Friday, June 8, 2012

Voices of PTSD 

A Book Announcement (review)

When the War Never Ends
The voices of military members with ptsd and their families
By Leah Wizelman

“I’ve often heard from military members with PTSD that they feel that only other participants in wars or peace missions can understand what they are going through. This is why I decided to write a book that focuses only on the experiences of service members and their families. I wanted them to feel connected when reading the stories and to know that others who have not walked in their shoes will be walking beside them as they read this book.”
From the forward, p xix.

I like that phrase: “… and their families...” I think this is an important book, which includes voices from Canada and Germany, sailors and marines, regulars and reservists, and males and females. PTSD, of course, stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It was known in classical times, and in earlier US wars, under other names. Back in the 19th century, novelist H.G. Wells showed his hero suffering hallucinations for years at the end of The War of the Worlds. Unhappily, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs did not recognize the issue until the 1980’s. One daughter of a Nam veteran realized that no one ever knew that her father’s harsh behavior, which hurt the whole family, were from PTSD. She only figured it out as an adult, after her husband came home a changed man.

I am not confident, despite the many years, and many engagements since Vietnam, that at last society has learned; meanwhile, at least many people now know what the initials mean. I dimly recall an episode of the evening sitcom King of the Hill where Hank Hill’s judgmental father refused to believe in PTSD, while at the end the episode Hank himself –a better man than his father! - was sympathetic to some Nam veterans. Unfortunately, based on the stories, society has not yet learned… which makes this book so important.

The sad yet true fact, common to nearly all the stories, as unbelievable as it may sound, is that it often takes years, even decades, for vets with the disorder to realize what is going on. Too often, even if a veteran remains in the service, the servicemen surrounding him just don’t clue in. Family members are usually the first to realize. From the stories, I think PTSD is often an “isolating disorder” which thereby reduces the pool of people who would spot any PTSD. I think part of the disorder is unawareness, both by the veteran who thinks he can handle things on his own, who doesn’t want to be “crazy” or a “wimp,” and by in-laws and friends and neighbors who, perhaps from denial or sheer ignorance, get impatient and abandon the veteran. Often there is a great relief in finally giving the symptoms a name…. As I see it, as for anything in life, a concept is the beginning of knowledge; knowledge is the beginning of power.

The wife mentioned above says, “I just want people to know there is hope. Things can be better, but it takes not only the willingness of the spouse to be supportive, but also the willingness of the vet to at least try. I am a firm believer in counseling and medication because they have helped myself and my spouse.” (p. 180)

A man from the Royal Australian Air Force who served with the UN in Somalia says, “My family all knows a lot about PTSD, as my wife did lots of research and made sure the girls were always truthfully informed about my condition. My family is my best support, with maybe three close friends, two of whom have PTSD too. Often all I need is someone to talk to. I know I can talk to my family and friends without being judged, and that’s enough at the moment.” (p. 77)

The book came out last year, 2011; from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
There are eight titles of suggested reading; the most hands-on are the last two:

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth. 2nd ed.
Glennn Schiraldi, PhD
McGraw-Hill, 2009
This book describes many treatment strategies, alternatives, and self-management techniques that are helpful to trauma survivors, including war veterans and substance addicts, and shows that recovery and growth is possible.

The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms
Mary Beth Williams, PhD, LCSW, CTS, and Soili Poijula, Phd
New Harbinger Publications, 2002
This book offers exercises, techniques, and interventions to conquer physical, mental, and emotional PTSD and Complex PTSD symptoms.

Sean Crawford
During the Diamond Jubilee
June 2012

~Some civilians I've known may identify with quotations from a Canadian who was thirty years old during Bosnia:

After being powerless: (as civilians died in front of him) “… I felt horrible… I lost my self-confidence and stopped believing in myself. I also constantly panicked during conversations, and afterwards I always felt guilty.” (p. 208)

“My goal for the future is to get better and to became a “better person,” not to feel guilty anymore, to be calmer and relaxed.” (p. 213)

~Hank Hill's father, after WWII, could have plenty of time to decompress: on bases overseas, on a slow troopship, then bases here. The Nam vets could go as individuals, not with their units, directly from jungle to-airbase-to-jet-airliner-to-the-states, sleeping on the plane, to be released at the airport, all alone.

In Canada, from a 09.22.06 Calgary Herald Swerve magazine sidebar by Yvonne Jeffery:
"(After Sarejevo) ..."There was absolutely no assistance,"he says. "It was bango. I was on block leave (vacation), then I was in my new job and no one gave a rat's ass."

Not until Lt-Gen. Romeo Dallaire showed up, drunk and disoriented in an Ottawa park one morning as a result of his service in Rwanda, did the military begin to acknowledge that something was seriously wrong with some of its returning soldiers.

Within the CF, the  focus has changed. Instead of having an army social worker ask a roomful of soldiers to "raise their hands if they think they have problems," troops returning from Afghanistan get several days of decompression in Cyprus, and a military culture that now watches for early warning signs, accepting stress injuries as fact, not fiction. And that's a sign of progress—because seven months in Afghanistan shouldn't mean a lifetime reliving it."

The ending of The War of the Worlds, 1898, before there were flying machines or radios:

"I must confess the stress and dangers of the times have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. I sit in my study writing by lamplight, and suddenly I see again the healing valley below set with writhing flames, and feel the house behind and about me empty and desolate. I go out into the Byfleet Road, and vehicles pass me, a butcher boy in a cart, ... and suddenly they become vague and unreal, and I hurry again with the artilleryman through the hot, brooding silence. Of a night I see the black powder darkening the silent streets, and the contorted bodies shrouded in that layer; they rise upon me tattered and dog-bitten. ... and I wake, cold and wretched, in the darkness of the night.
And strangest of all is it to hold my wife's hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead."

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