Master Sgt. Chris Eder didn’t know what posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was when he was diagnosed with it after two deployments to Iraq. Eder, who racked up more than two decades of service as a public affairs officer in the Air Force, was sent to Baghdad in 2003 and 2007 to serve with the American Forces Network attached to the Multi-National Forces Iraq-Combined Press Information Center.
He still remembers the first of many brushes with death there when his unit, stationed in what had been a luxury hotel, was fired on by 10 rockets. As bad as some situations were, Eder is alive today because he missed some of the worst encounters with the enemy.
“There were a few incidents where I was supposed to be at the location where my battle buddies died, but because of timing, I missed the deadly attacks,” he said. Eder was left with survivor’s guilt, his imagination filling in the blanks about what happened to his buddies.
During his second deployment, Eder noticed he was having trouble concentrating and felt alternately irritable and numb. Because he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in 1999, he figured deployment was simply making the condition worse.
But after Eder returned to the United States in 2008, he found his symptoms were worse. In fact, his memory lapses were so frequent that he went to a clinic to find out whether he had Alzheimer’s disease. To his surprise and dismay, he was diagnosed with PTSD.
At first, Eder couldn’t believe he could possibly have PTSD. After all, he was creating content for 27 radio stations, among other responsibilities, without any problem. He knew from his reporting that people often realize they have PTSD when they start having trouble at work.
“I was good at my job,” Eder said. “It was hard for me to accept.” Eventually, he came to terms with his diagnosis and sought treatment.
Eder considers himself lucky he was in the military so long – more than two decades – at that point. He was comfortable telling his supervisors he needed to see a therapist. However, he didn’t tell anyone else. Psychological damage and treatment carry a stigma, he said, and he didn’t want anyone’s pity. Once he retired, he was able to find a therapist who would see him at home, so that his treatment could stay private.
Eder’s command supported him through his therapy, but he said it was also important that he insisted on getting the care he needed and was able to perform well at work.
“Luckily, I was already advanced in my military career and secure enough to know what I needed to do for myself,” Eder said. “I also knew that I could still get my job done, so it wasn’t a problem for anyone.”
“Some things work and others don't.Chris Eder, Air Force veteran
Get into a different program.
Don't give up.”
Even so, Eder’s recovery was slow. He didn’t feel completely committed or involved in therapy the first year, in part because he was overwhelmed with job and home responsibilities.
He tried 30 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, and learned earlier traumas were making it harder for him to recover from what happened during his deployments. He also tried exposure therapy and prolonged exposure therapy. He saw a life coach, who helped him with techniques to keep him moving forward.
“With all the therapy I’ve been through, what has really helped me the most has been my knowledge of practicing yoga, breathing and meditation; before, during and after the war,” Eder said. “It’s kept me grounded and has allowed me to move forward in life.”
Since Eder retired in 2013, he has continued seeing a therapist and practicing yoga. He’s also taken a bold step to help him cope: he talks openly to others about his PTSD. He overcame the fear of stigma.
If you have PTSD, don’t quit on treatment, Eder said.
“Some things work and others don’t,” he said. “Get into a different program. Don’t give up.”
Eder said that he has had suicidal thoughts. He’s overcome them with a message that he hopes others can use: “Your life is worth living. If you ever feel that you need help, seek it out! It’s you being able to identify that you need help that makes you strong. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.”
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury offers additional resources for service members with PTSD, their families and for clinicians treating it. The DCoE Outreach Center is available 24/7 to answer questions and share resources by phone at 866-966-1020, live chat or email.
Additional resources include:
- Moving Forward is a free, online educational and life coaching program that teaches service members and veterans problem solving skills to help better handle life’s challenges.
- AfterDeployment offers an online assessment tool that allows individuals to evaluate their symptoms.
- National Center for Telehealth and Technology offers Mood Tracker, PTSD Coach and Breathe2Relax, key mobile apps that assist the individual with stress management.