A Soldier is on his way home from a tour in Iraq and a civilian in the seat next to him on his plane asks him a question, “How is it over there?”
Months later, into the camera of a documentary film called That Which I Love Destroys Me, he answers the question: “What do you mean how is it? It’s a war. I don’t even understand that question.”
To me, that question exemplifies the way those of us who have not served or aren’t familiar with the U.S. military think about war and think about Veterans. We worry about what they go through or what they are doing while they are in combat even though we can’t even begin to understand it and we rarely think about how difficult coming home can be. But the coming home part is the only part that we can actually impact.
The documentary That Which I Love Destroys Me follows the lives and recovery journeys of two Special Operations Soldiers, Tyler Grey and Jayson Floyd who came home from combat with both visible and invisible wounds. This film is a part of Participant Media’s social action campaign called Return The Service (you can watch it for free during the month of March) and aims to “shine a spotlight on the many issues facing young service men and women returning to civilian life.”
I’m not a complete stranger to the military world or by any means an expert, but this film provides a level of transparency into the lives of two Veterans that is hard to find anywhere else. After watching the film, I knew I had to find a way to talk to Tyler and Jayson. I wanted to know what their goals were for the film. The biggest thing they wanted to accomplish: help people understand what Veterans really go through when they come home from war.
Jayson and Tyler expressed that what we as a mental health organization can do to help support Veterans coming home facing challenges is to normalize their experiences. “We need to understand that these aren’t crazy people,” said Tyler. “[PTSD] is a natural reaction to this set of circumstances that would happen to any normal person.”
Jayson adds, “The biggest challenges happen and the biggest growth happens when [Veterans] come back; those moments that a Soldier may not be armed with the mechanisms of coping and opening up or expressing emotion. He has only learned how to bury it down or not share it or suck it up and to normalize that process is the basis of understanding and the basis of acceptance.”
In the film, Jayson and Tyler describe their experience with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as really being more like “LTSD”—lack of traumatic stress disorder. They explain that it isn’t about the trauma they experienced during war, but about finding ways to adjust both emotionally and physiologically to the fact that once you are home, you are no longer experiencing any trauma.
Jayson says it is their way of helping to reframe the way civilians think about the illness toward that of a Veteran’s perspective. “When you come home you are actually more comfortable in a chaotic environment than you are in a very stable environment. When [Veterans] don’t find trauma in their own lives, or they are in a calm environment they create chaos in their life to help calm them down.”
“The reason that [Veterans] turn away from that term, PTSD, is because they don’t have a problem with traumatic stress. I don’t have a problem with thinking about war, that’s not the issue,” Tyler continues. “What scares them is taking their kid to soccer practice. It’s the re-wiring. LTSD and PTSD are the same thing I am just explaining them differently.”
According to Jayson, “When we say LTSD to a veteran they know exactly what we are talking about the way no other civilian can.”
For Tyler and Jayson, speaking up about their experiences not only played a role in their own recoveries but is also something they are extremely passionate about. They wanted everything they shared to be authentic. Tyler created a video blog of his recovery process that he never intended to share publicly, but ultimately he decided to have it included in the documentary.
“The reason I did it was; if you are going to do something, anything worth you doing is worth doing well. If we are going to help people we are going to go full out and do it right. If I’m going to talk about myself and expose somewhat of a personal side of myself then why wouldn’t I expose everything? Because that’s how you really help people, by truly, truly putting yourself out there,” he said.
Executive Producer Patricia Driscoll added, “This was for family members to understand what is going on when they close the door. It’s such a rare window into these guys’ lives that you would never see otherwise.”
“There is not a single thing that you say to anyone that isn’t in some way filtered,” said Tyler. “I wanted to see me without my mask for myself—let’s see me at my weakest as a part of my personal therapy. It’s an insight into people when they aren’t putting that mask up for everyone else.”
If my goal was to truly understand their experiences, I wanted to hear from Jayson and Tyler what it was that made their recoveries possible. What advice would they give to someone who is struggling right now?
“It begins with humility. You have to admit that you have a problem before you can fix it,” said Jayson. “The moment you can actually be completely humble with yourself and say ‘I have a problem. This is what the problem is and I am willing to open up and talk about it,’ that’s when my recovery started taking progress.”
His advice is, “to understand that what you are going through is completely normal. And that’s what we are trying to do with this documentary is completely rip the scab off and show you the most vulnerable parts of our lives to let you know that if you are experiencing anything even remotely close to what we are going through it’s okay and you can deal with it and you can face it head on and that’s the only way that you are going to get better.”
Tyler said the two most important things to remember are “don’t give up” and “ask for help.”
“If you combine asking for helping and not giving up there is no way you can fail because no matter what happens you just keep moving forward. If something doesn’t work you try something else. You keep going until everything is okay and everything is better. It may take a day it may take a year it may take ten years but as long as you are continuing moving forward and not giving up there is not a person that doesn’t have someone they can reach out to for help.”
Jayson and Tyler recognize from their own experience that recovery can be a long process. Tyler shared a story about the time they spoke to Veterans at a WTU (Warrior Transition Unit) event. The unit’s motto at the time was “it’s OK to be OK,” encouraging Veterans to seek help and not feel guilty for getting better. When Jayson and Tyler spoke to their peers they told them “It’s OK to be OK—yeah, no kidding—but it’s also OK to be f---ed up. It’s just not OK to stay that way.”
Some people may be offended by that kind of extreme language but Tyler stressed that if we want to connect with a military audience we have to speak their language. For these Veterans, it goes beyond just having a hard time or being “messed up.”
If a Soldier’s job is to go out and defend our country, then our job is to do everything we can to understand them and return the service when they get home. It’s the least we can do.
To see the film for yourself or hear more of Tyler and Jayson’s story, which I highly encourage you to do, you can purchase it on iTunes today.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
In a crisis? Call or text 988.
Find Your Local NAMI