A Veteran Living with PTSD on Losing Control

Cheyenne Forsythe, an Iraq War veteran, is currently a business student at the University of South Florida.


Last week, I was sitting in the office with a psychologist getting treated in a Department of Defense study called Accelerated Resolution Therapy at the University of South Florida. The Doc running the treatment was doing the routine hand movements and I was following along trying to do the best guinea pig impression that I could muster. I know I can’t tell soldiers what to do, if I’m not willing to go through it myself, so I dig in and bare my guts for him.

We go through the normal process and I start describing what happens to me when I lose control of myself and I snap at someone. He’s stunned. He starts telling me that what I experience has been found in brain scans and I should write about it because I have some training in the inner workings of the brain and veterans would appreciate the insight from one of their own. To tell you the truth, it took me a while to actually sit down and get this out. It’s been quite a rocky road to this point.

The loss of control I experience happens at an integral moment when my brain runs into a momentary wall in the communication process. That’s putting it nicely. People who can’t see things my way are at the greatest risk of my loss of control. Most of the time its happened to be the ones that I love the most. So, for a while, I took to protecting them from me by isolating myself in my apartment, which only compounded the overall problem.

The reason why we have the need to isolate ourselves is for the good of our relationships with our loved ones. We know something is different about ourselves but reintegrating becomes a daunting task that most of us choose to avoid for fear of disappointing ourselves and those that we love. We don’t want to go off in a sudden rant, or worse, and give them reason to think differently of us.

Cheyenne Forsythe and his fiance, Joy Finley.

We want to be loved. What we need to understand is that there has been a change in our brain between the higher thinking, communication portion and the reptilian fight or flight portion. There used to be a super highway between the two, where there is now only a single dirt road. When that dirt road gets a little congested our brain stops all traffic and maintains functioning at the lower, easier level of problem solving. This is when I find myself yelling at the top of my lungs or going into auto pilot, stuck in the rigidity of my own perspective or opinion; the old my way or the highway routine. In order to return to living normal lives we’ve got to start constructing a better road.

What helps to alleviate the situation is having someone around who is wise enough to spot the transition. This is where Joy, my fiancé, comes in. She’s really good at spotting the transition and with a simple sentence like, “This is the PTSD talking”, I can see myself getting angry or frustrated at something that doesn’t need that level of intensity. It’s like a light bulb moment.

Our brains have become too used to the fight or flight way of looking at things so we now apply it to everything. We have to educate ourselves and find a way to do the same with our loved ones for the sake of our relationships with them. I know a few people who’ve told me they wish they understood why they were acting the way they were, long before now. A few marriages could’ve been spared the ordeal of divorce if they had just taken the time to understand what was needed to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One book that touches on the importance of unity in the family when facing PTSD is called, “The War at Home: One Family’s Fight Against PTSD.” I’ve been following the development of the book in a group the author and his wife started on Facebook called, “Military with PTSD.” They’re really decent people. To use boxing analogy, we’ve developed a corner for ourselves. When the fight of everyday life seems to take more out of us than usual, we come together and share some motivating words then get back in the ring. Military as well as family members can join up and see what we all go through in order to gain a little common ground.

We can’t do this on our own. It’s going to take our families, group therapy, medication and one-on-one psychotherapy for many of us to get back some normalcy in our lives. Compared to veterans of previous generations, more of us have a better chance of becoming productive and centered citizens because we know what we’re up against. All it takes is the same level of dedication that got us through Basic Training or Boot Camp. So, get in there and make it happen.

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