The quaking of the overpowering machine guns pulsated inside my head. To my right, muddled voices broke in and out over a weathered CB Radio. I could make out Walker’s voice in between the heavy crackles and over-talking. “She’s overheating!”
“It’s over 120 degrees,” I thought to myself, “everything is overheating.”
Our convoy was split up after a wrong turn in downtown Baghdad. The second half of the convoy was heading in the right direction – unfortunately I was with the first half.
“Don’t stop Walker! She’ll be fine! Just keep moving!” I heard Sgt. 1st Class Hayes call out over the radio.
We discovered our directional error a minute too late and after making what undoubtedly would have been an illegal U-turn state side we now found ourselves stuck in the middle of a clover-leaf in Baghdad, which is just about one of the many worst case scenarios a truck driver can be in in Iraq.
I was beyond terrified as I looked all around me. Homemade bombs on the side of the road, snipers hiding in the corners of clay windows, suspicious-looking faces in the crowd. As our semi-truck crawled up the on-ramp and the engine light tinkered into the red I wondered what it would feel like to die.
“Marla!” Pine yelled as he shook me back into the now. “Marla! Are you OK?”
I’m not OK.
My body is trembling. My heart is erupting. My breaths are short and out of reach.
The enveloping radio chatter drops away.
I’m not in Baghdad anymore.
I am sitting on my friend’s couch on what should have been a short homework break of watching my friends play a regular round of Halo.
Except I was suffering my first full out flashback and panic attack.
Like many soldiers who see and experience combat, I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And like many soldiers who see and experience combat, I refused help for PTSD for a very long time.
I had a very effective excuse list as back up arsenal as well. I was being a girl and letting my experiences get the best of me. What I saw and went through in Iraq was nothing in comparison to the infantrymen. No one in my company died, so I shouldn’t complain.
But the PTSD was still there, regardless of my excuses. The panic attacks, the avoidance, the hypervigilance, the flashbacks, the numbness.
PTSD was man-handling my day-to-day function as a human being. My attempts of self-mending were going nowhere, and my life was full of broken relationships and little to no self-esteem.
So I gathered up some courage and walked into the Denver Veteran’s Hospital. I put all my strength into holding my shoulder back and putting my head up as I walked into the mental health clinic. As I walked through the glass door I realized I wasn’t the only young pup that needed help.
After lots of one-on-one visits as well as an intensive three-month-long group course, I finally started to feel — not-so-shattered.
I still get anxious come July Fourth. I still jump when thunder hits nearby. Crowds still make me uncomfortable, and I continue to scan windows of tall buildings.
I still suffer from PTSD, but with the help of the Denver VA I have a toolbox of coping skills to use.
Through the help of the VA, I am able to see that my PTSD doesn’t make me less of a person or less of a soldier.
It has challenged me to appreciate my fearlessness to face the traumas, the strength to work through my issues to find a balance, and the clarity to see life through very unique eyes.
My PTSD has made me more than I could have ever imagined.