A book created to help a retired veteran deal with post-traumatic stress disorder is now available to the public.
Bill Stephens Jr., a former Army sergeant, wrote “The Mirror” to inspire others who are dealing PTSD. It contains stories and poetry written at places around the world, including Germany, southwest Asia, South Korea and a number of posts around the United States including his hometown of Carlisle.
He is in receipt of the Major General Aubrey “Red” Newman Award and a member of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.
Q. Would you describe your experience with PTSD?
A. At first it is hidden and you keep it away from everyone. Soon you blow up and everyone knows, and there is no way out. Sometimes it’s too late, but for me I reached out and got help. PTSD ripped my family apart, and I am separated to this day from my family. PTSD has kept me from having a stable relationship with a woman, and sometimes I can’t even be with my friends.
I go to counseling at the VA and see others like me and it’s like looking into a mirror. I say to myself, “Really? That’s what I look like and act like around people? That’s not me.”
Really, it is. It cost me my military career, and now I hope what I wrote in “The Mirror” helps other people. Even if it only helps one person, I did my job.
Q. Tell me a little bit about “The Mirror.”
A. We all live in a mirror because everyday we wake up and judge ourselves in the mirror. Some don’t like what they see and hate the world, and others just go on with their day. “The Mirror” was written for everyone to reflect as they read the many stories and poems I provided. I wanted to take the reader on a journey on and off the battlefield and in and out of the classroom where I went to therapy. I didn’t try to hide much because I wanted all to see the truth. Media wants you to see one side of the mirror. I want you to see both sides of the mirror.
Q. How did writing “The Mirror” help you with your PTSD?
A. At first, I began writing during combat and just kept all my stories and poems in a box or on my laptop and never thought of writing. As my counseling went on and the more medication they gave me, I stopped working out. Then my father starting getting ill and I had to move in with him to start taking care of him. So I began to go downhill myself, and I needed to find a coping mechanism to bounce back. I started posting on social media that I was thinking of writing a book about PTSD, and the outpouring I received from my friends and classmates from high school was off the wall. As I wrote along, I started to find myself and became a better person to me and my 10-year-old daughter. So now when I’m feeling bad, I just pick up “The Mirror” and read a passage.
Q. What do you hope the book will do for others with PTSD?
A. My book is not going to help everyone and, like I said before, I’m happy if it only helps one person. But the word is out and about something that is overlooked daily, and that is PTSD. We have too many veterans and family members and just regular people who suffer from this who take their lives at a moment’s notice and we don’t see the signs. People post it on social media every day and we take it as a joke. Really, there is no one to help them. There are organizations who say they are going to help you, but all they do is take your money — so be careful.
Q. What encouragement or advice would you give people with PTSD or their family members?
A. PTSD is a killer — not just a killer on the battlefield but in the home. I’ve seen this first thing. I’ve been on both sides of the mirror and it is not good. I’m not a family counselor so I am not going to tell how to have a perfect family because I don’t have a perfect family. I’m just small kid from Carlisle who went to combat a few times and happened to be at the wrong place at wrong time when I got this killer illness, PTSD. For some families, it is too late because some of you will read this to your spouse’s tombstone. But for others, get help. Go to counseling together, and try to understand what that person with PTSD is going through or has gone through.