I’ll be blogging for a while about The Trion Syndrome, so I need to revisit Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. As I explained earlier, I don’t call it a “disorder” because it’s the consequence of an externally inflicted wound, not the internal workings of the mind gone awry.
PTSI is the result of an experience so brutal that the soul is permanently damaged. I know of it from my experience in combat, but it also affects people who have been raped or tortured or faced monstrous happenings. Sometimes guilt is an element of the condition; that’s true of me.
The most common symptoms are flashbacks, nightmares, irrational rages, and panic attacks. A variety of triggers can bring on an onslaught of the symptoms—a moment of music, an odor, the color of the sky, a sensation on the skin. Sometimes an unbidden flash of memory will unleash reactions.
There is no cure for PTSI. The memories never go away or fade. They are always at the edge of the victim’s consciousness. The best that a PTSI sufferer can hope to do—in fact what he must do—is to learn to cope.
The first step in coming to terms with the unspeakable memories is to learn how to bring them into consciousness. My psyche had pushed some of my recollections to the subconscious because they were too painful to face. I had to put myself into a semi-meditative state and allow the memories to surface. Then I had to learn to hold the unbearable in my conscious mind until I could bear it. I had to train my emotions to react without going out of control.
I was fortunate in being a writer. My forgotten experiences showed up in my writing before I recalled them at a conscious level. Then I learned to write down what happened. That forced me to look the memories in the face.
Guilt is a factor for me in dealing with PTSI. I blame myself for not having done more to save other men’s lives; I feel the unfairness that men by my side were butchered while I went unscathed. I know at the rational level that my guilt is unfounded. I did all I could, and chance dictated that a stream of bullets took my buddy’s head off but left me untouched. I know all that. The guilt remains. The longer I live, the better I get at living with my guilt.
I wrote The Trion Syndrome in part to vent about my PTSI. I told Dave’s story borrowing from my own experience. But I let Dave do things I stopped myself from doing. He becomes irrational, runs away, lives the life of a bum, all because he can’t face what he has done in combat. In the end, a son he didn’t know he had finds him and leads him home.