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On the rare occasion I tell someone I have PTSD, they usually assume it's because of my time in the army, and it is, but not because of combat like most people would think.
In 2015, just a few months out of basic training, I received notice that I would be deploying to Guantanamo Bay to work as a guard in the detention operations. As an optimistic 19-year-old fresh into her career as a soldier, I was excited! This was what I signed up to do, to serve the country I loved. The only down side was that I would be sent overseas with a unit that wasn't my own. I'd spent a year away from my family and friends with people who began as complete strangers. As an intense introvert, this made me nervous.
Things started out fine, but being family-oriented and spending my birthday away from them all, I began to get depressed. I could talk on the phone with them for $10 per hour via calling cards, or connect to one of the few areas with dial-up internet and send them a quick Facebook message or email. As sad people do, I began to withdraw. Since I didn't have friends in the unit, nobody bothered reaching out to me (with one exception, who I am eternally grateful for. I love you Liu!). Shortly after, I found out my mother had undergone surgery to get cancerous cysts removed from her ovaries. This didn't help my depression.
In the army, we take PFTs (Physical Fitness Tests) which consist of two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a timed two mile run. As I was running during the test, I felt a popping and shooting pain through my leg. I didn't know what was wrong, but being a former gymnast and dancer I knew my body well and knew something was very wrong. Later it as determined that I tore a ligament in my knee. Nobody believed my injury was real, and talked badly about me saying how lazy I was and that I didn't want to run.
My superiors continued making me run and work out despite my injury and visible limping. My downward spiral began. In the past, I relieved stress by dancing (impossible with an injury), taking a bubble bath (no bath tubs were available), or cuddling with my animals (they obviously weren't with me on deployment). Since these weren't possible methods while I was there, I had no outlet. I began painting very dark images, crying myself to sleep, and putting on excessive weight. I had nowhere to turn.
When I returned home I felt ashamed when I was diagnosed. I hadn't seen combat. I didn't witness any mistreatment of detainees. I wasn't physically or sexually assaulted. It felt like I was weak and had no reason for having the strong reaction I did. This put an immense burden on my shoulders to deal with. I had nightmares every night for months and cried about the littlest things. Talking to strangers was nearly impossible, and going to weekend training for the army induced so much panic I'd break out in hives and shake.
Eventually, someone very close to me pointed out that PTSD isn't exclusive to physical traumas. I was going to therapy three times per week. I had undergone something extremely traumatic. My therapist had to help me accept that these reactions I was having will probably never go away. My PTSD is a part of me now, and the experience is one that shaped me into the person I am. I'm much stronger now, but it was an upward battle.
I treated myself to monthly massages and frequent bubble baths to relax. I adopted an adult cat who was going to be put down and invested in essential oils. Yoga began part of my weekly routine. Self-care became a priority and I accepted that I can't please other people all the time. I eased myself into starting conversations with strangers by calling to schedule appointments instead of booking them online, saying hello to people on the sidewalks, or making small talk with cashiers and waitstaff.
I still have days where I really struggle, but I've come so far and know the progress will continue. The most important thing was accepting that this is who I am now, and working hard to overcome the things that had suddenly become difficult for me. I have a support system in place I reach out to and immerse myself in my hobbies, instead of retreating and becoming detached from everyone and everything I love.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please don't feel weak reaching out. It's a sign of strength. Nobody can do everything by themself and there's absolutely no shame in that. Take care of yourself, because if you don't, then who will?
You are loved, you are important, and you're strong enough to beat this.
Go get 'em!