Many veterans will tell you that the war they experienced doesn't end when they come home. That's true for Adan Pulido, who's found himself stuck between a vow "never to forget the past" and the need to put it behind him.
By Adan Pulido
Every so often the V.A. mental health department hands me a one page form asking me to state the traumatic event for which I’m seeking care for. Could the entire experience of returning from an unpopular war be considered traumatic?
I mostly beat the physiological effects of combat-related PTSD. I never really got flash backs. My hyper vigilance lessened with time. And although I still awake in a cold sweat a few nights each week, I seldom remember the dreams that caused them. But since my discharge in 2006, I have been medicated most of the time, and gone in and out of therapy programs with over a dozen doctors and specialists.
My goal? To beat depression. To be less angry. To break out of the numb state I’m in when I reflect on my service. I have become embittered with my own past, yet I bring it willingly with me as I live my life.
In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was punished by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down and do it again for eternity. That’s what my experience feels like since leaving Iraq and the Marines.
I do my best and march toward summits, struggling to keep my experience and feelings in control. But each time they seem to roll away from me, at times causing emotional harm to those who love me.
Why do I continually roll my past ahead of me? At some point in my service I created the "us and them" mentality. It was easy to believe everyone back home forgot about us in the first battle of Fallujah, or that the majority of Americans didn’t care much about the IEDs in Ramadi. Many of us vowed not to be like them, and to never forget.
But not forgetting is a heavy load. I have heard many people make peace with Iraq -- calling it a mistake. I read about the growing number of suicides amongst vets and I’m sad and fearful -- because I can understand. The load just gets too heavy, the summit just not worth it anymore.
I recently turned 29. Early last month I broke down and checked into the V.A. emergency room. The toil of regular life had broken my spirit. The doctors described me as "severely depressed." The anger associated with being forgotten had fizzled. My experience had become a burden, and I was tired. I was prescribed more medication and took a week off.
I’m back at the bottom of Sisyphus’ hill but this time I’m trying to make new memories, give myself more breaks and just roll by this Veterans Day.
Adan Pulido is a writer and director working with San Francisco State University's Documentary Film Institute, where he produces short documentaries chronicling the veteran experience. His debut short film "Locker Room Politics," based on a personal event, explores themes of service, politics, and homecoming.