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“Must Not Sleep”

On July 22, 2014, in Personal Stories, by admin

Posted by Anonymous – A Marine who did two tours in Iraq

I was enlisted in the Marine Corps from June 2002 until June 2006. I did two combat tours in Iraq during my enlistment, one in 2003 and one in 2004/2005. During my first deployment I used the MK-19 grenade launcher and M2 .50 cal primarily atop a 7 ton full of constantly changing ammo loads. I can’t remember when it was exactly that I started to see symptoms of my PTSD but I know it was some time after I’d been in country before my second deployment. Maybe it’s because other people might have seen the symptoms first and pointed them out in a round about way. I started to have a lot of trouble sleeping and would occupy my time preparing for the next deployment. I got the call again and decided to get another tattoo before this deployment. This tattoo would say “Must not sleep,”  as a reminder to stay vigilant and not get complacent.

Immediately after this deployment I remember being cold and detached. I hardly spent time with my family because I was too focused on preparing for a third deployment that never came. After the second deployment, things were much worse for me mentally. The differences between my first and second deployment were quite glaring. The first time I went, we had minimal protection on our vehicles and our person. This meant that we were much more exposed but we had a better idea of who the enemy was. The second time I went we had a higher level of armor on our vehicles and our person but the enemy was much harder to point out and we had to worry more about IEDs. Needless to say both of my deployments were full of close calls but I’m lucky to be alive.

My experience isn’t unique and I know that now. The first time I returned from Iraq, I remember a lot of hugs, a lot of love from my family. It felt foreign. I felt confused as to why I was getting pats on the back for a safe return. I guess a part of me never really left Iraq. I have problems communicating with people I used to always get along with. I find myself hating social interaction. I used to think that I had control of my emotions before I went there, but things were very different when I got back. I feel as though I can no longer relate to the people I’m closest to and I’m no longer interested in things that I used to be. I have terrible nightmares and never sleep through the night. I remember self medicating with alcohol for a while in an attempt to forget the many things that happened. Things were really bad for a while until I finally decided to get professional help.

At first I went to the VA but after having a therapist that was dozing off as I was telling him my situation I became very discouraged and quit all together. It wasn’t until I went on a retreat with other combat veterans that I mustered the courage to go back and get some help. My new therapist was also a combat veteran having served in the first Gulf War. I felt better going there for a while but was still having problems coping. I was put on a cocktail of different drugs to help with anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, nightmares and headaches. I keep using them because I know that at any moment things can unravel and I’ll be back to square one. I go to therapy about once a month because that is the schedule with the VA. The wait times aren’t all that great and so much time passes between appointments that it feels like we are starting over when we do meet. The drugs sometimes make me feel like a zombie, but I guess a mellow zoned out me is better than a violently angry me.

My personal relationships have been effected and so has my ambition. Sometimes I get up in the morning and wish I would’ve never woken up. I’m on edge for most of the day and I haven’t had a decent night of sleep in years. It’s hard to talk about my problems with my family because I don’t want to be treated any differently, so when I’m feeling really down, I’ll turn my phone off and stay in my apartment, away from any other people for as long as possible. I’m lucky enough to have an employer that understands my situation and allows me to flex my hours to fit my VA  appointments. PTSD carries such a negative stigma that it can be very hard for us veterans to get the help we need. I honestly never thought that I’d get back from a war and continue to fight the war inside me, but that’s how it is and that’s how it will always be.


2 Responses to “Must Not Sleep”

  1. Significant Other says:

    When you are up late at night and cannot sleep you may want to try this site: http://www.huddl.org. I just learned of this site at a Veterans collaborative, you can have anonymous conversations to vent and just talk with someone when you need to talk. It is Vet owned, a non-profit and is an extremely supportive environment. Give it a try and I hope it helps you through some of your bad days or nights.

  2. Significant Other says:

    OMG was my first reaction when I began reading this story…is this my spouse? Service dates didn’t match and my Marine only went on one tour, the initial invasion, by my God this could have pretty much been written by my Marine. Very sad that so many Marines, and service persons in general, have such similar experiences. I am so very sorry that you too have to contend with PTSD, the VA, the cocktail of meds they so willingly ship to your home month to month without real follow-up by a psychiatrist, the loneliness, alienation, the wish that you didn’t wake up, not sleeping, nightmares, sudden onset of anger….etc., etc., etc…….I know all these things too well as my Marine went through them all as well. Thank you for your sacrifice and your service and I hope that someday you find peace and can sleep well again. Take care

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