Two weeks ago I busted my chin up in a firefight in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, today I’m writing this blog from a cubicle in Washington.
Transitioning from a combat zone back to normalcy can be hard and unpredictable.
I’m not writing about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I’m writing about the transition from combat to a more standard military life, and I’m writing only about my experiences.
After many months deployed, it came down to what seemed to be a rushed transition. I was in Afghanistan one day and Washington the next.
Decompression time did not exist, nor did the time to simply allow my mind to register the fact that I’m no longer in a combat zone. Even the ride home from the airport was off-putting and weird. I spent much of my deployment wishing I was home, however, when I finally got back, It no longer felt like home and I still don’t enjoy it. I would be more comfortable and at ease in Afghanistan.
The sights and sounds can drive me crazy, so loud and so busy. I got to a point in combat where I was focused on every sight, sound and smell without realizing it. The normal craziness of DC is too much for me to digest and process. I want to yell at everyone to stop moving and let me register my surroundings.
I deployed as an individual augment and not with a full unit, which I believe makes the transition harder. I went to Afghanistan on my own and returned alone. I don’t have a core group of guys to talk to about the deployment and shared experiences. I tend to walk around in a daze. I’ve had trouble focusing at work; my mind drifts off to combat related memories or horrors.
I’ve struggled with vivid nightmares and dreams since I returned, even as I write this, certain memories pop in my head. I get angered much easier than before I left. I don’t like people walking behind me, I find myself slowing down to let them pass or just turning around to put eyes on what’s going on. I like sitting where I can see the door or lookout a window.
I was out for dinner my first full day back and a helicopter flew by, I began looking around for my weapon, kevlar and flak jacket because my mind was certain the bird was landing and I needed to get on it. Just a few days ago I was at a funeral and when the 21 gun salute began, I jumped to the sky and then just about hit the deck. It’s these sights, sounds and dreams that play with my head.
I did sit down with a counselor a few days ago, and if my problems remain over the next few months then maybe I have longer term issues to deal with. I don’t think this will be the case, I think it’s natural to feel this way immediately after returning.
I did a video blog while I was deployed, so my family could see me, know I was ok, and see what I was doing. However, before too long, the blog became my escape — my way to talk about my experiences and ease my own mind.
In my two weeks back I found just talking openly about these issues can go a long way and remind you that you’re not alone. Many, many Marines have deployed and dealt with what I am dealing with now. Ways to deal with these emotions and feelings vary individual to individual. The gym has been a place of refuge for me. No one talks to me, no one bothers me, I can just escape and let my frustration out.
I would strongly urge any service member dealing with similar feelings to be open. Talk to people about the way you feel, and find activities that help you, whether it’s the gym or just hanging around friends. Don’t try and get through it on your own.
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