The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event. But it’s probably best described by someone who lives with it every day like local Vietnam veteran Ray Wodynski does.
“In my case it was anxiety and it was a lot of irritability and lack of trust. I didn’t trust people unless you were military. At times I didn’t even trust myself.”
Maybe Wodynski’s description doesn’t quite capture life with PTSD, but his day to day routine nails it.
“Before going to bed at night, I would check all of the windows, check all of the doors. I’d look out the blinds to more or less check my perimeter, and then I’d go to sleep, but I wasn’t totally asleep and I would only do it for two hours, and then I would get up and I’d redo everything I did.”
And that’s not all.
“I would even have a blanket over me and light a cigarette underneath it where you couldn’t see the spark, the flame from the cigarette lighter, and when I did smoke, it I would keep it in my hand so the ash on it wasn’t visible. And then after my two hour watch was up, I’d redo everything and then go back to sleep for another two hours, and I’d do that basically all night long.”
And he did that for a year and a half in his own home, in denial that his behavior might have been unusual. His PTSD was controlling his life and it wasn’t until he ended up in a program over 14 years ago at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center that he started to take back that control. Now he sees himself in the hundreds of veterans he counsels at the hospital in ‘Vet to Vet Support’ and he’s trying to reach out to the ones that haven’t yet come through DeBakey’s doors.
“You just have to get somebody to open the door and say, 'Come on in. The grass is greener over here and it's safe.' The treatment works, but you just have to accept it and be willing to change. And it’s not as scary as it seems to change, but it does work.”
DeBakey Psychologist Charlie Nguyen says that’s the message they hope to get out at the Mental Health Fair but not just to the veterans.
“We would really like to see family members come with the veterans, because sometimes veterans, as with any other people, may not initiate services on their own, due to they may not see the problems they are having, or the effect of that or recognize it. When you have supportive people in your life and can see what’s going on and can give you feedback and encourage you to seek help.”
The Mental Health Fair begins this Friday at 9am at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Hospital in the Medical Center.