Combat Vet needs help

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am a Combat vet, Iraq 05-06 right before I deployed I lost both of my parents within a month( natural causes) three weeks later I was in the thick of it in Bagdad, when I came home I was fine for about 4-5 months then I started getting depressed and having anxiety attacks. I sought treatment from both the civilian and military doctors, nothing helped. I just recently lost the last of my family, my brother due to cancer. I am still experiencing all of the symptoms and now I am starting to see things out of the corner of my eye, dark movements. I do not want to talk to anyone or be around people, I also find myself almost wanting to put myself in situations that that would give me the chance to hurt someone, especially when I am angry. I also am starting to have thoughts that (Not that I would do it) things might just be better if I were not around never been born etc.the doctors have given me all sorts of meds Cymbalta, Abilify, Xanex, Welbuitrin nothing helps “try Deep Breathing” “relaxation” whatever it doesn’t work. I know I need to go back to the doctor but I know all they are going to do is say ” try this drug, or try that one” what do I really need to do?

A: You’ve experienced multiple losses and trauma. Your whole system is saying, “Enough. I can’t take any more.” It’s understandable. It’s normal for symptoms to return. It hurts. It hurts because it is emotionally painful. And it hurts to feel like you’re losing control. Of course you’re depressed and anxious.

By all means, go back to your doctors for a medication evaluation. But I don’t think medication and calming routines are enough. I think you need the “talking cure” as well. Underneath the depression and anxiety is a layer of grief and rage. Although medication can help you feel better, those problems can’t be just medicated away. You need time and a safe place to mourn your family and to work through the trauma. If your local VA doesn’t offer group and individual treatment for PTSD, I urge you to find a clinic that does. Specifically look for a therapist who has experience working with military personnel. If you have a spiritual life, I also urge you to look to your chaplain for support for your losses. It’s especially hard to feel orphaned and without the comfort of family when we feel out of control, confused, and emotionally upset. Do try to remember that you carry the people who loved you within you and they would want to help you get to the other side of this.

Finally, make sure you are getting some exercise. As tempting as it is to withdraw and do very little, that will only contribute to the problem. Inactivity reinforces depression. A power-walk or run or playing a little basketball (or whatever other sport you like) can reduce your anxiety and produce endorphins that will help mitigate the depression. Unless your doctors advise otherwise, commit to at least 30 – 60 minutes of breaking a sweat every day.

Thank you for all you’ve done for the rest of us. I am truly sorry you are now going through such a hard chapter in your life. I do believe that honoring your experiences and your grief with time and therapeutic attention will get you to a better place.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jan 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Combat Vet needs help. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/01/13/combat-vet-needs-help/