Do you remember ADHD? It was perhaps the hot button diagnosis in the 80's and 90's as a child I took so many tests to confirm that yes in fact not only did I have a short attention span (in some areas) but also that I was remarkably good with abstract reasoning. Now throw in hyper and yup thats me. But was I just a kid, or was it really this mythical monster of a syndrome that made me somehow incapable of preforming in school? Chances are that I was just a kid that didn't really know his place in the world.
I was stubborn so obviously I had Oppositional Defiant Disorder (I guess I am an ODD one). At one point I had Aspburgers, and Type C Dyslexia. I think there were a ton of other things I was diagnosed with as well. My point in this is simple. If you'd read half the reports generated about me you'd assume that I was probably going to light the school on fire or something. But if you met me as a child you'd have met a bright and naive kid who was generally a bit too eager to please. I can not begin to guess what effect the myriad of drugs used on me might've had and who I might've been had I not taken them. Where would I be now?
My parents loved me. They wanted me to succeed, and sadly like every age they were susceptible to quack science. We laugh now about the turn of the century when it seemed like a good idea to run electricity through a copper bath full of water, but at the time people really thought that was a good idea. So to in the 80's and 90's were we susseptable to the drug fueled obsessions with fixing brain chemistry.
But PTSD is different. It is not something that is caused by genetics. It is caused by events. Powerful events that would *normally* leave a person quivering in fear. Some people think that it is because the adrenalin spikes so high, when afraid that is causes memories to be sharper. For whatever reason our responses to traumatic events has elicited the same response from society as Electricity, and ADHD before it. Namely that Quacks everywhere want their $.02 heard.
Now the popular depiction of PTSD (before we ever really talked about it) was Rambo, who went nuts and attacked a corrupt sheriff and his deputies and turns a town into a war-zone. I have no doubt that if a Soldier really desired to destroy a town they could do it (not alone, and with one M-60, but they could do it). For most of the movie he's being chased for no apparent reason until they push him too far then he turns into this thing out of your nightmares, able to kill with little or no effort while toying with you. Great movie. And people miss the most important part of the whole thing. Namely the last five minuets.
You see horrific things, and it really really hurts. Men you knew were killed. You enemy, your friends, Death which seemed to be everwhere and nowhere, and always, always, Fear. It is poorly understood by people, how bonds can become so strong, in war, that little can ever compare, and how fragile a person can be when those bonds are shattered. Nor can they understand the sorrow. Sorrow that can strike at a moments notice. You weep for the dead, and the youth that was lost, both theirs, and in a selfish sort of way, yours. Once you were young and whole, and now struggle daily with bitterness.
It is also clear that people by and large do not understand the anger. People seem to think that every Veteran wants to harm them, or will cut loose with their anger, but actually most of the time they desire to be alone. Their quick tempers are not really directed at anyone but more a statement. "I am angry at the world for the injustice that forced me to fight" is something they might well say. I know its what I say. Even the alcoholism and addiction to drugs that is prevalent is easily explainable with this simple truth: they don't want to feel so much pain anymore.
Further to that, despite their ability to go all free fire mode, and start killing everyone they see, that is actually the exact opposite that most people that suffer from this want. More than anything they want peace. Not the kind that hippies blather on about, but real lasting peace, the kind that comes from within. Tormented as they are, by their memories they're far more likely to commit suicide than any act of violence. The very perception that they are killers that want to go hog wild is actually part of what keeps them so isolated. Audie Murphy, one of this nation's greatest heroes, became addicted to sleeping pills, and always had a separate apartment built into the house he lived in, for when things got to be too much. If it can happen to him do you really think it can't happen to you?
Lastly the Flashbacks and Nightmares. I would ask you this, do you day dream? Do you ever think of things that have happened to you? Do memories pop unbidden into your mind? Chances are you said yes to all of these. Now, try to understand when excessive levels of adrenaline are pumping through your system, your perceptions (and memories) become far clearer. Imagine the sharpest memory you have, now imagine it sharper and clearer. So clear you could almost live in that memory, and you might understand what its like to have a combat memory. Your memory of a lover, a teacher or a dog will trigger when you see a familiar sight sound or smell. Why do you think the sharpest clearest memory possible to a human would be any less? And if the night is a time for the subconscious to roam free as it were, don't you think the most powerful memories you literally can not get rid of, might cause your sleep to suck?
The real tragedy is that because there are so few people that have served, and because the public has largely ignored the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these men and women are far more isolated. Only Vietnam veterans were as isolated, their isolation more because of scorn than because of their disproportionately small portion of society. They are further isolated by stereotypes that both Hollywood and the News Mediums perpetuate. The idea of the animal in a cage, waiting to loose his rage on the world, is something that will keep far too many Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans from seeking the help they need and so deserve.