As regular readers of this blog are aware, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). The malady resulted from my years in combat in Vietnam and the unspeakable experiences I went through during the fall of Saigon. For years, I was subject to the most common symptoms—nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, and irrational rages. The memories will never fade—they’re indelibly ingrained in my soul—but I have found ways to come to terms with them. I am able to live a normal life.
I am among those who call the disease Post-Traumatic Stress Injury rather than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to emphasize that it is the result of an externally inflicted wound to the psyche, not the mind internally going awry. The number of us using that nomenclature is growing.
I realized early on that to cope with PTSI, I had to bring the unbearable memories into my conscious mind and face them. I had to learn to control my emotions. To force myself to confront those memories, I wrote down what happened on the battlefield and during the final days of Vietnam. That gave me the raw material I used to write my four novels and 17 short stories, all now published.
I always assumed, like all sufferers of PTSI, that I was unique and alone. My inability to handle my memories was a weakness and a symptom of cowardice. After all, other men went through what I experienced and came out fine. I was at fault. The shame that resulted, combined with the shame for having participated in the killing of others, is profound enough to cause some veterans to take their own lives.
Then, half a dozen years ago, I stumbled across articles on PTSI. I discovered that the malady affected many men who had experienced combat. I eventually decided that no one who has lived through fighting on the battlefield is completely untainted. I was severely affected, but all of us were hurt psychically, some worse than others. Combat inflicts a wound to the soul.
I learned that each sufferer of PTSI imagines that he is the odd ball, the guy that, unlike his buddies, was deeply affected by combat. And I realized that we afflicted could help one another by talking to each other about our memories. I began to reach out to other veterans. I wrote of PTSI and blogged about it.