As a consequence of my time providing intelligence support to army and Marine units during the Vietnam war and my surviving the fall of Saigon, I am subject to a condition common among those who have seen combat. A reader asked me again why I refer to the ailment as Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and not Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The word “injury” connotes to me the idea of an externally inflicted wound; “disorder” suggests an internal malfunction. To me there is no question that what I and many others suffer from is an extrinsically delivered wound to the psyche, so severe that the injury is indelible.
The form of the affliction I’ve observed and am subject to is that which combatants face. But PTSI can result from any experience so brutal that the soul is permanently damaged. Rape victims, people who have survived or witnessed violent destruction, and those who lived through bloody catastrophes all show signs of an enduring wound to the soul.
It’s worth pointing out that reacting with horror to grisly events is healthy. Only a deformed soul could be unmoved or fail to react to experiences as ghastly as combat.
The wound is permanent. It’s incurable. The victim’s only recourse is to master the ability to cope. I’ve learned to mediate my emotions so that I can face the memories head on without breaking down—even though I still can’t talk about some of them. Among other things, I write about what I lived through. Last of the Annamese was created in part to vent my memories. Learning to live with the unbearable takes time and work, but it can be done.