PTSD has changed my life…Part 1 – Wilson Bautista
I thought that I was an idiot, that I was incompetent, and that I was good for nothing. At least that is how I feel I was treated as a junior Marine Corps officer. You see, my story is a mixed bag of things that contributed to my mental state. Some of these were my decisions and other things were externally influenced. Either way, I have it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I’ve been out of the active duty Marine Corps now for almost 6 years and within that time, there has been a lot of reflection of what was reality and what wasn’t. This will be the first time I’ll talk about this in public because I’ve been too embarrassed to share it. Why talk about it now? I’m actually tired of seeing the stats of veterans that commit suicide, something has to change…I hope that my story inspires others with PTSD or other mental health issues to recognize that they are not alone in this complicated and complex world.
The taboo of being mentally unwell is real, especially if you are a Marine.
We were trained to be “The Few, the Proud” and not to let your mind get “weak” and go “internal”. You were expected to go through misery and love it. You were told war stories about the people who never quit and of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. As a Marine, you were held to a higher standard in the eyes of your country, family, friends, and especially the Corps. We take pride in the title of Marine because it isn’t easy to achieve.
To be anything less than elite is equivalent to failure. You have expectations to meet.
When I was growing up, I started my fascination with the military in the late 80s to mid 90s during the Air and Sea Shows in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I wanted to be a fighter pilot because I thought it was “really cool” to go real fast and shoot stuff. While it was a child’s dream, I never thought I would actually be in the military. In my teens, I would see the JROTC go by and think to myself that it was interesting but not something I would do. I didn’t want to get yelled at and didn’t really like the physical fitness aspect of it. The closest thing I ever did to military formations was participating in my marching band. I was a classically trained pianist going into high school, I’d never played another instrument. I played the most underappreciated instrument you never heard on the football fields each halftime show on Friday evenings, a baritone saxophone.
While I joke about my time being in the band, I made a lot of friends that I still talk to to this day. My bandmates and a few other close friends were there for me for my first life changing event, I got my 15 year old girlfriend pregnant. I was 17. Teenage pregnancy was a big no-no at a Catholic High School and for a guy who was a leader at the church youth group.
I was too young to understand what this meant for me but it was a lesson in life that left a permanent etch into my soul. I learned what it was like to be ostracized, like you are a rotten apple in the basket that needs to be thrown away. You learn very quickly how alone you are and what a disappointment you are to everyone. Deeper and deeper, I went into depression and isolation.
“He did it to himself”…. “What a loser”…”His life is ruined”…
While support may have been there, I didn’t feel it… Words have never been my strong suit. I wasn’t confident yet and I hadn’t found my voice. I was a wreck, then something happened. While I was wallowing in my self-pity, a good friend of mine told me a story about his father. How he was never there for him when he needed him. He told me how his father only thought of himself. He said, “Don’t be a deadbeat dad” and it was at that point I realized the importance what was about to happen, I was going to be a father.
It was another defining moment of my life in that despite what people thought of me, I had to take care of my son. His name is Andrew and he changed my life. Everything from that moment forward was to ensure that he had the best future that I could provide. I had to accept that my life wasn’t going to be “normal” anymore…I had to support my child above all things.
It wasn’t easy. Between changing diapers and work, life threw more things at me. I was failing college and was kicked out of the house a few times. It wasn’t all bad, I ended an abusive relationship and started a new one. I hated where I was, I needed a change or maybe I needed an escape. After deciding that college wasn’t for me, I went to the mall to look for a second job. Do you know who likes to go to the mall besides housewives and teenagers? Marine Corps recruiters.
Oh that Staff Sergeant got me…Honor, Courage, Commitment…Semper Fi…The Few, The Proud. I was drinking all of the Kool-Aid. The Marine Corps was everything I wanted in life…I wanted challenge, I wanted to do something that everyone was afraid of doing, and most of all…I wanted purpose. I wanted to serve a greater purpose. For God, for country, for Corps.
So in the summer of 2000, while my parents were on vacation, I went to the Miami Military Enlisted Processing Station and signed a contract to join the Marine Corps. My musical background got me an audition to join the Marine Corps Music Program as a pianist.
In January of 2001, I left in the middle of the night to recruit training in Parris Island, South Carolina. Little did I know, in the 13 weeks of physical and mental challenges would trigger some old feelings…
More to follow…