I met Garrett a few years ago after a stranger told me about his remarkable story of resiliency and perseverance. I then had the opportunity to hear his incredible story when he volunteered to speak with a group of middle-schoolers I was mentoring in their strengths. What struck me most in his story was how he spoke on focusing on what you have control over more than what you don’t have control over. I had no idea at the time how important those words would become to me personally or what was on my personal path. I have recalled his words many times since then when my life has felt out of control and I have felt so different from others. I hope that his story will challenge and inspire you to see others around you with new intentionality and compassion. Garrett has leaned into his story with continued patience, perseverance and a willingness to learn and grow. Despite all that life has handed Garrett, he continues to live a life of compassion, determination and generosity as he encourages others. It is not easy.
It’s been nearly 10 years, but there are still plenty of moments when I feel like I haven’t moved even 10 feet forward emotionally from the trauma. During that span, there have been countless hours of mental health counseling sessions to process and provide pathways as a result of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And there have been just as many re-manifestations — triggers is what therapists call them — that seem hell-bent on tripping me up on a regular basis.
On Aug. 1, 2007, I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Interstate 35W Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. My car and I tumbled into the Mississippi River and I escaped — barely — with traumatic injuries (apparent) and a type of PTSD called Adjustment Disorder (not so apparent, at least at first). It was a long climb back, taking a good two years or more to get to a new normal physically. And it has been nearly a decade and the fight continues on the emotional front where a “new normal” just doesn’t work.
When I write “new normal” I mean that we take what the circumstances are and make the best of them. In a nutshell, it’s coping. But coping isn’t a workable solution when it comes to PTSD because it involves relationships. A loved one can only take so much when the triggers cause mood swings and the words and behaviors become daggers. It’s a “fight or flight” response that the PTSD triggers, and the littlest things can and do set it off. It can ruin a day for the sufferer and eventually erode relationships down to the nub.
For the longest time I have discounted the PTSD, minimized how its tentacles have actually wrapped themselves not just around but through me. “I’m stronger than it. I can be greater than it. I can just out-think it.” But I can’t. It contributed to the dissolving of my marriage. It eats away now at the relationship with my fiancée.
“Control the things you can control,” I’ve said. But it feels some days like I can’t get my hands around it. It’s so sneaky. I can have a string of good days and then it comes out of nowhere, up through a drain or from under a back door. It slithers.
I’ve tried to find answers in many things: God, myself, healthy lifestyles and not-so-healthy ones. I’m back in counseling, frustrated by the reminder that it has been 10 years and I am still on the couch, discouraged by the answer that PTSD isn’t cured but managed. Who wants to carry this yoke the rest of their lives? What loved ones would ever want to volunteer to stick around such a beast?
Today — TODAY — I find strength in today. That for 24 hours I have a clean slate, a fresh chance to keep my head on a swivel, be mindful of the Predator and even when he punches his way through the door of my mind I can be at the ready and still give my best to myself and those who continue to love me through it.
I can easily see how so many with PTSD — many of them in the military — choose to take their own lives. Hope can easily evaporate when this monster continues to strip the sufferer of happiness on the inside and friends and loved ones on the outside. We, as a society, cannot afford to minimize the circumstances of those with PTSD. When those of us with it lose the will to fight it, we lose the fight.
Thank you for sharing your story, Garrett.
If you would like to read more of Garrett’s story, you can find his book here;