If you’re in the military, or you’re a police officer or fireman, or you work some other job where you’re under considerable amounts of stress on a regular basis, you’re going to want to read this article.

I’ve been debating sharing this with people for a number of weeks now. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to write it or not, because what I’m about to cover is a highly personal subject that’s affected every area of my life – from work to training to family, nothing’s been untouched by what I’m about to tell you.

I’m also writing this contrary to the advice of a number of people who’ve told me not to. I decided to go ahead and do it because I think what I have to say can help people. I’ve been affiliated with this site for quite a while, and I know what kinds of people read these articles – and I know for a fact that what I’m about to say will hit home for some of you. A lot of you. And if it helps any of you, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

The Issue:

I’ve been suffering from a clinically diagnosed case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for several years now. I’m not writing this article because I’m looking for sympathy or because I’m trying to work anything out on paper. I’ve got all the sympathy I need, and I’m coming closer every day to working out what needs to be worked out. It is what it is, as they say.

Two months ago, I finally decided to do something about it. Some serious issues came to a major head back at the end of March (2009), and I realized I couldn’t go on living my life the way I was living it. I’ve since gone after this thing head-on, and I’ve made some serious progress in “getting my life back,” and since so many military personnel, cops, firemen, etc, read this site, I wanted to share my experiences to help grow awareness of something some of you probably have and don’t even know it.

If you’re reading this and you know I’m talking to you, you also know what you’ve been doing. You’ve been denying it, avoiding it, and trying to work around it. In the process, you’ve been fucking up your own life, the lives of people around you, and the lives of people who love you. That’s what I did, and the best thing I’ve ever done in my life has been putting a stop to it.

I don’t really want to get into the specifics of how I contracted PTSD. I’m going to be intentionally vague on that, because there are things I simply don’t want to talk or write about anymore. My PTSD developed because of a string of events, as opposed to a single-shot trauma. Since 1991, I’ve had a series of bad things happen around me every few years or so. In 18 years, I’ve experienced five major, life-changing events that could conceivably have led to PTSD scenarios. That’s one every 3.6 years. Three of these events involved the deaths of immediate family members in particularly unpleasant circumstances (cancer in two cases, and a car accident at which I was present in the other...these are the so-called “minor” events that made it easier for the major ones to knock me out). Individually, I’ve dealt with all of these events in one form or another. The cumulative effect, however, is the problem at this point.

Following one of these events – not one of the family issues – my PTSD started to noticeably manifest itself in various ways that ran counter to my core personality and the things that are important to me.

I’ve always been an extremely social person. I’m naturally outgoing, very talkative, optimistic and love to meet new people and learn new things. Throughout my entire life, I’ve had, and still have, dozens of close friends. When the PTSD kicked in, I withdrew almost completely from that part of my life. I stopped socializing, only leaving my house to go to work, to train and to go grocery shopping. People would call me on the phone, and I’d want off within five minutes. And NOBODY was permitted to visit me at home, or hang out at my apartment(s). Since this happened, I’ve lived in three different apartments that even my best friends never set foot in.

I’ve also always been an athlete, and I’ve always been obsessed with working out, running, and trying to look, feel and perform at my best. When the PTSD kicked in, I stopped working out, drank about a twelve pack a day for over a year, and occasionally ordered a pizza, for myself, twice a day. In thirteen months, I went from 215 pounds to a high of 335. This happened in the early part of this decade.

It took a “tough love” intervention by my best friend to put this to a stop. I eventually went back to the gym, took the weight off, and rediscovered that part of my life, but it took a while.

The social aspect of my life came back slowly around this time, but it came back. For a few years, I was fine. I was out every weekend, doing fun things with friends and girlfriends and taking vacations, and the PTSD went into a state of what I’m assuming was dormancy.

Until, of course, something else happened in early 2006. That’s when things got serious.

I began avoiding everything. I didn’t sleep (and still wasn’t sleeping much until a few weeks ago). I didn’t eat properly, I lost my temper at the drop of a hat, and I suddenly turned into the world’s worst procrastinator – which, for a proactive Type A personality, may have been the strangest turn of events of all. As for the social withdrawal, well, it came back about fifty times worse than it had ever been before.

Now, instead of simply avoiding social events, they actually scared me. I would walk into a room of people – any room, including family functions – with a hideous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like butterflies, but on a double dose of whatever A-Rod and Manny Ramirez have been taking. My voice would shake from sheer nerves. My posture would make me look like I was cowering. I’ve seen pictures of myself doing this, and it’s awful – this big, jacked up dude looking like a human question mark. I developed strange tics. I stopped making eye contact with people. I blushed easily. I’ve had to pace the floor for several minutes to work up the nerve to make simple phone calls. I’d repeat the same turns of phrase over and over again during conversations.

Oddly enough – and people who know me will recognize this – one of these turns of phrase involves percentages. When I’m nervous, I’ll start quoting percentages in conversation. I’ll say, “You know, something like 80% of people think the sky is about 95% blue.” I’ll also badly overuse the word “literally.” When I start adverb-ing everything with “literally,” that’s when you know the PTSD is up to say hello.

I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist or PTSD expert. I can only tell you what’s happened to me and some other people I’ve spoken to about it recently. I can tell you how it takes. And takes. And takes. And takes. And doesn’t give shit back unless you’re talking about the people who love you. It gives them plenty. Too bad they don’t want it.

What it Will Take From You

This is what happens when you have PTSD and you don’t do anything about it.

1.  It will take your money. If you’re in college, you probably won’t be able to finish. You’ll lose jobs. You’ll interview for jobs and you won’t get them because you’ll come off like a neurotic moron who can’t speak properly. You’ll do stupid things that will cost you money. You won’t manage your money very well, and you’ll spend stupidly. None of this will matter to you until the damage is already done.

2.  It will take your health. You won’t sleep. You won’t eat properly. You’ll stop exercising. Your blood pressure will go through the roof. You’ll self-medicate with drugs (not me) and booze (definitely me). You will look and feel like shit, and when something happens to you, you’ll be afraid to see a doctor because nothing good has ever happened to you where doctors and hospitals are concerned.

3.  It will take your friends. You’ll start fucking them over. You won’t be reliable, because you’ll be too busy worrying that something’s going to happen to do what you’ve told them you’re going to do. You’ll be invited to do things, and you won’t go. Eventually, you won’t be invited anymore. And when you don’t tell them there’s a problem, they’ll simply think you’re an asshole and move on. You’ll be asked to be in your friend’s wedding party (one of your oldest football friends), and you’ll accept and pay for a tux, and then, on the day of the wedding, you’ll go to another guy’s house and drink all day because you were afraid to go to the wedding. Then you’ll spend five years trying to be the guy’s friend again.

4.  It will occupy your thoughts of the things and places around you and take your memories. Everything in your life will remind you of why this is happening to you, and it will trigger memories and thoughts of the event or events that caused it at the most inopportune possible times. You’ll wake up in the morning and be fine for about 30 seconds, and then it will hit you like a ton of bricks. That will be the worst part of your day. You’ll develop something similar to ADHD, where things that initially seem like a good idea lose their appeal very quickly.

5.  It will destroy your relationships. You will be an unreliable prick. You will be incapable of properly displaying affection because you’re always worrying and you’re always nervous. You will be completely incapable of making anyone else happy, and you will end up alone. This, I have to say, is a complete disaster. I can’t stress this enough:

Whether you’re married, engaged or just dating, if you have PTSD, you will not be able to sustain a healthy relationship with your partner, and that person will eventually run away from you and not look back.

The most brutal, painful part of all of this is that you will see it all unfolding in front of your eyes. You’ll know exactly what’s happening and you’ll know why it’s happening, but you won’t be able to do anything about it by yourself. You’ll go into some situations with suspicion. You’ll enter others with childlike naiveté. You’ll do this in the reverse of how it should be done.

So you’ll lash out and make things worse. This will happen to you over and over and over and over again until your friends and significant others eventually jump ship because they don’t trust you as far as they can throw you. And I can assure you, getting them back is a royal bitch.


I used to sincerely believe that only “weak-minded people” went to see therapists, and that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved with good, old fashioned motivation and self-discipline. If you’d stabbed me a few months ago, I would’ve sincerely believed I could stop the bleeding with discipline. After being “officially” diagnosed, however, and after doing a shitload of research on the subject, I’ve since come to understand that PTSD is a legitimate medical condition that involves alterations to the biochemistry and morphology of the brain.

The goal, then, is to change it back to the way it was – or, at the very least, to evoke changes that allow you to be functional.

Cognitive Therapy didn’t work for me. I didn’t listen to the therapist, I didn’t do my “homework,” and I wasn’t even there for myself. I went for the benefit of a group of people who encouraged me to go, and I went so I could be present when attendance was taken. I didn’t believe in the treatment, I didn’t want to change anything, and I wasn’t ready to listen.

As I said in the introduction, things came to a particularly nasty head recently, and I realized I had to go ahead and do something about this for myself – and not to put on some kind of show for everyone else. That’s what I did the first time around. I put on a show. Everything I did in life was a show for a long, long time. Everything was “fine.” Sure, I was a little eccentric and reclusive, and cranky every once in a while, but that was okay because, for the most part, I was capable of pulling enough enthusiasm out of my ass from time to time to make people think I wasn’t riding the crazy train just yet.

One thing my PTSD treatment has made me realize over the past couple of months is that there were things the condition couldn’t touch. Sports and training, for example. When the PTSD really kicked in permanently back in ’06, I did everything I could to train my ass off and maintain my involvement with football and other sports. I needed that lifeline. That connection to the time before all this shit happened. Again, people who know me can vouch for the fact that, aside from that year and a half where I let things go, my obsession with sports and training has never, ever been stronger.

My therapist – yeah, I’m using the word, and yeah, I’m seeing one – likened it to falling into a swimming pool with something in your hand that you don’t want to get wet. I held it over my head and kept it dry. This is a good thing, because it shows that I’m fully capable of getting the fuck out of the pool. It also shows that it’s possible to pull out the other things that have fallen into the pool and dry them off – my goals, my ambition, my talent, my work ethic and my emotional stability. All things that have been in question over the past few years.

Course of Treatment

I started a course of treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) about eight weeks ago. I’ve had seven full sessions thus far, and this stuff has been a revelation.

EMDR reorganizes how you cognitively “process” the event or events that precipitated the onset of PTSD. You’re essentially being “programmed,” through a series of images, sounds, eye movements and cognitive therapy, to come up with different responses to these events. I’ve read a lot about EMDR over the past two months, and there are several different explanations for why experts think it works.

I don’t give a shit what these explanations are. All I know is that I feel better. I’ve fallen back into old (good) habits. I started running again – which is kind of weird for the people on this site, but that’s what’s gone on. I didn’t even think about this, either. It just sort of happened. I woke up one morning and decided to start running. I’m waking up at 5:30 in the morning again. Naturally. I’m in bed by 10. Naturally. This has been my circadian rhythm for my entire life, but I wasn’t doing anything close to these things for several years.

I’m sleeping now. I fall asleep instantly, and I wake up on my own, early, without the use of an alarm clock. I’m not waking up in the middle of the night for two-hour-long periods of floor pacing anymore. My workout intensity – stagnant as shit for a couple of months – has come back hardcore. I’m more focused and able to concentrate on things for hours, rather than jumping back and forth from task to task every 15 minutes.

I’m adapting. When people ask me for favors, or things don’t go exactly as I’ve planned them, I haven’t been feeling irritable and lashing out. I’ve been accepting these things and changing on the fly. I haven’t been able to do that in years. My road rage is gone. I no longer give a flying fuck what anyone else is doing.

I’ve been social. I’m seeking out my friends. I’m asking them what they’re doing, proactively making plans, then following through with those plans and hanging out with my friends without leaving early. People are suspicious. They’re noticing how differently I’ve been acting, and they think I want something.

The therapist asked me what I wanted a few weeks ago, and I’ll tell you exactly what I told him. I said I want to be what I would have been had none of this shit ever happened to me. I said, okay, fine, I couldn’t handle things that maybe other people could have. But I couldn’t handle them because I caught a bug somewhere along the line. It wasn’t because I was “weak,” or a “pussy,” or “fragile.” And I know I can’t go back to the way I was before, because I’m older now and I’ve seen and learned too much. Hell, I wouldn’t want to go back to the way I was before.

But I want to be what I would’ve been, because I feel like I’ve been cheated.

Taking Stock

Once the healing mechanism is in motion, which it is for me right now, it seems a natural course of events to undertake a frank, brutally honest assessment of where PTSD and all its magic has left you. You take stock. It’s like bunkering down for a hurricane, then going outside when the storm’s over to see what’s salvageable and what you’ll need to file insurance claims for. That’s what I’ve been doing lately – figuring out where I am.

Professionally: I’d lost my ambition for a few years, and this has hurt my career. I’m behind. I’ve spent the past few years not caring what I was doing, not caring where I was working, and being happy just “getting by.” I’ve also been afraid to put myself out there professionally. I don’t know if I was afraid of failure or afraid of success, and it doesn’t matter. I simply didn’t move. Not to sound full of myself, but I have too much ability to be where I am now, in a professional sense, and that’s in the process of changing as we speak.

Financially: This goes hand in hand with the professional end of things. My lack of ambition has hurt me financially. I know we’re in a recession right now, and everyone’s feeling it – at least most people are – but I’m living far, far below my capacity to earn, and have been for some time now. Right now, I’m in the process of teaching myself to compete again. I fully intend to right the ship in this area sooner rather than later.

Socially: My friends no longer trust me in a social sense. They’ll trust me to show up and move furniture, or watch their kids, but they don’t trust me to show up for social occasions, so they simply don’t call – or if they do, they do so with a grain of salt, figuring I’m probably not going to show up anyway.

Relationships: As I said earlier, this has been brutal. PTSD, or, rather, my unwillingness or inability to seek treatment for it, essentially ended an amazing relationship that, had I done something about this earlier in the game, wouldn’t have ended. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, and it’s my primary motivation for writing this article – so maybe someone can read this, process what I’m saying, and not fuck up his life and relationship the way I did.

Training: If you’ve read Stress of Life by Hans Selye – or you’ve been listening to some of the coaches on this site – you know that the body doesn’t, and can’t, differentiate between stressors. When you have PTSD, your entire life is a stressor, and your body eventually stops adapting to whatever training you’re doing.

The important thing to remember when you have PTSD is that you’re fighting two separate battles. You’re battling the condition itself, but you’re also engaged in a fight against the damage the symptoms are causing. If you’re screwing something up, and you say to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to apologize to my girlfriend and everything’s going to be fine,” you’re treating a runny nose and thinking you’re curing the common cold. It doesn’t help. Unless you get to the root of the problem, your training – and the rest of your life – will remain in the toilet because the stresses are simply going to keep on coming.

My Advice:

You can’t fight PTSD on your own. Trust me, I tried. You’re reading an article by the most anti-therapy guy walking the earth, but I went. It took a while, but I realized that this is a legitimate, treatable, curable medical condition, and against all my preconceived notions of what kinds of people see therapists, I went and did something about it.

If you’re in the military – or in another job that provides help – and any of what I’ve written applies to you, go see someone. I know some of your counselors suck, but you need to keep going back until you find someone you can trust, because you’re never going to be able to live up to your potential if you try to work this out on your own. Trust me on that one.

Go see someone. More importantly, tell your family and friends what you’re doing. If you have PTSD, you’ve likely done and seen things people can’t possibly understand, so they have no business judging you – and if they do, they’re not worth your time or effort. What you’ll find – what I found – is that the people who really care about you will be more understanding and supportive than you think.

Don’t just do nothing.