“I thought if I never stopped moving, I could hold down my stress.”
By: Humans Of New York
“I was inside an armored carrier with my platoon commander. He tried to open a pressurized fuel container and it sprayed across the vehicle and hit a camping stove that he was using to make hot chocolate. It burst into flames. He dropped the fuel canister and fire covered the floor. Then he caught on fire. He grabbed onto the exit hatch and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t pull him away. He wouldn’t let go. The vehicle is filling up with flames. It was so dam hot! It’s like when your hand is on a stove, except you can’t pull it away, because it’s your whole body.
It’s so bright and I can hear him screaming. The hood around my neck is shrinking and tightening. My Gore-Tex uniform is melting, spreading, and falling off my body. I could feel myself burning and I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up. I didn’t want to burn to death. I decided to take a deep breath to singe my lungs and close my throat. Then the hatch opened. Someone heard us screaming and opened the hatch.”
“I kept having these nightmares of being trapped in a burning vehicle. They were non-stop. I’d wake up screaming and I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sleeping at all. I was overworked and going through a horrible divorce. At the time, I was working as a medic on a SWAT team, and one night at work I had a really bad flashback. We were about to serve a warrant. All of us were in the back of a truck and it was completely dark because we were preserving our night vision. Somebody turned on a red flashlight to adjust their equipment.
I’m seeing our shadows on the wall, and suddenly I think we’re in a helicopter. I’m trying to tell myself ‘Keep it together. Keep it together.’ I know it’s not real, but I’m actually smelling the fuel and hearing the sounds of the turbine. Then the back door opened. The next thing I know, I’m standing on the third floor of this building with no idea how I got there. That was the last raid I ever did. We had a training session later that week. Afterwards, I closed myself in a van, put down my rifle, and started to cry. I was stressed to the hilt. The next day I started looking for help.”
“After I had the flashback that night, two of the guys on my team cam up to me and said: ‘You’re getting help.’ I said: ‘No, I’m not.’ They said: ‘Yes, you are. Most of us do.’ That finally convinced me. I’d never gotten help, because I never wanted to appear weak. I’m the son of a man who lost his entire team in Vietnam. I’ve been through some of the toughest training on earth. I never quit anything in my life. So, it took me the longest time to admit that I had a problem. Whenever, I saw a homeless vet, or an alcoholic vet, I’d say: ‘That’s not me. I’ve got a good job. I’ve got a family.’
I did my best to cope with my issues through physical exertion. I threw myself into work. I’d go for long swims in the morning and long runs at night. I thought if I never stopped moving, I could hold down my stress. But, it finally caught up with me. I broke down. Those two guys convinced me to go to therapy. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I used to think that I was weak for needing help. I realize now that; my weakness was never getting it.”