This bit of shadow work is surrounding the struggles I went through to be able to join the Navy and how becoming disabled in the military affected how I was treated while still active duty that contributed to and/or compounded various aspects of my C-PTSD.
After battling with my mother for a couple years about being able to attend college after high school she made it impossible for me to sign up because you need parental social security information to apply to college when you are under 25. I was told I was too stupid for college and it was not only a waste of her time and energy for me to even think about higher educatiion. She told me she couldn’t waste the professor’s time if I somehow made it in as well. I barely graduated high school and was just too stupid for school.
I found a solution though. When you join the military they will pay for your schooling while you are active duty and there is the GI Bill for when I got out. The problem was I was severely overweight. I nearly 400 pounds when I graduated high school but the only time I ever got praise growing up is when I would get my mothers money’s worth all you can eat Buffet. I had thought the military might put me on some kind of fat boy program and I’d lose what I needed to lose that way. When I walked into the Recruiters office they nearly laughed me out when I told them I wanted to join. To sign up for the Navy I had to be under 201 pounds for my height. I hadn’t been under 200 pounds since middle school, maybe even elementary and I thought it was crazy they didn’t have a weight loss program for those who wanted to join like you see in movies.
I didn’t let the opinions of the recruiters deter me. I resolved that I would join the Navy and this would allow me to get my education and increase my overall intelligence, so I wouldn’t be so stupid. Even though I was always told I was stupid by those closest to me growing up, I have always been eager to learn something more, so I was excited I found a way that I could obtain that education.
After I left the recruiters office I went to see if my membership to 24 hour fitness was still active on the family plan or to find out if I needed to sign up on my own. Thankfully my mother hadn’t removed me and started to live at the gym from that day forward. My routine was to get up in the morning, go to the gym I’d do cardio in several layers of clothes to sweat more, I’d use various machines and the get in the pool followed by getting in the saunas and then I would relax in the hot tub for a little bit before I would go home to prepare for work as a cook at the bowling alley, then I would go to the gym after work and repeat the routine and on days I didn’t work I went to the gym a third time.
I had also put myself on an extremely strict Atkins diet cutting the allowed carbs of the Atkins diet in half to make sure I was losing weight quickly. Along with taking the maximum allowed dose of Hydroxycut with Ephedrine in it when it was still legal. When I got down to about 220, I plateaued badly. I couldn’t drop the last 19 pounds until I started using Epsom salt as a laxative and was able to get down to 202 and 48 hours before weigh in I stopped all intake of food and water to make sure I was under the weight limit. I weighed in at 199.5 and I cried in the bathroom for probably an hour. I did it. I did what everyone said was impossible, not even my friends thought I could lose the required weight. I could finally escape the grasp of my mother who always wanted to make sure she ruined my life as much as she believed I ruined her life by having the audacity of being born.
After boot camp and my advanced training as a Parachute Rigger, I scored the first in my class division giving me the first choice of orders. It was a simple choice, which was the farthest away from Washington state that wasn’t Florida (I had my share of Hurricanes during advance training including Ivan), so I picked my orders and got stationed at Brunswick Naval Airstation in my first squadron.
At this point in my life I felt like I was reborn and was able to start my life new and try to forget my traumatic past and it worked for a while. I found friends that I bonded closely with and they were now my family. In fact the whole Navy was all part of my family and this is a common sentiment in the military that’s why you hear veterans talk about their brothers and sisters referring to fellow veterans.
I felt completely reliant on myself for my well-being and I was doing good for myself for the first time in my life. I planned on starting college classes after I got to the rank of E-4 making sure my career was solid. I was doing really well for myself. I got qualified in everything I could. I got my yellow shirt, meaning qualified to direct aircraft on the flight line in almost record time. I also held licenses for almost every equipment that was used on the flight line. Along with studying my specific job that included managing all survival gear used by the aircrew, not just the parachutes. I always placed in the top 10 when taking advancement exams for my rank and rate (job). I was a shit hot sailor, if I am honest. Everything was looking amazing for me for the first time in my life. I had even met the love of my life, my soulmate and we got married five months after we met and are still married to this day 17 years later. My life was perfect. I was extremely happy, a feeling that was not natural for me.
Perfect until one spring day, no different than any other day. I printed off my list of inspections that were due and we had oxygen regulators in an aircraft to remove and replace as part of their routine maintenance schedule. The plane was in another hangar getting its own advanced maintenance done. The job was easy and I had done it several times before. As I was disembarking the plane with a tool box full of O2 specific tools and a tool box made to carry the regulators one in each hand. I slipped on one of the top steps. I believe the non-skid tape had been removed to be replaced while I was in the aircraft, but the new tape was not on yet. I feel down the steps hard and then off the steps onto the deck. With my O2 clean tools spread all over the hanger floor. I had just royally fucked up. These tools can’t be contaminated by any hydrocarbons or it can cause an explosion when dealing with oxygen and now these tools are not safe for oxygen use. My first thought being they will probably send me to Captains Mass for fucking up so badly and probably ruining my career because I was too stupid to watch where I was stepping causing me to fall.
I jumped up as quickly as people asked if I was okay while I gathered all my tools scattered on the deck, so I could head straight to maintenance control to inform them of what happened. That way the tools can get taken care of and I can face my consequences. It was better to fess up now, take my licks and hopefully not lose too much standing in my reputation that I had worked so hard to build. Not really caring about the massive bruise on my inner thigh, my back that was screaming at me and the cut on my hand from some random safety wire that cut me somewhere in my fall.
To my surprise the maintenance Senior Chief on duty didn’t really seem to care. The tools could get recleaned and certified for O2 use again and he told me to just get back to work which I happily did even though he was supposed to send me to medical. I was young and bounced up quickly from the fall. I couldn’t be that hurt could I? The fall out of the plane just being something that happened. The problem was my back never felt better. I just got worse and worse, but I pushed myself through it and hid my pain like you’re supposed to do as a man or at least I thought at the time. After several months of pain my back had started getting spasms when eventually one night the spasms were enough that it put me into tears. This time scaring the hell out of my wife as I twiched from painful muscle spasms in my back. I told her I’d be fine but she didn’t know what to do, so she called a friend of ours who was studying to be an EMT and they called an ambulance on me. By the time it got to my house my spasms had stopped. I tried not to let the ambulance take me, but I lost that fight 2-1 between my wife and friend who wanted to see me see a doctor. As I had been having spasms in my sleep since my fall this was just the worse they had been and I couldn’t hide it anymore.
The next day I had to report to my chain of command that I had been taken to the hospital by ambulance the previous night. Something I really didn’t want to do. I thought I was good at hiding my pain. I was sent to base medical as an immediate follow up that day. They gave me sailors vitamin M, Motrin for the pain and referred me to PT where I could get some manipulation to see how that would help.
As the months passed I only got worse and was put on light duty. My doctors started giving me more and more pharmaceuticals. They gave me Vicodin for the pain and lots of it to make sure I was still a functioning sailor as I saw various doctors to find the cause of my pain. I got x-rays, mri’s and tons of blood tests. I was told I had mild arthritis in my back but it’s not the cause of my pain and all my labs came back good. They didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I was in agony and thought I might also be going crazy as the were getting stumpted. Between the intense pain and massive mix of pharmaceuticals my balance was bad. I could not walk without the aid of a cane, eventually I ended up 100% dependent on it to walk even a couple steps and I would remain shackled to it for 8 years.
As my limitations became more apparent I started to see my fellow sailors start to treat me differently. I was no longer the golden boy I was before the fall. A fellow sailor saw me take my medication at lunch and he was able to get my O2 cart license revoked and he also got my flight line driving privileges removed and told me if he could he’d also make sure I couldn’t drive on base because I had become disabled and needed medications, so this meant I was somehow going to be responsible for killing his family due to my medication the Navy doctors prescribed me according to him. He also refused to go onto the flight line with me because he deemed me a hazard to him, myself and everyone else on the flight line due to the drugs I was on and he out ranked so that was the end of that. It wasn’t only the sailors who directly worked with me either, I became the joke of the whole squadron. People would fake limps or drag a leg if they saw me walk by with my cane and laugh or point. I went from shit hot to a piece of shit pretty quickly. Even my evaluation suffered because I no longer could do most things but because I was disabled I scored much lower. It’s amazing how fast your adoptive family turns on you and makes you feel like garbage that should be thrown away, a feeling I was quite used to as I’ve always been the burden to those around me and this was no different. I’m never good enough.
With all my doctors ignorant of what is causing my chronic pain, I went online and found an online support forums for various medical conditions and I joined a few chronic pain groups and started asking questions from other people who lived in chronic pain. I ended up talking with the sweetest older woman that talked with me and listened to what I was experiencing. She was the person who told me about fibromyalgia and it all fit. Except the people who get fibromyalgia diagnosis are 9 out of 10 women and will typically hit people over 40 and I was a 22 year old man so I was an outlier even with those who share my diagnosis, something that would cause issues with some doctor I saw. These stats are slowly changing as more men are starting to come forward about their chronic pain instead of bottling it up and hiding it.
I printed out everything I can on fibromyalgia and highlighted several pages with all my symptoms. With my packet in hand I went to medial to show my doctor and to see if fibromyalgia was the possible source of all the pain I was in. I was now pretty desperate for some answers to my progressively worsening condition. My primary doctor however was unsure and maybe a little reluctant but agreed it was possible and referred me off base for the first time to see a rheumatologist, the doctor who can diagnose fibromyalgia. Once I was able to see the off base rheumatologist they looked at my medical history, labs, and imaging. Then he did a trigger point test on me and confirmed that I had fibromyalgia, a permanent disability that has no real treatment or cure. At 22 I became permanently disabled and didn’t know how to cope with that. It felt like my life was over.
With a new diagnosis and with no way to fix me the Navy put me on Limited Duty (Limdu) and started the process of medically separating me from the Navy. I was stripped of my remaining flight line qualification and licenses many had already been taken from me due to my opioids I was on. Since I was officially Limdu now, I was also no longer allowed to be in a deployable squadron, so I was temporarily reassigned to the base waste management building. Where supervisor constantly asked me if I really needed the cane, being injured makes you worthless and since I lost my flight line license anyway so I couldn’t stay there long and after a few weeks, I was reassigned again to work in the paraloft on base issuing survival gear and doing paperwork something, I knew how to do and could do with my limitations.
At first I thought working in the paraloft managing paperwork from taking in old gear and issuing new gear out was going to be something manageable while I was waiting on my medical separation and at first it was. I wish I could say the hazing stopped when I switched commands since I was arriving disabled on Limdu orders I’d be treated differently. But hazing was still an issue as some of my fellow sailors seemed to have an issue with the fact I was young and needed a cane to walk. On more than one occasion my cane would be stolen, hidden and even put at the top of the paraloft at the top of the ladder. Being visibly disabled a mortal sin while active duty. After a few months the paraloft got a new supervisor and division chief and things changed. Since I was an Airman (E-3) the new supervisor wanted me to do various duties Airmen normally would but my limdu chit stated: no heavy lifting over 15lbs, no prolonged standing and I was assigned to the paraloft under Limdu orders so I was not filling the billet of a fit for full duty sailor.
My new supervisor made it his mission however to find loopholes in my Limdu chit. He’d ask me to sweep even though I walk with a cane and sweeping one handed when I’m still trying to learn how to use my mobility aid was near impossible and he told me that I did the worst fucking job sweeping he has ever seen. After taking severak minutes of verbal licks for being the worst sailor on the planet, I had requested to go to medical, a request I was thankfully allowed to make. I’d go see a doctor on duty to update my Limdu chit.
Now it would read: No heavy lifting over 15lbs, no prolonged standing, no sweeping. I had a copy made and submitted it to my division chief to update my file. Then the next time my supervisor requested I sweep, I’d present my Limdu chit and he’d look for a new loophole. It doesn’t say no mopping, it doesn’t say no heavy pushing, push this cart with hundreds of pounds on it across the building to a different department, and when he stopped being able to find physical things for me to do he started attacking my uniform; where does it say you can use a cane in uniform, are tens units allowed to be seen in uniform, and eventually you’ve gain a lot of weight and you uniforms are unbecoming a sailor and a Parachute Rigger.
Because I had become such a shit bag sailor the division Chief is going to perform a Sea Bag inspection on me as part of an unofficial Chiefs Mass. Meaning the chief wants to see in all my uniforms to make sure they all fit properly and where to be inspection ready ironed with military creases. I was made to put on all my uniforms one after another in front of my supervisor and the Division Chief. None of my uniforms looked good to their standards as I was grossly overweight and it made my uniforms bulge in ways unbecoming a sailor and a parachute rigger. They determined I was not fit to even work side by side with my fellow Parachute Riggers as riggers have higher standards that other sailors, so I was to be put on permanent door watch until my medical separation and since my dress uniform did not fit at all I was required to purchase a new one to fill the duties of the watch.
The Hatred for disabled sailors was seen across ranks and jobs. It was common for those in charge to have a disdain for those who couldn’t do anything asked of them under their command and those of similar rank tended to want to make fun of you for being disabled or complain the disabled didn’t pull their fair share.
This was even seen amongst the officers. One of my friends who was in the division office got to hear from the Division Officer how all these Limdu pieces of shit had no place in his Navy and didn’t like that the medical had sent so many pieces of shit to his division. If he had his way they would just dump them off the back of a ship like the rest of the garbage. Referring to me and a couple others in his division who were Limdu and my friend wanted me to have a heads up that I didn’t have any allies in the officers against the treatment I got in my shop and in fact was probably encouraged. The only time it is okay to be injured in the military is when it is related to combat and I was not in a combat job.
During my frequent visits to medical to get my Limdu chit updated with various limitations as they came up. I saw lots of the various base doctors, not just mine. It depended on who the doctor on duty was. Many were indifferent to me quickly updating my chit, some treated me like garbage like I was wasting their time, and others were straight up abusive. By the time my Limdu chit had written on both sides of the various new limitations doctors had added, one doctor wanted to have a serious Frank conversation with me. He was an Army doctor who was working at our medical building. He asked me why I was on the page long list of pharmaceuticals and why my Limdu chit had so much on it. I told him about my fibromyalgia diagnosis and this upset him severely. He went off on me on how fibromyalgia is a woman’s Disease and there is no way I have it. If I kept insisting I have fibromyalgia he would amputate my dick since I wanted to be a weak ass women so badly who only complains about her pain all the time. I honestly believed he would amputate my penis if I ever saw him again he was that infatic about it. I left his office that day not able to get my Limdu chit update and I’d have to beg various Corpsmen in the future to switch who I saw when he came up in my doctor rotations. The way I was treated at Navy medical, and later at the Veterans hospital afterward is responsible for the medical side of my PTSD and getting doctors to believe or recognize medical treatment or doctors can be responsible for trauma is almost impossible. I never feel safe around doctors or nurses who are trying to treat me to this day and I need a witness and support when I see doctors to this day.
The process of a medical separation is not a quick one. I had some doctors appointments they wanted me to go to and some more tests. You’d think all these appointments and tests would be to make sure I got all the quality medical care I needed, but that wasn’t the case. Even with my diagnosis of fibromyalgia and all the previous tests, labs, and imaging I’d already been through would show that my pain, while hard to pin down the source, was a real injury, but the Navy wasn’t convinced and was more interested in proving I was somehow malingering and just faking my injury to get out of the Navy. Even though I didn’t want to report my injury in the first place and with how hard I worked to join. The last thing I had ever wanted was to end my career and be disabled the rest of my life. This had me completely lose trust and faith in the medical system compounding my medical induced side of my ptsd. They had no interest in helping me but more trying to tell me I wasn’t in the pain I felt.
I started seeing a shrink off base weekly. They performed various tests on me including the MMPI to assess my personality to see if I was capable of faking being injured. I saw shrinks more than I did medical doctors to treat my chronic pain. Even though my civilian shrink told them I wasn’t faking my pain, I was driven out of state by a duty driver to a Naval Medical Center to be assessed by a Navy shrink to see if I was malingering as a second opinion. After I was cleared by the Navy shrink they proceeded with my medical separation and several months later I got their decision. The Navy medical board said that I was going to be medically separated from the Navy at 10% disability rating. The reasoning was that I hadn’t had my fibromyalgia diagnosis long enough to determine its severity. I was given the option to appeal if I felt it was needed. This number determines the type of separation you get either medical seperation or medical retirement with 30% or more getting retired getting all retiree benefits like base privileges, commissary, and healthcare for your family and the VA determines how much you get paid with their rating.
I got my primary doctor to write a letter to the medical board who determined my rating telling them about the various treatments we had tried as that was one of the med boards concerns as I hadn’t tried various treatments since getting my diagnosis. Even though all those treatments were tried before my official diagnosis. Several more months after my appeal the board came back with the same decision 10%. I had two options: take the 10% or do an official appeal, but that would involve getting stationed on med hold in Maryland with a long wait that could potentially bring me past the end of my contract. The Navy and my fellow sailors made my life hell. I couldn’t take it anymore. I took the lower separation rating. The VA’s initial rating for me was 50% and over the years it had been increased to 90% currently. So it was likely the stigma of a fibromyalgia diagnosis in men was at least partially responsible for my initial low rating from the Navy Med Board.
I took the second 10% rating from the Navy Med Board as I didn’t want to keep fighting. It wasn’t worth it, I wasn’t worth it. I wanted the hazing and abuse to stop and I couldn’t deal with another year or more of this on a Med hold waiting for an official hearing for them to likely tell me the same thing they did the first two times. I was tired of being treated like I was subhuman as that’s what you are when you are disabled in the Navy. I just wanted out at this point. I was just hoping the VA would treat me better and while they did give me higher disability rating the treatment of veterans at the VA hospitals is partially responsible for the high suicide rate of veterans and why some vets decide to do it in the VA parking lots. The treatment by the doctors at the VA only compounded my trauma around medical doctors.
Your life dramatically changes against your will when you find yourself disabled. Suddenly to many of those around you are a worthless burden that should be hidden and will be treated as such unfortunately. If you are lucky you will find a few that stick with you and for me I am so grateful for my wife who has been through it all with me and still fights by my side.