I came across this article a few days ago: Veteran missing in Yellowstone has PTSD. It's been kinda bothering me, and I've been trying to follow the story and wrap my head around it, which is why it took a while to post something about it.
The latest news release (4 Jun 2010) from Yellowstone is here.
Yellowstone is, um, a really big place. A Marine with the right equipment supplies, knowledge, training, and determination could walk into a place like that, and most likely survive pretty well for a while on his or her own. Live off the land, as they say. Be alone, find some quiet and solitude, just get away for a while.
Not be found, for a while.
There's times lately when I've thought about heading to one of the national forests in my state to go camping, alone, for a weekend for exactly those reasons. I'm not a Marine, and I am not as well trained or equipped, but I can handle myself in the woods for a few days. I've waffled on going, though-- planning such a trip would require telling my close friends where I'm going and why, and I'm a little afraid that people would worry too much about me for suggesting such a trip. I'm also a little afraid that it's a warning sign for me; wanting to get away like that might be an indicator that something's really more wrong than normal. It's out of character, let's say.
I really hope that Peter's okay. I hope he finds the peace he's looking for in the wilderness, and I hope he returns from the wilderness better for having made the journey.
I suspect that there are a great many of us who think about taking a trip, getting away, finding some time and space to clear our heads a little. Maybe a good night's sleep on a rock in the middle of nowhere is what we need. I worry about Peter Kastner for the same reason I worry about myself, and anyone else that wanders off into the hinterlands-- I worry that when we go off alone, we're truly alone.
When you're in uniform, on a mission, be it to Baskin-Robbins or a remote outpost miles from anywhere, you have support. Someone knows where you are, or at least when you left point A and when you're supposed to arrive at point B. It is someone's job to make sure you are trained, supplied, and equipped-- essentially, cared for-- and it is also someone's job to come get you if something goes wrong and you find yourself ass out of luck in the middle of nowhere.
When you wander off alone, you only take with you what you can carry. If no one knows where you are, they can't look out for you. They will miss you when you don't show up for supper, but they won't be able to send help for you if you need it.
Being alone out in the wilderness is hard enough when your mind is working properly. If PTSD is messing you up, and you're not able to make clear and reasonable decisions, it's that much harder to do the right thing when necessary. (College is hard enough with PTSD, where there's a food court every two blocks and I can't decide between Subway and chinese food. Imagine needing to shoot an animal for food, but you can't hit anything because your hands are shaking too much.)
I worry that if I, or any other veteran, goes off alone to the woods or desert or where ever, that when we're alone out there something will happen that we can't handle on our own, and we'll find ourselves in a place where we're truly screwed.
Peter Kastner, I hope you know what you're doing, and I hope you're okay. I hope you make it back.
I hope things turn out okay for you when you do come back.
For the rest of us, let's think about that trip to the wilderness before we take it. Leave a note, explain why, leave breadcrumbs in the forest, something so that if things get out of hand, we have a backup plan and someone knows where to find us.
Update: LA Times article. I'm sorry, it's not the story I was hoping I'd be able to post.
Additional update: Marine Corps Times.
Please, please, please, we need to look out for one another.
Losing one one brother or sister is too many, and we've lost far more than one.
I don't know the path from the bad place to the good place; I've walked a good portion of it, and I don't know where it goes. But I do know things get better if you take enough small steps forward. (Okay, a lot of steps forward.)
The end is simply the end. Things can't get any worse, but they can't get any better either. For things to get better, you have to stay and fight your way through.
Stay and fight. Please. We need you here.