A friend sent me an email story about barracks on an Army base for soldiers with PTSD to have some downtime and transition back. The problem was it was near a rifle range. She asked why the Army would do this. The article seems to suggest that the Army doesn’t care, or that it is all red tape. There seems, in my reading of it, some implicit feeling of ‘get over it’. Here is my response and I include it here because it is what I am continuing to try to figure out how to affect positive change in for vets.
It is a complicated thing. It seems institutional, yet it isn’t really so much as it is cultural. We can institutionalize the change needed, but that would still be short of cultural changes needed. It isn’t manly to be weak and effected. As enlightened as I am on the topic of PTSD I also admit a gut reaction of “suck it up you baby” while reading this. Even though I’ve had the same symptoms as the soldiers, I still have the same reaction about them with myself. Therapy has helped in me allowing myself to be different. It is sometimes framed in terms of allowing myself vulnerability, but it is hard to allow yourself the potential to be weak. We soldiers are not like that. The typical person attracted to the military is not like that, and the culture that we find ourselves in is not like that. We breed out weakness, we punish weakness, we hate weakness. Weakness gets you killed. Weakness gets your buddies killed. Our walls in our buildings have pictures and histories of medal of honor winners who, with great wounds and under great fire, showed concern for others more than themselves and attacked the position and saved their buddies lives. It is our culture. It is our aspiration. We push ourselves to finish a 20 mile road march with heavy packs. We greatly condemn those who drop out. Better to drop out by passing out than to quit… and even that is viewed with a little scorn. Above all, never ever ever give up. Now, to have non military people (psychologists aren’t the most trusted people in the world anyway… viewed as touchy feely and non-realist) tell the military that they need to be kinder and gentler. This isn’t just some job… it is warriors training for war (period) and how do you make killers more gentle?
There are still many commands and leaders that will say that PTSD does not exist. I suspect that many of those who do say that it is a problem are giving it lip service because of political reasons. I am not saying that the brass on this base intentionally ignores such issues, but that it is, to me, a much deeper issues of culture and values. One of my interests is how might I reframe the notions of what being a warrior is so that it allows for one being open about mental health issues (and mental health is still a stigma in the general society as well, this isn’t only military).
I don’t know how connected with it is, but another thought that comes to mind is that one of the fears, or thoughts, against mental health descriptions is that it gives excuse for subpar performance. I’ve heard it said that before the days of (insert mental health problem here) being labeled by psychologists, there wasn’t a problem… people just pulled themselves up and did what they had to do and now that they have an excuse of a ‘mental disorder’ they don’t try as hard and slack off. Case in point, ADHD and the backlash of such in society. At one hand we have many adults who want shortcuts for their kid that is acting naturally to act calmer and you have people who say that because acting up is natural for kids, that all ADHD diagnosis are wrong and those psychologists are all just stupid. There are wrong diagnoses for ADHD and there are kids that do have ADHD and neither is being served by both sides acting in this way. I fear the same for PTSD and vets and the way it is being framed. I personally do not like the framing as such that it is currently. I feel that I have to be either healthy or completely screwed up in the head. If I am not completely screwed up, then I can’t complain about wanting to go weep at odd times… so where does that leave me? This, I feel, is common for a lot of vets who aren’t ‘bonkers’ and yet are indeed affected in their daily lives in that they can’t concentrate as much, are on guard all the time, get angry while driving very easily, have tried to pick a fight with random people (in my case a group of people).
Its complicated, but also, I think, really simple… our views of mental health and masculinity.