Why No Treatment for PTSI

A reader asked me why I didn’t seek treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Injury after the fall of Saigon.

The answer is that I held top secret codeword-plus security clearances. Had I sought psychotherapy, I would have lost my clearances and therefore lost my job. That was the way the government worked back then. I had a wife and four children. Unemployment was out of the question.

So I gritted my teeth and suffered through it alone. By sheer luck, I was blessed with enough self-reliance, self-respect, and fortitude to muddle through. Writing was a God-sent. I learned years later that one effective therapy for PTSI is writing down what happened as one way to force oneself to confront the unspeakable memories.

PTSI has affected all my writing. Most of it is about Vietnam. But my one novel not about my time in harm’s way, No-Accounts, also resulted from my struggle with PTSI. I learned early on that when I was helping other people worse off than I was, my memories receded into the background. So I became a volunteer. I worked with the homeless, spent seven years volunteering at a hospice and working with dying people, and, at the height of the epidemic, took care of AIDS patients for five years. The latter work helped with my PTSI, but I faced so many deaths among AIDS patients that I developed a new strain of PTSI. To vent it, I wrote No-Accounts, the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS.

So in a very real sense, nearly all my writing is influenced by—and maybe the result of—PTSI.

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