Some casualties of war are the minds of soldiers thrown into combat. Travis Martin is such a case. As an 18 year-old, the Somerset, Kentucky native found himself driving heavy trucks in Iraq. The target of several ambushes, the soldier suffered head and shoulder wounds when his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb. For two years his hands shook uncontrollably, and his personality changed for the worse. He was not diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, but insists he’s a victim of P-T-S-D. After two tours of duty, Martin earned a master’s degree in English literature at Eastern Kentucky University. In the latest in our series on student veterans, Martin talks about coping with severe anxiety…
“There's something to the idea you can, you avoid symptoms of PTSD. Like, I stay locked in my house all the time. You know, I stay, when I first got back, I stayed watching those Christian videos and picking up lint off the ground. You know, I'm avoiding the symptoms, but I'm also avoiding my life. I saw that that was a problem, and so I was like, I'm not going to avoid these memories, you know, of what I did in Iraq."
"When I started working on my master's, I've got to really specify what I was going to research in literature. And so I said, I'm going to do war literature. I'm going to read and write about war literature all the time, you know, until I can handle it. And I ended up writing my thesis about Iraq and Afghanistan war literature, and that has been a big help. Like, having all this firsthand experience, I can say, yeah, well, when the author says this, it might be a symptom of PTSD, and, you know, I've got the experience to back that up. I've read the literature, the research, about, you know, psychological impacts of combat and all this different stuff. So I was able to put a painful past to work for me in my schoolwork."
"I knew a lot about PTSD. I knew a lot about TBI, because I think I have a mild traumatic brain injury. And, um, I knew about medication. I know what happens in combat whenever you're scared, like I was in my first deployment. Whenever you're getting bullets flying around and it's the first time it's ever happened, and you just daze out. You don't remember things. And, um, I knew about what that was, and I started reading more stories. I was like, wow, these are really clear. These guys know exactly what happened to them. And so I started thinking, you know, they've had to fill in some gaps somewhere. You know, they've, they've taken these stories of theirs and they've, they've filled in the gaps. Because there's no way you can remember every little thing that happens in these situations, because they went through things in these stories that are a lot worse than what I went through. And I, I've got problems remembering it. So that became, like, the cornerstone of my graduate work, was that."
"And that's another thing: work. When you're a veteran coming back with PTSD, it's pretty hard, you know. The first job I took, I really didn't need it because I got, I got a pretty good disability check. You know, I was getting good VA benefits for, um, the GI Bill, so I mean, I wasn't hurting for money or anything, living in a little one-bedroom apartment. But, um, I decided to get a job just so I could get out of the house, maybe do something physical."
"So I got a job stocking groceries. I worked at a grocery store for a while when I was, like, sixteen. I was like, I'll do that again, because it was fun. I enjoyed it. But I couldn't get along with the people I was working with. I, um, the people that were, you know, the co-stockers, they'd be slacking on the job or something, and then the boss would tell me to do something. One time, I remember, I pulled the boss aside and I gave him a speech about proper leadership etiquette, and how he's got to talk to his troops about commanding him or they won't respect him and they won't listen to him when it really counts. I got home and I was like, what the hell are you talking about, man? This guy's stocking groceries at Kroger and you're telling him about, you know, combat scenarios. Are you crazy? That's probably how people are taking you. And so the job didn't work out, man. I couldn't do it, because everything was just so serious. Everything had such dire consequences here that it really didn't, a lot of it just, you know, went back to control and not being able to control things in combat.”
Martin’s comments were made as part of the University of Kentucky’s oral history project, “From Combat to Kentucky.” The 26 year-old is currently a P-h-D candidate at the University of Kentucky.