A month ago, I was put on a new medication to prevent heart disease (genetics). A rare side effect (not listed on the information sheet) was depression. Unfortunately, I was one of the few people who experienced that side effect. Within 48 hours of starting the new medication it was like my brain rolled back to 2007.
I woke up feeling heavy, sad, hopeless and like the world would be better without me. For those who don’t know me, this is not normal for me. I’ve been through enough over the years that I recognized the mood shift quickly and I stopped taking it before it got too bad.
Feeling down and hopeless worried me, but what really scared me was how dark my thoughts and dreams got. I started to have vivid nightmares again and it’s now a recurring dream I still have. The dream is a memory of the day I was almost shot by a sniper.
I hadn’t thought about it consciously for years, but now that memory dominates my thoughts and dreams. In real-life I was standing in an open courtyard when I heard one shot and a whizzing sound as it passed my head. I could almost feel a vibration as it passed, though that may have been due to the massive adrenaline dump into my system.
I don’t know why this memory suddenly dominates my thoughts. Maybe it’s been repressed and unresolved for so long that the brief period of depression brought it out or maybe the dream is brain forcing me to process it. However, what’s different about the memory is that in my dream instead of the shot missing me, I got hit and I died. I watched myself die, I watched my family being notified, my funeral, and then I watched life go on without me. It has haunted me ever since.
7 January 2007, Tahrir, Diyala Province, Iraq
It was a long freezing cold day that began long before the sun came up. I was working with the Military Transition Team (MiTT) that day and I’d never had never a dull mission with them. The first time I got shot at was out with them, so I expected that it would probably be an eventful day as it always was.
The day started out as a shit show with me falling on my face twice while trying to make a mad dash through a muddy field. I was scared when I hit the ground because there were shots were being fired out at us and I became an unmoving target lying the ground. Obviously, I got up and made it to safety or the dream would’ve ended there. I was a bit shaken and stressed all day.
I thought I’d get a moment to breathe while we took cover against a crumbling cinder block wall, we began taking fire from a rooftop in front of us. The Captain with us fired a few rounds back when someone yelled “IA! IA!” I thought, “friendly fire, well that’s a great start to the day…”
After that, I had a feeling of impending doom, like something bad was going to happen but I wasn’t sure what it was. We went street by street while the Iraqi Army (IA) kicked in every door and cleared each house. Most were abandoned and some were still occupied. It found it sad that the area had been hit so hard by insurgents that even the Mayor abandoned his home.
Everything went much slower than expected as we were met with heavy fire around every corner. Finally, we moved into an area where things calmed down, which should have been the first indicator that something was wrong. Quiet is never a good thing and I’d learned that by then. As we made our way into a large open area in the middle of village, I made my fatal error. I walked across the open area to check out a little cinder block shed in the middle of the open area. When I looked inside, I saw a discarded bulletproof vest and not surprisingly it was the same vests that the Iraqi Police issued their officers.
The Alternate Ending
I backed away so I could get a better overall shot, which left me out in the open. At that moment, I heard one shot come from the building in front of me. Suddenly I couldn’t see out of my left eye and was hit with a blinding pain on the left side of my head. It happened so fast! I went from standing up, to on my back staring up at the sky. My ears were ringing and what I could hear was muffled. I could feel myself gasping and I just couldn’t get enough air and I could feel the panic rising. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of chest and feel the warmth of the blood running across my face and into my left ear. I kept thinking to myself, “You’re not dead! You’re going to be okay, don’t give up!”
I could hear muffled gunshots and I realized I was still on the ground out in the open. I needed to move to cover but I couldn’t get up. I was able to push myself with my feet the couple of feet to the cinder block shed.
The medic “Doc” (also one of the best medics I’d ever met) appeared over me. He was yelling at me, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying over the muffled gunfire. I couldn’t catch my breath and I started having trouble keeping my eyes focused. I was so tired. Capt B appeared over me and he was yelling into my face but I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying but I think it was “stay awake!” I was trying to stay awake but I was so tired. I kept mumbling “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” I knew I’d let them down by getting myself shot and they will be stuck carrying the burden and guilt of my death and it was all my fault.
Then I was above myself watching “Doc” try to save me, but I could tell it was too late. I was white as a sheet and the left side of my head and face were covered in bright red blood. I could see that I was still alive; I was holding my photographer’s hand while “Doc” tried to stop the bleeding. Then I stopped breathing, my eyes glazed over, my hand went limp and everything went dark.
I didn’t see a bright light or my loved ones that passed like I’d always hoped. Instead, I was tormented by having to watch what happened after I died. It was gut wrenching and physically hurt to know that my daughter had no idea that Mommy was never coming back. It hurt to know that she wouldn’t remember me or ever be able to feel just how much I loved her.
What the hell does it mean?
The dream feels like torture, like I’m being punished for something. Maybe it’s because I take life for granted at times. I wake up feeling sad, guilty and anxious because I think “Am I wasting my second chance? Do I deserve the second chance I was given? Am I wasting my life?” I know this post is dark, but it feels good just get it out of my head put it into words. I like to think these terrible memories surface to remind me that I have to keep trying to live my best life, because it’s all over much sooner than we think.