Focusing on the good things, former Marine believes he’s turned a corner
CHICO, Calif. — Battlefield scars, both physical and emotional, overwhelmed Nick Wright for half of his adult life.
As recently as last year, his depression seemed to be deepening. With a fifth child on the way, Wright began to wonder if his choice of charting his own path to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder was fair to himself, or his family.
The former Marine, who recently turned 30, doesn’t know if his fierce determination or just the passage of time finally led him to focus on all the good things in his world. So far, that simple but not so obvious notion seems to be moving him forward.
“It’s getting there,” Wright says about his life six years after being diagnosed with PTSD.
“There hasn’t been one (expletive) year that hasn’t been a struggle, but it’s getting better,” he said. “Nothing’s ever easy. Who the hell ever said it would be?”
Wright returned from Iraq in 2006 a decorated war hero, but felt isolated and unappreciated in civilian life. Like many combat veterans, he spent most of his time “bunkering down” at home, avoiding situations that might trigger emotions left over from the battlefield.
“I was pissed off and a little scary then,” he recalled.
His contacts with the outside world were mostly limited to job interviews, which often ended abruptly when Wright was asked about his PTSD diagnosis. He came to believe some potential employers regarded applicants with combat-related emotional issues as risky as those with serious criminal records.
He landed one job with a national retail chain, but reluctantly quit when recurring headaches from a war wound caused him to miss several days of work.
Late last year a couple of jobs through a temp agency led Wright to a permanent position with a company that delivers and sets up medical equipment for hospice patients. Despite the nature of the work, he said he has found a certain satisfaction in helping patients and family members facing end-of-life issues.
“I get to help patients who are passing on,” he said. “You get to understand how the patient’s families feel, and it gives me some peace of mind knowing that I did my best to make everyone more comfortable.”
The job has helped him recapture some of the spirit and focus that saw him through three tours of duty in Iraq.
“Right now I’m being far more social than I used to be,” Wright said. “I know it starts with me.”
Once agitated to the brink of aggression by the rudeness of strangers, Wright said he is learning to accept people for who they are.
“I have to push myself to do the right things,” he said. “I’ve learned to say ‘forget it’ and just kind of push on.”
Wright remains supportive of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, but said he’s been disappointed over several incidents involving the behavior of personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. None are more upsetting, he said, than the tragedy last month that took the life of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a sniper credited with the highest number of combat kills in U.S. history.
Kyle and a neighbor, Chad Littlefield, took former Marine Eddie Ray Routh, 25, to a Texas firing range thinking it would help ease his symptoms from PTSD. Routh is accused of, for reasons yet unknown, turning on the two men, shooting them both dead with a semi-automatic pistol.
Wright believes Routh should be punished but should also be helped if PTSD is determined to be the cause of the shooting. “I don’t think he can be helped, but I would give it a try,” Wright said. “I think he kind of went off the deep end, but I wouldn’t give up hope.”
Wright said, under certain circumstances, he would risk his safety to help out a fellow veteran with emotional issues.
He hasn’t fired a weapon since his discharge, but hasn’t ruled out going to the shooting range as a way to relieve stress. He recalls “feeling naked” without his M-16 a long time after returning home.
Wright said he never gave up on himself, yet he understands the destructive emotions war veterans are sometimes powerless to control.