At last week’s reading of The Honor Was Mine*, several questions about PTSD surfaced: is it really a condition? Is it as rampant as new reports sometimes indicate? Can it be fixed? I’m always grateful for such beautifully engaged, thoughtful questions from an audience. They indicate a sincere concern for our combat veterans, and the stories in The Honor Was Mine are a perfect gateway to better insight and understanding.
I prefer discussing PTSD through stories. It’s an “issue” – one that needs the attention of politicians, researchers, military higher-ups and civilians . . . and much better treatment and funding. But it’s also a deeply personal, idiosyncratic, seemingly-endless struggle for many combat veterans.
In the book, I write about CPL Springer who hides in his closet because it’s the only place he feels safe. Ashamed and humiliated, he tells me about the day his father crawled into the closet and held him as they both sobbed. A female veteran trembles with unmanageable fear anytime she hears a fire truck siren on the streets near my office – the bomb attack that killed her friends started with a warning siren. Another veteran tells me the nightmares from Vietnam still wake him every single night, drenched in sweat and fighting panic. An Iraq veteran has to find the Wal-Mart exit quickly when the noisy, happy crowd fills him with racing dread. One Marine tells me when a car backfires and he’s on the living room floor in the fetal position, his wife’s voice telling him he’s ok sounds like she’s a million miles away, “She’s in Texas, and I’m in Kandahar . . .”
Is PTSD a real thing? No question. And yes, I can help folks with PTSD. There are innumerable new treatments being developed, and more coming all the time. As we understand what happens to nervous system ravaged by combat, I think we’ll craft better and better responses and more healing options.
The point-of-beginning for now is to keep fighting the stigma associated with PTSD so that everyone who suffers can bravely ask for help. There’s not a “weak” one among them, only decent human beings responding to the crushing experiences of combat.
* shout out to Steve, Brian and everyone at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro!
Elizabeth Heaney - Author
Clinical Psychologist, teacher, private counselor. She speaks and writes about her work with service members.