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through a viewfinder

Hello, my name is Joe, and I am a disabled combat veteran, I struggle with PTSD. Please understand that I am not speaking for everyone that struggles with PTSD and I am by far not an expert but I struggle with PTSD daily, so maybe what I have to say might help someone.

I served for twelve years in the U.S. Army; I wasn’t the most hard charging-ist soldier you might have met but I wanted to be great at what I did, and I got to serve with some amazing people. Then, one day, I was retired from service for medical reasons, PTSD being one of them.


Fast forward a few years and now I am a civilian and I still struggle fitting into this new world, sure I have had plenty of time but it still surprises me pretty often.

I find myself struggling with how civilians and even some veterans interact with each other; I see all the nuances of their body language, their insinuations, and even the hidden meanings in their words. For me, it is foreign to see people not know how to be kind to each other. Now, you might think that the military isn’t kind and you would be 1000% correct BUT the military has a standard of how you should act.

That carries a lot of weight for interactions and even though it is chaotic, military life was often predictable.

The typical response when I bring something like this up to a therapist or friend is “that’s how people are.” While I saw this in my civilian life before the military, I never thought the whole world dealt with this nonsense on a daily basis. You wonder why seemingly “normal” people are always stressed out.

What does that mean for me?

Outside of work I pretty much never leave the house. I play video games with friends, and that is pretty much the sum of my human interaction outside of work and my family. Gaming is fun, and my friends (from all over the world) have been an anchor for me for many years as most of them were real life friends before being virtual ones.

This is definitely not a healthy way to live and for a time was a big stressor with my family.

One day, the love of my life had a crazy idea. She decided that since I enjoyed photography she would buy me a camera. You know one of those fancy ones that make you look like a legit photographer (which I actually am).

Her idea was that since I am always wrapped up in seeing everything around us, getting frustrated and then ultimately angry, that I could focus through the viewfinder of my camera. I would see only my daughters, only my wife, the things most important.

That very weekend we went to a very public place, one of the things I hate most due to the sheer amount of people. And wouldn’t you know it, it was actually pretty fun.

I’m not saying it was a cure-all and suddenly I was back to life before the war but it was a big step in the right direction. For years I could view my career through the iron sights of a rifle, maybe now I could turn it into something equally productive in my new life.

But Joe, what if I don’t like photography? Well, ask yourself, what do you enjoy?

Find that desire or that curiosity and give it a shot, maybe take some of that hyper-vigilance and turn it into a useful skillset. Find some way to turn what you might view as a weakness into strength because if the military has shown me anything is that we are all of us resilient. We can bounce back from anything and one day life will seem like it was when you served, or before the event that started this all.

Sometimes when you see life through a viewfinder, you can see past all of the distractions. You can see what you have been overlooking this whole time.

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