I’ve recently become overwhelmed by my want of hooded sweatshirts (hoodies). I find one I like, and I buy it (which reminds me, I need to buy a Spider-Man hoodie before the end of the week). Most of my newer hoodies are Marine Corps inspired, because why not? Even my wife has gotten into this want of mine and has me buying two of every hoodie I purchase. So, it’s become quite an expensive addiction of sorts. No, I am not about to go on a long rant about hoodies, that would be absurd and better used for a later date. I bring up hoodies because of one of those Marine Corps hoodies I previously mentioned, and its message. On the front of the hoodie, it says “MARINES” in bold and underneath it has the familiar quote of, “Pain is weakness leaving the body…”
I have been hesitant in the past to share this story because it really puts me out there. I know that while I can only claim to speak for myself, I am sure there are others out there going through what I go through, so I will share my pain with you so that I can continue to heal, because it is a daily process.
Pain comes in two forms, physical and emotional. My body is in one piece, but it is broken. My left knee was rebuilt, my left hip has never recovered from an injury that is nearly 20 years old, I have sleep apnea due to a breathing problem caused by what I believe was a right cross from a fellow Marine in “hitting skills” in Boot Camp (I’ve snored ever since). I can go on and on about what ails me, but these are all physical limitations if I allow them to be. I run daily; to the point where I am on a streak that has taken a life of its own. Each time I run, I am in pain. Each time I push forward, I am in pain. Each time I do any sort of physical activity to maintain my health, I find myself struggling… but I remind myself that the pain is weakness leaving the body…
I push forward to remove this physical weakness. I can focus on the emotional pain so I can become stronger.
The hoodie I wear with the quote I mentioned before signifies physical pain to me. In the past, I often viewed emotional pain as a weakness. It’s what we often look down on as individuals. How often do we suppress how we feel because we are afraid of being seen as weak? I would guess that we do it anytime we are around those we interact with daily. I know for me, I have had a hard time sharing what I feel because it may come off as anger, weakness, arrogance, etc. If you must explain why you feel a certain way, it almost makes you not want to talk about it in the first place.
It took me more than 10 years to admit to myself that I needed to see someone for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For years, I was under the assumption that if I was diagnosed with PTSD, I would be thought of as “crazy”, that I would be seen as weak, and lastly, a fear of losing my employment also weighed heavily on my decision. It wasn’t until I lashed out at my family one day that I realized it was time for me to seek help, so I requested the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to diagnose me and subsequently help me. The VA puts out advertisements to veterans asking us to seek help, so finally I did. To my surprise, the VA told me I did not have PTSD. They diagnosed me in 10 minutes, by a “doctor” who showed up 15 minutes late to our appointment, complaining about how long it took to get her Starbucks coffee. You can’t make this stuff up.
I didn’t know what to feel about what the VA had told me. I knew that I still had nightmares of that child dying in front of me in 2003. I knew I still regretted telling a Marine of mine that he was young and had his whole life in front of him, only to see him die a couple of months later. I knew I still hadn’t forgotten losing my dad two days before coming home from Iraq, a deployment that I never told him about, because I didn’t want to worry him or my mom. I knew that I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders but no longer knew why because the VA had told me (without necessarily saying these exact words) that I needed to, “suck it up, Marine.”
I wrote a letter to the VA with tears in my eyes highlighting their message to veterans to come forward and seek help, but when we do, we’re turned away. It’s why most veterans don’t seek help because a refusal of said help is a rebuttal of their feelings. Confirmation of their self-diagnosed weakness. Having thought this was no longer something I could pursue, I received a call from someone from the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). It was a Marine who had read my letter to the VA, he said he felt my pain and was once in my shoes. He let me know what I should do next, and I followed through with his direction. Semper Fi, Marine!
I went to speak to a psychologist to get a professional diagnosis, it would be the first time I had ever spoken about what was inside me, what pain I was feeling and how often I felt it. I have to be honest, I did not know how I would react to hearing my thoughts out loud, and my reaction has changed me ever since. I cried like I hadn’t cried since I was a child. The pain was raw, the pain was real. The pain was everlasting because now I watch just about any Disney movie and get emotional! Was it weakness leaving the body? No, it was the strengthening of my core, by releasing the pressure I took upon my own shoulders. The weight of the world is quite a hefty one.
The psychologist diagnosed me with PTSD and wrote a rebuttal to the VA’s diagnosis that was damning. The VA followed up with me and apologized for putting me through the wringer. I told them that it should never get to that point, especially when it comes to mental health. I can’t imagine what it might be like for others, but for me, it was difficult to tell the VA, “no really, I am in pain, you have to believe me!”
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering two things. The first being, “where is he going with this?” The second thing being, “I wonder what Disney movie makes his eyes moist?” I’ll get to the first question in a bit, but to the second point… just about any of them, “Frozen 2” being the latest.
Two months ago, I was in Aspen as part of the International Career Advancement Program (ICAP) which I had just been selected to. The first thing they had us do was to talk about ourselves, to share with everyone in the room a story we hadn’t shared with most, and before I could speak, I was overcome with emotion. As I finished my story, I told everyone that while I have experienced loss, hurt, and pain, I still look for the best in all things because there is so much out there that we could be sad over, but there is so much more that we should be thankful for.
During my lowest of lows, I thought about what it would be like if I were no more. There have been moments where I thought that permanent darkness would be easier to accept than the feelings I had at the time.
I have lost a few Marines to suicide and it’s a topic that bothers me because I have seen what it does to the families they’ve left behind. It is the easiest solution for the individual, but the most horrific outcome to those they love, to those they’ve left behind. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The pain may last a while, but it will not last forever.
You are not weak if you feel you need help. You are not alone and don’t need to carry that burden on your shoulders. Speak to someone you love and trust, if they love you the same, they will never think of you for what you fear most. They will be that ear you need, if only to release that pressure you’ve been keeping within.
So, I run, I bike, I lift, and I put myself through physical agony daily. I have no shame in what I listen to when I run. I’ll go for a 4-mile run to the soundtrack of “The Lion King” and shout at the top of my lungs, “Oh I just can’t wait to be King!” I… DON’T… CARE!
It helps me with that physical pain, and it allows me to focus on the remainder of my emotional pain. On these runs I think about all I have lived, what I have left behind, and where I am going next. I know that my path was not easy, but I still made it through. I know that the path before me is one that I choose, and one that I will conquer. So, while there may be sadness out there, there is also happiness. There is pride in being who you are, the acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses, and becoming whole.