THE PTSD CHRONICLE COMMENTARY – In 2010, my doctor told me I was suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But I didn’t hear PTSD, I heard STD. I thought the doctor said I was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I did too. I didn’t know what PTSD was, but I sure knew what an STD was. I didn’t mind having PTSD because I didn’t really know how that would affect me, but I knew how having an STD would have affected me. After I got over the embarrassment of thinking I had an STD, I was relieved to hear that I could manage PTSD.
Hi, my name is Vernard Hines aka The Laugh Therapist. I am a professional comedian and motivational speaker. As a comedian, I call myself the Laugh Therapist, because I believe humor is good medicine. But, don’t get it twisted, “I’m not a licensed therapist, I’m just medicated.”
Now as my Pastor would say, I used the first part of this story to get you on the porch. Now let me take you in the house.
I am a 20-year, 7-month, and 4-day retired Army Iraq war veteran. And yes, I battle with diagnosed PTSD. Do you know there are millions of people who battle with undiagnosed PTSD because of the stigma around seeking help? Seeking help saved my life because I was mad, angry, and mean. I felt like my body and my mind had abandoned me. The things I used to love to do I had no desire to do anymore. The people who knew me before I went to war no longer understood me and I felt I was not the same person when I came back. Back in the day, I had an uncle who I now know had PTSD. Well, the family called him shell shocked, crazy, and other derogatory things. When I got diagnosed with PTSD all I could think about was my uncle. I did not want to be looked at like that. It is no secret that a lot of people in the black community do not seek help or talk about what is wrong. We just keep going about our lives and our issues are just passed on from generation to generation. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event either experiencing it or witnessing it. I had to put that in there.
I used to think that PTSD robbed me of so much, but it was not PTSD it was the STIGMA attached to it. Seeking help was the beginning of reclaiming my life back. I had thoughts of suicide, but I didn’t want to be known as a person who allowed PTSD to control him but as a person who controls his PTSD. It was very hard for me to tell people that I had a mental illness because as a black man I thought that made me look weak. I can’t speak for other people, but I was taught to be strong and push through. I was taught not to show weakness and those lessons carried over into the Army. Talking to a therapist made me peel back some layers of my life that I was not ready for because childhood Trauma and Trauma itself is real. I don’t ever want PTSD to seem like it’s just a military disorder. It has been brought to the forefront because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s not just a military disorder. There are millions of people who battle with undiagnosed PTSD because of the stigma of being labeled by either their family, friends or coworkers.
I decided to call myself The Laugh Therapist, because of a memory from my second tour in Iraq that showed me humor could be used as therapy. When I returned home I sought therapy for PTSD and often used humor to talk to my friends about it. The jokes seemed to give me relief and be a ray of hope for others. It was then that I realized my pain could be turned into purpose. I have found my purpose in life when I felt I had none. Do I still battle with PTSD and depression? Yes! I now know how to channel it to where I win. My goal is to break this STIGMA of mental illness one joke and one message at a time. (PTSD) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or as I call it Processing Traumatic Situations Differently. I process mine through humor and therapy. How do you process yours?
Editor’s Note: Vernard Hines is a comedian, motivational speaker, host and role model for mental health whose brand of comedy has taken him from comedy clubs and churches to veterans organizations. You can check out Vernard’s style of #CleanComedy at The Laugh Therapist or on facebook.