Shreveport, Los Angeles (KTAL / KMSS) – A Shreveport Army veteran who lives with the remnants of physical and emotional abuse as a child and racism as a conscript soldier shares his journey to understand and take control of his mental health.
Everett Smith was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, and anxiety in 2016. He says a Veterans Administration mental health provider gave him a report as thick as a little book chronicling Smith’s underlying, untreated mental illness and potential root causes.
Born in Shreveport, Smith spent most of his youth in Los Angeles, California where he says his mother and stepfather, who was a pastor, were strict and used corporal punishment to keep him in line. Smith says the harsh treatment he received as a child made him feel scared, isolated and angry.
Mothers can have children, but that does not make them a mother. Smith said she would protect me from other people who might want to do me harm, but she offended me too.
Smith didn’t know it then, but his fear, withdrawal, and anger were early signs of it Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)a disorder that many believe is something veterans or first responders suffer from.
At the age of 17, Smith persuaded his mother to sign a parental consent form to allow him to enlist in the United States Army.
“I joined the army because I wanted to get away from them (my mother and her husband). I had no idea I was trading one heavy hand for another.”
Smith remembers the difficult time he had adjusting to basic training. On a call, he told his stepfather he couldn’t finish training and wanted to go home. A request he now says is grateful that his stepfather was unable to fulfill because his time in the military made him rapidly grow into manhood.
He says racism was rampant among the ranks, and that coming from California he wasn’t used to being called “boy” or “n”, two words he heard often during his military service.
Smith says he was reprimanded Article 15 Several times to address blatant racism and disrespect.
His time in the army was short-lived and left him with negative feelings about his tenure.
When he finished his enlistment, Smith returned to Los Angeles and had been married since he was 17 years old. The marriage ended shortly after his return from service abroad. He left after learning that his wife was unfaithful and left the house. He said he’d rather live in the car than go home, and he’s been on the go for several years.
Smith’s episodes of homelessness continued and lasted for 16 years. He says the time spent living transiently was mostly caused by undiagnosed mental illness. His mental health issues caused problems in each of his three marriages and with his children.
As a father, Smith says he was often irritable with his children and would often yell at them. Actions he took from his childhood.
Before he was diagnosed with multiple mental disorders, Smith said he was always angry. He says a friend once told him that his fuse is too short and can be easily provoked. Prior to this, Smith said he believed anger was “just a part of who I am.”
Smith injured his shoulder and decided to go to the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital instead of the county hospital where he had to pay. Prior to the injury, Smith says he avoided the VA.
That visit in 2016 led to Smith’s mental health assessment and subsequent diagnosis. During treatment, Smith was taking medications to treat his mental illness. Smith says he fell several times because the medication made him feel like a zombie.
“The medications were more of a hindrance than a help, so I don’t take them,” Smith said.
Smith regular in Shreveport Veterinary Center. A place where retirees, reservists, active duty military personnel and their family members can request assistance in the form of group and individual therapy sessions. He and others served by the Veterinarian’s Center found a community there. A place where people with similar background stories can share without shame or lack of understanding.
He no longer explodes when he feels the volatile effect of major depression. He no longer overthinks when his anxiety starts to build up. And when the PTSD trigger is hit – it no longer goes into survival mode.
“I go to Walmart, or Boardwalk, or the casino. I’ve learned that hearing people talk, but their accents make me laugh — I think the voices of those people somehow dispel my problems,” Smith said.
The process of healing his mind was not easy. Some relationships badly damaged during Smith’s years of inner suffering were not saved by his personal therapy.
“I apologized to my boys for the kind of parent I was. I knew something was wrong with me at the time but I didn’t know what.”
Smith loves music and says he started when he taught himself to play the percussion instrument in his youth. While in Germany, he took up the position of DJ and found a home away from home. Now he produces multi-instrument rhythms and arranges music for his company, Swang 2 Records.
Smith says he finds peace making music and drawing people to the dance floor, and it’s at those times that his anxiety and PTSD are in trouble.
“Giving joy to people — it’s different,” Smith said.