My PTSD Didn't Come From Serving My Country
Think about it. When was the first time people started talking about PTSD? Post-traumatic stress disorder was first named to describe the broken state in which soldiers came home from Vietnam. These people had seen horrible things that no living human should have to see, endured countless situations where every second could be their last and never knew if they were truly safe. Some of them may have even had to take lives they didn’t want to — men who didn’t know how they got there or what they were supposed to be doing and why. Those soldiers fought day and night to stay alive. That changes people.
When thinking about veterans, many people think of a stubborn, proud old man standing and saluting the flag. He is held together by bobby-pins. This man will push back the haunting memories playing on rerun behind his eyes, and he will pretend he doesn’t still hear the dying cries of his past in the middle of the night.
It’s always been hard to say you’ve got PTSD, but today it’s avoided like a death sentence. If you didn’t get your PTSD from serving your country, people look at you funny. Many of Americans these days didn’t have to go off to war, so what could be so stressful about our pretty little lives? We post our glamorous lives online with our expensive gadgets, smiling with friends. We are fighting a different kind of battle, but we’re withering away.
The new face of PTSD isn’t seen in armed forces posters for recruitment. It’s seen in the actions of a woman who’s taking her cheating, beating boyfriend back for the umpteenth time. It’s in the girl who can’t stand to be touched. It’s the jock who always wants to stay out late because he doesn’t know which version of dad he’s going home to. It’s in the haunted eyes of a teenager as she walks down the street. It’s in the odd behaviors of strangers we can’t understand. The terse ways we speak to each other and the tight smiles — the constant comparing of who we are and what we should be. It’s in the way we bury our truths beneath the surface and then can’t understand why nothing is growing.
We are a generation in pain.
We don’t dodge grenades, we tiptoe around fists. We don’t hear the screams of the dead in our dreams, but we listen for the sound of our doorknobs turning in the middle of the night. We try to please everyone we meet because when we were kids we blamed ourselves for our parents’ defeats. We don’t put on our bullet-proof helmets, but we hide behind our computer screens and cell phones texting because when go put face-to-face we might not be able to hold ourselves together. We don’t fear leaving our camps because the enemy is out there, we’re afraid to come home because he might be sleeping on the other side of the bed.
Don’t you see? Our nightmares play out in the bright lights behind closed doors. We are a generation who goes to war every single day of our lives. And the greatest traumas these days seem to come from the people you trust the most, the ones who are supposed to protect you. We have learned that life isn’t safe, that we will never be safe. We are thrown into our traumatic battlefields by neighbors, parents, siblings, friends, strangers, clergy, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends, teachers, policemen, soldiers and doctors. Who does that leave us to depend on? Who can we turn to when the ones we trust are one and the same with who put us here to begin with? And that…that is what makes our trauma so hard to surrender. Something has to change; we are breaking apart before our own reflections. How long will this pain haunt so many footsteps because we can’t talk about it…with anyone?
“Trust us,” they said, “We’ll take care of you,” They said. And they didn’t.
This isn’t working, and this is the new face of PTSD.
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Unsplash photo via Daniel Monteiro