LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MOVIE

This past weekend I went to see “American Sniper,” the movie about Chris Kyle, A sniper who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq.  While I won’t join the debate on the merits of sniping, I will say I thought it was a powerful movie that showcased an American hero.  Bottom line is that if it were me going into those houses searching for those who want to destroy Americans, I’d want to know that someone like Chris Kyle had my back and was watching over me.

The main reason I wanted to see the movie was to get a better understanding of what it is that causes such trauma in the veterans I work with.  PTSD is a poison that creeps in and destroys one’s peace of mind.  It affects the entire family, not just the soldier who was exposed to the horrors of war.  American Sniper showcased PTSD quite well, I thought.

The other thing it illustrated was that, although you don’t “get over” PTSD, it can ease up over time and become easier to live with.  Anything that shows hope is worthwhile in my book!  While PTSD tends to keep things fresh in your mind, time can reduce some of that trauma and although you may never forget, your ability to live with it becomes stronger.  In time, those horrific memories aren’t foremost in your mind like they once were.  There is no doubt: war is hell and you may feel there is no way out.  Fortunately, you don’t need to live there for the rest of your life.  Join a group that focuses on helping you cope with your PTSD.  It’s time to move those memories to the back of your mind and reclaim a joyous life.  After all, you deserve it!

THE DARK, DARK DAYS OF WINTER

As winter progresses, the days may getting longer, but the darkness seems to be overwhelming and it’s not uncommon to find yourself becoming depressed and sad.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is the result of not having enough exposure to light and can contribute to depression during these dark days of winter.  It makes it difficult to cope and if you are depressed to begin with, it only makes it worse.  If you stir in a dose of PTSD too, things may look really bleak.

For many veterans, winter is depressing because they are unable to get out on their own.  I have one friend who can no longer drive and he spends day after day alone in his house.  He does well considering he is forced to live that way (the local transit buses don’t come out in his neck of the woods), but he places a lot of value on visits from friends and especially those who are willing to spend time taking him out to get groceries or run other errands.  Funny how those things that those of us who have a car take for granted become desirable outings for the homebound.

If you know a veteran who is forced to stay in his or her own home alone this winter, won’t you take the time to make a short visit or even take him or her out for a cup of coffee or a Coke?  It can really mean a lot to that person and bring a little bit of light into a really dark time.

AGENT ORANGE: THE HORROR CONTINUES

As if the effects of Agent Orange haven’t been horrific enough for those who served in Vietnam, now we find that residue in the airplanes used to spray the jungle defoliant may have affected Air Force personnel in the decade following the Vietnam War.

The C-123 planes used for spraying had been declared safe and were reassigned to reserve units for medical and cargo transport and training exercises.  The thinking at the time was that the chemical residue in the planes had solidified and was unlikely to pose a threat to anyone.

Although the VA denied there was any problem, The Institute of Medicine has been investigating whether Agent Orange residue could continue to pose a health threat to those who flew in these planes.  The final verdict is that dioxin – the toxic component in Agent Orange – “does not simply remain on surfaces, but instead slowly turns into a gas that can attach to dust particles and be redeposited.”

Between 1,500 and 2,100 individuals may have been exposed.  Some have suffered repeated, long-term exposure and have been trying for years to get the VA to provide compensation.  Hopefully that will be easier going now.

PROWLING TIGERS

When I think about veterans with PTSD being forced to stay inside during stormy weather, I think of prowling tigers. That may seem strange, but I know that one of the symptoms of PTSD is the need to control the environment. That includes being able to “get away” when necessary.

Now “getting away” may be as simple as walking into the next room, or it may be more complex and require leaving the immediate area to go someplace that is less threatening. For instance, if the kids are being boisterous and noisy, it can be hard on someone with PTSD who feels the need to be attuned to every noise around them and to know what’s happening with everyone in their immediate circle. They can become like a prowling tiger. It may be necessary to get away where things are calmer and not as nerve-wracking.

If you need some extra space when you’re stuck in the house, don’t take it out on the kids. After all, they’re just being kids and when all is said and done, you want them to be happy, don’t you? Of course. So, don’t be afraid to get outside if you need to. Shovel that snow, go for a walk, work in the garage. Do whatever it takes to feel in control, but don’t stay in the house and prowl around your family. They don’t deserve that. Learning to live with PTSD means finding ways to cope with it, so don’t let it control you! Take charge, make a plan for what you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable, then follow through on it. No one needs to live with a prowling tiger. Your family doesn’t deserve that and neither do you!