June is National PTSD Awareness Month
I always thought about going into the military. When 9/11 happened, I felt it was my calling, my patriotic duty, my honor to the country. That was my calling that said, “Let’s go into the Army now.” I’d always had an interest in building tanks, so I joined the Army as a tank crew member and started out as a driver, then loader, then gunner for the lieutenant’s tank. Then they said tanks were too dangerous and assigned us to a Humvee. I joined in January 2002, was deployed to Iraq during that time, and got out in April 2006.
After my first enlistment, I felt disillusioned with what we were doing. The stuff I saw in Iraq and being away from family I didn’t like. I turned more towards family when I came back. Then I got recalled to be reactivated in the IRR for another year, from January 2009-March 2010. I returned to Iraq at that time. My wife and I wanted to start our family in 2009, but that got put on hold when I was recalled. So that changed our long-term family planning and propelled the disillusionment with my time in service.
When I got called back in, I was coping ok with my PTSD. But one day, we were doing a patrol in Iraq with the company we were replacing on deployment and we were going down a dirt road and everything hit me like, “I’m back where I was the first time,” and I’d been blow-up by a lot of IEDs during the first tour. I thought, “I made it through the first tour, but I’m not sure I’ll make it through this one.” That made the second tour much harder.
After I got home for the second time, more stuff started weighing heavy on me. That’s when I started getting panic attacks, and nightmares started getting more prevalent. I thought I had gotten over that in the first tour, but the second tour overwhelmed me with them. The uncertainty of the second tour stayed with me when I got back home.
After so long with the VA throwing more pills at me and changing pills every 6 months to a year, the mood swings and panic attacks were getting tiring. There’s only so much of that you can take, but I was tired of looking for alternative ways to get help. I had tried different group therapies and talking sessions with mental health doctors and psychiatrists and nothing seemed to be working effectively for me.
Everybody has their good days and their bad days. But when you have PTSD, those emotional rollercoasters are much more dramatic and take sharper turns. Your highs are much higher and your lows are much lower than someone who doesn’t deal with this.
My wife was encouraging me to find other ways to get help. Someone – I don’t remember who – recommended the possibility of a service dog and so I started reading studies about PTSD and service dogs with service members. I found K9s For Warriors through searching online. Of course, K9s was top of the line and it definitely couldn’t hurt to look into it and find more information.
I applied and attended the training program in October 2019. One of the greatest things – I can’t speak highly enough about this – is the way the program works. After going through the three-week training and talking with the other warriors, I realized I’m not alone in how I feel. I realized my issues – I’m not alone in them. The feelings that I have, I now have lifelong friends who are going through the same struggles as I am. It’s not just me.
I still keep in touch with quite a few of the guys I graduated K9s with. We’re checking on each other all the time. Back at home, I have 10-12 different pill bottles in our vanity drawer - from anti-anxieties, to sleep pills, anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. There’s so much to keep track of. What do I need today and what can I take it with? But I don’t need as many to control the depression and the anxieties since having my service dog, Brandi.
At K9s, it’s not just, “Here’s a dog“ and that’s it. It’s a relationship. It’s the same with the staff at K9s. They ask us, “What do you need? What can we do to help you as a graduate?” The whole program is super beneficial in that aspect. On top of it, I’ve got a great lifelong friend who’s always touching me and wanting to follow me everywhere.
Brandi’s always there for me. She’s not judgmental. She’s never looking at me like, “I can’t believe you’re going through this,” or “Why are you acting this way?” She’s looking at me like, “What do you need from me?” “What can I do for you?” She wholeheartedly wants to help me. - Thomas & Brandi, October 2019 graduates