Carlos

Age at interview: 65
Outline:

During an Army training drill Carlos was involved in a Jeep accident. He was knocked unconscious and suffered what doctors referred to as a non-open head injury. He thought little of it then but gradually his behavior became more erratic, antisocial, and he began self-medicating beginning a long downward spiral into depression and isolation. Carlos eventually got help to manage the symptoms of his injury including difficulty communicating, memory loss, and vision problems. He goes to therapy and is involved in programs through the VA and Easter Seals.

Background:

Military branch: Army, National Guard

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After serving three years in the Army in the early seventies, Carlos returned home to Texas where he continued his service in the National Guard. During an annual training drill he was involved in an accident when the jeep he was riding in rolled over. He was knocked unconscious and suffered what doctors referred to as a non-open head injury. Right away Carlos started noticing he was having regular nightmares but didn’t think much of it. Gradually his behavior became more erratic, antisocial, and he began isolating himself and self-medicating.

A pipefitter for twenty years, Carlos lost his job when his employers noticed he was having trouble communicating and cooperating with contractors and fellow employees. “It’s hard when you don’t, you can’t express yourself or they don’t understand you. They just kind of don’t want to deal with you.” Carlos refers to that time in his life as hitting bottom. “I had nobody else to go to. I was burning bridges with all of them.” At that point his union stepped in, writing a letter to VA disability services to let them know about his erratic behavior and his need for assistance.

When he did begin to get help Carlos clashed with providers including a psychologist who didn’t believe him when he described his issues. “He started accusing me there was nothing wrong with me.” Climbing up from the bottom was struggle for but eventually he “screamed and hollered” enough that “somebody realized I needed some help.” It took 28 years, from the time he sustained his head injury, for Carlos to find the help he needed.

Carlos still struggles with the symptoms of his injury including difficulty communicating, memory loss, and vision problems. He goes to therapy and is involved in programs through the VA and Easter Seals, which have helped him by making his condition less isolating and by helping him learn to manage the anger that stemmed from it. “Being angry and not caring is, that’s the problem.”

 

Carlos sustained a head injury in a Jeep accident during an annual training for the National Guard.

Carlos sustained a head injury in a Jeep accident during an annual training for the National Guard.

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Oh my head injury, like I said, I was in the, after I got out of the Army I was in the National Guard and we did annual training. And this happened on my annual training in Fort Hood, Texas. We were out there for two weeks and in the two weeks we were kind of gathering up, we were mostly out in the field. Once we got there, we set up in the field and we went through the drills and everything else. And we were in the process of kind of heading back towards the barracks, and in doing, I was a gunner with a 106 Jeep, and the driver and a passenger and me sitting on the back. And we were heading through the woods back to Fort Hood and to the base you know and there was a curve with downhill slope and that’s where we rolled over. And I was unconscious, I don’t know for how long, but we had kind of like gone ahead of everybody and then, by the time I came to there was all kinds of people in the ambulances and everything you know. So that was kind of like the main experience. And it was a non-open head injury.

 

Carlos finally sought care at the VA after going through a divorce and hitting “bottom.”

Carlos finally sought care at the VA after going through a divorce and hitting “bottom.”

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If I did the math, maybe like 28 years.

I: How did you finally get connected?  Was it one of the doctors that connected you?

Well, what happened, like I said, the divorce is, the loss of relationship with my relatives, my brothers, and parents and finally my wife and my kids, you know, that was kind of like the bottom that forced me to take some action, you know. And then I came into the VA and they saw that there was a documented head injury. And it took time, you know, because I would go in there expecting things, and not understanding how the system works today. Today, it’s always changing. And even though I have this awareness, I had to keep up with the constant changes that are taking place, just to keep going, you know, stay above, you know.  

 

Carlos talks about hitting “bottom” and losing his wife and kids.

Carlos talks about hitting “bottom” and losing his wife and kids.

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No, no. I hit a bottom. It’s like alcoholics, you know, and relationships, you know, your kids don’t want you. Your relatives don’t want you. Your landlords don’t want you. You know you get totally in isolation, nobody wants you and say, “What’s wrong?” And I would always blame everybody else. “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s you.” That’s denial you know, but eventually you gotta take, you know, stock of what’s going on. And be honest with yourself, you know and when you say that everybody else is wrong, well there’s gotta be something wrong with that picture. Everybody can’t be wrong, and I’m the only one that’s right, so then you come to your senses and say “Hey man, what’s going on?” And that’s when I lost my wife and kids. They brought the law in and they kicked me out of my house. That was my bottom.

 

 

The cognitive skills Carlos learned while in therapy have helped to change his thinking.

The cognitive skills Carlos learned while in therapy have helped to change his thinking.

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And, faith, faith came in, you know, and I started having faith. And my thinking started to change. And today, when I went to this program, that’s what it’s all about. Thinking, the way we think. Cognitive skills, and I mean, it’s very, very valuable information, you know, to understand the way we think and it’s helped me understand a lot of things, you know, about myself and accept myself. And, you know, understand that some of the things, there’s nothing I can do about it. And I have to accept them instead of fighting them. I could just deal with them, do the next right, next best thing, or just live with it, you know. Deal with it. Instead of getting angry, or fighting, every, cause that used to be me, you know, I used to fight everybody for any reason. And all of the time, you know, I was always arguing and fighting about everything and anything, you know. But, some of the courses that I attended were PT, anger management, coping skills, and then I did the PTSD class. That was pretty neat because I had a psychologist that I was working with. We did a group session and then we did a one on one. That kind of helped a lot.

And I guess, I think now that I mention it, I think he may have suggested that I needed more help and that’s how I wound up in this program, which has been, it’s been like a blessing for me you know. To finally understand, you know, where I’m at and what’s going on. And my past and my present and then my future, you know. All I have to do is take what I know and stay occupied. Keep my mind busy. Stay positive and, and, and, and keep moving forward, you know. I cannot stay, lay around the house, like I used to, get depressed and eat and watch TV and do nothing but, you know, laying around or drink, stuff like that. I can’t do that, you know. And that’s been instilled in my mind, and that’s the wrong thing to do. So, you know, this program has taught me a lot of things about myself and the way to think. And that’s what I’m very grateful to have learned so much, you know. And even though I struggle with memory, you know, I’m thinking that, well hey, well see I have all of these notes that I can always refer back to, and keep myself, reminding myself of my weaknesses, and add something to it to kind of inspire me or give me new thoughts or good thoughts, good ideas. And just, you know, live one day at a time that way. And I don’t think I’ll have a problem doing that. Now that I have become self-aware. 

And, like I mentioned, you know, a lot of people that I see, a lot of Veterans, you know, they don’t have this type of understanding. Nobody teaches you that. So, to be, to learn about cognitivity, you know, and the way we think, the way people in general should think, you know, it’s very valuable information, you know, that I think a lot of the Veterans, you know, because I hear that there’s a lot of Veterans suffering, you know, on the streets, you know, cause they’re just making the wrong choices. They don’t have information to decide to make a different choice, and so in their own mind, it’s like my mind, it was a one-track mind, you know, and it’s all anger and not caring, is the way I felt. I wish to be. And now, I know better, you know. Have to care, you know. And in life, you know, moments come around that make you feel, you know, powerless or whatever, you know, but that’s only a moment, you know, tomorrow’s a different day. And I’m not the only one that goes through situations. There’s other people that going through it, so that’s something that’s very valuable to understand and not get bogged down in that stuff, not stop caring or not doing what have to do for my own being, you know. And for my family, cause I still have family, and this program has allowed me to bring back my family, you know.  Slowly but surely, they’re coming around. They see those changes on me, you know, in me. And the progress, the way I did, you know. I’m really very lucky, you know, the head injury program, and I’m fixing to complete it, you know. And, I still like it some but I think it, what it is, is opening up, you know, to share my story like I’m doing now. I think that will really, really benefit me, to share my story with other people and they can see that they too suffer.

 

 

 

For Carlos, communicating with people who have gone through similar experiences is an important source of support.

For Carlos, communicating with people who have gone through similar experiences is an important source of support.

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Strangers. Yes, it’s hard when you don’t, you can’t express yourself or they don’t understand you. They just kind of don’t want to deal with you. But I guess a lot of strangers, going through same, similar situations, or they having experienced this stuff, going down that path, you know, struggling and then isolation and being down and out, you know, so they can relate. And, then it’s just to communicate it with somebody. And well like I said, that these people here, in this program where I’m at, I struggle with it, that lady instructor there but, you know I don’t look at the differences. The information that she’s putting out, I don’t have to agree with everything but, you know, I keep an open mind and I try to grasp what I think is best for me and not dwell on arguing or defending or disagreeing.