Sorry, time for a moment of seriousness on DF. We’ll return to our regular programming of lame reviews and GIFs very soon.
I love two blogs enormously: FilmDrunk and WarmingGlow, both on Uproxx. Both cover topics I’m interested in (namely Film and TV), but more than that, they are written in a bitingly hilarious way, mixing proper insights with brilliant put downs and phrasing (example: ‘Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (VH1, Sunday) — Season premiere. Whoa, that was weird. I just thought about this show and queefed out of my penis.’ If you don’t find that hilarious, you and I can’t be friends).
So, it came as a surprise to be genuinely moved by the writing on WarmingGlow today about the topic of suicide in America’s military veterans. The writer of WarmingGlow is a former Marine, and his insights are incredible: it also shows him to be a fantastic writer. Check it out below.
About four or five years ago, statisticians first noticed that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were committing suicide at startling rates, and the trend has only gone up since then. Every day, eighteen veterans attempt suicide, and veterans account for 20% of suicide deaths in America even though they represent only 8% of the population. So it’s nice to see celebrities get together to make these suicide prevention PSAs that will air on the Military Channel. It’s a well-written appeal: the line about “Your family needs you” is spot-on, especially if you’ve read the heartbreaking story of Jacob Andrews.
The veteran suicide epidemic has troubled me a lot lately. Not because I’m suicidal — I’m not, and won’t be — but because I don’t know if there’s a feasible solution. To be a veteran is to be an outsider in the civilized world. It’s no fault of civilians’, who are gracious and thank us for our service and honor us with not one but TWO holidays every year. But we still don’t belong.
I remember the second day of the invasion. I’d slept about five hours in five days. My tank platoon was in a blocking position outside of Basra, and there were reports of Iraqi armored vehicles on the other side of the bridge; the smoking hulk of an enemy T-55 that had tried to cross earlier that morning served as evidence. Displaced civilians streamed out of the city on foot and in cars, and most flew white flags or approached our positions slowly before we let them through. It was monotonous but nerve-wracking.
Then a van approached us at high speed. Dark windows, dark intentions. I could hear flecks of worry in my tank commanders’ voices on the tactical radio. I commanded the platoon to hold their fire, hoping the van would slow down. It didn’t. When it reached 100 meters from our position, I gave my gunner a fire command, and he delivered a short burst of 7.62mm. He aimed low, for the engine block, but the van was approaching so fast that the stream of fire went through the windshield.
The van rolled to a stop. The tank’s ten-power sights allowed me to watch as if I were standing ten yards away: a bearded man stumbled out of the van. He wasn’t injured; he was distraught. He fell to his knees, opened his arms to the sky, and sobbed, his face twisted in an anguish I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. Someone else dragged a bloody body from the van. I pulled my head away from the sight. I lit a cigarette with shaking hands, and thumbed the radio switch on my comm helmet to report civilian casualties.
I don’t mind telling that story. In the grand tradition of war stories, it’s not notable. It’s neither heroic nor markedly disastrous. In the weeks that followed, I would do better and see worse.
But that story makes me different. Different from the people I graduated from college with who went to consult for Accenture. Different from other bloggers. Different from anyone who’s never lived at the place where life gets closest to death.
I’m obviously no expert in mental health, but I’d wager that it’s not merely the PTSD that drives veterans to suicide: it’s a feeling of not belonging, of being adrift in the civilian world. It’s been eight years since I left Iraq, and I still miss sleeping with my 9mm pistol. Crowds make me edgy. I walk into a park or a restaurant or an intersection, and I see fields of fire and egress routes. I desperately want to kill people who cross me: just remorselessly cave in their skulls with something blunt and heavy. There’s no outlet for the rage, and it festers in my head and keeps me from sleeping.
But I’m lucky. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life — loving parents, an older sister with a beautiful family, a girlfriend who makes me a better person, great friends, readers whose cynicism and humor mask a deep kindness — who influence my daily decision to stay in this world. But none of them can ever know the part of me that went to war, not the way that my platoon sergeant or my crew or my fellow lieutenants did. If I didn’t occasionally reach out to them to talk about who we were and what we did, a part of me would be gone — forgotten, dead.
Why do some veterans commit suicide? I don’t know. My guess is that they’re no longer whole.