Jordan and K9 Collins
My name is Jordan...and I really don’t want to write this. I struggle deeply with talking about myself. It’s so much easier to put on a happy mask, you know? But more important than my discomfort is knowing that by telling my story, I am not only validating my own experience but maybe even helping someone else who feels “unworthy” of the gift of Soldier’s 6.
It’s only been in the last 2 years that I’ve accepted that the things I’ve experienced in my life have broken me in ways that cannot be repaired the same again. We’re just never quite the same after a traumatic experience. Something clicks, snaps, breaks, shifts in our mind that says: “yep – this happened once, or almost happened, and now I’m on high alert that it may happen again”. My PTSD prevents me from being the person I want to be and the person I used to be before traumatic experiences changed me.
Following a friend into contracting work through the Department of Defense, I landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan at the young age of 23. I was looking for adventure and my friend told me that it would be a life-changing experience. Off I went! Leaving my family in the darkness of night for a war zone – and I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
I worked in Kandahar for 2 months before I was transitioned to FOB Dwyer – a marine outpost in the middle of the desert roughly a mile long by a half mile wide. I was the only female American on my side of the post and probably one of 5 on the entire FOB. For this reason, I was constantly in danger. I was followed, harassed, attacked, and drug away from my job by a Jordanian allied service member. Because of my status as a contractor, I was not afforded a weapon or any means to protect myself. The day after the Jordanian grabbed me and drug me away, I walked into work and found a military-issued knife that a Marine bought for me from the PX along with a note that said, “keep yourself safe”. I still keep that knife in the center console of my car for protection. I survived a plane crash with physical impairment in my neck and back causing frequent disabling migraines and back pain between my shoulders. We took rounds in our helicopter when some farmers thought it would be fun to shoot at us as we dropped supplies off to other outposts. Too many “stalking” stories to count. After several particularly bad incidents, my supervisor would come pick me up in his truck and drive me back to my tent after work. This only lasted for a few days though before something inevitably came up that would force me to resume walking to work. It was effing terrifying. There’s just no other way to describe the nonchalance that comes with accepting your inevitable death in a war zone, not even being guaranteed the privilege of having my body shipped back to my family if I died.
At the conclusion of my contracting, I joined the MN Army National Guard (MNARNG). It made sense considering I’d “been there, done that” overseas and wanted to continue serving. My hyper-vigilance, paranoia and organization skills made me the prime junior enlisted NCO in the 347th Regional Support Group. I led many junior enlisted-specific activities to ensure adequate representation in the Brigade. I received the Army Commendation Medal for my representation on the MN Adjutant General’s Junior Diversity Advisory Council, which worked to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the MNARNG. I’m so proud of the things I accomplished in the military. I didn’t deploy, which was okay given my previous experience, but I did have the chance to impact lives younger than mine in meaningful ways – which is very tough to say in or about the military.
But the anxiety and fear has never left me. My apartment is like Fort Knox, and only recently have I begun to learn that my paranoia is not normal. I never go anywhere with the aforementioned knife in my car, mace in my purse and a self-defense keychain. I can’t enjoy exercising outdoors (I still do it and push through the flashbacks and paranoia because I know logically it’s the “right” thing to do, to not be held up by my fear) because I am constantly playing out what I’ll do if someone stops their car on the road and runs towards me. I run faster because I want to be able to outrun someone chasing me. My paranoia plays out in crowded places when I begin expecting gun shots and find myself plotting how I would help the injured or what I’d do if I was injured. I’m on medications (and crisis intervention meds) to help me when I’m triggered and out of control.
I realized last fall that my work-from-home remote job was making me a very high risk for suicidal ideation. I picked up a second job at a local hospital as a security guard. It feels good to put a uniform on and have something to be proud of again. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess that working at the hospital aggravates my PTSD, particularly when we have a security threat to the facility. I can’t sleep for days after the threat has cleared. I run through every scenario if someone arrives to attack the hospital or staff – and being the only guard in the facility at any given time, there’s A LOT to go over mentally with how to respond to various situations. I’ve been attacked, yelled at, had things thrown at me – everything that you’d expect at a hospital emergency room. Psych patients, drug addicts, elderly, kids, traumatic injuries, all of it. It’s a blessing and a curse in my life but I do love working there.
Earlier this year, I was gifted a Golden Retriever pup through the Invisible Wounds Project organization. I call her my “Golden Girl” because she’s so perfect; her name is Dari (Dah-ree). I spent many weeks and months mulling over my need for a service dog, feeling that I didn’t deserve her. Turns out, it was the people in my life who invalidated my experiences (or were unaware of them) that made me feel that way. Soldier’s 6 had reminded me that I am worthy of living a life in peace, even if the ways I obtained my PTSD are unconventional as a contractor. I went overseas to serve my country, too. My wounds are real and deep. Thankfully, PTSD isn’t a “pissing match” on who had it worse. We all approach our pain differently and yours is just as valid as mine.
I decided that it was time to make the call when I called to refill my panic meds. Another month of sedatives for when I can’t settle down. Another month of night terrors, hopelessness and struggle. Another month of supplementing my meds with weed and alcohol so I could be distracted enough to sleep. I was driving down the freeway and daydreamed about turning the wheel into some trees (I had just completed a paranoid delusion of what I’d do if someone shot into my car) when Dari decided to lay her head on my hand as I drove. I realized that she is a gift, and I can’t waste it just because I want to die. I don’t want to die – I just want the paranoia and pain to stop. I want to be able to live my life in peace.
I am divorced with a 4-year-old boy who is my whole world. I am single and live alone on a quiet-ish street with privacy screens on every window because I am afraid someone is watching me when I can’t see into the dark. Dari helps me feel comfortable that someone else is listening and watching. I can let my guard down a little bit because she’s always paying attention for things that aren’t normal. I am so grateful for her to come with me when I’m outdoors so I can learn to truly enjoy activities. I’m excited for her to learn how to “clear” my apartment before I walk in to ensure it’s safe. It blows my mind to think I almost missed this opportunity because I felt undeserving of it. All I can say is, thank you for helping me get my life back.