Undiagnosed Brain Injury Is Behind Soldier's Suicidal Thoughts An Iraq war veteran talks about his struggles with a brain injury after returning home. (This piece initially aired on Nov. 8, 2014 on Weekend Edition Saturday).

Undiagnosed Brain Injury Is Behind Soldier's Suicidal Thoughts

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It is Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. And today, we have an encore presentation from the Military Voices Project of StoryCorps. Sergeant Ryan Sharp served two tours in Iraq with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. He returned to the United States in 2008 but kept feeling off and depressed. He sat down with his father, Kirk Sharp, to talk about what happened after Ryan came home.

SERGEANT RYAN SHARP: I came home, and things were different. Me and my sister, Stacy, were all at the pool. I don't remember exactly what happened. But I had my pistol up to my temple. My finger was on the trigger. And then, my sister said, what are you doing? I ran off with my gun and apparently I wanted to shoot myself in the woods.

KIRK SHARP: I wish I would've known more, then we could've gotten you help sooner. And at that point, you had no idea that you had a traumatic brain injury.

R. SHARP: No, none. I had no idea at all until I reconnected with Justin. I had been deployed with this man. He was telling me how he was on permanent disability through the VA. And I was like, oh, my God, man, what happened? And he says, I have a TBI. And I go, when did you get that? And he goes, you were there. And I go, what are you talking about? At that point, things just started coming back. And the first thing that came to me was the explosion in my head, the pain of it. And then, the next thing I remember is my team leader had grabbed me by my vest and was shaking me, asking, you know, Sharp, Sharp.

K. SHARP: This event occurred how many years prior to the diagnosis?

R. SHARP: Almost 10 years.

K. SHARP: How did that make you feel after finally being diagnosed?

R. SHARP: I was angry because the entire time, I thought that if I spent enough time psychoanalyzing myself, that I'd be better eventually.

K. SHARP: You almost felt as though you were at fault. Or you felt as though it was a weakness.

R. SHARP: Yeah, I felt I couldn't get myself to work right. I didn't trust myself. And I still don't, to an extent. But the things that are wrong with me are an injury. And I can't necessarily fix them. But I can learn to deal with them. I was finally able to forgive myself for so many of the things that I put my family through. Survival is a constant struggle. And sometimes, people confuse it with living. I don't want to survive anymore. I want to learn how to live again.

INSKEEP: Former Army Sergeant Ryan Sharp is one of almost 300,000 service members who have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries since 9/11. He spoke with his father, Kirk Sharp, in Lincoln, Neb. And their conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The podcast is at iTunes and npr.org.

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