03 February 2011

Talking to veterans

A question came up recently:  how should you act when "dealing with" a Vet with PTSD?

I cannot speak for everyone.  We've all had unique experiences, and while we all share some things, each person handles those things in their own way.  My advice is how I'd prefer people to act. 

Don't tell me that war is an ugly business.  I already know about that part.  Wars have always been a part of humanity.  America has been at war since before America was a country.  No matter how many bumper stickers you put on your car, wars won't go away just because you think war is ugly.

Please don't sneak up on me.  You don't have to announce your presence in the room, but shuffle one foot or cough or something so I know you're there.  I'll probably turn around to see who you are, and normal human interaction can then take place.  (I may still jump or startle when you make noise on the way in, but that's better than looking up and suddenly seeing you.)

Because of all of the medication I'm on, and because I just don't drink much anymore, I'll often ask for coffee or O'Doul's when offered a beer.  I also tend to be quiet for a while at public gatherings (ie, in a bar) until I get used to the environment.  There are people in the world that are offended by that; "what, my beer is too good for you?" or "come on, be social!".  If you know me well enough to know that I have PTSD, you probably know that this is normal behavior for me.  If you don't, please don't take offense if I'm not the loudest person in the group or if I'm staying sober.

No matter how hard I try to hide it, my hands will shake.  Sometimes it's very noticeable, sometimes not.  Other times, I'm shaky all over.  I'm okay.  If I can't stop it, you can't either.  If you don't know me, please don't say anything.  I'm not having a seizure or anything like that.  It'll pass.  (When making new friends or working with new people, I'll usually mention the shaking on my own.)

While I know in some cultures (and some families) being physically close to the person you're talking to is normal, it's not normal for me.  I like my space.  If I take a step back, it's a subtle reminder.  If you continue to invade my space, the next reminder will be far less subtle.  Along with that, don't assume I want a hug (mainly in family situations).  It's good to know that you're happy to see me, but again, I value my personal physical space.

When you watch the news, you hear about the bad things.  Vets that commit suicide.  Homeless veterans.  Vets that just "lose it" and end up in jail.  Vets who drink too much, smoke too much, and get into drugs (and any of that is too much).  You'll see people say online that you should run like hell rather than get emotionally involved with a veteran who has PTSD.  Who knows when he or she might crack, go crazy, hurt someone?  Unfortunately, these things do happen-- but we don't all do those things.  Many of us are just hard working people trying to do the best we can.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take this:  Veterans are Americans just like you.   Some of us are rich, and some of us are homeless.  Some of us are stable, and some of us are less stable.  Still others aren't stable at all.   Extend to us the same courtesy, politeness, and respect that you would expect to receive from us.

1 comment:

  1. The night I was leaving for my first shift as a USO volunteer in Phila, my dad yelled at the door after me, "Don't get attached!" I'm glad I didn't listen to him. Personally, I can't imagine not getting emotionally involved with some of the vets I've met. They have become some of my closest friends and my life is so much better because they are in it. Never once have I felt threatened or unsafe (even when one got particularly drunk and belligerent). Like you said, that's not to say it doesn't happen but I think that's what people focus on because that's the only thing in the news.

    Thank you for continuing to share your story. It always gives me something to think about.


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