I’m Sean Martin – guitarist, vocalist, audio producer, writer, former Airborne Infantryman, and PTSD survivor.
Growing up, I played basketball and soccer in school, but I also had several artistic endeavors, including musician, playwright, and actor. I enjoyed singing in community choirs, operas, and musical theaters. As I approached the age of 18, I left all that behind and joined the Army, which was a totally different world than the arts that I loved.
In the Army, I was a part of the Airborne Infantry. For those of you who may not know, Airborne Infantry are military units that get “dropped” into battle zones, usually by parachute and usually with little warning. In 2006, I was deployed to Iraq, and in 2007 I returned to the states, where I was honorably discharged and diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome). Though I was home, unfortunately, my life was nothing like it was before I joined the Army.
My PTSD symptoms created challenges in otherwise normal situations that prevented me from keeping a job. I turned to the VA (Veterans Affairs) for help, but their only help was throwing the pharmacy at me for medication and to hope for the best. So, I turned to another area of the VA where their GI Bill paid for an education. In 2009, I started an A.A. degree in guitar performance and independent artist studies at the Musicians Institute. And in 2012, I earned that degree!
While I was attending school, I didn’t really tell anyone about my time in the Army because I quickly found out that when they learned what I was in the Army, they never failed to ask how many people I killed as an opening question, which I had to learn to not react no matter how it made me feel. I didn’t want to talk about Iraq or the combat missions, but I did have knowledge to share from those experiences that laid the inner workings of societies for comparison, and being close-mouthed about it aided in separating me from being a part of the complex environment I was living in. The degradation of depression became clinical.
My truth had to come out, but at this point, it came in riddles and jargon that nobody understood. I was suffering from a complex range of disabling symptoms, my body fighting against the VA’s medication, and the nightmares and daytime projections made life surreal. PTSD was my own personal horror show where I was the star. But to the outside, I just looked like I was a little irked at something.
Living in Los Angeles brought on a new perspective, yet not a positive one. I saw the dark side of Hollywood, where everyone seems to want social validation, no matter the cost. I wasn’t immune to this either, and it led to further serious consequences.
I had serious memory issues. Stress was giving me stomach ulcers and crushing headaches. I was losing too much weight. I was depressed from feeling used and being cheated. I began to fear crowds, which was a real problem because Hollywood is one big crowd, and I’m a musician where the goal is to play to crowds. My dreams were filled with images of war, and the day was tweaked by the lens of guilt. The result of all this was a numbness to life and a desire to seek out problems and solve them in anger. Therapy wasn’t working, and those around me were at a loss on how to help me. People tend to be scared of or don’t want to be around someone with PTSD.
One day in 2012, after my band’s first live show, I was forced to make a change in my life by a psychotic break that lasted for days. As I laid in the VA psych ward, I began to realize that I needed to fully invest my time into my mental health. I was flooded with the red flag warning of failure in this investment, such as seeing too many of my fellow veterans lose their own personal war at home. Doctors told me that my path was taking me straight into the grave, and I couldn’t help but think of the line in the Pink Floyd song “Wish You Were Here” that says, “Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” This line made me finally see that I had to live my life out of the psych ward.
With the help of resilient friends, I changed my environment and dedicated myself to focusing on self-care by staying at an inpatient clinic designed for combat veterans. The clinic was filled with a strong community of specialists and resident veterans, all working together for a common goal – healing. I slowly regained my memory and awareness without aggravating my PTSD responses. I learned how to manage my anxiety, to be truthful with others instead of shutting them out, and to be more mindful. In this community, I learned how to help myself and others just like me – my brothers and sisters of war.
Now, my mental health story hasn’t ended with a “live happily ever after” because my story is still going. Being an artist and musician, I’m able to use my experiences as inspiration, which has had a positive effect on me. However, there have been times when I gave up playing guitar, but instead of acting out negatively, I put my efforts into another aspect of life and eventually came back to music with a new mentality to accomplish what I once thought was impossible. Other times, I felt suicidal, but I learned how to forgive myself or others.
I was lucky to get into the VA clinic. Sadly, not all vets get the chance. I know I’m lucky, and I’m grateful. I learned that PTSD can’t be cured, but there are ways to face it, to live your best life in spite of the setbacks, and not fall into a destructive hole because of it. Through a combination of the clinic, my friends, fans, and my music, I learned the discipline of self-awareness and societal awareness, and I learned how to turn my anger and pain into something positively tangible – that’s my art. I try to put all the best advice and hard to learn lessons into my music, because those are what’s really important, as it is what we invariably, almost even instinctively, are looking for at our lowest point.
In 2016, my band, The Quarantined, was nominated for an independent music award for best lyric video. It led to the band working with a multiplatinum audio engineer/producer on our first EP, Antiquate Hate. The EP’s concept idea was to have each song represent what I saw as five intangible societal razors that make or break everyone, but also define a society (love/lust, escapism/confrontation, truth/fallacies, collective destruction/sustainability, and religious/non- religious values). The Antiquate Hate EP is metaphorically a warning that irrational hatred is where we can end up without the wisdom to know truth from fiction. We now have a new EP in production, Aversion to Normalcy (#Aversion2Normalcy), with our single “Shadow” out on our website available to stream.
I look forward to empowering our community to be greater than the past has allowed us to be and using art and media to share in the complex future we will build for the longevity of generations to come.
Contributed by Free2Luv Advocate and musician, Sean Martin.