Vet hopes ArtPrize entry helps soldiers with PTSD

"Close Encounters of the Artistic Mind" by Chris Tyler inside Jam'n Bean Coffee Company. (Sept. 25, 2015)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — War changes people.

“Definitely pretty heavy stuff, you know. You never knew which day would be your day or if you get lucky. It’s like a roll of the dice,” said Chris Tyler, a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Iraq War.

After dodging bullets and improvised explosive devices and burying friends who died in the fight, Tyler says he came home a stranger.

“I kind of feel like an alien in my own world so that’s why I used spaceships and aliens,” said Tyler, describing his ArtPrize entry.

It would be years before he came to the realization he needed help.

Close Encounters of the Artistic Mind is the title of Tyler’s ArtPrize entry inside Jam’n Bean Coffee Company located inside the Waters Building  at 161 Ottawa Avenue. His piece is a big part of that help.

“The whole concept is pretty much a visual representation of what PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) feels like to me,” Tyler told 24 Hour News 8.

“There is a soldier in the waterfall and the water is washing over him. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders, kind of like he is below everything. He doesn’t feel like he belongs,” Tyler said.

“One minute you will be enjoying your life and the next moment you check out…. You kind of pull back and you get angry and sad… It was an emotional rollercoaster ride for me.”

Unlike most ArtPrize Seven artists, Tyler is here for two reasons.

One is therapy.

“It’s kind of like a shaken up two liter. You know, you open it up and it fizzles out and it kind of calms down.  This piece did that for me in a lot of ways,” Tyler said.

But he’s also on a mission.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates to lose 240,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who returned with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many more don’t realize they have it or don’t want to admit to it because of the stigma over mental illness.

“I guess it’s to let people know that there are other people that feel the same way and there are people you can talk to before it becoming something — that it’s too late,” Tyler said.

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