Damon Roberts, 60, author of "Matter of Time: Continue to March," encourages others to seek help and find resources in order to cope with trauma after serving in Iraq and dealing with the effects of PTSD. (Courtesy photo via Facebook)
Damon Roberts, 60, author of "Matter of Time: Continue to March," encourages others to seek help and find resources in order to cope with trauma after serving in Iraq and dealing with the effects of PTSD. (Courtesy photo via Facebook)

The quality of our mental health can quickly jump from stable to incredibly dicey territory after a life-changing encounter or traumatic event.  Underneath a seemingly reserved demeanor, a subtle trigger or circumstance can open the proverbial “pandora’s box” to a host of adverse behavioral outcomes for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental ailment that develops from an experience of hyperintense, scary, dangerous or shocking events.  The harrowing impacts of PTSD often present hindrances on an individual’s quality of life, psychosocial functioning, and other alarming variables including suicidality.

Native Washingtonian Damon Roberts, 60, and author of “Matter of Time: Continue to March,” knows all too well the turbulent chain of events that a life with PTSD can cause, experiencing the disorder from two sides of the coin being an Iraqi war veteran, and later on in his life as a returning citizen, largely due to the after-effects of war.

“I lost some people I was very close to, two of my former students were murdered, and my father died [all in one year].  In the midst of this, I was self-medicating with alcohol, [operating] as a functional alcoholic.  One thing I learned with PTSD is if you don’t express yourself or you hold your anger in, when that resentment takes hold of you, that’s when you’ll have problems, and I started having problems,” Roberts shared.  

While it is difficult to place numbers behind PTSD diagnoses in the United States, the National Center for PTSD reports that women are more likely to develop the disorder than men.  

“This is in part due to the types of traumatic events that women are more likely to experience – such as sexual assault – compared to men,” Thr National Center for PTSD reported.

Similarly, veterans are more likely to develop PTSD than civilians, particularly those who have been deployed to a war zone compared to those who did not deploy.  

A Trauma That Left Him Forever Changed

Having started what became a lengthy career of service to the United States Army soon after high school, Roberts was 42 when he was called to active duty in Iraq in 2005. These unexpected orders included mobilizing his division and presented an abrupt halt to his planned retirement.

Serving as First Sergeant, stationed at the Taji National Depot– the largest Army Base in Iraq– Roberts experienced a whirlwind of chaos and trauma that he couldn’t quite erase from his mind once he returned home.  From witnessing blatant corruption, to the shock of reverberant mortar round explosions just hundreds of meters away, Roberts needed serious mental health attention when he made it back to Washington, D.C.  

But despite his honorable commitment to protect and serve, Roberts quickly learned he would not be welcomed with open arms while attempting to reacclimate himself to society.  Having worked simultaneously within the DC Public school system as a social worker for years before his deployment, he was shocked to find himself turned away from his job upon his return. He was officially diagnosed with PTSD in October of 2006, and later faced bouts of alcoholism to cope.

The severity of the war grounds made common activities nearly unbearable as he reverted to his pre-war era.  Traffic became a nerve-wracking task having to transition: from barreling through Iraqi streets commanding others; to the hypervigilant discomfort of sitting through traffic, reminding him of the fatal threat that stillness posed on the battleground overseas.  Even morning worship became an issue while facing the oncoming influx of traffic into his church parking lot while attempting to leave service.  

He became very aggressive in his communication, damaging his ability to connect with people the way he used to.

“I started to notice that some things were going on with me when I returned.  When I went to try and get help at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at that time, my experience did not go very well.  They would tell me, ‘Oh, you know what to do, you are a social worker,’ or [things of that nature],” he explained. “I described a situation [to my caseworker] that happened with me and my daughter returning home.  She was 15, 16 and [one evening] she had stayed out all night.  I was explaining to them the depth of just how angry I was, and do you know, [they] called child protection services on me?” 

While nothing came out of it, they neglected to revisit Roberts’ plea for assistance to remedy his heightened anger induced by his experiences overseas.  

After years of struggling to cope, and a mental breakdown that landed him in jail for roughly two years, he decided to fight hard in advocating for his mental health, staying consistent with touch points across the VA, and including his partner during visits to help better articulate his needs.  

He emphasized that although it is a challenging road to recovery,  to take advantage of all resources that are available or else they could very well pass by veterans in need.

“That’s the thing that hurts us sometimes, is that a lot of times, we’re not ready to receive the services, and that was me.  When I say ready, you have to have it in your mind and heart that you are ready to change.  As far as this mental health thing, you are asking me to do things that society tells me not to do as a man.  Sharing, expressing yourself,” Roberts said.

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1 Comment

  1. People need to stop calling us “victims” with PTSD. We were when it happened at someone else’s hands but we SURVIVED and became survivors. We were when whatever caused PTSD but no matter what, we became survivors that saw our lives changed without warning. Being alive afterward came with challenges, but there should be no words that limit our ability to heal and see ourselves as survivors!

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