22 April 2011

The stuff that's in my pockets / Every day carry

Several years ago after a VFW meeting, a non-Veteran who happened to be at the post was trying to get a bag of peanuts open-- you know, the $.99 bags that are behind the bar, or in vending machines.  After a few seconds of fighting with the bag, they asked "Hey, anyone got a knife?"

The next sound heard was the click of many blades locking into place. Everyone, including the bartender, was carrying some sort of knife. That peanut bag didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of remaining unopened.

I didn't think much of it at the time. I've always carried some kind of pocket knife-- my Dad did, and he taught me how to handle one safely. He started me off with a plastic replica of a Boy Scout knife. When I'd learned to handle that, he bought me the real thing.  In grade school, junior high, and high school, I always had a knife in my pocket. I never cut anyone, never stabbed anyone, or anything like that. These days, they send in a SWAT team if a kid has a knife. It was also normal at my high school for students to drive to school with rifles and ammunition in their vehicle if they were going hunting after school. Something else that doesn't happen anymore. It's much the same when you come home; you're in a different environment, but you still feel lost if you don't have a knife in your pocket.

I met someone recently who hasn't had much experience being around Veterans. She was surprised to find out that I carried a knife, and was genuinely worried about being around someone with PTSD who likes knives. I made it a point to show her what it was, explain what I used it for, and why I carried it. She had, like many people, seen the news reports about some Vet with PTSD losing it and hurting someone else (or themselves). Once I'd explained what it was for, and why I carried it, over time she became more comfortable with the idea. Even so, I don't pull out my primary knife unless it's necessary to do so.

Yes, I did just say primary knife. I actually carry three knives:

1) Kershaw Ken Onion Black Out folding knife w/Speedsafe
2) Victorinox Swiss Army Classic pocket knife
3) Leatherman Micra multi-tool

(I also carry a micro Maglite, a pill fob for my meds, a Sears Craftsman 4-way pocket screwdriver, a P-38, and a 3-inch braided paracord bracelet, in addition to a wallet and an iPhone.)

There's actually a name and an acronym for this; having a set inventory of useful things that you always have with you is known as "every day carry, or EDC". I've heard EDC described as a mind set, an attitude that when you leave the house, you should have at least a bare minimum of tools to deal with anything that might happen until you get home. It's a defensive posture, certainly. (Bring on that bag of peanuts. I've got it covered.) I think it's also related to hyper-vigilance... always on the lookout for something unexpected to happen.

This is where what you carry in your pockets can intersect with the PTSD you're feeling inside your head. For me, I gain some peace of mind-- I can handle whatever a day throws at me with the tools I have. It feels natural to carry this stuff. Carrying EDC gear balances out the fear of something happening where I don't have any tools available. There are upper and lower bounds on that balance, though.

I keep the assisted-opening Kershaw (3" blade) in my pocket unless I really need it, and pull out the Victorinox (1.5" blade) for small jobs like opening bags of peanuts.  People don't seem to mind the Swiss Army knife. It's red, it's small, it's recognizable, and chances are Dad or Grandpa probably carried something similar. The Kershaw gets more of a reaction, especially since it opens quickly with an audible click. Bear in mind, I'm around college students all day, many of whom don't remember life before Columbine. Carrying a knife to school has always been forbidden for them. They don't expect to see a black knife with a black blade that clicks open come out of another student's pocket in the union at lunchtime. Actually, most people don't expect that.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you're like me, and feel lost if you don't have a knife or multi-tool handy:

1) If you're even remotely thinking about suicide, please consider giving your blade(s) up until you're more stable. Have a trusted friend keep your knives safe for you. Carry a notebook and a pen instead, and write your feelings down. Carry a Bible. Carry whatever will provide comfort to you, rather than the means to harm yourself.

2) If you're not sure if you should carry something, don't carry it. Check your city/county/state laws about what's legal and what's not. Length, action, and concealment are all legal factors that vary from place to place. Think safety.

3) People can misinterpret your intentions very easily, and very quickly. Consider where you are and who you are with before bringing out a knife-- many places consider them as weapons no matter what. Schools, government buildings, and VA facilities don't allow knives. You may be at further risk of legal problems if you're carrying a concealed knife (which can include a knife that's simply in your jeans pocket).

Finally, I like carrying my EDC gear. It's taken me some time to decide what I want to carry, and even longer to research, shop, and buy each piece. I'm trying to find healthy ways to manage my life, within the constraints that PTSD can create. Yes, hyper vigilance is part of the stuff in my pockets, but it has limits-- there's only so much I can fit on my key chain and in my pockets.  Being able to balance things here is proof that I can balance things in other places as well.

And, I never have to worry about starving because I can't get a bag of peanuts open.

1 comment:

  1. I get so angry and frustrated when people jump to the "crazy vet" stereotype. Of course the vets that make the news are going to be the ones who have gotten into some trouble because the "good" stories don't sell. I wish more people would take the time to educate themselves since this issue will not be going away anytime soon. I suppose it's because I'm so fiercely protective and proud of "my guys," which isn't to say they are all angels because they're not, but they'd be there for me in a heartbeat if I ever needed them.

    The mention of the Leatherman made me smile. When I volunteered at the USO in Phila, I had to escort service members through security to get down to our center. This meant going through the standard screeners, which meant no liquids, no weapons, etc. No matter how many times I mentioned weapons or knives or the multi-tool, I always had one who still had his Leatherman on him. I learned quickly to not just say "weapons" or "knives" but to mention the Leatherman specifically because to most of the guy, it's not a weapon. It always made me laugh, though, and gave me the opportunity to rib them.

    Finally, thank you for mentioning about giving up the blades if someone is feeling suicidal. I don't know if you've ever read about Joiner's interpersonal theory of suicide but the concept of acquired lethality is a main tenant of theory and one which is particularly salient in a service member.


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