‘Facing Stigma’ with Jeff B.
“All of my uncles were in the service — from World War II to Vietnam, it was almost a right of passage in our family to serve. I wanted to join the Marine Corps since I was 13 years old and actually wrote to them requesting to enlist back then. They would always send me a packet on my birthday with posters and stuff so I joined as soon as I got out of high school. I spent six years in the Marines and just missed Desert Storm and Somalia due to the timing. After separating for two years, I decided to rejoin the Army. I went in as infantry and then tried out for and passed selection for the counter-drug program which is a Special Operations detachment. My unit worked along the U.S. border doing surveillance on drug traffickers. This was before 9/11 so I did that for six years, before getting an offer to go to Blackwater. I got out and two weeks later I was in training with them and then three weeks after that I was in Iraq. The first contract they gave you was only for six months, but if they liked you, you’d get another. During my next contract, I was selected as a door gunner on their little bird helicopters. That whole deployment was problematic from the start because we lost five of our friends early on. One of our helicopters got shut down and my best friend Casey was killed. Then a month later, I got a TBI from a really crazy situation. We were flying over this rooftop when a bunch of birds flew up and I took one to my left temple going about 120 miles an hour. I went unconscious and woke up to my left eye swollen shut. I thought I had been shot in the face. It wasn’t until I found the bird’s wing stuffed in my flight suit that I realized I had been hit by a bird. I kept working for the next nine months because I didn’t want to go home. I had to deal with headaches, nausea, and vertigo. I didn’t even think about PTSD at the time, I just wanted to get back to work.
Things were very kinetic over those following months because we were getting shot at and it just became a daily thing. I continued having really bad headaches and started putting everything into a box. Every time something would happen, I would internalize it and suppress it. Then in 2010, I was hired by the State Department and they sent me to Pakistan. I did a year there and was there the night they took Bin Laden down. Things got heated after that and we were left to deal with the aftermath. I went on a few more deployments and then did a year as a desk officer. In 2016, I left State Department and began working stateside program management for a security contracting company. Once I started having down time in the real world, everything came crashing down. I started driving around with a rope in my truck because I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I was having a break down and I actually set a date for when I was going to attempt suicide. My boss at work saw me struggling and he told me he wasn’t going to let me do that so I signed up for an inpatient treatment option. I’m glad I took that chance because I thought if I asked for help it was over. I thought I’d be looked down upon because of the stigma, but it’s really been the exact opposite. Following my inpatient stay, I realized that I needed continued support and luckily Headstrong came to the rescue. My therapist MaryAlyce helped me work on my coping skills and the EMDR has been extremely helpful. I’ve incorporated getting outdoors and yoga. I’ve finally been able to hit that reset button. My body is feeling stronger, my overall mood is better, and the migraines have slowed down. By building on these things I’ve learned, and being able to see MaryAlyce through Headstrong, I’ve found a sense of myself that I thought was lost.”