Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Survivors Speak: Don't Get Stuck In Your Cave

Stanley Aldrich is a Vietnam Vet stationed in Nam from June 1967 until July 1968. He was also a patient at the Naval Hospital on Guam during Tet. He spent four months on Guam recuperating from wounds sustained on Friday the 13th of October of 1967 when he stepped on a booby trapped grenade that tore up his left leg and foot. Today, he’s dealing with PTSD and speaks out on his own blog, Desert Spirit (Living with PTSD). I asked him to write about recognizing combat PTSD and seeking help.

If you are recently back from Iraq or Afghanistan and you do not feel right mentally, seek help. If your wife, husband, or family thinks you have changed for the worse, seek help – you may have the beginnings of PTSD. When you get back from war, you should notice positive changes in your character. However, if the negatives outweigh the positives, take notice and do something about it.

The VA is offering returning vets 5 years of fast care in the system. Now, what you and I think is fast is not the VA form of fast, but at least do not be afraid to try. Make an appointment to be seen by one of their many social workers and psychiatrists. In most cases they will very easily identify if you do or do not have symptoms of PTSD.

I believe that most forms of PTSD from combat manifest fairly soon after coming home. We Vietnam vets did not have that luxury because PTSD did not exist in the books. It was our community that brought this problem to the forefront and now it is recognized.

But PTSD can also manifest later in life. For example, mine took this form. Sure, there were little things that began fairly soon such as the inability to remember people’s names and a heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings. But, I was able to function and keep jobs. Twenty-seven years later, however, the flashbacks started to occur. Mine started while driving, which in itself was a scary adventure. It turns out certain music from the Vietnam period would trigger a flashback. I would have one a month, and then a couple a month until I was experiencing two to three per day.

I was seeing body bags and faces of my friends who died. I would dream of “incoming” at night and end up on the floor to be low to the ground. Good sleep turned to bad sleep. The worst thing for me was the fear that I would hurt one of my employees during a flashback.

When I finally sought help, the psychiatrist (luckily she did her internship at the VA) immediately identified it as PTSD. The facility where I worked and was manager of a large department put me on long-term disability. Behavioral Services put me on medications and began therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment. I quickly started to show improvement but not enough to function in a normal world. Hyper-awareness, agoraphobia (fear of leaving your safe zone), depression, and anxiety were all part of my symptoms. In Nam I stepped on a booby-trapped grenade; later, I developed a fear of even walking in the yard for fear of another explosion.

PTSD can literally make you not function the way you did before. Do not let it get to this point. Seek help and get on medications, therapy, group therapy and EMDR. Get a good experienced EMDR therapist (although I am sorry to say they are currently rare in the VA system).

Because PTSD was not a recognized diagnosis until late after the Vietnam War, many WWII and Korean War vets developed and still have PTSD. In my group therapy, we have one of each from those wars. One of these men had almost 50 jobs in 50 years. He is much better now with meds and therapy. My therapist calls my office in the basement, my “cave” or “safe zone”. Do not get stuck in your cave. Seek treatment from the VA immediately.

Semper Fi

If you'd like to participate in the 'Survivors Speak' series, please contact Michele with topics for guest posts: parasitesof.themind @ yahoo.com.

(Photo: A Goddess of Divine Indifference's photostream)


Destress Yourself said...


The twitter link on the left side of the blog is not working for me. Just thought I would let you know.


Michele Rosenthal said...

@Destress -- Thanks for the heads up, but that's not a link. Still working out the details. The link I had from Twitter was causing text problems for some readers, so for now, that's just announcement!

Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti said...

This article was written with real courage and honesty. Good work! I am an EMDR therapist specializing in PTSD and this blog is a great resource! I will send folks here. I also have a trauma blog for survivors--but with a slightly different focus than yours: mine is seattletherapist.wordpress.com