11-14: PTSD Myths and Stereotypes

[I write about politics because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece which I actually came across on Veterans Day. It appeared on the Healthy Living website. The article “What Veterans Want You to Know about PTSD” was written by Carolyn Gregoire.]

 

Although I ran across this piece at a political site I visit often, I have edited out political portions, choosing rather to stick mainly to PTSD itself … with one exception. I had to transcribe the first paragraph in its entirety because it contains Ms. Gregoire’s impetus for writing the piece.

Deconstructing Myths and Stereotypes

For many, this Veterans Day comes with a little extra heaviness. Just days ago, our country elected a new president who has insulted decorated war veterans and suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder is a sign of weakness.

I have blogged about this in the past–no more need be written now.

Unfortunately, PTSD myths and stereotypes like this are all too common. An estimated 8 million Americans ― and up to 31% of Vietnam War Veterans 31 and 20& of Iraq Veterans ― suffer from PTSD …

One tragedy breeds another.

But still, the disorder is poorly understood, stigmatized and often misrepresented, and the negative connotations surrounding PTSD are a major part of what keeps many veterans from seeking help …

Gregoire claims that there are (at least) “five things vets wish others knew about PTSD.” It is difficult for me to agree or complain about her researched list. But I am glad that she made the effort and happier still that she has shared it for our consideration.

Most people have no idea what veterans have been through.

While I believe this to be so, I didn’t/don’t know what to do about it. It took me about ten years to have any sort of non-alcohol-induced conversation about “the war” with anyone. It took decades more to get help.

Anyone who refers to veterans with PTSD as “weak” has no idea what those people have seen and experienced in a war zone, or the toll that these experiences can take on an individual ― no matter how “strong” they are.

Said one combat veteran in Gregoire’s research:

“…Until you kill other human beings for survival, what could you possibly say about it?” He continued, “It assaults all your senses, the smell of death and the machines that cause it…. It is incomprehensible.” …

The blog PTSD: A Soldier’s Perspective aims to share stories from and inspiration for veterans struggling with after-effects of their service. “There is disconnection between everything human and what has to be done in combat,” a vet named Scott Lee wrote on the platform

PTSD isn’t always easy to recognize.

Symptoms of the disorder often go masked and unnoticed. War journalist Sebastian Junger, who spent months embedded with American troops in Afghanistan, wrote a Vanity Fair essay about the experience last June. In it, he highlighted his own struggle to recognize PTSD.

“I had no idea that what I’d just experienced had anything to do with combat; I just thought I was going crazy,” he wrote. “For the next several months I kept having panic attacks whenever I was in a small place with too many people — airplanes, ski gondolas, crowded bars. Gradually the incidents stopped, and I didn’t think about them again until I found myself talking to a woman at a picnic who worked as a psychotherapist. She asked whether I’d been affected by my war experiences, and I said no, I didn’t think so. But for some reason I described my puzzling panic attack in the subway (described earlier in his essay). ‘That’s called post-traumatic stress disorder,’ she said.”

Much of the suffering of PTSD is silent. 

I continue to find it difficult to use the word “suffer,” knowing there is so much suffering of various kinds in the world … and it, PTSD suffering, is not confined to people in combat.

PTSD survivors (another hard word for me to use) often suffer in silence, trying to present a strong face to the world and not seeking help for fear of being seen as weak. A veteran who served in Baghdad … opened up about the struggle to admit to himself that he needed care.

“The few nights a week I’d get drunk and start crying inconsolably, although often silently, I tried to shake off as simple moments of weakness … I should be tough….

PTSD doesn’t make you violent. 

A harmful stereotype about PTSD is that it leads to aggressive behavior. But research indicates that the prevalence of violence among individuals with PTSD is only slightly higher than the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Another of Gregoire’s sources said,

“It pains me when I listen to the news and every time a veteran commits a crime (or commits suicide), it is automatically linked to and blamed on PTSD.”

Recovery is possible.

One of the most damaging stereotypes about PTSD is the idea that people with the disorder are somehow broken or can’t heal.

Roy Webb, a Marine who served in Vietnam and suffered from PTSD and insomnia for four decades, told CBS News about his recovery through yoga and meditation….

Iraq veteran Gordon Ewell, who has overcome PTSD, sent a message of hope to his fellow veterans: Recovery is always possible, and you’re never alone.

“You may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but I promise it is there,” he said in an interview … “I promise you can get through anything. I also promise that there are people willing to walk with you every step of the way.”

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

 

 

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