The gunshots used to just haunt his nightmares. Now they follow him into the day, threatening to take away the very fragile grasp he has on reality. Moments and faces are a blur. He gets embarrassed every time he has to ask someone their name; they always act offended because they’ve met at least ten times. There are no more large crowds or fireworks displays or movie theaters. He changes his daily habits, becoming a hermit as he struggles to function as a civilized human being.
You see, he is not civilized. He is a soldier.
And he is my father.
According to the law, he is an invalid. He is incapable of taking care of himself or being responsible for his own actions. The man who sang me to sleep, loves me unconditionally, taught me right from wrong, and continuously gives me a shoulder to cry on is considered insane and dangerous. 100% disabled due to Post Traumatic Stress disorder from 10 years in the Army and Secret Service.
We don’t talk about it. But what exactly are we not talking about?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects over 31 million people in the United States. Any traumatic event such as rape or accidents can cause PTSD. However, the biggest concern stems from soldiers who have seen battle.
1 in 5 soldiers returning from the war in Iraq will be diagnosed with this disorder. Now that PTSD is being researched more thoroughly, they’re doing a better job of providing support. However, PTSD was actually not even considered real or a threat until World War II. Millions of soldiers suffered from the disease without it being reported, diagnosed, or treated. Even now society is uninformed and uneducated about what is happening to the men and women that sacrifice daily to protect our freedom as American citizens.
Hollywood has gotten its hands on PTSD recently, as it does with what they consider the “trendiest” new disorder. It sickens me. I mean I literally have knots in my stomach when I watch the way that they portray or discuss soldiers. They become monsters. They’re violent, dangerous animals that no longer have a heart, soul, or self-control. Or, sometimes, they become the punch line or scapegoat of whatever issue is happening in the most recent drama. I can never begin to imagine what someone with PTSD is going through. Honestly, I was also ignorant of what it was and it was staring me in the face for 18 years.
My dad had “quirks,” but who doesn’t? I thought it was normal, what was happening in our household. Once I began growing up, I realized that it wasn’t quite right, but there was never a name for it. There was no medicine and no therapy sessions where Daddy could release his pain. Instead, we learned methods to prevent anything terrible from happening. I learned how to speak in a soothing tone. I learned what to say so as not to scare him. I have been taking care of my father since age 12. I finally got him help when I was 18.
A piece of who they are is left in war. Something so large that they are never truly themselves anymore. My father has always described his life in two ways: pre-war and post-war. The way he talks about “pre-war” makes it sound as if he’s attempting to describe a total stranger. The stories he tells about who he used to be seem impossible - but it isn’t. Because he exists only as a shadow of himself.
There is little to be done for someone diagnosed with PTSD. With the different levels of severity come different treatments. There is counseling, anxiety medication, and training. Daddy has one of the worst cases recorded in the United States, actually, and is currently working on getting a guide dog to assist him when he has to go out in public.
There is no predicting behavior. I believe that’s the worst part about PTSD: the unknown. It can be something such as stress that sets off an “episode” or it could just be a bad day as soon as he wakes up. Sometimes it’s just a little shaking, sometimes it’s having to tell him who he is.
I have heard my father ask who I am. I have looked in his eyes to comfort him, only to see that there is no warmth, no love, and no recognition. I have seen him back himself into a corner, growling and mumbling unintelligibly, to get away from me. I have been called out of classes, out of sorority meetings by family members or policemen to let me know that he’s been missing for hours - only to have him show up with no recollection of where he’s been. I have heard the pain and frustration in his voice when the strongest man I know is overcome with fear at a loud noise or sudden movement. I have cried for hours, knowing that the demons that haunt him will never let him go.
Hollywood has no idea what that is.
“They prepared them to go to battle. But not to come home.”