We all know the feeling.
When the darkness is almost too much to handle. When there is seemingly no other way out.
But somewhere deep down, we keep pushing. We may not even know why, but we do.
Minute after minute, day after day.
“My story begins after my last deployment to Iraq in November of 2006,” APEMAN Juan Cervantes said. “My struggles with dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and multiple attempts and thoughts of suicide, and how my wife has been by my side the entire time even before she was my wife.”
In 2006, Juan had returned home from his last deployment to Iraq after he was stuck on med hold for eight weeks due to a back injury and other health concerns. He made it home but felt out of place and lost with his friends and family.
“I would go out with my friends and family, but was very nervous about crowds,” Juan said. “I didn’t trust anyone. My family said I just felt different. I became very isolated and drank heavily in my apartment alone which was not in the best neighborhood, but for some reason I was perfectly content with all the gun shootings around me and the daily police sirens.”
Weeks would go by and Juan wouldn’t talk to anyone. He’d go to the gym, come home and drink some more. He doesn’t even have an exact timeframe of how long that lasted; could’ve been six months or a year because he barely remembers waking up sometimes.
“During this time of drinking heavily I got into a lot of fights and had a lot of relations with random women,” Juan admitted. “One of my friends became concerned and suggested I seek help from the local veterans hospital. I didn’t want to at first, but after about three years of my life being a blur post-deployment, I decided to go. That’s when they diagnosed me with PTSD.”
Juan didn’t initially understand how to respond, other than thinking it was just a phase. Eventually, he had to be honest with himself and accept he had some sort of behavior issue. Initially he avoided help, but little did Juan know the best thing to ever happen to him would soon arrive.
“I somehow lucked out and found an amazing woman who happens to be my wife now, but I never thought when we first met she be the one to stick by me through the crap I put her through,” said Juan. “Misty saw the good inside of me. She tolerated my aggressive ways towards other people either having road rage encounters with other drivers or getting into fights when her and I would go out.”
Things would get worse before they got better.
“Misty told me she was concerned and wasn’t sure how much more she could tolerate,” Juan said. “I had rush of unstable emotions from sad to mad to I just want to kill myself and not make her suffer anymore having to deal with me. I left one night because I felt like such an asshole to Misty and sat in a church parking lot not too far from the house. I had the 45 model 1911 in my mouth and was upset and thinking this was the best and only option, so people wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore. Misty somehow shows up and sees how upset I am and talks me out of it. I couldn’t tell you what or how she managed to calm me down, but she did.”
After this situation, Juan decided he needed more help and signed up for group sessions and individual sessions at the VA to help deal with his PTSD. He had several years of appointments and is doing much better with therapy and combination of medication (which he originally was not open to taking).
Juan has found solace in powerlifting and APEMAN has inspired him to overcome and, in a sense, be reborn.
“I try to focus all my bad energy into my lifting and wanting to compete in Strongman,” he said. “I applaud this organization for the work you’ve been doing; it gives me hope and I can only imagine how much hope it gives others.”
Juan still struggles at times. And that’s okay. He keeps pushing forward to improve his quality of life.
“I’d like to tell anyone out there who is facing this struggle that you don’t have to face it alone,” Juan said. “There is always someone there to stand by you, including me. I am not expert, but I have been down that dark path and do not want to go back to those dark days. If I can help anyone facing this struggle, I’d like to help.”
From all of us at APEMAN, thank you for your service, Juan.