My name is
Iban Goicoechea (roughly pronounced: ee-bahn goy—ko-uh-chay-ah); my father is
Basque—to answer the question about the origin of my name. I am 25 years
old with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (AD/HD also referred to as
ADD). I’m a United Sates Marine Corps infantry combat veteran, and a
student at Columbia University.
I’d like to
help people understand the issues faced by men and women with AD/HD who
serve(d) in the military who, like me, lived through potentially traumatizing
events. In this and future articles here in the eNews, I’ll share my
perspective and opinions as well as my experiences as a combat veteran with
AD/HD, and try to communicate the impact veterans’ issues have on our society.
little about myself; I’ve lived with ADD since early childhood, struggling to
focus, pay attention and to prevent myself from "spacing out.” My AD/HD
remained undiagnosed until last year, and I realized living with AD/HD was exhausting
and the coping mechanisms I’d found on my own were not always effective.
I enlisted in
the United States Marine Corps infantry in 2006 and deployed to Iraq and
Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009 respectively. In Iraq I served as my squad’s
patrol radio-operator, and in Afghanistan I led our Company Level Intelligence
Cell and was a driver/turret gunner in our Company Commander’s Personal
Security Detail. My active duty contract ended in December 2010, and I
decided to take a year to stabilize and work through issues I sensed were
there, or developing.
That year made
an inestimable difference. My mentor helped me stop avoiding and directly
confront the root of the problems I had been manifesting; I consider myself to
be one of the lucky few to have someone who was able to provide me—not just
help—but the help that I needed. With the help of my mentor and VA
resources, I was able to move on with life.
2012, I moved out of the homeless-veteran transitional-shelter where I was
living and into a university housing apartment closer to the Columbia
University campus. Once at Columbia, I participated fully in student
life; I was elected Legislative Assistant to the University Senator for our
college (General Studies [GS]), became active in both the U.S. Military
Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets) and the Student Council Policy
Committee, and took advantage of miscellaneous other involvement opportunities
that arose. In April 2012, I was elected to be the 2012-2013 Student Body
Alumni Affairs Representative for GS.
Because of my
steady involvement in university life, one evening last semester the Dean of my
College invited me to dinner at the Columbia Club in NYC. The rest of the
dinner party consisted of the Dean of enrollment, five other veterans who
attend GS, and two White House staff members directly responsible for veterans’
affairs and programs.
interrupt my story for a second. One of my goals here is to facilitate
the honest dialogue that is needed to effectively approach veterans’
issues. Unfortunately, many veteran
experiences are hard to communicate. Most civilians’ knowledge of
veterans’ experiences is limited to what they learn from the media. Few veterans can articulate their most
personal experiences, leading to a lack of communication and understanding of
the resulting issues. That being the case, the media only provides
civilians a false transparency in the civilian-veteran relationship. In my articles, I will attempt to create a
deeper understanding and true transparency in our relationship by sharing my
own experiences (that haven’t been turned into a sound-bite) to give you the
opportunity to form your own ideas and opinions. And now, back to dinner…
given an opportunity to dine with White House staff, I considered it a
responsibility to address issues on behalf of the veteran community that is
being marginalized, if mentioned, by the media. I tabled three items with
them. We’ll be discussing all of them in future articles, but let’s start
with the one pertinent to this month’s issue.
The rate of
veteran suicides is alarming—on par with the Global War on Terror
fatalities—and there is no research being done explicitly on AD/HD and PTSD as
struggles in high school and doubts about future academic prospects, many young
adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed ADD/ADHD join the military. In an
active military environment, the ability to shift focus rapidly is essential,
and what with the excitement of constant danger and a variety of both physical
and psychological challenges, the military gives attention-deficient adults
many meaningful targets for their focus to land on.
this is not only in the military, when we are unable to focus on a task that
does not captivate our attention, our focus turns to something else. When
that happens, our attention often turns to issues—historic or current, pleasant
or not—that our mind has magnified.
veterans, once the battles have ended and our shiftless focus finds nothing as
interesting as imminent threat and responsibility to others to settle on, the
"magnified issue” our focus turns to can easily be very dark. Talking
about those issues with civilians or non-combat-veterans, at the random times
our attention drifts to them, can be unnatural or discomforting for both
parties. Even talking about them to another combat veteran can feel
unnatural, and worse, the conversation may do more than just graze a sensitive
emotional "trigger” for either of you.
emotionally unstable survivors of traumatic events decide to not discuss their
issues, and remain trapped alone with these distractions, it is common
to ruminate and further magnify the issues. Throw untreated ADD into
this situation of emotional instability and reality can quickly become an
isolated trip through a nightmare. Imagine
an episode of distraction driven by the force of hyper-focus on the most life
threatening or devastating thing you’ve ever experienced, and not having the
emotional tools with which to handle those memories; that is a common daily
reality for many returning combat veterans with untreated ADD.
that same combat veteran may be struggling to fit back in at work or in school,
and even with their own family or their childhood friends. Compound that
with the stigma of a PTSD diagnosis, veterans’ disdain of psychiatric help and
undiagnosed ADD (the VA does not test for ADHD) and we have a recipe for
More than one
Marine I fought side-by-side with has ended their battle against these invasive
memories with suicide. And while we hear of the struggles with PTSD most
often regarding veterans, this reality exists for anyone with ADD and PTSD.
object to the classification of "Post Traumatic Stress” as a "Disorder.” After a traumatic experience, you are living
"post-trauma.” If that event sensitized you to certain stimuli, the
resulting stress is post-traumatic. If that stress inhibits you from
performing certain activities, it’s called a disorder, but a Medal of Honor
recipient reframed PTSD for me, saying, "I lived on after a traumatic
experience, and sometimes I feel stressed out. I don’t consider it a
From my own
experience, I agree. I believe, though, that PTSD is a dynamic between
the memory of an event, and preexisting cognitive patterns; not its own
disorder. Personally, I felt like I was
a passenger, the traumatic event was the scenery I was seeing through the
windows of a vehicle, and something beyond my control was the vehicle that
propelled me through reality and defined the scenery. Unless I could stop the vehicle, I couldn’t do
anything to change the scenery. Once I could stop it, I was able to leave
the vehicle behind and reevaluate the scenery, finally choosing to create new
scenes in my life.
I was able to
sort out my PTS, but only after confronting and addressing the residual
effects of what I’ll gloss over as a "rough childhood” was I able to
re-evaluate how and why I assigned the significance I did to the
subsequent traumatic events. With that, the memories no longer caused
external or internal stress even though my mind still drifted to, and
hyperfocused on, those memories.
On the other
hand, my ADHD is more of a challenge. My attention eludes me before I
begin treating it each morning, and drifts after the medication wears off.
I try to focus, think about focusing, then think about my inability to
focus, and the consequences if I don’t immediately redirect my focus and before
I know it I’ve fallen into the same devious trap.
empirical-yet-admittedly-unqualified opinion, treating the ADHD-PTS dynamic is
a promising approach to stemming PTSD related suicides, and would lay the
groundwork for researching other PTS related dynamics affecting individuals and
families far beyond the veteran community. It may prove more promising to
deduce the appropriate treatment from the nuances in manifestation of PTSD-related
symptoms, rather than the broad commonalities of the cause.
my next article, I’ll share more about the issues discussed at my dinner with
the White House staffers, and my own personal experiences. If you have
questions or comments, opinions, or similar experiences, I’d love to hear from
Goicoechea is the ADDA eNews "Vetran’s Affairs” Editor. Many military veterans with ADHD are facing
life, not only with ADHD and PTSD, but with other comorbid cognitive disorders
as well. ADDA’s eNews is giving a voice
to the veterans through Iban’s articles.
If you wish to add your voice to the discussion, you may contact Iban
directly at ADD.Iban@gmail.com.