Back to Top Skip to main content

How sharing my PTSD struggles helped others—and me

Army Sgt. Jon Harmon lost both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while on a 2012 Afghanistan mission. Today he speaks to commands and veterans about his personal struggle with mental health and how he works to overcome it. (Photo by Kevin Fleming, U.S. Army Sustainment Command) Army Sgt. Jon Harmon lost both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while on a mission in Afghanistan in 2012 . Today he speaks to commands and veterans about his personal struggle with mental health and how he works to overcome it. (U.S. Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care | Suicide Prevention | Men's Health

During my deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, my team was providing security and fire support for a key leader engagement with the local village elders. The mission was uneventful … until it wasn’t. The next thing I remember, I felt a massive displacement of heat and overpressure. I had stepped on an improvised explosive device and had lost my right leg. My left leg suffered severe, irreparable damage. In the immediate response, two more IEDs were detonated, which caused 12 of my fellow paratroopers to sustain severe injuries, and killed one.

All I had ever wanted to be was a paratrooper. But now, I had to adapt to my new normal: being a double amputee. I focused on the life-changing physical injuries I sustained, and learned to walk again. Eventually I progressed enough to return to duty. But my recovery wasn’t over. Years later, I fell into a dark place, struggling with survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. I had never dealt with my invisible injuries. I discovered that PTSD can creep up on you and get worse over time. For me, it involved flashbacks and emotional numbness.

It was around the time of my divorce that I had an emotional breakdown and contemplated taking my own life. But I thought about the guys I served with in the 82nd Airborne Division and said to myself, “How could I be so selfish?” My brothers died on the battlefield, and I lived. I owed it to them to get help.

After that, I started seeing a therapist who specialized in treating PTSD – that treatment continues today. Therapy helps me to process some of what I had compartmentalized and pushed aside, and it gives me a clean slate to process everything.

It was hard to say “I need help,” especially because I was an NCO. But I realized that as a leader, I should be setting the example. It was my opportunity to show others that reaching out is all right.

It’s important for people to know they’re not alone, especially when they find their own dark place. Relying on your support network can be lifesaving. Whether talking to groups or another veteran, I have discovered that sharing my personal struggles with mental health not only helps others, it also helps me.

I’ve also found the buddy system to be incredibly helpful. Every Friday I call one of my combat veteran buddies to see how they’re doing. I can usually tell on the phone if they’re okay or not, and just having someone to talk to is crucial. Everyone deals with their personal struggles in their own way, and even though some prefer no contact, it’s important to keep trying.

I know I’ve come a long way, but just like everyone who has experienced the chaos of war, I will always bear the scars. When I feel overwhelmed, I know to call a friend and say, “I need help.” When I experience flashbacks, I use a tactic my therapist refers to as “grounding.” For me, this means concentrating on something, such as the look and feel of everyday objects around me. That concentration helps bring me back to reality.

Today, I’m working on my inner peace. I attend group PTSD sessions with other combat veterans to learn how to cope with my symptoms. I also attend yoga classes to help me with relaxation methods. Yes, even paratroopers can do yoga – and like it.

A friend came to visit the other day. He lost 28 guys in Vietnam. I asked him when the last time was that he visited Vietnam, and he replied, “2 a.m.” That hit me really hard. He said the key to living a happy life is to learn to deal with emotions and to process them in a healthy way. Otherwise the trauma of losing your friends in combat will destroy everything you love. For me, this means letting out emotions that will otherwise haunt me.

I believe the reason I’m still able to serve in uniform – and perhaps the reason I’m alive – is that I asked for help and I got it. It wasn’t a one-time thing. I continue to get help and seek healthy ways to deal with my own PTSD. We all have our own paths and methods to cope with struggles. I hope that by sharing my story of recovery, someone will choose to ask for help instead of letting their struggles destroy them.

You also may be interested in...

Mobile app aids ‘truly informed’ contraception conversations between patients, providers

Article
3/11/2019
A new app provides information about contraception with the goal of helping patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app includes a module to address the unique needs of servicewomen around deployment. (Photo by Sgt. Barry St. Clair)

Decide + Be Ready, an app that provides information on contraception for men and women, is designed to help patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app also includes a module to address the unique needs of service women around deployment and duties.

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Women's Health | Technology

Study's focus: Mending hearts broken by deaths of military loved ones

Article
2/19/2019
Young military family members at a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp in Denver, Colorado, created this collage to memorialize their lost loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez)

Military tests virtual programs for adapting to grief

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care

It's complicated: Our relationship with social media

Article
2/13/2019
An Army health care provider loads the T2 Mood Tracker mobile app on a mobile device for a demonstration for his patients. (DoD photo)

Social media can help connect and reconnect people; however, it may increase feelings of isolation or remind people of what they don’t have

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Connected Health

Technology Solutions for Psychological Health

Congressional Testimony
2/1/2019

HR 3219, HAC Report FY 2018, 115-219, Pg. 287-288

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care

Traumatic Brain Injury/Psychological Health

Congressional Testimony
1/25/2019

S. 3000, SAC Report for FY 2017, 114-263, Pg. 193

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Mental Health Care

Mental Health Assessments for Members of the Armed Forces

Congressional Testimony
1/11/2019

HR 3979, NDAA Report for FY 2015, Sec. 701

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness

Suicide prevention: Eliminating the stigma

Article
1/10/2019
Marines may feel lonelier during the holidays as a result of being away from their families and supporters. Behavioral health specialists report depression and suicide ideation rates increase during the holiday season and into the post-holiday period in the Marine Corps, according to the Headquarters Marine Corps Force Preservation Directorate. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Emotional pain is the same as physical pain, it needs treatment for it to be better

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention

'Fused' technologies give 3D view of prostate during biopsy

Article
1/9/2019
Eisenhower Army Medical Center graphic

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Military Hospitals and Clinics | Preventive Health

Recognizing the holiday blues

Article
12/19/2018
Air Force 1st Lt. Danielle Dockery is a licensed clinical social worker with the 88th Medical Group’s Intensive Outpatient Program. (Courtesy photo)

There are some individuals who are normally happy and content who can also experience holiday blues

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness

A pain in the brain may be a migraine

Article
11/15/2018
Migraines affect women more than men with many options for treatment.

Women affected three times more frequently than men

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Women's Health

DHA IPM 18-019: Guidance for Service Implementation of Separation Mental Health Assessments

Policy

This Defense Health Agency-Interim Procedures Memorandum (DHA-IPM), based on the authority of References (a) through (c), and in accordance with the guidance of References (d) through (g): • Assigns responsibilities and provides instructions for implementing Reference (d), which requires an MHA for Service members prior to separation in accordance with References (e) through (g). • Is effective immediately; it will be incorporated into DHA-Procedural Instruction xxxx.xx, “Separation History and Physical Examination.” This DHA-IPM will expire effective 12 months from the date of issue.

Women and depression

Article
10/30/2018
Mental health technicians assigned to the 48th Medical Group Mental Health Flight converse in the hospital reception area at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. The Mental Health Flight is one of many resources available to assist with depression and other mental health concerns. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Shanice Williams-Jones)

1 in every 8 women develops clinical depression during her lifetime

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Women's Health | Depression | Mental Health Care

Depression awareness: Reach out for yourself, and for others

Article
10/17/2018
In memory of his younger brother, retired Army Master Sgt. Guillermo “Bill” Leal Jr. has devoted the past several years of his nursing career to helping wounded warriors. (Courtesy photo)

There’s hope, and help, for a common condition

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention

Pilot Program on Investigational Treatment of Members of the Armed Forces for TBI and PTSD

Congressional Testimony
10/9/2018

HR 3304, NDAA for FY 2014, Sec. 704

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Physical Disability | Mental Health Care | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: Empowering patients

Article
9/28/2018
During September, the Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about prostate cancer. Patients can discuss with their providers the risks and benefits of a prostate-specific antigen blood test, also known as a PSA test. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

For September’s Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about the disease

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 11

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing... Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.