War Trauma Drives A Veteran Toward Suicide
'I Wasn't The Same Guy, And I Didn't Understand It'
DURHAM, N.C. -- A story Mike McMichael's grandma told him when he was young probably saved his life. But that was years after he had grown up to be a National Guard infantry officer, been knocked unconscious by an IED blast in Iraq and come home after a long combat tour with brain injuries the Army never diagnosed.
It was after worsening tremors and memory lapses forced him to quit the military, and after blackouts and violent rages cost him his civilian job and nearly drove away his wife, Jackie, and their four young children.
It was when he felt he'd failed as a warrior and failed as a dependable wage earner and failed as a husband and dad. When suicide began to look like the only option left, it was then that he remembered the story his grandma had told him. She'd been a nurse, and the story went like this.
Many years before, a man in his prime unaccountably had fallen on such hard times that he came to believe suicide was the only way to end his pain. He put a shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger. The blast blew off his face and part of his brain, but it left him alive and breathing.
For the rest of his life he sat in a chair, unable to speak, alone with his thoughts. Inside, the young Mike imagined, he was silently screaming.
"How did things get so bad in his life that he thought that was the answer?" Mike wondered. In Mike's own darkest moments, when thoughts of suicide were banging up against his zest for life and love for his family, the story weighed on him. He hesitated, perfecting the suicide plan but putting off the decision. "I didn't want to be that guy," he explained. "That's what drug it out."
So far, at least, Mike, now 39, has triumphed over his demons. But it's been close. He is a stocky, well-muscled man whose commanding presence, friendly, backwoods demeanor and liquid Carolina diction camouflage a world of hurt and struggle.
For too long, Mike got no help. For too long, professional help was out of reach. For too long, he resisted what help there was.
In that, he is like too many others, military men and women who remain at risk of suicide.
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PTSD I Grieve from Kathleen "Costos" DiCesare on Vimeo.