Angel, and I know I’m lucky cause I’ve seen how other wives can react to their husband’s “symptoms”.

I set the breakfast on the nightstand and kiss her softly. Her eyes tell me she knows, and understands.

“I made you some coffee too baby it’s in the kitchen,” she smiles.

“Thank you baby. You’re amazing.” I smile appreciatively.

“Are you ok?” She asks just for clarity but already knowing the answer.

“Yeah..I just had nightmares last night,” I lean back against the headboard somehow still exhausted.

“Do you want to stay home today? We don’t have to go to church.” She genuinely offers. Always giving me the options I need on these days with no strings attached. She knows I’d be desperate and on the verge of a panic attack before Id ask for an out myself. The dull guilt still lingers but her assuring expression keeps me from feeling worse about it.

“Can we baby? I don’t think I can face the world today..but you should go, see your family,” I know ahead of time despite my wishes for her to go on with her life on these days she won’t leave me. Not unless she truly knew I needed to be alone, and today wasn’t one of those days. Today I could really use her comforting presence, but I wouldn’t tell her that. I never wanted to hold her back. The guilt crept in a little deeper.

“Of course baby. I need to run to town and get groceries later but we’ll stay home. I don’t wanna  go without you.”

It was only a few minutes later I realized what day it was. November 10th, Marine Corp birthday. Great. This was really not shaping up to be a good day. The one day a year I could count for certain on being especially difficult to cope. The one day I missed the Corp and my brothers more than ever. The day I inevitably remembered everything without fail. I remembered what I couldn’t have back, my injury, my bad dreams, and the real nightmares that haunted me. The one day I cherished deep in my heart like all Marines yet my soul could no longer bear.

My wife knew what day it was too but she purposefully avoided mentioning it every year, instead shed wait to throw in a “Happy birthday Marine” expertely disguised amongst “Happy Veterans days” and “I’m so proud of yous” tomorrow. 

Veterans day was no problem for me. And I knew my faithful wife loved to honor me and our other veteran friends and family on that day. She was probably more patriotic than all of us combined. And the first time I told her I really didn’t want any celebration on the 10th she was pretty disappointed. But she learned to understand as quickly as always.

She went back to the kitchen for the coffee, leaving me as requested for a moment to get myself together. I crawled out of bed and slumped into the living room. The depression almost too much to bear. I didn’t even want to speak, let alone eat or drink. She sat my cup of coffee next to my chair and came to comfort me. Her small frame falling into my chest perfectly. I hugged her tight, a familiar anxiety washing over me that I might lose her to death.

“I love you.” I choked out.

“I love you too Jake…You’re my hero. And I love you.”

I buried my head in her beautiful soft hair and let the single familiar tear slip out.

 

 

This isn’t a real event but a fictional example of life with a combat veteran the way it may be described from their point of view (just based on what I’ve heard my husband express).  I hope I captured what I wanted with this, and didn’t describe it in a way that made the vet sound like a broken cry baby or something. My writing is fairly inexperienced and I may have failed miserably with this one. Writing never truly captures emotions as well as real life experience. I wanted to project a wounded warrior, one of the strongest persons we are surrounded by, struggling with the war inside their head. If you have any feedback on this please share!

Anyway. My husband has a hard time with the Marine Corp birthday just as described in the passage, although not every year does it look like this. This is, however, a description of some of the things he feels on mornings after nightmares. Obviously every veteran is different, and reactions and symptoms of PTSD and TBI are similar yet varying.

Daily Prompt – First Date with PTSD

I woke up just like I would any other Saturday. Well rested and happy to have the whole day free of work. To my right was a wall and to my left lay my handsome strong man, still sleeping in. I smiled thanking God for my luck and climbed over him and outta bed. I fumbled my way into the bathroom and then down the hall to the living room/kitchen of our two bedroom apartment. I wasn’t one to put breakfast off for very long after waking up.

I started some bacon, let my dog Ranger out to go to the bathroom, and went back into our bedroom. My boyfriend was awake, but still in bed, trying to soak up as many extra minutes of sleep as possible I’d guessed. He seemed groggy and still exhausted. Like he’d only gotten a couple hours of sleep instead of nine. I kissed his forehead and told him I was making breakfast. The response that came next was completely unexpected..

“Im not hungry baby don’t worry about it.”

To anyone else that might not have been a big deal, but for him it was. He was never one to turn down a meal, especially not breakfast in bed made by his favorite cook. Something wasn’t right. But maybe he was just tired, maybe feeling kinda sick. So I let the first wave of concern cruise through my mind without a second thought. I went back to working on breakfast and checked on him again.

“Are you sure you don’t want breakfast baby?” I asked coming back into the bedroom.

“Maybe later. Im just not hungry right now.” Came his voice from deep beneath the covers. He had turned toward  the wall and wrapped himself into a tight caccoon, his face barely uncovered.

I knew something wasn’t right then. I grew up in a completely dysfunctional family. My mom a mental case, with severe depression among the list to go along with her frequent emotional crisis. My father with anger issues. It was the perfect brew for daily blowups and conflicts. There were a few things I learned to do very well from my childhood. One was how to make myself blend into any situation, the other was how to let others depend on me, rather than leaning on them. The third was probably the most healthy and invaluable lesson of the the three. I learned how to pick up on changes in people sooner than normal. I knew this was more than just him being tired or not feeling good, at least in the sense of being sick. I crossed the room and sat next to him on the side of the bed placing my hand on his shoulder..

“Baby whats wrong?” I asked.

“I just don’t feel like getting out of bed today, I don’t wanna deal with the world.” He almost cried out, not angrily, but his tone somehow urging me desperately to understand. Something was definitely not right. “…Im sorry..sometimes this just happens.”

I sat his breakfast on the dresser next to him ten minutes later. He never touched it. I had no idea what to do. I knew this had something to do with his PTSD but I still didn’t understand what was going on. Why was he feeling like this? What triggered this? What I didn’t realize then was that there wasn’t always a “trigger” for days like these. Or rather there isn’t always a trigger for the nightmares that caused these days.

He finally emerged from the bedroom late in the afternoon, only to replace the bed with the couch. He walked up to me slowly, shoulders uncharacteristically slumped, and hugged me close to him for a long moment before falling into the couch and turning on the tv. He seemed a little better, but not much.

In reality this event wasn’t as bad of a day as I thought when compared to what future “bad days” would hold. He watched the tv with an expressionless stare, occasionally closing his eyes and tensing his face in a grimace. His thoughts having wondered away from the cartoons displayed on the screen. He didn’t speak to me unless I talked to him first. He wasn’t rude or angry, but his answers were short and forced.. Like the mental energy it took pained him to speak. The way someone whose sick or hit rock bottom might respond. He didn’t feel better until the next morning. It was as if he had simply slept it off.

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Like I said in reality this was an easy day. In retrospect it probably only seemed as difficult as it was because it was the first time it happened since I’d been with him and I didn’t know exactly what was going on. I felt worried, anxious, and confused. I felt more helpless and useless than I had ever felt before in my life, a feeling I would quickly become familiar with. Days like this come as frequently and infrequently as my husband’s brain dictates. It is almost always caused by nightmares the night before. Those nightmares can be triggered by something obvious or be seemingly random.

Sometimes I can sense these days coming on even before my husband realizes it, other times it doesn’t take long to pick up on. There are fortunate days where my husband has nightmares but doesn’t fall into such a deep depression that he can’t function. Other days he can’t even muster the will to get out of bed, many days he can’t be around people. I can’t do anything to change this. I can’t “fix” it because there is nothing to fix. The war is a part of my husband and will be forever. My duty is only to support and love him while he carries this heavy burden for the rest of us.

I am working on a page that describes my husband’s PTSD and symptoms personally. I will also continue to post more about our experiences and struggles through this battle.