‘Facing Stigma’ with Rory H.

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“I dealt with depression and anxiety at an early age because of stuff that happened to me as a kid. I was searching for a place where I could belong and find camaraderie and I think that’s what ultimately drove me to join the Marines. I signed up for the infantry and got placed with the 2nd battalion Marines out in Camp Lejeune. After being deployed to Iraq in 2007 for what was a relatively quiet deployment, we came back and received word that our unit would be deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Strike of the Sword. It was a really bad deployment mentally because we lost fourteen men from my battalion and seven of them were in my company. There was one firefight where my team leader got shot right next to me. That was a big moment because I had to step up and pick up the slack in order to maintain unit cohesiveness. I ran out to cover my team as the medevac landed and I was in the field engaging targets until they were able to get him out. We all got Navy-Marine Corps nomination medals with V for Valor for that day after our commander heard what happened. That day definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things. In war you have to suppress so much in the moment and if you don’t address it later on, it will come out in unhealthy ways which is exactly what happened with me. I started drinking a lot and had this anger and wanted to go back and seek retribution for what happened to my brothers. I ended up reenlisting and getting deployed for a third time in January 2011. A month into the deployment we were called out to an area that had an IED in the compound. I volunteered to go through and check it out thinking it wouldn’t be anything. My complacency ended up backfiring on me because I stepped on the IED and lost my right leg up to the knee.

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I was conscious for the whole ordeal. I remember hitting the ground on the back of my neck and it clicked that I had just been blown up. I was going over a mental checklist of everything intact and when I looked at my leg, all the pain hit my system. My stump was instantly cauterized because I was so close to the blast. I think that and my corpsman are what saved my life before the helicopter got to me. Everything that we stress about as humans — whether it be bills, kids, etc. — all that melts away in a moment like that. I was 23 when it happened and initially I wondered what I was going to do with my life now that my leg was gone. There was an instant depression because I was missing a body part and stuck in bed and then you overthink it and start living in a mental prison cell. Eventually I got a prosthetic and became more independent and started going out with my friends. I was drinking a lot to cope with everything while at the same time trying to tell myself I was fine. I didn’t want to get labeled as having PTSD but eventually in 2015 I realized I needed to get treated and went to a therapist. I got connected to a therapist who really helped me out a lot and has been phenomenal. Admitting that I actually had a problem was the hardest part, but once I did that my life started to move in a much more positive direction. After years of therapy, I have a lot more tools in my toolbox so when I look back on my negative experiences it’s not in an all consuming way. Now I try to talk about my experiences and pass on some of the things I’ve learned when sharing my story. If I’m able to help even one person when speaking to audiences and veterans, then I know I’ve done my job helping to end this stigma.”

To provide mental health treatment to veterans like Rory, please consider donating to the Headstrong Project at http://getheadstrong.org/donate/

Healing the hidden wounds of war

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