It might be a cliché, but in the case of comedian Anthony Fuentes, laughter was the best medicine to help the veteran cope with the PTSD he developed after touring Iraq and Afghanistan.
And now he hopes to help heal his military siblings with his comedy.
It’s really no surprise that Fuentes ended up on stage. As a child who grew up in Chicago and New York, he always made his family laugh.
“I would always be in front of the television making jokes,” he said. “In fact, my mother always said he would become a lawyer or a comedian.”
And when he decided to join the military at 20 because, he says, he needed discipline in his life, his comrades became his audience.
“When I was a kid I always made jokes and went to the military which hasn’t changed,” he said.
“Sergeant Atkins liked my impressions and when he was feeling down he would say, ‘Fuentes uplifts your spirits. Come make us laugh. And I would sit there and actually play.
And combat engineer Fuentes was boosting morale on the battlefield as part of the
4th Infantry Division 299th Engineer Battalion of the UA Army.
Fuentes was deployed twice between 2001 and 2003 in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It was a scary time. We had never fought a war. We didn’t know what to expect, ”he said. “And I will say this, the military trains you very well because otherwise we could not come back but…. you are so caught up in the moment that you don’t think about what might happen to you mentally and physically. It is only when you return.
And the return to school was not easy for Fuentes. He felt lost trying to find his bearings in civilian life. He felt anxious and angry. He says he tried to calm down with alcohol and got into trouble.
“When I left the army, I was in a great depression. I had a lot of anxiety. My mood would change in an instant. Latino families, we don’t believe in doctors. We just say: ‘Mira este esta loco. Spawn a Vics poco and it’ll be gone.
Fuentes was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He started seeing a therapist regularly. One day, she asked a question that turned out to be life-saving.
“During my sessions, she would ask me, ‘What are your hobbies? What do you love doing?’ … And I remembered that I had always wanted to be a comedian and I never pursued him. (I found out) how to get on an open mic and one day I went, ”he said. “I realized at that moment that I felt a weight on my shoulders, on my chest. And I felt for the first time in my life, that’s where I belong.
Since his first comedy, Fuentes has been self-deprecating and very sincere about his mental health issues. He says this is now part of his tools to deal with his PTSD.
“I realized that joking about it made it easier for me to deal with it at the same time,” he said. “I started using stories of things that had happened to me in the military as a release. Tragedy can turn into comedy if you deal with it correctly. And that was an advantage because I was able to help others as well.
Especially his fellow soldiers, his brothers and sisters, whom he tries to make laugh as often as he can.
Fuentes is now a full time comedian working on Chicago stages. He is married and the father of two children.
He credits comedy, prayer and therapy for feeling the happiest he has ever been and encourages others, especially in the Latin American community, who have mental health issues, to seek help.
Suggest a correction