Thursday, May 06, 2010

Foreseen Subject: My Soldier Babies and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Prologue Post

If you're weary, it may not be from what you're doing. Your weariness could be caused by what you continue to put off doing. Having an uncompleted task hanging over you, day after day, week after week, wears on you constantly. To free yourself from that burden, go ahead and get it finished.

Wise words posted by my friend Lynellen have motivated me to free myself from a burden. Or at least, to start talking about a subject that weighs heavily on me.

You know I knew it was coming. Being a worrying Mother, I've steeled myself to deal with this issue probably since the day Brian enlisted, when I was still selfishly, naively hoping that he'd end up with some pencil-pushing job in a closet-sized office somewhere out in the sticks (on U.S. soil, of course).

Some news reports about these wars are unbearable to me at times, and I'll admit to not being able to handle it and turning the television off for my own sanity. It is always with a deep sense of guilt, as I know that there's a family out there that is living with, or dying with, what I can shut out.

Still, I watch and read the articles, stories, and documentaries on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the issues that our men and women have to deal with when they come home. I think that most of us have probably dealt with some avenue of  post-stress. I think about times in my own life when I've reacted to an event well after the fact.

  • I have shaken like a leaf a week after my son was in a life-threatening accident, falling 2 stories to large landscaping rocks beneath the waterslide.
  • Amusing now, but two years after my divorce, I got stuck, home alone, in my attic, and dealt with it by having a screaming tantrum directed at my ex-husband. After all, if we'd worked things out, I wouldn't have been stuck in the damned attic hole with a giant piece of plywood lodged between me and the ladder, would I? It was all his fault, and I couldn't have been more surprised to find that out!
  • While sis and Mom fell apart at Dad's death, I held it together to take care of all of the business and legal aspects of his life, his death and finances, and rental properties and tenants. 6 months after it was all settled, I crashed, becoming so numb and sleepy that it took walking into a moving car to alert me to the fact that I needed to see a doctor.

I know that these are everyday events, that happen, eventually, to almost everyone. There are accidents, and deaths, and disappointments and crises in everyone's life, as natural order. My reflections on my own minor-serious post-dealings only serve to put into perspective the magnitude of what our soldiers are coming home with.

Three years into starting an organization that rotates around happy little plush toys, I am beginning to talk to and meet more and more soldiers that are sharing stories about their PTSD issues, and about their deployments. I have corresponded with injured soldiers, some briefly and some at-length. I've passed names on to others that want to help, and have lost contact with a few still important to me. I am, for the first time, hearing their stories, stories they are telling, also, for the first time.

It has taken me months to start writing about this, I simply have not been able to find the words, or the mood.

I have, at the recommendation of one, been reading a book that is issued to many soldiers upon coming home, to prepare them for future issues, Down Range: To Iraq and Back, by Bridget Cantrell and Chuck Dean. It's taking me too long to get through the 150-page book, because I can only read a few paragraphs before I hyperventilate.

It's taking me months to write about something that has never happened to me.

I can very well understand how it takes them months or years to deal with, discuss, acknowledge what they've been through. I can also understand why some never do.

And I still know very little, but I'm going to write it. Because it wears on me. It wears on me that I have friends dealing with horrific issues, and it wears on me that my son is in a war zone, and experiencing issues from his first tour. And it wears on me that people are afraid to get help.

Mostly it wears on me that I haven't been one more voice, however small, on one more issue that needs to be screamed from the rooftops.

It's a burden I need to unload. Stay tuned.


  1. It's such an odd thing... made more so by the various ways it can present itself, both in symptoms and severity. When one starts digging through the history of supposedly related conditions (such as shell shock) it gets even more confusing. At different times, different symptoms (sometimes entirely different and/or far more severe) were the psycho-babble cliche. I imagine if our psychology/neurology/etc understanding were still a century behind that the signature wound of this war, traumatic brain injury, would be part of the mix.

    PTSD is an odd duck all around. It's not just some signature or stereotypical combat effect (though most of the coverage seems to be to that effect). It's various symptoms shared by traumatized people that leaves them with their "fight or flight" switch on the fritz... and the host of other symptoms that seem to result from that (e.g. emotional extremes - all or none, irrational avoidance of triggers, isolation, etc).

    Rape victims, people with near death experiences, first responders who were either threatened or were helpless as others were, and of course combat veterans who have a unique risk on all of the above... throughout time, personal accounts of someone going through such things are littered with examples where so-n-so "just wasn't the same after that." As poorly understood as the condition is now, it's no wonder that historical accounts generally didn't end well. It may explain at least some of the reason for "cycles of violence" in communities. Unfortunately the nation's largest mental health facilities are prisons. Which has proven detrimental for both civilian and veteran populations imo.

    Most of the folks I see seeking treatment for PTSD are Vietnam veterans, though the mix seems to be shifting to more current conflicts. I'm not sure if there is an effective way to push a more proactive approach to treatment (both by providers and those with it) before people have spent decades coping (often badly) with the way their brains are playing shenanigans with their lives. The military and VA attempts have been predictable at best and with all sorts of urban legend or actual catch-22s that scare off sufferers at worst.

    The frustration seems all too justified to me. Many of the military issues with getting people the treatment they need are behind an iron curtain of bureaucracy to fix. The VA, in spite of all of the improvements in the last generation, still suffers from a lot of the same. For some reason the idea of fixing our country's mental health system evokes images of building pyramids... needing thousands of people to trudge through mud and hardship to move massive stones... but with only a handful of people aware of the project, and wondering when everybody else will show up to help.

    Trudge, trudge, trudge...

  2. Unburden as needed, sweetheart. You'll always have a sympathetic ear here.

  3. I hardly know how to talk about this extremely important issue, except to agree that people should absolutely have access to high-quality mental-health care when they need it, and of course, they shouldn't feel any reticence about seeking help. Sigh. I feel with/for you and understand your worry.

  4. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Unload.Please do.

    Tight {{{HUGS}}


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