Living with personal dragons in your daily life by Russ from PTSD Support Services
At the present time, I have a Veteran's Administration Service Connected disability rating of 100% based on PTSD. The primary trauma accrued within a 48-hour period while on active duty in Vietnam. During this time I, along with my unit, was bombed by our own B-52's. Ending up walking next to an unexploded 750-pound bomb. Then walking into an ambush that took most of the lives within my unit and watching while rescue helicopters were being shot down trying to remove me and other wounded from the battle zone where I had received combat wounds.
My family background is traditional and is based on an extended family that included a great deal of interaction between grandparents, uncles/aunts and their children. Family get-togethers and family picnics during the summer stand out in my mind the most. Although my father died when I was only 9 years old, the "Father Role" was filled by one of my uncles.
Since leaving the Army, I have found life difficult and trying for me. Many times over the last 30 years and even more often in recent times, I have felt that ending my life would be best solution for me. After losing my teaching job at a college I returned to the travel industry where I have been employed for most of my adult life. But only after a short time (3 months) I lost this job because of an angry outburst on my part. I have looked back on my life and feel that I have accomplished little in my life, my depression has taken its toll, and I'm very tired because of this depression.
Through therapy I am learning to recognize many of my PTSD problems (Dragons) that I was not aware of before starting. These symptoms, listed at the bottom of this report, have been so much a part of my life that I did not recognize them as being out of the ordinary. Since November 1996 I have emotionally continued on a downward spiral fighting this ingrained PTSD.
I will emphasize my deficiencies in the areas of work, family relations, and lack of anger management, plus other areas. I am unable to accept authority in the workplace, which is very stressful to me and I get feelings that it’s necessary for me to change jobs because of the lack of satisfaction where/when I have worked.
Even though I’ve had many personal relationships, lasting several months, I still feel that I am isolated from people and the communities that I have live in. I feel that every time that someone has tried to be a friend, I push them away so that they don't learn of my past or for fear of losing them later as it happened so many times during my tours of duty in Vietnam.
I do not socialize well nor do I like to interact with most other people around me. For most of my life I have lived within a closed world. I have only one true friend, who is also a Vietnam vet, and I do not allow people to get close to me. This way I do not expose myself to inquiry about the war or the part that I played in it.
For the last 30 years I have not lived a normal happy life.
I have repeatedly moved around the country looking for the “right” place to live, never being happy in any one place for longer than two years. I’ve been married three times. I’ve had 20 plus live-in girlfriends plus hundreds of short-term/one night relationships. It seems that anytime a woman tries to be close to me emotionally I push them away and I look for someone else. I try to find contentment, satisfaction and happiness with women but all it turns into is sexual gratification and escapism for me. I have found that I do not allow anyone near me on a personal/emotional level and still do not allow it today. These relationships, for the most part, have been for sexual gratification or emotional numbing only.
I am always looking for a better life, the right woman to be my wife, a better job, or place to live. I have, for many years, believed that I won’t live past the age of 62. It’s my belief that I will not retire like normal people do.
I am a person, who would rather be out in the middle of nowhere than being forced into socializing with most, if not all people. This has caused additional problems in my relationships and I do not see any future change.
Within this 30-year time frame I have had and lost many jobs, quitting most of them, and I have never been successful in the business world. I feel that I have had many good ideas but have never followed through with them to completion. The fear of success can be overwhelming.
I am an “Emotional Stuffer” in the true sense of the word. I do not convey my feelings nor do I express my feelings to anyone very well. I have a difficult time being open with people and not wishing to hurt other people’s feelings I seldom express myself openly. During several times of great stress or anger, I have lived in isolation away from everyone, preferring to live in the mountains. I am much more comfortable living in small towns and even more so in a rural setting like a farm or ranch with no neighbors close by to my family or me.
Anger is the main controlling force in my life and I use it as a tool to protect myself from harm, which has accrued or may accrue in my life since Vietnam. This perceived danger can happen even in my life today and has been reflected in daily events as simple as yelling a people for blocking an aisle at a store while I'm trying to pass by.
I must admit that I do spend time confused as to the date, place or time that I'm in. Finding it necessary to relay on others for appointments, I'm usually at least a day or two off but its not uncommon for me to be at least a year off when trying to remember events in my life. While teaching, it was necessary for my secretary to keep track of events I needed to go to since I would forget where I was supposed to be.
I find it difficult to adjust to changing events or circumstances around me but especially in the business world. I either have quit or have been fired from many (30) jobs since 1967 when I returned from Vietnam. I have found that the stress of working and making business decisions or the responsibilities related to work is very frustrating for me. Its common for me to have anxiety attacks at work, worrying about if I'm doing the job correctly and if so will I remember to continue that way. It is not uncommon for me to start a new job, find it enjoyable, work hard and learn about the position I'm in, than become bored in a very short time. I have even received promotions and than become so concerned about my performance that I quit and move to a new location just so people would not have to trust me.
I have been in combat situations over six times. Since going into the Denver PTSD program even more events and their related flashbacks have been added to my memory as each recollections happen. Each flashback event presents me with their own images and many are now on a daily basis. Most flashbacks are vivid when they occur. With people dying, trees blowing apart and my fears and terror. Some are seen as in-complete events and I'm not seeing all that had happened nor with other people in them. Others visions are only images viewed through a small window of the fight. Many nights I find it hard to go to sleep, stay asleep or I wake up with cold sweat nightmares that I do not remember.
I have to live with anger and irritability on a daily basis. I am now dealing with frustrations over my “missed” life, a life that I’ve craved for and will never have now because of my age. I am bitter with the government and the Veterans Administration for the lack of insight into PTSD and the effects that it has had on my life as well as others that experienced Vietnam and the reactions of people upon my return from service there. When PTSD became a recognized disorder, 1981 (?), I personally feel that not enough effort was made to evaluate Vietnam Veterans for PTSD.
I do have a BA degree in geography. The major difficulty is that it is very non-specific in subject content and has not provided me with useful tools for outside employment after graduation. But now I feel so discouraged and depressed in life I will not go any further in my education. This is based on my lack of concentration, retention of material, memory problems, plus personal concern in my ability to study and learn.
During my time in Vietnam I got into the habit of going to sleep on my left side. The reasoning for this is to get my heart as close to the ground as possible. We had the feeling that during an attack the first rounds from the VC would be high so I wanted to protect myself as best I could. That is one habit that has carried over to today and I still make every effort to go to sleep on my left side.
I wake up in the middle of the night on many occasions with unknown sweat dreams. This is an ongoing problem that I have had for many, many years. I jerk awake in the middle of the night soaking wet, or at the very least, wet around the neck and shoulders. I have caused bruises to several girlfriends and wives waking up this way.
One of the most vivid dreams and recurring dreams deals with my exposure to leeches after being hit and lying in a rice paddy for a night. When I woke up I had many, many leaches on me. I spent almost an hour looking for leeches then burning them off of me with cigarettes.
First, Flashbacks: I experience them. They can occur for no reason and without warning, coming from out of nowhere, or during times of stress. Secondly, Sounds: Sometime with a backfire, helicopter fly-byes, hail bouncing on a roof, close hitting lightning or distant thunder will produce a flashback. I return to Vietnam and my experiences come back to me. Thirdly, Smells have an effect on me: There are several smells that can cause an event but the most forceful smells are: Diesel fumes from truck exhaust or the smell of vomit.
I deal with anxiety attacks that can be rather forceful at times. They develop at any time and can last up to several days. Many others of these attacks are short in length and can be produced by the following: Diesel fuel smell, stress, anger at a news story that I feel there were injustices being done to someone. Grief or sadness for someone that has had a loss of a loved one or by watching a happy ending movie will have an effect on me. Sometime even bringing tears to my eye or a full outright crying session.
I will usually have an anxiety attack after bouts of anger. I wonder what the outcome of this anger will be in my personal life or business life. They have occurred in both, which has led to breakups of relationships, marriages and loss of employment.
I have a very difficult time controlling my anger. Recent events illustrate this, in August 1997, during a presentation to a travel group I lost my temper because the group could not make a decision on a departure date. This cost me another job and increased my negative outlook about myself in general and about my life as well. My self-esteem is pretty low at this time.
I wish to list here is my aversion of being in any crowd or people in general. I do not do not do not like, nor enjoy crowds of people. This includes movie theaters, cafeterias with long lines, long lines of any kind, sporting events, or malls. A simple example of this is that I did not go to any of my school graduations while in college. It seems that I’m always on guard!
Because of thoughts about Vietnam and my past, I have difficulty falling and staying asleep. I have remorse over what I’ve missed because of my PTSD. Even though the knowledge of the effects have come to light only over the last two years, I realize that it is something that I’ve had since discharge from the service! I experience a great deal of irritability and outbursts of anger over this fact!
Most of the PTSD events listed above recur after I have experienced some form of stressful situation or I have become angry over something that has occurred that day. At other times, I can experience them with no forewarning at all. I seem to have no control over these things when they happen anyway. I have had little success in getting my anger, frustrations, short temper, nor my disappointments with life under control.
10 Ways to Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
After a loss, it is normal to go through a natural grieving process. Sometimes, however, after a tragedy, such as a sudden traumatic event, feelings of loss surface several weeks or months after the tragedy occurred. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recognizing these symptoms in yourself or others is the first step toward recovery and finding appropriate treatment.
1) Re-experiencing the event through vivid memories or flash backs
2) Feeling “emotionally numb”
3) Feeling overwhelmed by what would normally be considered everyday situations and diminished interest in performing normal tasks or pursuing usual interests
4) Crying uncontrollably
5) Isolating oneself from family and friends and avoiding social situations
6) Relying increasingly on alcohol or drugs to get through the day
7) Feeling extremely moody, irritable, angry, suspicious or frightened
8) Having difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleeping too much and experiencing nightmares
9) Feeling guilty about surviving the event or being unable to solve the problem, change the event or prevent the disaster
10) Feeling fears and sense of doom about the future
Russ also says” My PTSD is combat induced, while a rape/incest/abused person would have different trauma reactions. For your information, traffic accidents are now the greatest producer of PTSD in the USA today.”