Coping with Disabilities and Overcoming Suicidal Ideation: A Retired Soldier’s Story
Not all health concerns are visible or even physical. Support and treatment for an “invisible” wound, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is just as important as treatment for a physical injury. If a psychological health concern is left unaddressed, feelings of stress or hopelessness can become debilitating. In some instances, overwhelming feelings of despair can lead to thoughts of suicide. Suicide prevention is very serious. One act can save a life. To raise awareness about the importance seeking care for invisible wounds to help prevent suicide, the Real Warriors Campaign is honoring the sacrifices of America’s warriors who are coping with physical and psychological health concerns throughout the month of September in observation of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
One member of the military community who understands how physical and invisible wounds can lead to thoughts of suicide is retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido, a Purple Heart recipient. While serving in Iraq in 2004, Pulido was severely injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. As a result, he underwent 17 surgeries and spent nearly eight months recovering from his injuries at Brooke Army Medical Center. Eventually, Pulido and his family made the decision to amputate his left leg due to severe infection.
During the trying time of treating his physical wounds and fighting for his life, Pulido experienced depression and other psychological health concerns, including PTSD. He had night sweats and terrors about the IED blast. He also worried about how losing his leg would affect the rest of his life: “What will my life be like without a limb? How will I be able to walk? And most importantly, how will I be able to support my family?”
All of these uncertainties made Pulido feel like he was not strong enough. For someone who grew up in a military family and devoted his life to service, he did not feel like a real warrior anymore. He recalls, “People told me, ‘you’ll be okay mentally, you’ll get over it,’ but in reality, I wasn’t getting over it.” These thoughts became so much to handle that Pulido began to contemplate taking his own life.
The turning point in Pulido’s psychological recovery occurred when he began to develop a support system through his family, church and fellow service members. He also started talking about his experiences and reaching out for help from Army leadership and the military health system. After doing so, he began to recover physically and mentally. He readjusted his approach to life and realized that he could conquer his physical challenges. He describes the process as a “road to healing” and notes that reaching out is a sign of strength. “At times, I have night terrors and relive being back on that battlefield. What you do is you learn how to handle that, but you also have someone you can talk to about it. It’s truly important that you have a support system and keep using it.”