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14 November 2010

Getting better instead of getting cured

Yesterday at work, I had a chance to talk to another veteran, a friend I met several years ago at a local VFW post.  She was involved in Desert Storm, and had some bad experiences both from that and from some other events.  We don't talk that often.  She was there when I left VFW, and so we know each other's stories pretty well. 

There's a group here that's trying to get an oral history project going, and they're recruiting veterans to give oral histories of their experiences.  I've signed up to participate-- I think it's a great idea.  It's important that history records what we did and why.  I'm a little nervous about it, because an oral history of my time in the Desert isn't necessarily going to be happy memories.  I've gotten better about being able to talk about things that happened, at least enough to know that talking about it helps.   (I also am starting to feel that as time goes on, Desert Shield and Desert Storm are being slowly forgotten.)

I talked to my friend about the project, and I don't think she reacted very well to the idea.  She's still struggling with PTSD, and recently became a Mom.  I know how I feel when I react badly to something, and I saw that in her reaction.


(Her reaction wasn't expected, and I made sure I let her know that I didn't intend to bring up anything bad or force the idea.  I kinda feel bad for bringing it up.  But you don't know if you don't ask.)
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A couple of days ago, the campus veterans group had our monthly meeting.  At the meeting, we had representatives from the American Legion (of which I'm a member) and the VFW (of which I'm a past member) talk about their organizations.

After a few minutes of the guy from the VFW talking, I noticed that my hands were shaking.  Uncontrollably so.  I couldn't hold onto the piece of pizza I was trying to eat.   It's not unusual for my hands to shake a little, now and then... or at least, it's not uncommon.  This time, they were shaking more than they ever have.  (I had the same reaction, although not quite as bad, when I ran into the VFW rep at the start of the semester during the benefits fair.)

The American Legion rep was a little easier to deal with; I like the Legion's attitude, that you're welcome to be a member and anything more is up to you.  The VFW seems to want to apply more pressure.  But my hands were still shaking while the rep from the Legion was speaking, too.

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PTSD doesn't have to always be about the specific time that something bad happened.  I think that's what makes it so hard to deal with.  Events that happen far away and a long time after the initial events can stack on top of each other and keep PTSD going.  Those kind of experiences give us reasons to stay away, and I think that ultimately, we end up losing.  We miss things that would otherwise help us, we don't try therapy, we don't ask about medication, we don't seek out peer support.

I also think that the idea that PTSD is something you get cured of is causing us problems.  If you get an infection, you take some antibiotics that kill the infection and then you feel better.  PTSD isn't like that.  There's no PTSD equivalent to the yearly flu shot.  I don't think that anyone is ever "cured".  Healing is an ongoing process, one with starts and stops and good days and bad days.  There is improvement, things get better, but it's always there.  It's the idea that "someday I'll be cured" that keeps us from getting better.

It is about getting better.  There's no magic pill.

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