James W.D. Stewart

James W.D. Stewart

Embrace "The Suck"

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People from all walks of life can face dealing with PTSD…  Someone who's in a car crash, a policeman, someone who's assaulted, etc.  People who struggle with PTSD all have similar problems and/or issues.  However, Combat PTSD, is the outcome of many weeks, months, or years of experiencing life threatening.




Understanding Combat PTSD, from the Inside, Out

Count Words — Reading Time
by James Stewart
Updated:    Added an Image
Location:  Tim Hortons, 465 Barrydowne Rd., Sudbury, Ontario, P3A 3T4, Canada


People from all walks of life can face dealing with PTSD…  Someone who's in a car crash, a policeman, someone who's assaulted, etc.  People who struggle with PTSD all have similar problems and/or issues.  However, Combat PTSD, is the outcome of many weeks, months, or years of experiencing life threatening.


Below, is a poem about Combat PTSD.  I've tried several different ways of verifying its origins, find out more about the writer, etc.  However, the only information that I was able to find is that it's thought to have been written by a Vietnam veteran — who was also a member of the Nez Perce tribe — who went through the North Chicago VA Combat Trauma Program in 1991, and that since then, his writing's given out to all of the vets who want a copy.

They said I would be changed in my body.  I would move through the physical world in a different manner.  I would have pain where there was no blood.  I would react to sights, sounds, movement and touch in a crazy way, as though I were back in war.
They said I would be wounded in my thoughts.  I would forget how to trust, and I would think that others were trying to hurt me.  I would see dangers in the kindness and concern of my relatives and others.  Most of all, I would not be able to think in a reasonable manner, and it would seem that everyone else was crazy.
They told me that it would appear to me that I was alone even in the midst of the people, and that there was no one else like me.
They warned me that it would be as though my emotions were locked up, and I would be cold in my heart and not remember the ways of caring for others.  While I might give meat and blankets to the elders, or food to the children, I would not be able to feel the goodness of these actions.  That I would do these things out of habit and not from caring.
They predicted that I might do harm to others without plan or intention.  They knew that my spirit would be wounded.
They said I would be lonely and that I would find no comfort in family, friends, elders or spirits.  I would be cut off from both beauty and pain.  My dreams would be dark and frightening.  My days would be filled with searching and not finding.  I would not be able to find connections between myself and the rest of creation.  I would look forward to an early death.
And, I would need cleansing in all these things.

Regardless of its origins, this poem says a lot about the challenges and difficulties that we — as warriors — face.  We must have, the support and understanding, as we struggle with "the beast" known as Combat PTSD.


Combat-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — Combat PTSD — isn't just something that happens to a soldier when they have to kill someone…  Although, that can play a part.  It's about what happens, physically and psychologically, inside of a soldier's brain when they're faced with weeks, months, or years of constant adrenaline, danger, death, and/or fear.  This enormous and prolonged stress, quite literally, changes the way that our brain looks and functions.


Physical Changes

  • Adrenaline Response:  When we're in danger, our brain flips into "fight or flight" mode, a place where it's primed to decide whether or not we should run or engage a threat.  Our bodies make two handy hormones that cause this response — noradrenaline which handles fight, and adrenaline which is responsible for flight.  In "normal" brains, these hormones are released by a current threat (i.e. when someone's standing face-to-face with a bear.  But, in a brain affected with PTSD, these hormones are triggered not by actual threats, but by reminders of threats that occurred months or even years before.
  • Grey Matter:  The grey matter area of our brain's responsible for processing information from our body (i.e. sensory neurons) and sending information to our body (i.e. motor neurons).  Veterans have 5–10% less grey matter after having developed PTSD.  This means that their neurons — their communication signals — have been damaged.
  • Hippocampus:  The hippocampus is a section of our brain which plays an important part in short-term memory and the regulation of our emotions.  Researchers, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging, have been able to determine that the hippocampus of veterans with PTSD had actually suffered damage.  They believe that this damage may be under stress.
  • Prefrontal Cortex:  Our prefrontal cortex helps us to decide how we experience and/or react to an emotion and/or resolve conflicts.  It also tells our brain once a threat's passed.  People with PTSD have altered blood flow to this area of their brain — the more change in flow, the more severe the symptoms of PTSD tend to be.  This decrease in function, causes their brain to sort of be stuck, in a permanent fear mode — it doesn't relay the "all clear" message.


Mental and/or Psychological Changes

  • Aggression and/or Hostility:  Veterans with PTSD exhibit, significantly higher, levels of aggression and/or hostility than the general public or even than other soldiers who have experienced combat.  Since they have lived for a long period of time where they needed to aggressively react at a moment's notice, in order to stay alive, this way of acting has become an ingrained habit within them.  Spouses often joke that it's not safe to wake a sleeping veteran from anywhere close by.  This is because, when startled awake, the vet can react with an unbelievably strong amount of aggression — he may believe that he's responding to an unknown threat.  On a wider scale, it's quite common for individuals with PTSD to get into fights, drive aggressively, become angry at insignificant things, and/or drastically over-react to any sort of challenge.
  • Depression and/or Suicide:  People with post-traumatic stress disorder are seven times more likely to be depressed than someone else within the general population.  It's one of the largest complaints associated with PTSD.  And, unfortunately, this depression goes hand-in-hand with high rates of suicide amongst our nation's returning heroes.  It's estimated that 22 commit suicide each day.
  • Guilt:  The guilt associated with post-traumatic stress disorder is often called survivor's guilt.  The veteran feels a great deal of guilt because he survived an attack when a comrade didn't.  He feels guilty, that a friend lost their legs in an explosion, while he remained relatively untouched.  He feels guilty that he's at home, in safe surroundings, while others that he fought alongside are still in harm's way.
  • Lack of Trust:  This change, in a veteran with PTSD, is also caused by his time in combat.  While in combat, he had to assume that everyone he met — even those who were called allies — were possible enemies.  The only people that he knew he could rely on, in order to stay alive, were himself and those within his immediate group — people who'd proven themselves to each other in combat.  After that same veteran returns home, he feels alone, and without the protection of his battle-tested counterparts.  He doesn't trust anybody else — not even people that he's known for his entire life — to be able to watch-out for him.  He feels that he, alone, is the only one whom he can count on and/or trust.
  • Paranoia:  In war, a paranoid soldier's a soldier who stays alive.  Every item in his environment, from a pothole to a child carrying a backpack, must be regarded as a potential threat.  When that same soldier, whose mind has been changed by PTSD returns home, he's often unable to shut-off his vigilant behaviour.  Veterans will often and almost constantly, "patrol" their homes to check for intruders, insist that they sit with their backs to a wall and facing the door so that they can analyze every person who enters a room, and/or even drive off the road in order to avoid discarded trash — because this, often, indicates an Improvised Explosive Device during combat.
  • Poor Coping Skills:  Due to the physical and mental changes that a veteran with PTSD has, they're often unable to cope in what most people would consider "normal" circumstances.  They're easily overwhelmed by too much noise, too many people, too many changes, and/or too much stimuli of any sort.  Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and all of its symptoms, takes most of their energy and concentration.  Anything else, especially something that's unexpected, can cause a violent reaction and/or simply cause the veteran to shut-down.


Understanding these changes helps many people understand, for the first time, just how "real" post-traumatic stress disorder is.  Unfortunately, hidden wounds, such as PTSD), are often hard for people to grasp and/or empathize with.  Hopefully, after learning more about the "mechanics" behind PTSD, you'll be better able to talk about PTSD and the real impact that it can have on the life of a veteran and/or those who love and/or care for him/her.

Categories:  Health, Medical, Science  
Tags:  Family, MyCAF, Opinionated, Self, The Suck

Syndicated to:


  1. The Moral Logic of Survivor Guilt
    by James Stewart Published: 


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Creative Commons Licence :: BY-NC-SA James W.D. Stewart by James Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  Based on a work at https://github.com/jwds1978/jwds1978.github.io.