Treating PTSD: What Inspired One Gulf War Veteran to Seek Help

Here’s why Anthony believes treating PTSD is worth it.

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When United States Army Veteran Anthony Aiello returned from the Gulf War, he immersed himself in war poetry and literature in college. He was seeking answers to the questions about the veteran experience and how they adjust after war. As this was happening, he was starting to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Part of my graduate studies and my undergraduate studies had to do with researching PTSD [and] researching traumas,” says Aiello. “I became an expert on these things at the same time that I was going through them.”

How PTSD Affected Him

Pretty quickly, Aiello started having nightmares about war. They weren’t always nightmares of his own memories. In fact, he would sometimes dream about fighting in Vietnam or in World War I.

He was also having other common PTSD symptoms, like anxiety from fireworks and crowds. Hyper-alertness was also a common problem for him.

Aiello also experienced some serious mood changes. As he was working through his dissertation for school, he “hunkered down” and isolated himself. “What I ended up doing was just basically isolating for a year,” he says. “I ended up doing the exact worst thing that I could've done. I ended up separating myself from everybody—all my friends, my family.”

He started collecting pills, drinking more, and experiencing suicide ideation. Sadly, this pattern is not uncommon: Some people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the painful symptoms of PTSD. In fact, over 20 percent of veterans who have PTSD also suffer from substance use disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Treating PTSD: The Breaking Point

Around a decade after Aiello finished his dissertation, he was on a cruise with his wife and one-year-old son. He began writing in a 100-page notebook, trying to fill the entire book with reasons he should no longer be alive. He called it “an apologia for suicides.”

“My wife would tell you that she thought that I wasn't going to make it back from that trip,” says Aiello. Luckily, he adds, “I didn't finish it, and I haven't killed myself, and have no interest right now in [doing] any such thing.”

It was his wife and son who inspired him to seek help. His wife gave him an ultimatum that he needed to get help, or she would leave with their son.

“I needed to be there for the family, I needed to be there for her, [and] I needed to be there for our child,” says Aiello. “If I wasn't able to do those things, then I needed to be somewhere where I wasn't going to hurt them.”

Upon returning from the trip, he immediately sought out therapists who specialized in treating PTSD. Thanks to their support, he says he no longer has thoughts of suicide.

“There's a great quote. I'm not gonna get it exact, but it's something to the effect of, ‘You can't keep the dark birds from [landing on] your head … but you can keep them from staying,’” he says. “The birth of my son has been a constant reminder that they don't have to stay.”