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I Don’t Know What to Say-PTSD

November 30, 2012

Probably the biggest question I get is, “I don’t know what to say”.  I said recently that “The PTSD pain is the same, but the PTSD circumstances are different”.    More simply said, I think anyone either deciding to write or simply reading, will know what you are going through so there are no answers that I can give you that are right or wrong.  All I can do is state, what it was like for me and how I started.  I’m not advocating or suggesting that it is the same for you. I give you permission to treat this in your own way.

When I started my journal after returning from Vietnam I didn’t really know about PTSD.  I had heard of “Shell Shocked” or “Battle Fatigue”, of course, but my visions of those who might be suffering from these War ailments were not how I pictured myself.  It wasn’t until much later that I started to see that my adjustments back into society were going to be long term adjustments.  It was then that I realized that what I was feeling was not going to be temporary but it would be something that I had to start dealing with.

I knew that I was different coming home.  The World had turned for me and when I went home what I didn’t quite understand was that it turned for others back home, as well.  Except that it turned differently for them than for me and neither of us could understand the other’s changed World.

Things I had seen and experienced, I couldn’t even begin to describe to them.  I didn’t want to be praised as a hero, which many people still try to do just because I served.  I didn’t want to watch them cringe if I told them the truth about this other World I had just experienced.  I also didn’t want to watch their eyes glaze over when I said something as if to say to me, “Oh no, another War story, get over it”  The easiest thing to do was say nothing.  Even though there were many young men and women serving, in my circle of friends, I came across very few civilians who could understand and relate to me.

It is funny how people try to make it better by giving the platitudes like, “Everything happens for the best” or “I know what you’re going through” or some other nonsense. I knew that they meant well but there was actually nothing that anyone could say that would be the magic words to reach me.

I felt I was stuck in my own mind.  The craziest things could set me off and it was only after I had already reacted that I would catch myself.  Looking back on it gives me a clearer idea of the transformation.  When I first arrived in Vietnam I was constantly startled by noises or events which made me realize I was unprepared to face a threat that could arise at any time. I was like a babe in the woods with no tools with which to deal with my new World. Soon, I made the adjustment for survival so I reacted differently. When a potential threat surfaced I was ready to do or die rather than freeze.  So the fight or flight or freeze instinct became established for me. I couldn’t freeze, and flight was cowardly, so I was prepared always to face the threat and win.  Once established it would take a long, long  time to calm down back home.

I digress.  What to write?  I recently found my old diary which I had packed away, since I felt less of a need to keep it close.  I reread some of the early passages recently and found that they were much, much shorter than I’m writing now.  They were less revealing, as well.  I was not ready to face the real devastating images that were so disturbing to me.  As I said, I wasn’t quite ready to call myself a PTSD sufferer.  It was only much later in my writing, that I ventured into more revealing passages. But when I look at the writings, I can see that I would flirt with more and more of my feelings as I became accustomed to writing.  I was not doing it for anyone else’s benefit but only for myself and my own state of mind. I was not being judged by how quickly or thoroughly I dealt with each and every post.

Quite often I would come back to the same issue.  I tried in my posts to be honest with myself but even with that I saw that I was treading softly. It was funny, to me, how once I wrote something down I realized that it wasn’t exactly right.  Almost as if I couldn’t find the right words to describe what I was feeling.  If this happens to you too, don’t be disheartened.  Try again once you feel you need to and are ready to.  Each time I would retry, the thought or feeling took more shape. By stretching to try and describe the feeling more closely I felt more in control of it.

So, again, what to write?  I guess my best answer is that what you say and how you say it is up to you.  Encourage your spouse or mate or family to write their feelings as well.  They don’t need to point or reference back to you but by seeing these secondary victims of PTSD will give you more of an understanding that there are others around you who are feeling your pain, are reacting to it and are there for you. These “others” may also be the mates, families and friends of people you may never know but the “pain is the same only the circumstances are different”.

The point is to allow yourself to open up.  There is a lot of help out there and if you are willing to crack open the door and start sneaking through, your life will become a better place.  This is simply a first step and one that will give you the confidence to try other steps when you are ready.  This blogging is so easy to do.  We don’t criticize or edit your thoughts.  No one will know who you are since the posts are all simply yours.  Others may read your post the same way that you will be reading others.  The posts that are here, may or may not include images that may shock or make you recall your own pain.  If it is too painful skip it and move to ones that are there to help you remember and there is no right or wrong way. You are free to take this wherever it goes, for you.

The light of day is the best disinfectant.