LOUISVILLE, Ky. — You could say that service to country is in Captain Carolyn Furdek’s DNA. A third-generation officer, military service is deeply rooted in his lineage.
“My mother served, my father’s mother served. And then both of my grandfather, my father – my uncle too,” Furdek said. “I stand on the backs of lions.”
As a young girl, Furdek admired the military service of her mother and many other loved ones around her. She said she always knew she wanted to serve, and in her senior year of high school she was drafted into the United States Military Academy for swimming.
After graduating from West Point in 2000, Furdek served as an engineer officer in the Army with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She was medically removed from the military after three consecutive tours, but found herself fighting another battle on the home front – mental illness.
“I would become very quiet and withdrawn. And I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to interact with people I didn’t want, I couldn’t work. I just wasn’t mentally able to process for long. Now I can always think and do everything very well. But I just didn’t want to be around very shy, quiet, very paranoid people,” Furdek recalled.
Furdek said his condition was cyclical and would occur without warning. She would spend the next decade in and out of psychiatric wards, meeting different mental health providers and trying different treatments before saying a doctor in Louisville was finally successful. He refined his PTSD diagnosis to Cycloid Psychosis, a condition that caused him to suffer from flashbacks, PTSD, social withdrawal, fear, anger, and paranoia. The new diagnosis was a revelation that changed her life, led her to effective treatment and brought her back to life.
“Since then, he and I have written an article about it that’s published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, and we’ve given talks — over 120 of them — across the country,” Furdek said.
Furdek has also written a book about his experience and is traveling the country to share his inspiring story. But perhaps the person she inspired most was someone who saw her fight through those dark times: her teenage son, Jackson.
“I didn’t really understand that she had PTSD [growing up]”Jackson said. “I thought she was sick or something.”
At just 13 years old, Jackson speaks with confidence and candor on a deeply personal subject. He said it was frightening to watch his mother suffer from her once-mysterious condition. But just like his mother, he is now turning that experience into action. Meyzeek College recently wrote a speech about the invisible wounds veterans and military families endure for its seventh-grade social studies course.
“My own mother started to break down. She couldn’t go to work. She couldn’t leave the house. She would never leave this endless cycle. She was screaming and screaming – and worst of all – there was silence, ”Jackson said in the speech, educating his classmates on how military service can affect the mental health of veterans long after they return home. . He encouraged his class to treat veterans with compassion instead of fear.
“When you look at a soldier, a homeless veteran. Don’t look at him angrily. Don’t look at him with fear. Look at it with compassion. Look at them with the love you share with someone who protected you because that’s what they did,” Jackson said in the same speech.
Jackson was selected to share his message at the Jefferson County Public Schools Schools Showcase and at Bellarmine University’s Week of Valor. He hopes sharing his family’s story will help people better understand the challenges faced by veterans and be more empathetic to the tremendous effort required to overcome these challenges.
“At school they talk about depression and PTSD and all that, but they really don’t understand it because it’s talked about, but it’s not really understood because it’s like you really have to to see it happen to understand it,” Jackson said.
As for his mother, Furdek believes the military family is often as affected as the soldier himself. She hopes Jackson’s powerful message will help people realize that long after a soldier’s service is over, the battle often continues in the veteran’s home and inside their home.
“The military family is being left behind,” Furdek said. “My family wasn’t with me during my deployment, but we still have some scars and it’s, you know, almost 17 years after I left the military.”
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