It’s easy to focus on the physical injuries of war, but the emotional wounds run deeper.
That is an important lesson Sean Karpf, a U.S. Army veteran from Jacksonville, Florida, tries to convey to fellow warriors coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Uncovering invisible wounds
While on patrol in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device detonated under Sean’s foot — resulting in a below-the-knee amputation. The loss of his leg proved to be a huge adjustment, but “it’s nothing compared to PTSD,” he shares.
“Yes, the explosion that ultimately cost me my leg was unimaginable, with pain so severe I almost lost all feeling. But even so, PTSD is by far the worst injury I experienced,” Sean said of his invisible wounds of war.
Sean says much of his emotional strength comes from the support he receives from his family and the military comrades he’s met through the largest veterans service organization to serve wounded warriors. However, growing mentally strong is a process, and he hasn’t always been so well adjusted.
“There was a firefight going on as I lay there on the stretcher waiting for the helicopter. My guys protected me, but I felt so helpless. They tried to calm me down through it all, telling me we’d all go home and complete a Tough Mudder event together. I had some choice words for them for saying that. Were they crazy? Couldn’t they see my foot half gone? But, the funny thing is, during my recovery from the amputation, we actually did a Tough Mudder — just like they said. Those guys never quit on me.”
Sean is quite candid as he looks back on his early days struggling with PTSD; He didn’t have the belief in himself that his fellow warriors had.
“I wanted to quit,” Sean said. “It was the most depressing time of my life, and I was not a pleasant person to be around. I used to flip out over nothing. It wasn’t fair to those around me, and it wasn’t really me, but I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”
According to Sean, the non-profit organization Wounded Warrior Project provided that light. “I started getting out of that depression,” Sean recalls. “I was interacting again, meeting warriors, sharing stories and connecting on a one-to-one level. Wounded Warrior Project gave me the tools to be successful.”
Sean is now involved in a warrior-to-warrior peer support group, explaining that he wants to help others achieve the same positive transformation in their lives that he experienced. “My wife, Brandy, tells me it’s like I’ve been reborn,” Sean said. “I’m now much more patient with the kids, more understanding and an overall better person because of my involvement with this great organization. Now, it’s time for me to give back, and I’m ready for it.”
Michael Richardson, Vice President of Independence Services and Mental Health, Wounded Warrior Project, [email protected]