Americans across the country are getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July holiday tomorrow, a holiday all about the human spirit and a renewal of #HOPE. So it seemed like a fitting time to bring you our first Story from the Field, stories about the people we have had the honor and privilege to meet through the Field for Hope campaign. These narratives, pictures and videos are our way of helping spark positive conversations around depression and mental health in order to help chip away at the negative stigma surrounding the disease.
Earlier this year we met Tim Kahlor at the PRISM Awards in Los Angeles, an annual awards show that honors TV, movie, music, DVD and comic book entertainment that accurately depict mental health issues. Tim’s son Ryan is a military veteran who lives with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We asked Tim to share his incredible story with us to help kick off our Stories from the Field series.
Contributed by Tim Kahlor
Ryan joined the military in 2002 when he was 18-years-old on a delayed entry program so he could get his braces off his teeth before basic training. He was promised a $12,000 sign-on bonus and told he would be stationed in Germany. We’d sent him to Europe when he was in high school and he loved it. Ryan was always an adventurous kid and loved playing sports; the thought of being paid to keep in shape was his dream job. The military offered him adventure, the ability to work out and stay in shape, all while seeing the world.
He left for basic training on March 18, 2003, the day before the war in Iraq started. Ryan was a member of the 1st Armored Division based out of Baumholder, Germany, and was being sent to Holenfeld, Germany, to a non-deployable unit. However when they offered him rank quicker and no tax on his combat pay if he went to Iraq, he accepted the offer. In 2003 Ryan served as an Infantryman in Bagdad, guarding the green zone and then was later sent out on missions in other areas. There was a lot of action, but it was the next deployment that caused the most damage to Ryan. When we saw him next in 2004 he was friendly, but guarded.
Ryan was married in December of 2005 and deployed to Iraq again in January 2006. That November Ryan endured many struggles, as he was involved in several horrible firefights leaving him to handle many of the dead and wounded. During his two deployments Ryan received repeated injuries to his head and body, including a Traumatic Brain Injury. When he returned to the U.S. they finally sent him to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego to be part of the Wounded Warrior Project for Army members who are injured in combat. There, Ryan’s PTSD really began to erupt, resulting in fighting and explosive yelling. One day I found him rolled up in a ball in the middle of the living room. Ryan was sent to Palo Alto’s in-patient program for PTSD at the VA hospital there. Which I believe, to this day, is still the best program I’ve seen Ryan come out of since 2007 for dealing with PTSD.
When your child is killed in combat the pain of war is over for the soldier or marine, but continues on for their family. When your child lives through combat and comes home with PTSD the mental war of combat is brought from the battlefield into the living room, kitchen, bedroom and to the surrounding community. Ryan was the poster child in 2007 and 2008 for getting and responding to PTSD treatment, but there are always going to be relapses no matter how well treatment has served in addressing the problem. That is the hardest part to get through; the rough times that disillude the thought that the struggle is over after everything seems to be going so well. My family has found that being willing to listen to him when he wants to talk about it and always letting him know I am there for him is one of the most helpful things we can do. I don’t ask questions unless he opens a door that will allow me to ask a questions. There are people that think you can “shake it out of them” or “tell them some story about a cousin, uncle or buddy they knew that was in combat” or the guy that says “you got to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with your life” (my response to that one is ‘what if the boot straps are already broken?’) Then you have the people who want you to explain why there is more PTSD now than in past wars. I ignore things like the above and celebrate Ryan’s success; I often text him about how proud I am of what he is doing.
Ryan just finished a semester of college with great grades and we celebrated it as a family going out to dinner. This is major because in the past he couldn’t sit in a classroom long enough to finish a semester. We set goals and plans for future outings together that I know Ryan enjoys. Last summer, Ryan and his wife Hannah took me to Yosemite camping and it was like heaven for us all. I saw the joy in my son’s face taking me someplace that I loved and he loved it too. This year we already have a trip planned at the Kern River and Yosemite hiking the whole time and playing in the river. Ryan teaches surfing and kayaking to wounded warriors during the summer, so we encourage him to keep doing that when he can as well as cycling.
It is so important that families don’t forget to find time to get help for themselves and the knowledge to help a loved one suffering from PTSD. They should always be aware of signs of isolation and frustration to be readily to supportive. Families dealing with a loved one with PTSD should remember that there will be good days and bad days, and you have to hope that the good days get longer and the bad days get shorter.
Tim’s story exhibits one main and powerful fact: being open and honest about the reality of PTSD can enable our sons, daughters, fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, and friends to hold their heads up high, walk around unashamed and seek treatment in spite of the stigma. This example further promotes the belief that above all we must love, care, support and advocate on behalf of our loved ones living with conditions like PTSD and depression. Liberate yourself and your loved ones by taking a stand and joining us in the cause to end the negative stigma associated with the disease. Speak out, volunteer, contribute and help us build a community. Take the Pledge to Plant, spread the word and join iFred in honoring the 350 million around the world living with depression.