Jason

Age at interview: 26
Outline:

While stationed in Afghanistan, Jason’s convoy was blown-up twice in a one-week period, the latter incident rendering him unconscious and sending him to the hospital where he would be monitored for ten days. Upon returning to his battalion he noticed he had difficulty with his balance, focus, and suffered from frequent mood swings. This continued once he returned home and Jason struggled with jobs and school. He began to cope with his symptoms by practicing critical thinking and recollection, and making notes and lists to keep organized.

Background:

Military branch: Marine Corps 

See full story

Jason enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2007 at the age of 19. While on an overseas deployment in Afghanistan in 2011 the vehicle he was traveling in was blown up by an IED device and sent plunging off a bridge into a ravine. One week later, 400 feet from the first incident, his vehicle was blown up again, the force of which knocked him unconscious. He recalls being airlifted from the scene, “throwing up” and “fading in and out.”

Jason slept for a day and half and was scanned to monitor the swelling in his brain. He spent ten days recuperating in the wounded warriors section before being sent back to his convoy and back out on missions. Once he returned to his unit he began to notice that things were different. His balance was off, he had trouble focusing on the tasks in front of him, and he felt “almost instantly a little handicapped.” Thinking and processing were harder for Jason than they had been before and he noticed that his team members were sometimes frustrated with his slower abilities. He had difficulty focusing on his emotions and would have frequent mood swings.

Jason was near the end of his deployment and served the last few months before heading home in the fall of 2011. When he got back to the states he “didn’t have any time to unwind, settle in” and pretty much “job-hopped” for the next few years. Jason tried enrolling in school but struggled because he “couldn’t stand being around a lot of people” and because of his military experience he had difficulty relating to others and felt like he was “100 years old with a group of ten-year-olds.”

Jason is currently back in school studying for a degree in psychology but struggles with learning new tasks, absorbing new material, and focusing. To cope with these deficits, he focuses on critical thinking and recollection tasks, and makes notes and lists to keep organized. To others newly diagnosed with a brain injury he says they must “understand that it is going to affect more things than you possibly could think it would,” but that “just because you can’t do the same things you used to doesn’t make you an inadequate person.”

 

Jason figured out something was wrong by evaluating himself, not by being screened.

Jason figured out something was wrong by evaluating himself, not by being screened.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

…matter of fact I really didn’t get, have any kind of assessment, regarding, I mean there, there was some assessment when I was in the, you know, going through my, my claims and everything. My claims process. But I think, the most of my, most of my kind of realization, I guess, I guess, does that answer, kind of, more, most of my, kind of evaluation was on myself.  Because you never know how an injury can, can really affect you and I guess, I guess there was really no, I mean there’s no handbook really to kind of, kind of say, you might be expecting this in the future or you might come across this in the future to, especially with, or I never got that or any kind of words of advice as far as my doctor was like, “well you’re, you know, good enough to, to go back to the front. I guess you, I guess you must be fine, you know if you start, you know severe, like severe action like, if you start, you know throwing up constantly or, or your balance is just completely out of whack, you know things like that or, if you know, heaven forbid you start leaking clear fluid through your nose, or, you know, if it gets bad enough for something like that or if you have severe, especially if you have severe, severe pressure headaches, to definitely get it checked out. But, as far as the long-term effects, I guess I never really got any kind of information about it. It was more of a self-evaluation. “Hey, I’m not what I was, you know, a couple months ago, a couple, you know, a couple years ago. Not the same person, I’m not. I should be here, and I know I was here before, and ever since that day I’ve been limited in some way.” And kind of really going back and kind of, you know, evaluate, I guess evaluating myself and saying something’s not right. And that’s kind of when I….

 

Jason felt “a little handicapped” after his head injury, due to problems with his memory and balance.

Text only
Read below

Jason felt “a little handicapped” after his head injury, due to problems with his memory and balance.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I realized that things weren’t like, thinking, processing things was a lot harder, like I couldn’t, I couldn’t remember things a lot of things. And a lot of guys, or a couple people got, you know, were kind of, kind of got, frustrated with me when I couldn’t remember something or if I couldn’t understand something. Most of the other guys, I got slapped in the head like “hey, he’s got a head injury, like leave him alone.” But, like, I felt like, I had been, I had, again I guess, I guess I kind of felt, almost instantly, a little handicapped, for some reason. Like, I, I couldn’t do the same things. I couldn’t, I didn’t have as good of balance as, you know…I had little, I had a lot of mood swings. A lot of problems with my, just different, different things like I couldn’t focus on certain emotions or anything. Like I would, it would just, I don’t know, it was all that, it was all out of whack. Just those things…

 

Jason talks about being slower than other people at the same skill level.

Jason talks about being slower than other people at the same skill level.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

Just that it’s harder for me to, to be able to do certain things. Where one person might excel, let’s say, you give them a project to, to come up with these numbers and run these numbers, and kind of work on something. It may, it’d probably take me longer than the other person, that’s in a similar you know similar fashion, similar skill level and everything. It, will probably take me a lot longer, and that kind of, that kind of, feeling like I’m, I’m being held back or that I can’t, you know, I can’t even, why?

 

Jason has adapted by finding new things to do, but says that everything feels a “lot more bland.”

Jason has adapted by finding new things to do, but says that everything feels a “lot more bland.”

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

It’s got, I mean it’s gotten a little bit better since then, but for the most part I’ve been kind of, for the most part it’s just trying to find a new, just new ways of doing things. And just trying to, because there’s certain things that I’m not going to be able to do, so I’m just physically not going to be able to do. As far as career, a lot of career thinking things, so it’s finding, it’s adapting and finding your crutch I guess is the best way to kind of put it. You gotta kind of find your crutch.

I: Has it sort of changed, the things that you like to do in life, like in your spare time, and sort of your overall sense of just well-being?

Yeah, in some ways. I like to think I have, you know, a fairly healthy well-being mentally but a lot of the things that, you mean as far as my level of enjoyment or?

I: Yeah, yeah. Just sort of how you’re feeling in life?

That, I would say as far as my ability to enjoy a lot of things, it, it makes, things aren’t as, experiences are a lot more tasteless, I guess everything’s a little bit bland. I wouldn’t say that everything’s gray or dark or anything but it, my capacity to, to feel a lot of intense emotions and stuff like that, or my capacity to be able to feel, you know, extreme happiness or connections in a lot of ways, that I know for a fact is lessened. It’s a, there’s a lot of a, like I said, everything’s a lot more bland.

 

Jason tried taking medication, but eventually stopped because he “couldn’t stand himself on it.”

Jason tried taking medication, but eventually stopped because he “couldn’t stand himself on it.”

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I became an alcoholic. Especially because I didn’t, when you’re isolated and you don’t have anyone to talk to that, even if you don’t have anyone to talk to that can understand, somebody that’s been there and done that, just being in the same environment as them, really is kind of a huge thing. I started drinking heavily. I didn’t know why I wanted to. I didn’t know why I was, you know, depressed or why I got angry or why some, why days I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. And then I started, or I, then I came to the VA and they were prescribing various forms of medication. And that was probably the worst thing for me, because a lot of things, a lot of the problems that I have with my head, I was kind of, I was low on serotonin, which kind of helps, which, it stabilizes your mood in a little bit, and kind of helps you I guess, have a flavor, I guess, where everything doesn’t feel like, tasteless, I guess. So, I started taking that and it actually inhibited more than what I was needing so.

A funny thing about serotonin, is that when you have too much of it you start hallucinating. When you actually have too much of it going through your system, you can have very vivid hallucinations and and have different things that go on. I think it’s, I think  it’s actually LSD that actually helped, actually releases a lot of, or a serotonin, and that’s part of why people have hallucinations during, or during a trip, or as the effect of, a lot of the effect of serotonin. I didn’t learn this later until I was, you know, you know a couple years later, but, I realized that, you know, I was, you know, wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t, you know, I was, I lost a ton of weight. I was down, probably, 30, 40 pounds from what I, you know, what I was. I was like 180, 190, I was like a solid 220, you know, 215, 220. I, you know, I eventually just stopped taking it because I couldn’t, and I didn’t, I couldn’t stand myself on it, because it was, it would, I would have, I would grind my teeth and it would, I would have twitches and…

I: Which one was it, do you know? 

Sertraline, that was one of them. I did try to take Lunesta. I tried, I want to say it was Ambien, and then there was another one that I took, which, none of the stuff really helps, as far as, as far as like trying to normalize it, normalize my, my levels of serotonin. I eventually just got to the point where I was like, can’t take this. I can’t take this medication anymore. It, it’s changed me into somebody I don’t like to be, and then I kind of went back into, because I, you know it made me happy, you know it made me feel, you know, feel happy, but it was like overly happy, it was, too almost a panicky happy. It was, it was weird, so yeah I did, I stopped using that. 

 

Jason wants to be understood, not “fixed,” and says that the best support he has experienced is from other Veterans.

Jason wants to be understood, not “fixed,” and says that the best support he has experienced is from other Veterans.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

To tell you the truth, the best support that I have ever experienced is other Veterans. My family doesn’t understand. Matter of fact most, most friends and people that I know, have always passed me off saying “ooh, you need to go get it fixed. Or you need to go to the VA and, you know, see a doctor or see a counselor or something, or, you know get some medication.” Well, I don’t want to be fixed. I just want to be understood. And that’s one of the, that’s, so I, there, it kind of tends to isolate a lot of Veterans, into, that’s, I understand why Veteran suicide rate is so much higher. It’s because you’re dealing with any kind of handicaps, any different, you know, things that you’re going through or that you might be disabled from, from your service. You’re dealing with an extreme identity crisis. Isolation from people who understand you. And most of your, or most of the family doesn’t want to hear it. They don’t know how to come to grasp, or want to know. I mean there’s, I have some family members that I can turn to, but they’re few and far between. It’s mostly “Well, that’s too bad, there, there, go, you need to go get passed along,” and that tends to put people into even more depression about their situation.

 

Jason says it is important to find support from other Veterans who have an implicit understanding of what you’ve been through.

Jason says it is important to find support from other Veterans who have an implicit understanding of what you’ve been through.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

You know, don’t, you know, kicking us to the curb. That’s also why the homeless rate is so much higher for, for veterans is a lot of guys don’t know how to handle it and they break down. They lose everything. And so, it’s, they just don’t, they don’t know how to come back to, when, we’re, you know we’re always going to be different in society. We’re not going to ever, we’re not going to go with the grain as, as far as, as many as other people will. And as far as, as far as, how we do things, we, we kind of walk to the beat of a different drum, I guess. But, you know, we still are of value. And, for other veterans too, that are out there, like, definitely, definitely being able to meet up with them, with other, with other people, just being able to meet up with other vets. I mean, I can pass somebody on the street who’s, you know, was in 30, 40 years before I was and I can still have a, a connection, a friendly conversation with somebody. It’s just kind of an understanding, that you know, “Hey been, you’ve been through the suck”, you know, and, and you know, you might have gone forward and, and done some, you know, been part of something grand or something that was really kind of horrible, you know, but there’s an understanding there that “hey, been there, done that, I know what you’re, I know what you’re going through.” And, and having that support, especially for, for people who have, not just for having injuries like TBI and, and like, and you know just other, other things too. Just have a network of support, of people who just understand and it’s an implicit understanding. Implicit.

 

Counseling has helped Jason’s fiancée understand his symptoms and why he does the things he does.

Counseling has helped Jason’s fiancée understand his symptoms and why he does the things he does.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

…..there’s some people that understand, that kind of, kind of get that hey, you know, it’s, you know, with along with my, you know, PTSD or you know other, other different things that there’s certain handicaps that I can’t do. There’s some things I can’t do and that I’m going to have a lot, a lot of problems with. My fiancee is not one of those understanding people, so it’s really caused a lot of strife. My physical inability, that’s kind of been a big, big thing in our relationship, but it’s, you know she, she kind of understands hey, you know, it’s not your fault. It’s nothing, it’s nothing I can do to help either so it’s one of those things, it has been, has been kind of like something to build upon. Something to really understand that this is a something that we’re going to have to deal with. Not, not something that’s easy, in any case, but we, you know, going on with, going on with that.

A lot of, a lot of the handicaps that I have, or as far as critical thinking or memory tasks or you know, “hey, can you do this for me this day,” unless I, I have, I actually just bought a calendar thank goodness, because if she says something, I, I won’t remember it a day, less than a day later. I just physically won’t. So that’s been kind of a big thing is like “Well you said you’d do this.” Well, you know, so I mean that, there’s that, there’s a lot of, a lot of the emotional stuff as far as getting stressed or getting frustrated easily or, you know sometimes just you know it, it’s one of, like sometimes I’ll have, there’ll be, I’ll just be sitting there and all of a sudden I’ll just get down in the dumps, just like almost instantaneously, and I won’t know why. So I don’t know if it’s, you know, if that’s part of the chemical imbalances or anything. I, I assume that it could possibly be, but there, there will be some things that I don’t even know why, you know, what’s going on. And, that’s been, that’s been kind of an issue. It’s been one of those things, it’s something that we, that has caused a lot of strife but we’re, we’re actually going to a lot of counseling, or been going to counseling lately, to kind of work through some of the things and they kind of brought to light that “Hey, you know, you’re, you’re just a bit different but now I can understand why you do the things you do.”

 

Jason’s job as an infantryman was to “go forth and kill the enemy” and he had an identity crisis when he got home.

Jason’s job as an infantryman was to “go forth and kill the enemy” and he had an identity crisis when he got home.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

It’s, I, I can tell you that, from personal experience that, because that was my job, I was an infantryman, that’s what I was trained to do, was to go forth and kill the enemy. In every single facet of the word. I’m not a monster, I don’t think I am. I’m a pretty nice guy, but, it’s a lot of, a lot of the problem, especially with the, going back to three months, having that time, especially right before you get out, is because you’re probably gonna go, you’re gonna go through the biggest identity crisis you’ve ever known. When something is all you, you eat, breathe and sleep and sweat and everything, for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for four years solid, or more, you know, especially right, or getting right out of high school, because when you get out of high school, your, that becomes your identity. Your job becomes your identity. Because when people always say I’m a, I’m a lawyer, I’m a, I’m a painter, I’m a, you know, a car salesman. That, your job identifies something about you, and identifies who you are. And especially something that’s so visceral, something that’s so involved in who you are, as a person, especially being in the military when you go, when you’re, you’re, I wouldn’t say the, you’re kind of held to a higher standard, or people look to you and you kind of, you know, I’m, I’m tough guy, you know, I’m, I do, you know I do tough job and I’m kind of held to this standard and then you go back to the society and realize, whoa, that’s not my identity anymore. Where do I go from here? And that was one of the biggest things that I had trouble with. That’s why you see a lot of guys, you know, you know they say, you know “I hate the Marine Corps, this sucks”, and a year later, they, they’ve got 40 flags off of their pick-up truck and they’re still wearing that hat and tight haircut. It’s because something that is, that is so visceral and, something that’s tangible like that, it’s a, it’s your identity, it’s almost a tangible thing, because you live and you work and you do it. Identity crisis is a huge thing.

 

Jason had a harder time remembering and processing things and felt like things were “out of whack."

Jason had a harder time remembering and processing things and felt like things were “out of whack."

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I realized that things weren’t like, thinking, processing things was a lot harder, like I couldn’t, I couldn’t remember things a lot of things. And a lot of guys, or a couple people got, you know, were kind of, kind of got, frustrated with me when I couldn’t remember something or if I couldn’t understand something. Most of the other guys, I got slapped in the head like “hey, he’s got a head injury, like leave him alone.” But, like, I felt like, I had been, I had, again I guess, I guess I kind of felt, almost instantly, a little handicapped, for some reason. Like, I, I couldn’t do the same things. I couldn’t, I didn’t have as good of balance as, you know…I had little, I had a lot of mood swings. A lot of problems with my, just different, different things like I couldn’t focus on certain emotions or anything. Like I would, it would just, I don’t know, it was all that, it was all out of whack. Just those things…