Of all the mental and emotional conditions that have plagued me, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been the most difficult to overcome. Why? The cause was being in the Vietnam War when I was 21-years-old and I simply wasn’t able to cope with what I saw.
When I was in Vietnam, I was a finance clerk in the U.S. Army responsible for paying 600 infantry soldiers. However, I was also responsible to pay their military compensation to a beneficiary should they be killed. It was because of that possibility that I would not be friendly when I did their intake; I kept them at “arm’s length.”
One day I got a letter from my dad. My family rarely wrote to me so it put me in a great mood. As a result, I let my guard down.
A young man came to my desk for his intake. He was very friendly. He was a 19-year-old medic who had been married for nearly two years and had a one-year-old child. He was excited to be in Vietnam because he wanted to go to college to become a doctor and the G.I. Bill would help him with that. He showed me a picture of his wife and son. While he missed them, he felt the year in Vietnam would go by quickly and he was looking forward to helping the soldiers that were injured in the field.
Ten days later this nice young man was dead. He tripped on and ignited an “unexploded bomb.” I was devastated.
Of course in addition to that our base in Chu Lai was constantly under rocket attack. This took a toll on me.
How did Post-traumatic stress syndrome affect me after I left Vietnam? How does it affect me today?
The first thing I did when I was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina after leaving the war was go AWOL. I returned and was mildly punished. However, I remained upset.
When I began my career as an insurance company medical underwriter in civilian life, I was constantly late to work. I couldn’t make myself care about being a couple of minutes late when I had faced death everyday for an entire year.
Finally I saw a doctor and was put on Valium. Valium helps with anxiety. However from time-to-time I thought about that medic as well as the other soldiers that had been killed and it would make me sad.
PTSD affected me my entire life. The memories of the dead soldiers invaded my dreams and at times saddened my life even when things were going well.
I fully believe that it played a role in my development of manic depression and later depression which I still have.
Today PTSD still interferes in my life. I am anxious for no reason at times. However the memory of that one soldier still haunts me. His son would be about 40-years-old and if you want to get technical, I knew his dad while he was too young to ever know him.
Post-traumatic stress disorder also affects those who have been raped, abused and the victims of accidents. The majority of us are designed to live in a much gentler world than we do.
PTSD sadly shows that trauma doesn’t end with the event that caused it.