How This Former Marine Bounced Back From PTSD
Tim Williamson, 34, was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after getting out of the Marines in 2006. This is the story of how the software entrepreneur bounced back from PTSD with a mental health transformation, as told to Matt Goulet.
"I got out of the Marines in 2006. The first symptom I could recognize was having a nightmare where I’m in the middle of a firefight in Iraq and I roll over to dodge an RPG round. I’d wake up rolling out of bed. Over the next few years, more symptoms came on. Physically, I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t motivated. I went to the doctor saying I’m tired all of the time; I think I have mono. She was like, Have you talked to somebody about depression? I wasn’t addressing the real problems."
"I kept replaying a traumatic event, October 15, 2005, when Sergeant Mark Adams was killed. I didn’t know how much that was the root of my stress. In 2008, I’d try to fall asleep and I’d hear the kid laughing right before the bomb blew up. The scene played in my head over and over again. I walked into the Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau office in New Jersey and said I need to talk to somebody right now."
"I had no idea what I was getting into. I hadn’t seen a counselor before. The second appointment, my psychologist took me outside and we did laps around the building. About 30 minutes in, he stops and asks, 'How many times did you stop and look over your shoulder?' I could only remember doing it once or twice. He was keeping a tally and it was in the 40s. It was the way I was trained; I was infantry. I thought I was so self-aware—of myself, my actions—and here I was looking over my shoulder 40 times in the last 30 minutes. That was when I thought, Holy crap, this is gonna go somewhere."
"When I got home in ’06, I enrolled in English 101 in community college and I started a little bit of writing about what happened in Iraq. Journaling started from that. When something really began to bother me—like when ISIS in Iraq started to resurge—I would start writing essays that weren’t going to anybody. That writing was a transfer of emotion and stored-up energy. I deleted more than I’ve ever saved. I’ve done poetry. You don’t have to be a good writer, just get your thoughts out."
"In 2013, I thought I was out of the weeds. Then I got the news my mom was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. It totally deflated me. So I wound up going back to counseling. After I’d leave there, I’d think: You’ve been through this before."