“My loved one went to war. Someone else came home.”
Post traumatic stress has become a familiar term. It is still difficult for family and friends at home to understand what happened to a person, a “personality,” as a result of combat. Often spouses and other family members simply do not have a context for what actually happens to a combat survivor.
A warrior returning from combat is changed in a number of ways. One part of the change is the psychic / emotional numbing that happens in combat.
Anyone who returns from combat and isn’t depressed just wasn’t paying attention.
Depression is part of emotional numbing. As a combat survivor from Viet Nam the problem I had with depression was that I did not know that I was depressed. This is not uncommon.
Boredom is an emotion that goes with depression. Once I got out of the army, trying to live as a “civilian” was incredibly boring. The things people talked about, boring. My civilian job, necessary but boring. A children-centered family life, which people around me seemed to have; boring. No, I did not want to go to a Parent-Teacher Conference.
This was my problem: I did not know to look at boredom and connect it to depression.
There is also a connection between depression and the “adrenalin addiction” common among combat survivors.
Sometimes, when you look at a warrior with post traumatic stress, you have a sense that “nobody is there.” The eyes are vacant. There is no movement, except perhaps a bent leg moving up and down like a piston.
You speak the person’s name. No answer. You try again, speaking the name louder and with some concern. Then you freeze in place. Your loved one blasts to his feet, glaring at you with intense anger, and is on the edge of becoming extremely violent.
That’s not normal, right? The reality is that for a combat survivor it is normal.
This is my version of what was going on inside of me when my wife would “startle me.” I did not consciously think through any of what happened next.
1. When I finally heard my name I immediately felt incredibly vulnerable. I had not been aware of my surroundings!
2. Realizing that I was vulnerable scared me.
3. A massive adrenalin surge (just like I felt in combat) went through me.
4. The terror of being vulnerable instantaneously transformed into combat rage.
5. I was ready for combat, and any bit of depression I may have had was gone.
Sometimes this sequence happened when I was alone and a vivid memory happened. It was not a something I was remembering. It was an event I was reliving.
I seemed to be especially susceptible to these events when I was driving. It wasn’t road rage at anyone. It was more like being threatened by some “presence” that I could not see. My foot slammed the accelerator to the floor, and it stayed there until reliving the event went away. I did hear the growls and the roars and the screams. Those were mine.
This brings us to a very important point about recovery from combat induced post traumatic stress: Veterans remember. Survivors relive. Which do you prefer?