Let me begin this article by admitting that I struggled with how to title it. I am a big believer that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is real, and affects many American servicemen and women, as well as some civilians who have served in war zones on behalf of the U.S. government.

I have never been diagnosed with PTSD, nor have I ever sensed within myself the need for treatment for the condition. This article does not refer to symptoms of PTSD, I do not think—or as far as I know—because I never had any truly acutely traumatic episodes happen to me, personally, over there.

Then again, I am not an expert, so I cannot rule out that the feelings herein described are not indicative of some low-level PTSD, perhaps a “slight cold,” if you will, compared to the life-threatening illness that can be full-blown PTSD. Again, I simply do not know.

These are my caveats—my disclaimer, if you will—for this article. I look back now, eight years removed, and realize that these feelings were an important part of my readjustment to being back in the civilian, non-war-zone world. They were probably inevitable, and I would guess most or all personnel who served over there go through similar experiences, in some way, upon returning home.

I’m also not looking to justify these feelings in any way. I am not trying to exculpate myself for occasionally being an asshole. I am not trying to elicit your sympathy. I am not looking to be handled with kid gloves. I am simply explaining these feelings, or my experience with them, upon returning from a year in Afghanistan during the Global War on Terrorism. I am not saying I was “right” to feel these things, only that I did, in fact, feel them. It is a record of them, if you will.

Feel free to share your own responses to returning home in the comments section below if you would like to do so.

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1. This ain’t that big a deal.

I hated the way some people treated mundane, everyday life circumstances and events as life-or-death situations, loaded with significance and meaning, and critical to the present and future. I mean, really? Are we seriously going to die because I forgot to buy the bread at the store? Is our civilization going to collapse because I did not use the proper format on the paper I turned in for class?

Get over yourselves. This stuff does not matter in the long run, as long as I am getting the job done, and no one is trying to actively kill us on a daily basis. We will survive the Great Bread Forgetting of aught fifteen, trust me.

2.  This job is not that important.

I came back from the war zone and was almost immediately reassigned to a pretty cushy European post, in a capital city on the continent. Don’t get me wrong, the job was important, and our mission there was significant. Still, every day I sat and stewed over hearing my section chief agonize over decisions and events that, frankly, did not amount to much importance. You would have thought the United States was going to come unglued hearing how she talked about some issues and tasks we had to perform.

These “crucial” issues just failed repeatedly to get me worked up, or even enthusiastic, and I consequently struggled daily to find any motivation to deal with them. I wanted to be back over there, hunting al-Qaeda and ensuring American security on the ground, up close, and on the front lines.

3.  Stop complaining about how bad things are in America.

This really chapped my ass. I would hear people complain about America and its first world problems, and feel completely incredulous that they thought we had it so bad. Really? Have you seen eastern Afghanistan? Or Iraq? Do you know what real problems are?

I have vivid memories of flying back to Washington, D.C. from Afghanistan, and thinking how incredibly amazing the roads and houses and landscape looked from the air. It was like returning to paradise from a long trip to Hell. Most of us in America live in absolute luxury and opulence, safe from fear of imminent death, and never having to worry about making it to the next day. Keep that in mind the next time you think we have it bad over here, or when you are tempted to claim that our politicians are “destroying America.” Please. We are stronger than that.

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4. The world is an ugly place.

In the same vein as number three in this list, there is oftentimes a profound lack of realization on the part of many Americans with regards to the “real world,” or the rest of the globe. People here often do not know what the rest of the world is dealing with on a daily basis. They do not see the poverty, the genocide, the civil wars, the tribal conflicts, the religious killings, the female infanticide, and all the other things that happen out there that fail to bump the latest Kardashian headline from the front pages. It often made me think that Americans lived in willful ignorance of the rest of the world.

5.  You haven’t the slightest idea what is going on.

This follows logically from number four, above. I felt a simmering rage every time I listened to “experts” on television who opined about the “situation on the ground” in the various conflict zones around the world. Many of those experts do try—with admirable dedication and bravery—to report the ground truth (Richard Engel of NBC comes to mind), but many more talking heads just bloviate daily. They repeat the conventional wisdom about this or that conflict, and reliably recite the political talking points germane to their own ideological views.

Congressional staffers were some of the worst at this during their visits to the war zones or sitting in the comfort of their offices in Washington. These so-called experts had a particular ability to rile those of us who saw things over the course of months or years serving in these areas that they never could see on their short three-hour stop-overs. Do not believe everything that someone says on television, even if it is on your favorite ideologically driven “news” channel.

Again, I am not defending the bulk of these feelings, nor am I saying that I have some superior view of the world because I served. These frustrations have largely subsided by now, but every once in a while, they resurface and get to me. Maybe they always will. Hopefully this article will illuminate for some of those who have ever experienced them what others of us go through upon returning home.

If so, that is a good thing.

(Photo courtesy of icm.nl)