The History of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Veterans suffering from PTSD is not new. Men who go to war have suffered from flashbacks, night terrors, withdrawal, depression and other stress disorders for centuries. People who undergo any type of traumatic experience can also suffer from the symptoms. Doctors have only recently learned enough about the disorder to offer treatments that work.
Diaries found written by soldiers thousands of years ago reflect their suffering of traumatic stress.
Just imagine walking down the street in your quiet, peaceful hometown and you turn a corner and step onto a battlefield? Perhaps reminiscent of the war zone you left five or ten years ago? Your friends, men you fought beside, lie dying all around you, heat and explosions of mortar fire blasts from all directions. It’s as real as if it were happening and you can’t get away. You can’t escape the horror. It’s not a memory, it’s the real thing. And you have been thrown back into a battle so vivid you believe you are there.
I remember my Dad, who served in the Navy, telling me about a cousin of his who was on a battle ship in the South Pacific during World War II. It was torpedoed and went down. He floated on a piece of the wreckage for fourteen days before being rescued. My Dad said, “He never was the same after that.”
In those days the stress disorder was referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue and veterans were left to get over it or not. The disorder was often misunderstood and seldom treated.
During the Civil War military physicians, at a loss to treat the problems of soldiers, simply mustered the extreme cases out during the first three years of the war. Many Civil War soldiers returned suffering from what was then known as nostalgia or soldier's heart. These men were termed insane and at one time so many wandered about that there was a public outcry. Many starved to death or froze because everyone thought they were crazy and dangerous so they were shunned. This led to the establishment of the first military hospital for the insane in 1863. Most of these were closed down after the war and veterans again wandered the streets.
In earlier times French doctors had termed the symptoms maladie du pays, and the Spanish, confronted with the same reactions among their soldiers, called it estar roto (literally, “to be broken”).
Currently doctors in VA hospitals are treating veterans of Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and other Middle East conflicts for this disorder once referred to as a syndrome. Some are helped with medication and counseling. Sadly, there are still many homeless veterans who wander the streets, unable or unwilling to get the help they need.
The best thing you can do if you know someone who suffers from PTSD is encourage them to talk to you about their feelings and experiences. You may not be a counselor who can suggest solutions, but you can listen with an open heart and mind and try to be supportive. Show that you care.
And if this is a veteran, don't forget to thank him for his service.
If you think you might be suffering from PTSD, or know someone who is, here's a website that lists the symptoms and will help you find solutions.
This site is the official voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., and offers much more information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (http://www.vva.org/archive/TheVeteran/2005_03/feature_HistoryPTSD.htm)
Because of my interest in this subject and all the research I’ve done, I have written a few books in which a character suffers from PTSD. The hero in ROWENA’S HELLION is a veteran of the siege of Paris during the Franco Prussian War of 1870-71. He suffers from this stress and the story reflects the way those men were treated in the 1800s. I then wrote ONCE THERE WERE SAD SONGS, about a Vietnam veteran and two friends who wander the country on motor cycles until they meet a woman who influences them so that they take a good look at the futility of their lives. My latest, BEYOND THE MOON, is the story of Glen Tanner, a Vietnam Veteran who returns home from nine years in a POW camp where he suffered extreme torture, and Katy Kelley, whose love helps heal him.
Once There Were Sad Songs
Two lonely people search for a life they've always believed in and find each other at a remote lake in the Ouachita Mountains.
1985 - A Vietnam Vet on the path to destruction and a schoolteacher searching for the life she always dreamed of having find each other at a remote lake in the Ouachita Mountains. Can they embrace this second chance at love or is it too late?
In the summer of 1985, Mary Elizabeth flees a fanatic husband and a cult-like life to search for a meaningful existence. Camped in Ouachita State Park she falls in with three scruffy motorcycle bums after one of them rescues her from some young hoodlums. That one, despite all his nightmare memories, teaches her the true meaning of love and changes her life forever.
Steven, a Vietnam vet and war hero set on the path to destruction with his buddies, never expected to find a woman whose love could help him see how to atone for his misspent life and find happiness again. But once he’s found her and realized the way he must go, it’s impossible to keep her in his life. Or is it?
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I’m currently working on Fire Storm, Book 2 in the Gathering Storm Series