Editor’s note: Kyle Prellberg is a former US Army infantryman who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. This article has been edited and condensed from a conversation he had with CNN Opinion editor Stephanie Griffith. The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
(CNN) — I’ve always had a fascination with the military. I owe that mostly to my grandfather, who was an Army aviator during World War II. I’ll be thinking about him this Memorial Day holiday.
When I was growing up, my grandfather and I would sit in front of the TV and watch documentaries about the Battle of Midway, and he would tell me about his war experiences. It was almost a foregone conclusion for me that I would enlist in the military, too, when I had the chance.
I served active duty in the Army for five years and deployed to Iraq in 2009 to 2010. I spent a second tour in Afghanistan. I was there for about nine months when I was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and sent home.
After leaving the military, I wasn’t too keen on admitting to myself that I had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. And it took a long time — years actually — before I sought help for it and got on the road to getting better.
What did my PTSD look like? It was anxiety that I couldn’t understand where it was coming from. It was anger that I couldn’t put a lid on. Anything could set me off. It could be a small thing, like I stubbed my toe or forgot something in the other room.
I wasn’t sleeping, which caused me to miss or show up late to work — and eventually led to getting fired. I tried for a long time to get another job, but that didn’t work out.
All of that led me to finally go talk to somebody, to tell them, “You know what, I had some pretty gnarly experiences when I was in the military” — and to seek the help I needed. And eventually, I applied for Veterans Affairs benefits for my disability, which provided enough financial assistance to help keep me afloat.
The doctors who treated me believe the rocket-propelled grenade blast was the root of my PTSD. I sometimes think though that it might have had more to do with the endless, anxious waiting for something bad to happen than the explosion itself.
The blast — when it finally happened — almost felt like a kind of relief, because I had made it out on the other side and there was no more waiting and wondering about what might happen and when.
2019 was a pivotal year for me, in all the wrong ways. My wife had a miscarriage, and my marriage broke up. I was having a hard time sleeping. I had lost my job. At the time, I was struggling to live off $800 a month in VA benefits as a service member who is 50% disabled.
The years since then have been about finding coping mechanisms and trying to understand where this all might be coming from. I wanted to find out why I was angry all the time. I wanted to find out why I was having panic attacks. I wanted to get better. That meant no longer being in denial about my PTSD and reaching out to the communities that were able to help me on the path to becoming whole.
One group that helped changed my life was the Veterans Community Project, or VCP — an organization I discovered after I had to sell my home and was living in my parents’ basement. It provided help, like a gas card so that I could afford to put fuel in my car to get around, and it arranged therapeutic retreats and other forms of support.
The VCP is also one of the organizations that is pioneering tiny homes to help unhoused veterans around the country. The 240-square-foot home where I lived with my Doberman Phoenix was a refuge for us for almost two years.
The VCP also arranged for me to go to a program called “The Battle Within,” a weeklong retreat where veterans did mindfulness meditation and different forms of therapy.
It’s phenomenal stuff run by some phenomenal people who really seem to care. Recovery is an ongoing process, and that group became the kind of support system I needed and hadn’t had since I was active duty serving alongside other soldiers.
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What I’ve learned is that when I’m feeling anger, anxiety or panic, I need to try to identify what may have spurred the negative emotions I’m feeling. I just need to realize that the painful mood or thoughts I’m having make sense, given what I’ve been through.
My advice to anyone going through the same thing is, try not to be by yourself. Also use your coping mechanisms. And breathe — it will pass. It’s not a cure, but it may get you through a hard time.
I don’t know that the struggle will ever be over. But the longer I deal with this issue, the more I’m learning about all the support that is out there. And the more I lean on it, the better I seem to do.