I am not a mental health professional nor do I claim fact on anything I say in regard to the matter. These are my opinions based on experience. I am a veteran and a filmmaker. My current film in development is “Falling Inside Out” which is based on mental illness and experienced through the eyes of a combat veteran struggling to make sense of the world around him.
Due to my experiences, I feel Falling Inside Out is a story reflective of many veterans, and possibly even non-veterans, who experience the emotional struggle after living through trauma. Drawing from my history and working through recovery, I see that history much more clearly now (as they say, hind-sight is 20-20). The key is the willingness to look at it and to work at focusing in on the specifics. Only when I found the willingness could I even begin the work necessary to move forward.
I don’t believe my experience in the military was much different than many others. I shipped out, completed basic, moved on to advanced schooling, moved on to a duty station; essentially stripped down and rebuilt as a tool with a purpose to serve my country and do my part in the war efforts with honor, courage, and commitment.
While serving in the military, I had to feel nothing. I grew thick skin, learned to do my job to the best of my ability, grew stern in my leading of others, and excelled the best I could… because someone had to, might as well be me. I worked hard and played hard. Spending most of my off time drinking, I simply was trying to wash my emotions away so I could go back and perform my duties without waiver.
Looking back, I experienced a few “hairy encounters”. At the time, it felt like another day with a “close call”. Now I realize what could have been – serious injury or death. I was lucky, others weren’t. I lived and operated in a high octane environment and was constantly on a heightened sense of alert – this became routine and normal. As I climbed through rank and duties, I became increasingly more responsible for the safety of others, safety I now realize I put at risk with split-second decisions. This seemed normal; it was my job, it was my duty. There should be no reason for me to be “affected” by them, right? What I know now is I am.
I am human, I have feelings. I experience those feelings whether I want to or not, and if I don’t look at them or let myself feel them, they will still fester and affect by behavior in one way or another. Growing up, the only emotion I learned to express was anger – and not very productively. So, now it makes sense that these emotional experiences would leak out through anger and frustration.
After my service time was up and I honorably discharged, I obviously returned to “civilian life”. That life was very different from military life; in some ways good and some ways bad. But it seemed that shouldn’t affect me; I should just keep on living. Never mind the mundaneness of the everyday routine in a privileged society. Never mind looking for a new purpose through a mundane job. Don’t worry about the feelings of loneliness and unimportance. Don’t worry about the new social anxiety I felt in large crowds, or how easy noises would distract my attention. Forget about the emotions a felt yet didn’t understand what they were. No one told this to me, they were simply my subconscious expectations of myself. Even if I could articulate these feelings, who would even understand them? Talking with a shrink was out of the question due to fear of a paper trail of a “condition “or being labeled as “defective”. I certainly didn’t want to be on medications either. Why would I want that when I could self-medicate anyway. Besides, life was working out fine, right? … With the exception that nothing really was.
I was irritable, I was uncontrollable, I couldn’t maintain personal relationships, I was uninterested in life – I know now that these were simply symptoms. My struggle was the symptom to my illness; my dis-ease. I finally see it now. It has been a long and painful road processing and re-learning what I thought I knew about life. But for me, that is what recovery is. It is learning how to live life, and a huge part of that is learning what wasn’t working before. A big part of that was learning that I do have emotions and that I carry my experiences with me whether I acknowledge it or not. And as soon as I began to acknowledge those emotions, I could process them and express them more productively.
That is what my film is about, the struggle we feel and the lessons we learn from them. And I hope showing that struggle to others will help them understand if not relate; and in that, spread awareness and show hope for solutions. Today, I find much joy and purpose in talking with others and helping where I can. It’s a life-long road through healing, and it naturally has ups and downs, but it doesn’t need to be a constant struggle.
Written By: Guest Blogger and director/filmmaker Aaron Nelson. Aaron is known for his work in the films “The Field” and “Grimm”.
You can connect to his social network through his website at FallingInsideOut.com, or visit the website to stay up to date on this project and to contribute.
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