Yesterday’s post brought a question from a fellow Vietnam vet who wants to know if I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The answer is an emphatic yes.
But I don’t call it a disorder. I call it an injury. It’s clear to me as a sufferer that the disease is not the internal workings of the mind gone awry. It is the direct result of a wound to the soul inflicted by an external event, namely, witnessing the ghastly damage that combat does to human beings. I call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI).
I was in combat repeatedly over my years in Vietnam, supporting both army and Marine units on the battlefield. I watched the brutal deaths of men fighting by my side. My soul was permanently damaged.
In the context of my books, the focus of yesterday’s blog post, one novel is specifically about PTSI and the damage it can do. That’s The Trion Syndrome (Apprentice House, 2015). It tells the story of a Vietnam vet who suffers from all the symptoms of PTSI without knowing why. He has blocked the unspeakable memories from his conscious mind, just as I did. When he forces himself to remember, his life is permanently changed.
My writing been shaped by my struggles with PTSI. I wrote The Trion Syndrome to make myself confront my condition. It’s only by facing the unspeakable memories that a sufferer from PTSI can come to terms with the malady. That’s the best he can hope to do. PTSI is not curable. The memories never fade. Coping is the only remedy available.
And Last of the Annamese (Naval Institute Press, 2017) was written in part to allow me to vent my feelings about the fall of Saigon which I lived through, escaping under fire at the very end. I wrote No-Accounts (Apprentice House, 2014) to honor the memories of my five years of caring for AIDS patients at the height of the epidemic.
So, yes, I suffer from PTSI and always will. I write in part to explore and come to terms with memories that will never rest. That’s my fate.