Ten years after being discharged from the Army, Spc. Joey Blackmon says he still struggles with his combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on a daily basis.
People with PTSD deal with a wide range of symptoms, mostly tied to memory: they have flashbacks and nightmares, they avoid busy places and often times isolate themselves, they become more emotional in terms of angry outbursts or introspective and seem numb to outsiders. A certain smell or sound can easily take them back to their traumatic experience. Blackmon says this is just the start of a long list of challenges he faces with PTSD.
“It’s always gonna be there: the images, the people I’ve lost, the shit that I’ve done,” he said. “It’s never ever gonna be gone, I can’t erase it from my mind.”
Despite this, Blackmon says he would gladly go back into the military and therefore back into combat. He would do it in a heartbeat.
Joey's PTSD service dog, Chaos, rests in the back seat of his truck. Joey got Chaos in 2014. She goes wherever he goes, and can sense when he is becoming stressed. When Joey gets worked up she'll press up against him, lick his hand, or jump up on his chest; her job is to divert his attention from whatever is causing his anxiety.
Erin Blackmon, Joey's wife, takes a break while playing with their daughter, Temperance. As a spouse of someone with PTSD, Erin also has to deal with stress caused by the disorder. "It's like walking on egg shells every day, every single day," she said, "But I love him past that, I love him deeper than that; who he is is deeper than the PTSD goes."
A joint sits on Joey and Erin's bedroom dresser. Joey says he was prescribed over 13 different medications for physical and mental ailments, but doesn't like taking them. He says he couldn't function on the medication; he couldn't hold conversations, couldn't even communicate to simply say that he was hungry or needed to go to the bathroom. He had no recollection of what happened the previous days or even that morning. After testing positive for marijuana, the VA stopped his prescriptions.
Joey gets a hug and kiss from Temperance after she comes home from school. Joey and Erin are very open with their daughter when it comes to PTSD. "About two years ago she goes, 'Daddy, you're sad, why do want to sleep all the time?' So me and Erin sat her down and I told her, 'I went to war and I had to do things that messed with my mind, that made my mind hurt.' At first we told her Daddy was sick but I didn't like that, I don't want to always be sick.
Joey's military photo sits on Temperance's dresser in her room. Joey says explaining PTSD to Temperance has been a good decision for their relationship. "I don't ever want her to ever feel like I hate her or this is her fault, why I'm sad," he said, "So to be open with her and let her know why I have these issues has been the best decision I could ever make because she knows, she understands, she gets that."
Joey knows PTSD is something he will have to deal with for the rest of his life, but for now he’s in a good place. "You’ll hear a lot of vets sayin’, ‘I just want to be who I used to be, I want to be that normal person again.’ Every answer is it’s never gonna fucking happen, ever. You get by but it’s been a very, very rough and long road. I ended up a few times almost ending my life over it but each time something stopped me and was like, ‘It’s not your time to go. It’s not your time.'"