Written by request of dear friends who asked that I share what I have learned. This only my opinion and is not meant to be anything else.
Many of us who served the country in the armed forces have a condition called PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not exclusive to the military; anyone can have it thrust into their lives. Police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s, rescue workers, and others, commonly endure it too.
The hardest thing about PTSD in my opinion is that it is invisible. No one can see it like a missing limb or visible scar, and like a vampire, it doesn’t show up in the mirror. And, like a vampire, it can suck the life out of you.
It can manifest itself as depression, irrational actions, aggressive behavior, or in other ways. You may have one or all of these problems riding around inside you, not only unseen by others, but it can be unknown to you why you do things or feel angry or sad.
Those of us who have taken human lives and/or had injuries to our physical bodies can at least point to that as a possible reason as we try to rationalize why we behave or think as we do. But it can just be exposure to the sights, sounds, smells, or even knowledge of things so horrific that our minds do not want to accept them as any part of who we are.
The internal battle of trying to either live with, or expel, these memories can change how we think and behave. Passive, gentle people can be a ticking bomb of emotional TNT, exploding for no apparent reason to those around them, even lashing out at those they love.
It is like the learned “automatic” response to catch or block something (like a ball) thrown in your direction. The “ball” in this case is unseen because it is a memory and the automatic response is a form of self-preservation. You lash out either verbally or physically to try and prevent that bad memory from getting into your head again. People around you have a hard time comprehending what is going on, which is understandable, because you may not either.
For many of us, PTSD can manifest itself as depression. Nothing ever seems right in your world any more. Years may pass before it hits you, or you may experience years of suffering from nightmares where you live out the bad experiences over and over again. We are all unique individuals in our body chemistry, as well as mental makeup. You are who and what you are.
There are programs offered by the VA and others to help those who suffer from PTSD and if you are a person who can talk to the social worker or shrink types without getting even angrier or more depressed, then go for it. Some of us get worse instead of better in that scenario.
For me, peace with what I did and lived through is coming from something quite unexpected, at least to me.
Many had suggested going to church and praying, etc., but I found that too hypocritical and full of BS. The chaplains always blessed the missions as we went out to kill other human beings. Really? Organized religion has always seemed to be a scam to me… I mean come on, I have to pay (tithing) to belong to a group that tells me how to think and act according to their own made up set of rules, and I am supposed to not trust and actually dislike anyone who doesn’t agree with those rules? Nope, not buying it; it just makes me angrier.
So finding my way to becoming whole again by following the Buddhist path was a complete surprise to me. Here is a teaching where: you do not pray to a deity or god creature, you don’t pay to belong, the teacher says to question everything including him, and the only thing you have to do is work on making yourself a better person. And we are completely cool with anyone believing what they want around us. It is all good. So why does this work for me?
I have learned through the teachings of Buddha, to look inward and accept what has been done in the past as lessons and experiences. I can work on improving my own thoughts, words and actions each day, to make me a better person. This means that I can let go of the bad things.
So I have found a way to help myself. Will this work for everyone who has PTSD? I have no idea, as like I said, we are all unique individuals. But it works for me and other people I know.
What can you do if you have PTSD or are having depression or anger issues since coming home, and don’t know what to do or where to turn?
Talk to someone you trust in a quiet setting and preferably without alcohol involved. I have nothing against appropriate drinking, but I have seen many discussions go the wrong way when booze made the brain disconnect from common sense. Talk to me if you need to, I’ll listen.
What if someone close to you has diagnosed PTSD, or you think that they may be suffering from it?
See the above advice. Don’t blast them with questions that can be controversial or embarrassing in the middle of a party or family dinner, etc. Don’t fuel the discussion with alcohol to get them to “loosen up.” It may turn ugly in a flash.
Don’t ask “How many people did you kill?” That is rude and unkind.
Do ask leading questions like, “What were the people like there?” or “was the weather really hot and dry, or cold and wet?” etc. Let the memories flow on their time table and energy.
Listening to and reassuring your friends or loved ones that you care about them and know that they did their best is important to healing. I strongly emphasize the listening part; the more that you can get the bad stuff out in a non-judgmental setting, the more the burden lifts.
Be kind, be compassionate, and be understanding. Until you have walked, (to paraphrase this a bit) their miles in their moccasins, you have no idea what kind of load is riding on their shoulders.
Am I a doctor or a counselor licensed and/or credentialed to talk about this subject?
NO. I am a veteran who served from Viet Nam to Beirut and has been there, done that. I understand how hard life can be when the black cloud lives inside your head.
My only goal for writing this is to promote understanding and compassion. Peace to all, brothers and sisters.