[UPDATE 29 Sep 11: I’ve cut off comments to this post. I’ve given it enough time for everyone to respond and I’m moving on. I will not allow this to become a never-ending issue. Thank you all for your comments.]
I’m not going to make this post a contentious one in which I succumb to the stereotypes that some nameless “writers” have about PTSD. There are litigious ways to deal with those. PTSD affects everyone differently. I believe there are two types of people with PTSD: those who seek help and those that think everyone else is the problem.
PTSD is not limited to military personnel. People that survive horrible car crashes can suffer from PTSD. The survivors from the 9/11 terrorist attacks probably suffer from it. Someone that is robbed at gunpoint or raped is prone to it. I have no doubt that there is an element of it present at mortuaries where people are constantly subjected to bodies that suffered grizzly and inhumane deaths or are in various stages of decay. In other words, it’s a common reaction by people to a particular stressor in life and people react to it in different ways.
Personally, I fell into the second category for too many years. I refused to admit that there was anything wrong with me. I didn’t recognize immediately that I had become reclusive, bitter, angry, and just downright hard to get along with. The one thing I never became was either violent or criminal. I always found an outlet for my anger, whether in writing, playing games, watching movies, whatever.
While I’m by no means “cured” of PTSD, I’ve learned some very dynamic and specialized coping strategies. Through that process of learning, I’ve openly shared my experiences through the darkness that can embrace people with PTSD. I did so in direct contradiction to what many people recommended. I was told that my PTSD would be used against me because either people didn’t understand or they didn’t WANT to understand. I took the Army at its word and began a very public outreach to both heal myself and hopefully help others suffering.
I’m actually in the process of writing a book about PTSD and my journey to recovery – which I don’t think will ever truly end. Through this process I’ve met and spoken with numerous veterans from various conflicts and wars. It blows me away that some of these guys lived with their pain for 40 years before seeking help! I can’t imagine life like that. Six years was bad enough. I’ve learned a lot of coping skills and activities that have helped. I became an avid shooter and began geocaching. I also turned to writing and helping others Soldiers cope. I helped III Corps with some PSA on suicide prevention.
While I trusted the Army and the government at large to be true to its word, what I didn’t take into account was how biased and ignorant the general populace is about PTSD. Likewise, I was ignorant to the fact that some people would try to use my PTSD against me to achieve their own personal motives. Let’s face it, the only time most Americans hear about PTSD is when someone diagnosed with it kills someone (or a lot of people) or commits some other violent crime. Those are the big stories that become the stereotype of Soldiers with PTSD. In my experience, those Soldiers represent about 1% of the PTSD population, if even that.
If not treated, PTSD makes those that have endured traumatic events more prone to feeling threatened in many situations, even when the feeling of threat is not warranted. Some may act on impulse or go to extremes to protect themselves. They invent threats where none exist. Very simple actions and conversations suddenly become threatening without basis in fact or logic.
There has been no definitive study conducted that links PTSD with criminal behavior. There are many different studies out there, many of which I’ve read. Some of them I’ve even had to purchase. While PTSD does seem to increase the possibility that one will commit crimes, it is not a definite link that deserves such a broad brush painted on those that have it, especially those that have sought to overcome it.
Personally, the only time I ever got in trouble was when I was a kid in Jacksonville, FL, at about 14 years old. I got caught shoplifting deodorant, of all things. I wasn’t charged with anything and ended up agreeing to do 50 hours of community service on the weekends at a creepy city cemetery. I also went through something called the Scared Straight program. This entailed me and a few other kids taking a tour through the county jail. It was a traumatizing event. Being the youngest and smallest kid there, I didn’t feel comfortable with all those inmates pawing at me and asking for time alone. I was definitely scared straight.
It’s sad that when one, semi-influential member of the media uses the PTSD argument to justify claims of threat, malice, violence, or mental incapacity that so many people will so quickly and easily agree to those claims. “He wrote about PTSD, so he MUST be a violent person.” “He has PTSD so shouldn’t be allowed to carry a gun.”
In the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” Gunnery Sergeant Harman, played by the most awesome R. Lee Ermy, gets angry during a barracks inspection after one of the G.I.’s uses a John Wayne impression. I can’t embed the video, so you’ll have to click the link. Be mindful that the video contains a LOT of profanity.
In that clip, GySgt Harman says a bunch of things in response. For one, he asks who “just signed his own death warrant.” Do you think that person REALLY signed their own death warrant? Obviously not, at least not to anyone with common sense. He says he will PT the Marines “until you all die.” Was this a true statement? Again, no. Basic training used to be filled with this kind of over-the-top scare tactics before we became soft and touchy-feely and no one ever had to sign a death warrant or “beat their face.” Finally, Private Joker admits that he is the one that made the impression. Harman then tells him, “You had best unf**k yourself or I will unscrew your head and s#!t down your neck!”
This phrase has been used in many situations throughout our history. Was Ermy’s character REALLY going to take off that Private’s head and defecate down his neck? Of course not. The phrase has been used by Old Man Johnson down the street: “If you damn kids cut through my yard again, I’m gonna come out there and rip off your head and crap down your neck!” It’s obviously urban slang used throughout American society and especially within the military. Now if Jeffrey Dahmer said it, I might take it a little more seriously.
Anyone that actually served in the military understands what this means. It means that what you said or did was disrespectful, wrong, unwarranted, unwanted, unbelievable, etc. and that the another person isn’t very happy about it.
I recently read a story where a supposed “writer” was talking about the death of a Soldier. The unit the “writer” is embedded with has suffered many casualties during their deployment, which ends soon. I have friends in that unit that have expressed disgust with how this “writer” has completely disrespected their last two memorial ceremonies by getting in everyone’s faces and taking photos. While people were talking or grieving, he’d walk around taking photos, the audible “click, click, click” of his camera disrupting the services.
In this piece I read, the “writer” explained in dramatic and gory detail exactly how this Soldier had died – lying face down in the dirt, missing his arms and legs. When asked if he was okay, the Soldier responded affirmatively – either recognizing that he was about to die and didn’t want to worry his fellow troops or not realizing the gravity of his situation due to shock.
I took great disgust in this hit piece on the integrity and honor of this Soldier’s sacrifice being laid out in such gory detail for the world to see. But, it’s not the casual reader I care about. What bothers me is that this young Soldier has a family. He has a mother and father that one day will read this account and realize that their son died a painful and horrible death, face down in the dirt! It’s unconscionable that a responsible “writer” with a supposed military background would publish such details.
I’m not suggesting that family’s should be lied to about how their kids died in combat, but unless they specifically ASK for the details of that death they should be protected from having to suffer it. Many families don’t WANT to know those sorts of details. Yes, they want to know that he died on patrol or during a rocket attack, but not that his brains were splattered across the pavement while trying to gasp for that last breath of air, the way one Soldier died in my arms in Iraq. Most just want to know that he didn’t die in pain surrounded by troops that love him and tried their best to save them.
Naturally, I was angry at this lack of journalistic integrity and discretion. Immediately calling upon phrases and slang I’ve heard my entire life, I mentioned how much I thought the piece was out of line and paraphrased Gunny Sergeant Harman’s words to Private Joker.
In typical fashion, my words were taken out of context and falsely manipulated into a direct threat. The “blogger/journalist/writer/photographer” decided to use his bully pulpit to settle a score that he’s been rabidly trying to settle since I called him out on OPSEC violations years ago. I’ve been through the same song and dance with this individual many times and each time it’s noted for what it is – whining.
Here is the full context of what I wrote after reading the story of that Soldier that died last week. Another person, equally upset over the content of that story had commented that they should share what Yon is writing on the unit’s page. Another individual remarked – wisely – that it would only make matters worse. I responded:
I agree. I have no doubt that his wife or mother read the [unit’s Facebook] page. I’m positive they don’t read [said writer], but one day they’re going to do a Google search on their loved one, and that ass monkey of a sorry excuse for flesh and cold blood will come up with that information! I want to rip his head off and piss down his windpipe!
Now, to the casual observer with even an inkling of common sense, ask yourself some questions.
1. Is CJ REALLY going to rip off someone’s head and piss down his windpipe?
2. Is it even POSSIBLE to rip off someone’s head and piss down their windpipe?
3. What actions has CJ committed in the past that give any indication he WOULD do something like that even if he could?
4. Is this is a common expression used to denote an angry attitude and dissatisfaction at someone’s else’s mistakes?
The answers are obvious, especially to someone with a real military background. Nowhere did I say, “I will rip off his head and piss down his throat.” There are a lot of things that I’d like to do or want to do, but never will because they are morally, religiously, legally, or impossibly wrong. So, one can only deduce that the “writer” of those lies is intentionally misleading people by ONLY commenting on a single portion of a full quote. By inventing threats where none exist, the “writer” is easily able to influence an audience that is ignorant and subservient to the whims of anything typed into a status window on a social media site.
To be fair, I’m not entirely innocent in regard to this particular issue. I gave entirely too much credit to the history, background, accomplishment, mental capacity, and reasoning ability of the “writer” and his followers when I wrote that. I neglected to notice that he no longer wanted to be treated like a former SF-qualified Soldier and more like a run of the mil civilian without an inkling of understanding about how the military works. It is possible that someone like that with an ax to grind could PERCEIVE a threat where none exists.
Remember what I said about PTSD earlier? PTSD makes those that have endured traumatic events more prone to feeling threatened in many situations, even when the feeling of threat is not warranted. This “writer” has been embedded with many units and claims to be the longest embedded “writer” in history. So, there is no doubt that he has probably seen some pretty nasty things. I know he has no compunction against sharing them.
It’s quite possible that this individual is suffering from an extreme case of PTSD as well. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest it, that’s for sure. His actions over the past few years have gotten progressively worse and more arrogant. He’s expressed anger and frustration when he didn’t get his way. These are natural reactions to stressors. Feeling the need to be always “on guard” can cause survivors to see threat in normal situations. As a result, they may go to extremes to try to protect themselves. High levels of arousal may result in impulsive, irrational behavior that goes beyond what is needed to address the perceived threat.
But, there is a significant difference between me and this “writer”: I sought help and got it when people noted that I had changed! I’ve learned how to deal with and manage my stress. I no longer need to hide my weaknesses and know where to go when I feel those issues rising up in me. I possess coping mechanisms to deal with those stresses and no longer need to drag other people down with me when I don’t get my way. It’s common for someone with PTSD to project their shortcomings onto others when they are cornered or can’t meet expectations. Keep in mind that no one reached out to me persona