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The Possible, Surprising Link Between Facial Hair and PTSD in Male Veterans

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I’m a male combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and like many of my counterparts, I have facial hair, ranging from semi-neatly groomed scruff to a full beard, depending on the mood.

• What is PTSD?

I want you to think of three Vietnam vets — how many of them have facial hair? Most I know have some; actually, I don’t know any who don’t have any. Let’s move on to Iraq and Afghanistan vets — pretty much all of whom I know have facial hair.

Now I’m not saying all of them have PTSD, but I wish somebody would do a study on it. I’m not saying just because you are a combat vet and have some facial hair that you have PTSD, but I’m saying maybe. I’ve known female victims of military sexual trauma (MST) — or sexual assaults — who experience PTSD, and who often hide their bodies in baggy clothes. In my experience, men with PTSD grow facial hair. Here are six reasons why.

My advice is simple —own your PTSD (military or civilian) or it will own you. Get help, talk about it. There is no cure for PTSD, but you can learn to manage it, or trust me, it will manage you, and PTSD is a shitty boss. Feeling less bad is a win in the world of PTSD.

1. Shame.

In my experience, lots of us are simply ashamed of our actions in combat. It may take seconds to sink in or even decades, but it seems to me there comes a time in every combat vet’s life when they feel great shame and regret for their actions. Justified or unjustified, shame creeps into our brains and stays, often visiting us at 3 a.m. and staying the rest of the day or the rest of our lives.

2. Guilt.

There are so many types of guilt. Survivor’s guilt leads the pack — “why did I make it home and my buddy/buddies did not?” If only I was on point instead of my buddy; If only I had seen the improvised explosive device (IED) — this list goes on.

3. Remorse.

“Why did I do what I did? What did I do it for? Did it make a difference to the world? Does anyone really give a shit? Why did I not help more? Could I have acted faster? Did I freeze for a split second too long in a crisis? If only I was on point instead of my buddy.”

4. It camouflages the pain.

It’s tougher to see the pain through a beard or facial hair; you can’t notice as easily that I am not smiling a lot, or that I have no facial expressions.

5. To show how “manly” we are and mask the pain we are hiding.

Perhaps we think: “I feel weak because of my PTSD (assuming we admit we have PTSD) and being weak is not seen as ‘manly,’ but shit, a fucking beard, that’s manly, so I’ll grow a beard. Yeah, I’m a bad ass outlaw, not some wuss with feelings.”

6) Grooming is too much effort.

Sometimes, grooming takes way more energy than I can expend.

In my experience, we hate ourselves at times for all of the above and lots of other reasons, and if we make ourselves less attractive, maybe — just maybe — people will leave us alone. Who could love such a monster, and if they could, why would be want to be with some like that?

If you need support right now, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. Or send a text message to 838255.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Photo by Louis Blythe on Unsplash

Originally published: December 19, 2017
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