SILVER SPRING, Md., Aug. 29, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- It's Wednesday night, and retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca has two feet up, watching Tom Hank's most recent film to hit premium cable. Next to him sits his favorite canine pal, Darby, who, along with Greca's wife, Darena, and his family and friends, has provided emotional support in his journey of recovery from the invisible wounds of war.
Greca, a 30-year combat veteran, has seen the trials of combat firsthand and witnessed the long-term fallout as his brothers and sisters in arms continue to grapple with traumatic brain injury (TBI), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Even as he saw those around him struggle, it took a decade for Greca to realize that he was also coping with PTSD and TBI –symptoms he once mistakenly thought were a sign of weakness in others.
For Greca, PTSD hasn't been about "jumping at loud noises and firecrackers." Instead Greca experienced a growing sense of emotional numbness ("turning off the switch"), disinterest in former passions, difficulty sleeping and a desire to be left alone. These feelings increased gradually over the course of multiple deployments, from East Baghdad to Kandahar.
"I suffered for years, because like aging, I didn't see the signs and symptoms right there; they can be so subtle," Greca says, remarking on the nuances involved in the diagnosis of PTSD.
Three years ago, Greca's struggles reached a breaking point when he was admitted to a Tampa hospital for what he initially thought was a heart attack, but turned out to be a severe panic attack. This frightening moment proved to be a critical turning point in his life. With the help of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) health care providers and his wife, Darena, he began to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD and TBI.
"Our time in the emergency room was Chris' wake-up call. In this moment of urgency, he was truly receptive to the guidance provided by the TBI nurse," Darena says, looking back on the 2015 hospital trip.
As Greca has learned how to recognize and cope with his symptoms, he has also taken steps to re-engage in meaningful relationships and pursuits, providing leadership consulting expertise to organizations and individuals inside and outside of the military and veteran communities. Now, Greca educates service members, veterans and families, alerting them to the subtle signs of invisible wounds; he hopes that increased awareness will save more lives.
"There are service members out there serving today that can be saved if leaders, peers and family members learn the signs and symptoms of invisible wounds," Greca says. "I'm absolutely convinced that we can get service members the help they need, simply by educating ourselves and paying more attention."
Recently, Greca teamed with the Real Warriors Campaign, a Defense Department public awareness initiative, to produce a series of video PSAs with a simple and effective message: "Reaching out is a sign of strength." Greca sees this work with the Real Warriors Campaign as an extension of his combat responsibilities. "You're willing to die for your brothers and sisters on your left flank and your right flank overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet we come home and lose people to things that are preventable, like suicides. Maybe it becomes 20 [suicides] per day, down to 18, or 16… but the ultimate goal is 0. We can do it, but it's going to take education."
Back in Greca's living room, Darby is no longer comfortably perched on the middle cushion. She stands by the kitchen door at attention as the retired Ranger addresses a camera lens on the patio. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca knows that he must support his military brothers and sisters, right flank and left.
If you are experiencing distress as the result of military service or other life stress, know that reaching out is a sign of strength. You can contact the Psychological Health Resource Center to confidentially speak with a trained health resource consultant 24/7, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our "Seek Help, Find Care" page to see a list of key psychological health resources. The Real Warriors Campaign is a Defense Department-funded public awareness initiative that encourages service members, veterans and families to reach out for help for psychological health concerns.
SOURCE Real Warriors Campaign