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Don Burton, Vietnam Combat Vet, Tells His PTSD Story

By , December 17, 2014 1:16 pm

I’m pleased today to share Don Burton’s words on his long and arduous journey with PTSD after serving in combat during the Vietnam War, three tours. I’m looking forward to reading his book soon and I’ll be posting a review here thereafter.

I believe the thoughts he shares in this introspective piece can bring new insights to those of us struggling with the disorder, or as Don so aptly refers to it as, The Beast.

Combat PTSD – One Veterans’ Journey to Control the Beast

I thought January 9, 1970 was the end of my involvement with the military and the Vietnam War. That was the day I was discharged from the US Navy after having completed three tours to Vietnam, two of which took me “in-country” often with various Marine elements. Now 44 years later, at times, I am back there. PTSD, or PTSS as it was called then, takes me there instantly. To me, PTSD isn’t what many people believe. From first hand, I know it is an insidious thing, a beast that is opportunistic and nearly impossible to kill completely. Weird things can awaken it, sounds, smell, visuals and even moods, especially depression. It is hard to guard against and impossible to predict when it will raise its head. So what do you do about it? Here is what I did.

I spent many years at Vet Centers in group counseling, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly. It helped. My wife of nearly 40 years has probably been the best healing agent as she is a good detached listener when the beast is present. But recognizing what the beast we call PTSD is and its power over us or more precisely the power we allow it to have over us is a key. Another major key is to give it a path out. For many years I kept it all inside. Nobody knew I had any problems. As the saying goes, I just sucked it up. It was killing me. One evening after a frightful bout with the trauma nearly breaking me, my wife suggested that I write it down. I did, slowly. Over the next ten plus years, when it raised its head, I wrote it down. Over time writing it down made me begin to feel like I was in control. Then I read and read and re-read my journal. Continue reading 'Don Burton, Vietnam Combat Vet, Tells His PTSD Story'»

Can I Get Over It?- Living with PTSD

By , December 2, 2014 4:47 pm

Last night I came across an article by Alison Downs. It’s titled  I Have PTSD and It’s Not a Joke. She notes that on November 11th, xoJane (a blog she writes for) posted two articles that referred to PTSD in a comedic way. “One, about silly underwear, said …’I have tween angst PTSD…”

Another opined about expensive beauty products, with the lament, “I still have poor kid PTSD.”

Downs rightly makes the valid point that PTSD is a very serious illness and is not a proper subject for parody.

It was very timely for me, as it seems each day I have an interaction with people who seem to be blissfully unaware of the struggle so many of us who live with PTSD must endure daily.

When you have PTSD, be it a mild case, or complex and severe, you never know what might be a trigger for an upsetting memory or flashback. It might be something you’ve seen on the evening news, a crime show, or a million other things. Continue reading 'Can I Get Over It?- Living with PTSD'»

A Day to Remember Our Veterans and Those That Love Them

By , November 11, 2014 5:03 pm

Many memories are flooding back to me on this Veterans Day. It is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of so many. Every generation has its war. Mine was of the Vietnam era. One of my saddest and most haunting memories are of a day when I was in my late teens. I was working my first job in a beauty shop. In some ways it seems like eons ago, but in other ways, it’s just like yesterday.

My boss had a very sweet regular customer named Luella. We knew that her son was serving in Vietnam. We all were very concerned for her and I had my own worries, as my Marine boyfriend was also stationed in Vietnam.

One day I came into work and immediately knew that something was wrong. The shop was deathly quiet and my co-workers were very subdued. I asked what was going on and was told that Luella’s son had been killed in Vietnam. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. The stark reality of the war was now in front of me. It was hard to get through work that day.

But even worse was the day that Luella came into the shop to get her hair done for Larry’s funeral. She wore large dark glasses and looked shell-shocked. There was no laughter that day, only a tense and dismal atmosphere.

It has now been close to fifty years later and that scene is deeply ingrained in my brain. I think of Luella and her family often, and wonder if the years have brought any healing.

I pray that they have found some measure of peace. I will continue to pray that all those others whose lives have been touched by war, can find some meaning and purpose in their experience. And of course, we can all pray for and dream of, a day when war becomes inconceivable.

There is a Civilian “Army” of Americans Still Affected by the Vietnam War

By , October 31, 2014 3:38 pm

Dear readers,

I’m currently reading a brilliant book titled Long time Passing- Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, written by Myra MacPherson. While the book was first published in 1984, many of its truths are still relevant.

The author has been a longtime political writer for the Washington Post. In the Introduction, there are quotes from men of three different generations. The first goes like this:

“We’re not philosophers. We’re not religious leaders. We’re young kids. You send us over there, you put us there on a mission to kill and then we come back and you say, “what did you do over there? Kill all those women and children and all that terrible stuff?”

–Former U.S. senator and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Bob Kerrey

This book is nearly seven-hundred pages and is a very thorough retrospective on our nation’s most divisive war. As a baby boomer, it is “my” war. The Vietnam War may be long past, but it still holds observations that are pertinent to our American culture today.

Chapter 6 is titled  “The Significant Others.” On pg. 264, MacPherson writes

“They are called “significant others” in the jargon of psychologists and sociologists attempting to neatly package all the mothers, wives, girlfriends, children, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles of Vietnam veterans. They are a civilian “army” of millions who were deeply affected by the tragedies of Vietnam.”

It still blows my mind to think of this. Millions of Americans still affected by that long-ago war. Add to that, the millions upon millions more affected by our recent and current wars.

I am reading this book in ‘bits and pieces” as it is too overwhelming to try and digest at several sittings. And I’ll be sharing more insights in new blog postings.

It is for all of you other “significant others” out there, that we need to keep examining our wars, why we fight them, and how we learn to live with the ramifications afterward.

 

 

 

 

Living with PTSD and Anger

By , October 14, 2014 12:51 pm

Sometimes I ask myself the question ‘Why do I continue to read and write about PTSD?”

Inevitably, my answer comes. It’s often due to my anger over the way my life has been altered by the Vietnam War. It’s also because the society in which I live (with very few exceptions) has so little understanding of what combat vets and their families endure. There seems to be an abundance of apathy.

Chuck Dean, author of Nam Vet-Making Peace with Your Past, observes

“The war experience has affected our lives, our children’s lives, and the way families are being raised today. Four to five generations have already been affected by PTSD from Vietnam, but the family remains a weak second on the Veterans Administration’s list of priorities. Our problem is one of time lag. We haven’t been in combat for decades yet we still react with survival tactics. Our families are paying a heavy price for a war long gone.”

He’s right. The Vietnam War was long ago. But now we have our veterans from the Gulf War, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows how many other military operations are going on. How many more generations will be affected the way our lives have been?

Back in my time, we had the draft. Many American families had a son who was drafted and had to go fight and/or die in Vietnam. Today, since we have the volunteer army, the general public seems blissfully unaware of the high price being paid by those whose loved ones are doing the fighting in the name of our freedom.

I was just a teenager when the Vietnam War intruded on my “childhood. I fell in love with someone who was destined to go fight that war. That event has had long-lasting repurcussions on my life and so many millions of others. It is hard to live in a society, which as a whole, is hesitant to acknowledge the pain and trauma involved with the war experience. Especially when there is so much “denial” going on.

I used to speak out to my (civilian) friends about my experience. But then I noticed I’m usually met with a dumbfounded stare or I get the feeling they’d “rather not hear it.” It makes them uncomfortable.

Yes, I’m “only” a former wife of a Nam vet. But nineteen years of marriage to him and raising two children together, gives me the right to ‘write what I know.”

I suppose that is why I continue to write about my experience with PTSD, as well as the subject in general. It provides a release of my often “pent up” emotions and I hope that with my writing, I may affect others who are going through similar challenges.

It’s better than “punching a wall.” or “smashing someone in the face.” There have (and continue to be) those times when I want to wipe the “smugness” off of someone’s face, who seemingly has led a “charmed life” with little or no trauma. Those who have had “no skin in the game” or “walked the walk.”

This has been my experience. I know there are untold numbers of other ex-spouses of combat vets whose stories go untold. I find that very sad. Our experiences should count for something. My ongoing recovery demands that I express my feelings somewhere, somehow.

I hope there comes a day when the families of combat vets get the respect and recognition they deserve. That is, the ones who have provided loyalty and support for their loved ones.

Change is slow in coming. The VA failed me when I was in time of crisis. I wonder if the VA’s policies will ever be changed and they will be forced to truly take care of the families of our combat vets. This will not happen without an outcry from the general public. Will it ever happen?

I’m doubtful, but one has to hold onto a smidgen of hope. What else do we have?

Using Humor to Deal with PTSD

By , October 6, 2014 5:35 pm

Dear readers,

Well, I’ve been having “one of those days” where I’m trying to figure out why I’m here and where I’m going. I’ve been dealing with those old images from some not-so-very-nice memories, that often intrude when you least expect them.

I decided to do what often calms me down and referred back to a book I really like. It has helped me a lot in the past. Part of the reason I like it so much is that the author writes with a sense of humor. When you’re dealing with PTSD humor is absolutely vital and life-saving!

Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies  observes “Humor is one of the best ways to defuse stress and short-circuit a blowup. Clip out a funny cartoon or write down a couple of jokes that always make you giggle.”

Just reading that again, reminded me to think of something humorous (not all the bad crap going on in the world.)

Something happened yesterday that really did strike me funny. My husband and I were riding in the car. (He was driving.) We were having a little bit of a verbal battle going on. I finally said, in a joking way, “Do you like living?”

Well, his hearing isn’t what it used to be. So he goes “Do I like women??”

I started laughing hysterically. I finally was able to tell him what I really said, not what he thought he’d heard. Then I commented, “Well, we’ve been married nineteen years. If you don’t like women, it’s a fine time to tell me now!”

Anyway, just having a giggle again over that is a reminder that “we’re never going to get out of here alive” so it’s important to try and “lighten up” at least once or twice a day.

Just recalling that silly little incident has made me feel better. I’m pretty sure I can keep putting one foot in front of the other and live another day. For all of you out there who are dealing with the depression and frustration that goes along with living with those damned traumatic memories, I hope you can find a “giggle” in your day.

Verbal Abuse- Another Devastating Aspect of Domestic Violence

By , September 23, 2014 5:49 pm

With all the recent attention being given to the subject of domestic violence, due to the actions of NFL player Ray Rice and his attack on his wife, I’m posting a book review on the subject of verbal abuse.

I am so glad to see this topic is now in the news and is being more fully explored. There are many ways a person can be abused. There is not only the physical, emotional, mental, and financial. It’s been said that “the power of life and death is in the tongue.”

Verbal abuse can be as emotionally and mentally damaging as the worst physical abuse. The scars it leaves are not visible to the naked eye, but they can be as devastating as the most vicious knockout punch.

Unfortunately, in my younger years, I experienced this personally and can testify to the long-term negative consequences to one’s sense of self and self-esteem. The effects can be so insidious that the one who is being abused, may not even be aware of the gradual loss of ego-strength and personal power.

No Visible Wounds: Identifying Non-Physical Abuse of Women by Their Men

 by Dr. Mary Susan Miller

An awesome book shining light on a pervasive problem- Plus the author provides hope

Even if you, as a woman, have not been personally affected by verbal and emotional abuse, surely you know of a woman who has been, or is currently being harmed. I am so grateful for having found this book, as it is extremely enlightening on many levels.

The problem of emotional, mental, and verbal abuse in relationships, men controlling and demeaning women, is too common in our society, as well as all over the world.

Dr. Miller’s work as an assistant in Family Court, aiding and counseling abused women, has given her a deep understanding of how the abuser operates. She delves deeply into the tactics he often uses, such as isolation from friends and family, name-calling meant to erode self-esteem, the playing of mind games, economic control, etc.

Miller not only names the problem, but provides informed advice for those women hoping or planning to leave their abuser. She stresses the importance of obtaining counseling, which can help break through the wall of denial a victim experiences, plus provide comfort, relief, and help point out options the victim may be unaware of.

The book points out the many pitfalls a woman may experience as she fights her way out of her situation. There are police officers who may side with the abuser, as well as the fact that few judges will impose a jail sentence for non-physical abuse.

Yet, there are glimmers of change in society. Dr. Miller writes of programs such as EMERGE, the first men’s group for batterers, which opened in 1977, at the urging of local women’s shelters.

While we’re not there yet, Dr. Miller hopes for a day when programs begin to address non-physical abuse with the concern they express over violence today. This could lead to minimizing the physical abuse to which it inevitably escalates.

This book has a thorough listing of resources and help lines for abused women, as well as an excellent index.

I believe this book should be required reading for students, male and female, while in middle school. The awareness that it brings might spare many people untold grief in their romantic relationships.

Dr. Miller is to be highly commended for this vital resource on this unpleasant, shameful subject which needs more exposure in our society.

Another Great Vietnam War Memoir

By , August 16, 2014 12:52 pm

I’ve just written a review of a book I very highly recommend. Thought I’d share it with my readers, for I found it to be quite inspiring.

Blue-Eyed Boy- A Memoir

By Robert Timberg

Brilliant and Courageous Look at the Haunting Legacy of the Vietnam War

This was my first experience reading Robert Timberg’s work. I have now become a huge fan.

The author does not hold back in baring the ungodly personal cost he has paid, as well as exploring the ongoing effects of America’s longest and most unpopular war. This book brought back memories of my time in high school during the sixties.

A dark cloud loomed over our campus then, as I knew so many of my bright-eyed male classmates were soon to be drafted. Vietnam was just a ghostly concept, so distant yet encroaching upon our youthful high spirits.

Timberg was a Naval Academy graduate, a Marine and a short-timer in Vietnam, with just thirteen days left of his tour of duty, when his life was forever changed in a flash. Instead of going on his scheduled Rest and Recuperation (R&R) to Tokyo, he was ordered to do duty on an Amtrac that would be moving through hostile territory.

The Amtrac he was riding on rolled over a land mine, resulting in Timberg being horribly burned; his face and arms were scorched.

To say that from that day on that Timberg literally “went through hell” is an extreme understatement. I found myself struggling to read the vivid details of the treatments and surgeries he had to endure. Yet I had to keep reading in order to begin to understand how he was going to find the strength and courage to endure his new state of being.

Timberg was a newlywed when he went to Nam. Fortunately, his wife Janie was made of strong stuff. But for her love and loyalty, Timberg may not have survived. As a former wife of a Nam vet myself, I related to her heartache and the challenges that go along with loving someone who serves in a war zone. Coming home is no picnic either. The readjustment problems are formidable.

This book has many different aspects to it. We learn a lot about fellow Naval Academy graduates and Vietnam veterans such as Oliver North, John McCain and James Webb.
Timberg does a great job informing the reader of the behind-the-scenes political machinations that occurred during and after the war. Many of which are hard to stomach, but add to our understanding of that time in history.

I was truly amazed by the depth and breadth of Timberg’s story. I particularly appreciated his brutal honesty about his behavior that led to troubles in his marriage. I felt such empathy for his long-suffering, devoted wife.

Timberg is to be admired for his inspiring accomplishments in the field of journalism. He’s a man of tremendous determination. He’s also an extraordinary writer and this book, while very serious, contains many comical situations and observations.

This book is a very important contribution as our country still struggles to make sense of the Vietnam War. There are legions of us still in that camp.

Very, very highly recommended reading!

There Are Job Opportunities for Veterans in the Maritime Industry

By , July 29, 2014 2:42 pm

I’ve recently been made aware of an industry that veterans may find appealing to those who are looking for what may be exciting, fulfilling (yet sometimes dangerous) work.
(The following info comes from The Maritime Injury Guide Website)

The maritime industry seems to be an excellent fit for many veterans, and even those currently enlisted who are looking for a way to continue to use what they’re learning. While serving our country is an admirable occupation, many veterans are left wondering how and where to apply their skills once they leave the military.

Many veterans are prime candidates for the maritime industry. With their time spent being part of a team coupled with specialized experience in certain job functions that can be applied in the maritime field, there are several opportunities that are a good fit for veterans.

Veteran Skills Matched With Maritime Work

Although there are quite a few differences in merchant marine vessels and military vessels–such as most merchant marine vessels being privately owned–there are also similarities. For example, many of the laws governing merchant marine vessels are enforced by the United States Coast Guard.

Jobs aboard merchant marine vessels are similar to the occupations veterans performed while in service, such as engineering, deck work, and even steward work.

There is a wide array of jobs in the maritime field that are possibly perfect matches for veterans. For example, many veterans have experience with transportation and would be an excellent asset in the maritime industry’s transportation network. Other job matches for veterans include:
• Electronics
• Subsea Operations
• Crane and Cargo
• Repair and Maintenance

There Are Risks That Veterans Should Be Aware Of

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial fishing and jobs related to commercial fishing were the third deadliest job in 2012. In fact, there were 32 fatalities in commercial fishing alone in 2012. The statistics shouldn’t dissuade veterans from working in the maritime industry, but instead give a realistic picture of the risks involved in maritime work.

In order to avoid injuries, veterans should understand the reasons that accidents and injuries, and take as much precaution as possible. To learn more about the job options for veterans:

Call toll free: 1-877-363-6148 or visit:

http://www.maritimeinjuryguide.org

Email: TJenkins@MaritimeInjuryGuide.org

Detaching from the World’s Troubles Helps PTSD

By , July 28, 2014 2:23 pm

I’ve always been an avid reader. This can be a two-edged sword. Of course, it’s a good thing to be aware of what’s going on in the world. But for those of us who are living with and hopefully, recovering from our PTSD, we have to be careful of becoming victims of “mean-world syndrome.”

I first heard the term when I was in college. And I think it’s important to talk about the topic. Especially today when the world seems so “out of control.”

What is Mean World Syndrome?

Mean World Syndrome is a phenomenon where the violence-related content of mass media convinces viewers that the world is more dangerous than it actually is, and prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat. Mean World Syndrome is one of the main conclusions of cultivation theory.

The term “Mean World Syndrome” was coined by George Gerbner, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, when he noted that people who watched a lot of TV tended to think of the world as an unforgiving and scary place.

Individuals who watch television infrequently and adolescents who talk to their parents about reality are said to have a more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, and they are able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to violence and tend to have a wider variety of beliefs and attitudes.

“You know, who tells the stories of a culture really governs human behaviour,” he said. ‘It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community. Now it’s a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell, but a great deal to sell.”

So in light of these conclusions, I believe that it’s imperative that those of us who have already had to deal with life-threatening situations, must try to keep things in perspective.

To survive in this crazy world, I’m using the concept of “detachment” that I learned long ago in Al-Anon. For those things over which I have no control, I need to ‘let go and let God (or if you don’t believe in God, perhaps the Universe) handle things. It’s a much healthier and sane way to live, than to be constantly feeling that the “sky is falling.”

That’s my thought for today. And on that note, I’m going to get away from the computer and go take a walk. For right now, the sun is shining, the sky is in its proper place, and I’m at this moment, safe…

I pray you are too.

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