One week ago today was a day set aside to remember those who are suffering from an invisible enemy known as post traumatic stress disorder, which is better known as PTSD.
When one thinks of PTSD, the automatic response is to relate it to those who have served in the military, especially those who have seen action.
While PTSD definitely is evident among those who have served, it is not limited to one group. In fact, any traumatic event in life, such as a car crash or a tragic death, can lead to the horrors one experiences as a result of PTSD.
While diagnosing PTSD is a challenge, those in the military often make it even more challenging, because they have been trained to believe they are tough enough to handle it or their admission to having PTSD is some sort of weakness.
When I think of weakness, the face I see never wears a military uniform, especially that of a member of the United States Marine Corps.
They are, in my mind, some of the most mentally and physically strong people I have ever met.
So, to have a Marine sit down face to face with me and admit he is facing PTSD not only demonstrates strength, but it also exhibits the kind of example for others to follow.
This past Friday, Marty Caraway sat across his desk in the Redwood County Veterans Service Office and told me about the issues he has been facing as he accepts his PTSD diagnosis and gets the help he needs to live with it.
Marty, who has been face to face with other veterans over the years who are dealing with PTSD, explained it as a psychological ailment that short circuits the fight or flight switch creating within those suffering from PTSD a natural reaction to fight regardless of the circumstance.
Caraway said those who suffer from PTSD can experience highs and lows and at times may look like someone facing a bipolar disorder, adding things like anxiety and depression can be coupled with those who seem to constantly be on the move doing things and giving one the impression nothing is wrong.
“PTSD is a chemical response in the brain, and if it is not addressed it can slowly consume you,” said Caraway, adding he has let it consume him for a very long time.
While he knows there are some who have been able to manage it, others show the signs through their actions, be it avoidance and distance from family and friends or turning to alcohol and/or drugs.
Marty admitted he had turned to alcohol, and he believed that was seemingly curing the anxiety he would face, but, he added, it also brought out his depression.
Page 2 of 3 - Yes, he said, it can and often does become a vicious cycle.
While not going into any specifics, Marty said he recently hit rock bottom and knew there was no way he was going to get better without help.
It is in getting that help, he added, that he is going to be a better husband, father, friend and advocate for other veterans in the future.
“Things can get better if you allow someone to help,” he said, adding those who get that help can become even more productive citizens.
Marty said he has sought out and is going to be getting that help for himself.
What that means is Marty is going to be gone to the VA to get that help, and as a result he is not going to be in the office while he is getting that treatment. He stressed the fact that even though he is going to be gone that does not mean the veterans service office is going to be closed.
Luke Johnson, who works for the state department of veterans affairs is going to be available for veterans, Marty said, and be-tween Luke and Tammy Blaine, who also works in the office, things are going to be just fine. Veterans are still going to get the services they need.
Marty said when one enters the military they are taught to focus on the mission at hand, and to continue that focus until the mission is over. The problem is when their time of service is over most veterans do not learn to “reprogram” themselves to a lifestyle that does not focus all of life on the mission.
Marty said when one’s military career ends training is offered in a variety of areas, whether it is in finding a job or enrolling in college, but, he added, no one really tells you how to adjust to a life that allows you to see a pile of garbage along the road and not automatically assume there is some sort of IED placed in that material.
Marty said he made his role as one helping veterans his mission, adding as a result other parts of his life would often suffer.
He knows there has to be a balance, and he believes the treatment he is going to receive should help him find ways to create that balance in life.
Marty said he is fully confident in what the VA is going to provide for him, adding he also realizes the PTSD he currently faces is not just going to go away.
“This is something I am going to have to face for the rest of my life,” he said. “It is not going to go away. It is who I am forever.”
Page 3 of 3 - What he needs to do, he said, is what he encourages others facing PTSD to do – focus on getting better so he can do everything else in his life better.
“I need to break the fog of war,” he said.
While Marty may not be in the office as often as he has been, he is confident after he has received this treatment he is going to be back in Redwood County fully prepared to do his job even better than he has in the past.
“Because I have done it, I believe I am going to be able to help more people,” he said.
It takes the courage of a Marine to admit publicly this kind of life challenge, and I want to personally thank Marty, someone I consider to be a friend, for helping the rest of us to see what PTSD is.
I have always had a lot of respect for the work Marty has done for the area’s veterans, and that level of respect increased ex-ponentially because of his transparency.
I encourage you to keep Marty and other veterans in your thoughts and prayers as they face this challenge. It truly is the least we can do.