PTSD and Revisiting My Past
Throughout most of my career I have refused to revisit my time in Vietnam. I have often been asked questions about why I volunteered, what did I experience, and how do I feel about my service there. I found no adequate means of relating to those unfamiliar with the military with what a young soldier far away from home and in a dangerous environment felt. It was uncomfortable for me to engage in conversation on the subject of my experiences. I think partly that was true because many of those who asked were just making polite conversation and were surprised to find that I was a "Vietnam Vet". In their minds, the "typical" Vietnam Vet was a long-haired, social misfit, and frequently was seen as a malcontent grabbing attention for some personal reason or other.
Discussions with many nonmilitary experienced individuals sometimes led to a confrontational debate. I avoided these discussions altogether. To do otherwise invited lengthy, and often, heated, discussion that led to questions of "Why did we get involved in such a war ?" or "Why didn't we go all out to win?" Or "How could our military let such occurrences as village burning, civilian massacres, and indiscriminate bombing happen?" Questions such as those provoked anger and resentment against those who rarely understood that the vast majority of our men and women in uniform were honorable, compassionate, and patriotic persons doing their duty in a professional manner and concerned with the more relevant concerns of staying alive and protecting those around them. My Vietnam experience was highly personal and, I suspect like many of my contemporaries, I just wanted to move on with my life and not focus upon that brief, although significant, part of my life.
Another reason I did not want to reflect on my Vietnam experience had nothing to do with the experience itself, rather it dealt with the pain of how I came to become a Vietnam veteran. I had lost a very good friend of mine in Vietnam and tried to put it out of my mind. I often wondered if that incident could be related to post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Did my friend's death and my reaction to it constitute PTSD? Unusual as it may seem, I find that during my research I found some support for that thought. One source defines PTSD as " ...a debilitating psychological condition triggered by a major traumatic event, such as rape, war, a terrorist act, death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a catastrophic accident. It is marked by upsetting memories or thoughts of the ordeal, "blunting" of emotions, increased arousal, and sometimes severe personality changes." Using that definition I began to see that it might be possible for that long ago loss of a friend to be contributing to my reluctance to discuss or admit my Vietnam experience. I further discovered that this syndrome, although normally occurring soon after the event, could develop years after the initial trauma occurred and once the symptoms begin, they could fade away to return later or even become chronic.
My book, Stand To...A Journey to Manhood, is my attempt to express my thoughts and experiences in a forum that, hopefully, reach many people and educate those who don't know what a young soldier far away from home and in a dangerous environment, feels. The broad range of emotions suddenly thrust upon a young man or woman evoke varied responses. These emotions can contribute to PTSD, requiring lengthy treatment later. Many times though, the combat veteran returns home and quietly adapts. The veteran, in any case, is a changed person because of his or her experiences.
Frank Evans 9 Sep 2009