"No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine." - - - William Blum

April 08, 2008

Eerie Similarities

Sometimes, reading an article about someone with PTSD gives me pleasure. Is that sick to admit? To realize that I'm not alone relieves my conscience. I think back... how lonely it must have been for my father to suffer through his demons by himself. Not realizing he could have taken another route... instead of suffering in silence, without treatment, he buried his nightmares in alcohol... In some ways, it's the eerie similarities that I see in stories that make me feel better.

I quoted parts of Jesse Wendel's post at "The Group News Blog", he refers to his own and a friends PTSD so eloquently while I struggle for words:

PTSD is medically interesting. It triggers in so many ways. In my experience, those who don't live in it or around it, don't get it...

I have a friend, a serious combat vet... He has his routine, how things work for him, and a good life. But don't fuck with that. New stuff gets rejected (unless he's in charge or comes up with it himself.) He always comes up with a good reason for rejecting x. But really all his rejection of everything new, is because it's a change in his routine, and changes in his routine trigger his threat reflexes.

Ask him to do something, it can take months, or enormous pressure, because he doesn't take to new stuff easily. That's his triggering. The hard part is, he either doesn't know it, or doesn't grant permission to others to point this out to him when it's happening, so everyone dances around the issue, and it makes him hard to work with.

I can't tolerate people coming up behind me. Touching me without my permission is a serious mistake. There are certain sights and sounds which will throw me right back...

...People who haven't had PTSD, who haven't been mentally ill in some way, who haven't had chronic pain, mostly don't grasp how real these are. How much "Command Value" they have over our biology and actions. How totally they take over, and when we are triggered to them, how little in control we are. Oh, people may mouth the words of believing. But their entire way of being is, "I could so muscle through that if it were me. You must be either lazy or faking."

I even believed that myself, about mental illness... waking up night after night with nightmares, flashbacks, and worse.

In spite of all that, I too, thought it was all a bunch of bullshit, till I had a series of incidents in which I ended up a chronic pain patient, suicidal, and forced to deal with all the crap from having been a medic, more or less all at the same time. I was a fool. I was wrong. And so is the Army, in a major way.

The Army still treats PTSD as something to be ashamed of.

Again, the Army still treats PTSD as something to be ashamed of.

If you self-report, you damage your career prospects. No "real-man" or woman, no Soldier, would ever come down with combat fatigue. Only wusses, people who don't have "It", who aren't man enough or woman enough for the mission, want out. It means you're lacking something, some essential fire in your belly that people who don't get PTSD have.

Everything Jesse wrote is spot on for me. Except of course the part of someone who saw serious combat. I was involved in a bunch of small incidents in Panama. I really feel like a wuss compared to what the soldiers from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan went and are going through. I can't imagine what my Dad went through in WWII.

It's important to note that part of my problem is generational. My father suffers from PTSD as well. He stormed the beaches of Normandy and went through the whole gamut of the European theatre. He got sent to England, had poor eyesight, the Army (later Army Air Corp) made him an electrician on the B-17 Flying Fortress. But when his number was called, like a lot of Army Air Corp men he stepped up and filled the roll of Infantryman. It's only now I comprehend why he has night terrors and thrashed around at night. I understand why he coped for so many years after the war by self medicating himself with alcohol.

To go even further back, his PTSD problems very well could have started from an earlier age. From the stories my Aunts tell, my Grandfather (whom I never met) used to inflict beatings on him. Why? I'm not really sure, our family history is a bit muddled. Perhaps it was because my father was the only male in the household. I have heard my Grandfather was a heavy drinker, even a bootlegger, (during the Depression a man had to make a buck anyway he could).

Unfortunately, the cycle of violence did not stop with him. My father brought it with him and it continued in our family. Being the youngest, I was spared the worst of the physical abuse. My oldest sister and brother were not, they got regular whippings. The sister closest to me was spared somewhat, she shut out the world, kept quiet and read books to cope. I was a witness to the drunken family violence. We all suffered verbal berating, including my mother. And when she didn't toe the line, she got whacked as well.

We ended up being the typical dysfunctional family. We had the alcoholic and the enabler. My sisters and brother assumed our roles within the family to make up for the deficiencies of parenting. Our roles were inter-changeable, the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. We did what we had to... to survive, keep our sanity. I wish I had more empathy for my father then. I really didn't understand what he was going through. Why he took his anger, irritability, all his wrath of emotions out on his family... we were the closest thing to him, his comfort zone, he felt secure in showing his feelings to us. He had to be a hard guy, couldn't admit something was wrong... wouldn't seek help.

The rest of my family is ready to move on... forget, dismiss or deny that it ever happened. I guess it's convenient. I refuse for the memory be placed in oblivion. I want everyone to remember, so that it never happens again to anyone in my family. Let's be clear, I don't want to place blame... I want to deal with the problem of PTSD. I can't ignore the struggles this sickness placed on us. I want to make sure everyone gets treatment or at least learns the same coping skills as I have.

I'm not perfect, I still lose my temper... I still slip into depression... but I have the sweetest wife and son. I'm grateful they have talked to my Doctors... I'm in constant recovery. When my son comes up and hugs me, tells me, "It will be OK Dad, I love you... I know what your going through...", I melt. I think, why didn't I convey this message to my Dad... he would have appreciated it during his worst times. Unfortunately, my Dad has advanced Alzheimer's now. My greetings are met with a blank stare and wobbly handshake. He suffers in silence.

I have a message for him, "Dad, I love you, you're a 'real man'... you have nothing to be ashamed of... you're not alone... you've made mistakes, you're human, it was a mental illness... still, you're my hero, an American hero!"

1 comment:

Seven of Six said...

I would just like to add, this was my message to incoming Disabled Veterans. We have already seen way to many soldiers not get the treatment they deserve. I can see 10's of thousand of families exactly like mine in the future.

People don't have to live this way, they shouldn't live this way and the Veteran should have access to all the counseling he/she needs.