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Seeing PTSD Through a Different Lens

A new film hopes to explore the symptoms of PTSD from the veteran’s perspective.


For a combat veteran, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an illness that strikes mercilessly at the core of social integration. It can affect everything from employment, interpersonal relationships, the propensity towards substance abuse, homelessness, and ultimately the darkest condition: suicide.

I have firsthand experience with the ugly side of undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. In 2003, I sat on the border between Kuwait and Iraq with the United States Marine Corps awaiting the order to invade. My unit crossed the line of departure, and we saw things no human being should.

This picture was taken when I awoke from my nightly average of three hours of sleep. The night prior I had become so enraged that I threw a desk chair at my window frame. It narrowly missed my twelfth-story window and the people walking on the street below. As I struggled to gather the energy to begin my day, I surveyed the damage I had caused.

I sat on the floor of my bedroom and cried. I laid on the floor for hours while “normal” people prepared for their morning commute to work. One might think the chair-throwing incident had triggered my depressive state. On the contrary, lying on my floor and crying has become my new normal.

On this particular morning, medications had not yet flooded my bloodstream. I had trouble remembering why the damage was there in the first place. Memory problems are part of the cocktail of symptoms I experience on a daily basis.

Slowly I began to recall what happened: fighting with my girlfriend because I lost my cool on the street over something a person not suffering from PTSD would have easily dismissed. I had subjected her to a screaming confrontation over a person who failed to stop at a stop sign.

I did not throw the chair at my girlfriend, as she was on the opposite side of the room. But as the paint and metal fell to the floor, she looked at me with fearful eyes. Many a relationship, both romantic and platonic, had ended the way that evening had begun.

This was me contending with the exacerbation of my PTSD symptoms. This was a sober me. A medicated me. This was me consistently attending therapy at the VA. I will let you formulate an image of the intoxicated, high, non-medicated, non-treatment seeking me.

I recently found this photo on my phone. Unlike other people in my life, my girlfriend is still with me. She was surprised when she saw the picture — and the picture of the same window sill after my buddy had patchworked my mess back together. I had not sent it to her. I held it close to my chest for almost a year, ashamed and embarassed.

The PTSD acronym may be familiar to some. The Mayo Clinic defines it as both a disease and a condition. The symptoms of an exacerbated episode are severe.

We have seen PTSD discussed in television and major motion pictures, perhaps in an indie film or two, and in print. Narrative films like American Sniper (2014), The Hurt Locker (2009), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Apocalypse Now (1979), Coming Home (1978), and Taxi Driver (1976) treaded in the shallow end but failed to dive deep. Restrepo (2010) and other documentaries have shown us in-country realities on the ground.

But between these stories—the fiction and the non-fiction — lies a gap. Rarely does a moving picture explore the symptoms of PTSD from the point of view of the veteran.

We might see the aftermath of PTSD onscreen: the broken family, the talk of suicide, the tears on a soldier’s face — each of which may function as a subplot in a larger narrative arc about war. Or maybe we learn of the struggles from a group of active service members in the field. But, what about the gray areas? What about the look of a devastated life?

Award-winning director Mino Papas told me of his desire to create a short film — one that would bridge the gap between audiences’ occasionally hearing the word PTSD onscreen and their experiencing it through the eyes of a conflicted soldier. I embraced the idea.

Papas’ film Tango on the Balcony will offer a unique glimpse into the life of a veteran who lives in New York City as he copes with the symptoms of PTSD. The narrative will connect veteran and civilian communities alike. The film is vital, unique in its exploration of the subject material, and has the potential to be a game-changer.

I feel honored to be co-producing Tango and hold a great appreciation for our director, Minos Papas, who has taken it upon himself to tackle an issue of this nature with such creativity and veracity. Come celebrate and understand the gray with us. Join us as we try to help the world understand every combat veteran’s damaged window frame. Do it for the veteran you may not understand, or gift it to the civilian who may be unaware.

Perhaps do it for the simple reason that you respect we do not live in absolutes — and that the marginalized and troubled often get stuck in the grays.

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