Tag Archives: ptsd

Living in the Aftershock of Someone Else’s Earthquake

Illustration by Zoe van Dijk

Ashley Abramson | Longreads | November 2017 | 16 minutes (3,939 words)

 

Springtime, just after my parents’ divorce: My dad had moved into a musty one-bedroom set in the corner of a cluster of white, rundown apartment buildings, the exact inverse of the impractical three-story he’d bought us just two years earlier after his promotion to district manager. My mom, who shuffled between jobs frequently, had been front desking at a doctor’s office in the next town over, down the street from the Tastee Freez. Que sera, sera, we would croon, our lips painted white with soft serve, whatever will be, will be. The two of us, singing, on either side of innocence.

The day my mom got busted at a pharmacy called Drug Town, I was 9, almost 10, the same age she was when the river swallowed her twin brother. I, too, would be devoured, inhaled by a force beyond my control. But that day, I was careless, browsing the drugstore’s collection of Easter candy while my mom picked up a prescription, one of the dozens of pills she took for reasons which, to that point, had remained just outside the confines of my life. She wasn’t yet sick enough for me to notice, or maybe she was, and I just hadn’t had a reason to peer beyond my love for her into her world, a place where she could do wrong. Not until that day.

First, two police officers, then me in the drug store’s break room, surrounded by teenage employees just old enough to understand what my mom had done and distract me with knick-knacks from the toy aisle. Still, I heard it from behind the closed door: My mom’s frantic bail phone call to my dad, his irate footsteps minutes later, her excuses in shards, the word “felony.” Que sera, sera. Her life and mine, slowly and suddenly eclipsed by her pills and whatever it took to get them. Whatever will be, will be.

And what, exactly was that day, but a mirror doing its job, reflecting back what had been true all along? On the surface, my mom, being accused again by my dad or someone more powerful than him. Below that, someone who had clearly done something wrong — broken the law — to get the thing she wanted. Another layer beneath that one: A woman who had been betrayed by her body. And at the core, the pain, always radiating, penetrating through, convincing us all that whatever she did wrong was just a glitch, as if her suffering had taken the wrong shape.

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The Responsibility of Being Both a Reporter and an Army Veteran

Photo by  US Army, Flickr

Veteran status cuts both ways. Because I’m an army veteran, other vets often tell me things they wouldn’t tell those who haven’t served. It is a privilege to be given this confidence, and yet I’m filled with an overwhelming obligation to get their stories right. Although I’m a longtime reporter, writing about veterans has been the hardest subject for me to cover, because their stories are so nuanced, and reporters, most of whom have never served in the military and have no connection with the armed services, frequently get their stories wrong and paint them as one-dimensional lunatics. I wanted to get Capps’s story right and not come off as a voyeur. There was some precedent for my concern: a month before our interview, Capps had spoken about his struggle with PTSD at the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsors his NICoE seminar, and after his talk he told me he was destroyed for the rest of the day.

—Veteran and freelance reporter Kristina Shevory profiling Army combat veteran and former Foreign Service officer Ron Capps in The Believer. Capps was haunted by PTSD after serving in Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Kosovo; writing brought him relief and helped him make sense of his experiences. He formed the Veterans Writing Project in 2011.

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When Our Troops Are Abandoned and Neglected at Home: 6 Stories

This October 2014 New York Times investigation by C.J. Chivers is about more than just the discovery of old chemical weapons in Iraq—it’s about how shabbily we still treat our troops when they return home. We leave our all-volunteer army with inadequate medical care, emotional trauma, and fragile families. Here are six stories on our veterans.

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Scientists are trying to uncover why some people are better able to recover from trauma than others:

After Ebaugh crawled up the rocky riverbank, a truck driver picked her up, took her to a nearby convenience store and bought her a cup of hot tea. Police, when they arrived, were sympathetic and patient. The doctor at the hospital, she says, treated her like a daughter. A close friend took her in for a time. And her family offered reassurance and emotional support. ‘For the first month, I almost had to tell people to stop coming because I was so surrounded by friends and community,’ she says.

Studies of many kinds of trauma have shown that social support is a strong buffer against PTSD and other psychological problems. James Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, has done a series of experiments in which women lie in an fMRI scanner and see ‘threat cues’ on a screen. They are told that between 4 and 10 seconds later, they may receive a small electric shock on the ankle. The cue triggers sensory arousal and activates brain regions associated with fear and anxiety, but when the women hold the hands of their husbands2 or friends3, these responses diminish.

Social interactions are complex and involve many brain circuits and chemicals; no one knows exactly why they provide relief.

“Stress: The Roots of Resilience.” — Virginia Hughes, Nature

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Can we discover the impact of war on a soldier before they’re sent out to fight? And what does that mean for ethics and liability when it comes to addressing PTSD?

Brian had spent part of his career at nearby Fort Hood, and in 2007 he and Telch approached Army leaders at the base about a study. Telch wanted to put soldiers through a battery of tests before they deployed, have them fill out online journals during their tour, and then follow them for a time after they’d returned to the States.

Fort Hood agreed. Telch ran his tests and, once the soldiers had come home and he could analyze his results, found something intriguing: If soldiers exhibited certain physical and emotional characteristics before deployment, they were more likely to suffer from PTSD after it. As Brian Baldwin would have hoped, it appears as though PTSD can be predicted.

“Who Will Get PTSD?” — Paul Kix, The Boston Globe

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