MOLLIE S. WATERS/THE GREENVILLE STANDARD
A group recently formed in Greenville to help soldiers in the Butler County area who suffer from PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Helping organize this effort is Greenville’s Garrard family.
Bette Garrard recently spoke with “The Standard” about the dire need for the group. Her son, TJ, who lives with PTSD, has now opened up about his experiences with the illness in the hope that sharing his story will help others better understand PTSD.
TJ Garrard joined the Alabama National Guard in 2006 and is coming up on 10 years of service; eight of those years were spent in active service and two years in the reserves. From 2008-2010, Garrard and his unit were mobilized for active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During his service, Garrard said he logged 11,000 miles in hostile territory. “Our duties included convoys and convoy security,” said Garrard. “Without getting into great detail, my unit and I encountered many dangerous things during that tour of duty.”
Garrard said he was diagnosed with PTSD approximately six months after returning home from his tour. “I knew that something inside of me was broken,” said Garrard. “I went into a dark depression with intense thoughts of suicide.” Garrard said his parents helped him during this difficult time, even driving him to the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Hospital in Montgomery at 2 a.m. one night.
This is the first time he has opened up publically about his experiences with PTSD. “Only close family members and doctors know that I went through that,” stated Garrard, “but I am breaking my silence now.
The suicide rate for our veterans is increasing by the day, and that to me is unacceptable. If my story can help one person get the help they need and not end their life, then I need to tell my story.”
Garrard says learning to live with PTSD is a process, and much of the assistance he has gotten has been through the VA and his family’s efforts. “I was assigned a social worker who is trained in therapy, and that allows me to talk freely and get things off of my chest,” said Garrard. “That has been the biggest help: having someone to listen.”
Garrard said medication has also made a difference in his journey with PTSD, but there are times when finding the right combination of medication has been difficult. “I take sleep medications to help me stay asleep through nightmares so I don’t wake up disoriented and possibly hurt myself or others,” said Garrard. “I also take anti-anxiety pills to calm my nerves during the daytime hours.
“It has been a process to get that straightened out, and it will continue to be, but I refuse to quit because the ones I love are worth my struggle and so is my own life.” Garrard urges those with questions about PTSD or those who think they may be suffering from it to seek immediate help.
“I want everyone to know that help is available,” said Garrard. “You just have to take that first, brave step and ask for it.”
The group, created to help those in the area who suffer with PTSD or those who want to know more about it, will meet at the Butler Baptist Association office at 400 East Commerce Street each Tuesday night at 6 p.m.