As I have said once before, getting my sleep under control was the first place I started. As such, the first medications I came in contact with were sleep meds.
Here is a brief story of how I knew that there was really something was seriously wrong and the start of my prescribed sleep pills.
A Book in a Pile
I was near the end of my second tour and had been awake for three days. I was back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) taking care of supply and maintenance paperwork. In an effort to fall asleep each night, I picked through the stacks of donated books and read whatever I felt was worth reading. The pickings were slim since they were mostly books libraries were going to throw away anyway. One book I came upon was the “Best American Sports Writing of 2005.” When I saw this one I snatched it up because at least it was about sports and I recognized the editor: NY sports writer Mike Lupica.
I started with a story about Eli Manning and his stats during rookie camp compared to his brother. (I’m so glad that story turned out to have merit.) Then I came to Tom Verducci’s article Sportsmen of the Year. The article chronicled the Red Sox faithful who had waited so long for a championship. As I sat and read about the elderly who died happy and had their headstones engraved with their allegiance to the Red Sox I began to cry. Uncontrollably. The emotions were too much for me to bear. I thought about my soldiers who were dead and how they would never experience the joy of being a fan of anything again. I envied the elderly who reached that ripe old age. I thought about how there were times I secretly wished I was dead so I wouldn’t have to suffer worrying about me or my own Soldiers dying or getting hurt. At least if I died over there it would be with my brothers in arms and honorable.
When I was done crying I knew that I needed help. I thought to myself, “What the hell is wrong with you? You hate the Red Sox.” The combination of that mess of thoughts was a epiphany for me and I consider it my defining moment to seek help for what I knew in my heart was PTSD.
Seeking Help in Mosul
The next morning I scheduled a flight to Mosul to see psychiatric services.
Helicopter flights ran frequently from Tal’ Afar to Mosul and I hopped in with a group of Soldiers who were also struggling. Our unit had seen some serious fighting and a few of the guys were quietly getting help in theatre. They had seen the psychiatrist and were already on sleep meds. This was their follow up and my first appointment though we were all skeptical of our path forward with doctors in theater.
Mosul was nicer than our FOB. It had a movie theater and a big Post Exchange (PX). There was also a large field hospital with lots of resources for all types of treatments.
Once we got settled to our room, we made our way over to the psych buildings to check in. I was still hesitant to take myself away from my unit but I thought about the Red Sox and knew I was making the right choice.
There was a Master Sergeant with the Medical Service Corps who took my information, listened to my story and told me off the record that I had PTSD and that I would have to wait until I got back home to get real treatment. (I would later learn that the doctors were forbidden from making PTSD evaluations in theatre.) The doctor saw me, prescribed Ambien and Seroquel and sent me on my way. I went to the pharmacy and picked up my drugs. I went back to my room, popped the pills and felt my brain slow down. I woke up the next morning feeling good after the first solid nights sleep in months.
The group of us went back to the Psych buildings the next morning to pick up our evaluations. I felt a tremendous amount of anger and disappointment when I got my write up because my status indicated “acute workplace stress”. I chuckle now because what else is PTSD for an Infantryman than workplace stress?
As we walked back to our room it began to rain. We were scheduled to return to the FOB that night but we had flexibility. We settled in and set our alarm. When my alarm went off I was still feeling good from the meds. I leaned over to the ranking NCO who came with me and asked if he wanted to leave or wait another day and get some rest. We could hear the choppers coming in, but we could also hear the rain pounding the roof of our CHU. We skipped our flight and went back to bed, not wanting to wait in the rain.
That helicopter crashed into a hillside between our FOB and Mosul killing everyone aboard.
As a result we were stuck in Mosul while an investigation was conducted. After a few days I was able to get a DNVT call back the FOB and tell my wife I was ok, more guilt still piling up. I then called my parents and confessed I was not working a desk, but fighting with my line troop. (My Mother says she always knew, but I still had lied to her to that point)
And so my dependence on medication had begun. I experienced great success early on with the Ambien and Seroquel. But, as time wore on, those meds became less and less effective. I was about to step onto the carousel of medicine. I am still not off it today, but I am working on getting off.
As for the Red Sox, I gave them some credit for saving my life for a while, and I will never forget that story and the moment of clarity it brought, but after their second World Series win in three years, I have less of a soft spot than I used to… Ok, strike that, I’m a hater again…