I’ve written several times in this blog about Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I explained that I call it “injury” and not “disorder” because it is a condition brought on by experience so brutal that the psyche is permanently damaged. It’s an externally inflicted wound, not the mind gone awry from internal misfunctioning. I suffer from it, and I suspect that anyone who has been through combat is subject to its symptoms—nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, and irrational rages.
I contracted the malady by repeatedly being caught in combat with the soldiers and Marines I was supporting with intelligence on the battlefield in South Vietnam between 1964 and the withdrawal of troops in 1973. My escape under fire when Saigon fell in 1975 added to my trove of indelible memories that won’t recede or even weaken. They are with me always.
No therapy will cure PTSI, but some steps will help the victim to cope. The two most effective I’ve found are helping others worse off than I am (the homeless, the dying) and writing down what happened. The latter forced me to confront the terrible scenes forever in my brain. That’s prerequisite to dealing with the disease.
One result is that most of my published writing is drawn from my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam. My most recent novel, Last of the Annamese, tells the story of the fall of Saigon from the point of view of five characters, three Americans and two Vietnamese. As one review noted, the novel is fiction in name only.
What I haven’t addressed here is the enrichment that the tortures of PTSI bring with them. I’ll delve into that tomorrow.