On 26 February, I gave my presentation on Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) for the first time at the Oasis adult learning facility in Bethesda, Maryland. PTSI is a subject I find very difficult to talk about. It has taken me many years to learn to control my emotions when the indelible memories of my time in combat in Vietnam come flooding back. The memories will never fade. They are with me always. That’s the nature of PTSI. Simply talking about the malady is hard for me. Describing it in detail to an audience was a major challenge.
But I decided it was important for me to do the presentation for two reasons. First, I’ve learned that the only way I can cope with the condition is to face my memories directly and teach myself to calm my emotional reactions. That means I have to be able to speak of them openly. What better way than to describe them in a speech before an audience?
Second, I can help others. Those of us suffering from PTSI believe that we are the only ones damaged by the experience of combat. Others seem to have come through it fine. So we’re defective. We’re failures. We say nothing. If I can reach out to my brothers and show them that they are not alone and that we can help each other, I have done something worth the pain I have endured.
I had to rehearse the presentation numerous times before I could train my emotions to stay in check as I spoke of my damaged psyche. And I was very afraid that I’d spark the symptoms even as I spoke of them—panic attacks, flashbacks, irrational rages. But my practicing worked. I got through the presentation with my emotions under control. Granted, I choked up and got tears in my eyes when I spoke of the young men—average age nineteen—who were killed by my side in ways so grisly that I can’t talk about it.
In the discussion that followed the presentation, I learned that what I’d told the group was a revelation to a good many who’d seen the symptoms of PTSI but didn’t know what it was. At the end, a man roughly my age came up to me and told me that I had described exactly his father’s behavior after he came home from World War II. Only now, the man said, could he understand what his father was going through.
So my struggle to speak openly and in public of my psychic wounds was well worth what it cost. I have been able to help others. What more could anyone ask?