Imagine turning the street corner in a quiet town, only to walk into a battlefield. Soldiers lie dying all around you, heat and explosions of mortar fire blasts from all directions. No matter how you might want to believe it isn’t happening, it is, and you are caught up in the middle of it. Thrown back into a battle so vivid you are there.
Then think what it would be like in the aftermath, coming to your senses to see people standing around staring, pointing, laughing. They think you’re crazy. Sometimes you are arrested for your behavior in public.
Known as PTSD, this disorder is more common among veterans returning from battle, but people who undergo any type of traumatic experience can suffer from it as well. Because I’ve written several books where either the hero or a supporting character suffers from PTSD, I’ve done a lot of research and talked to veterans and their spouses about this disorder that can be debilitating. It can disrupt a person’s life until they can no longer function well in society or in family life.
Often it can be five to ten years after the trauma before PTSD strikes. Some veterans and their families live with its effects for many years while others are able to somewhat control their upsetting reactions to returning to their previous lives.
Some of the symptoms are frightening nightmares, flashbacks that recall something so vividly that the person actually is there, distrust of those around them, the feeling that no one can love them, withdrawal from loved ones.
In the past this type of what was once referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue, was misunderstood and seldom treated. Thankfully, today two treatments are found effective. Counseling and medication.
The best thing you can do if you know someone who suffers from PTSD is listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to talk to you about their feelings and experiences. You may not be a counselor who can suggest solutions to them, but you can listen with an open heart and mind and try to be supportive. Show that you care.
And if this is a veteran, don’t forget to thank him for his service.
If you think you might be suffering from PTSD, here’s a website that lists the symptoms and will help you find solutions.
Diaries of men serving in wars as long ago as 1,000 years spoke of suffering from symptoms that match those we see today. Many Civil War soldiers returned suffering from what was then known as nostalgia or soldier’s heart. Because there was no treatment, some were sent to asylums, but most of these were closed down after the war. Veterans wandered the streets, many starved to death or froze because everyone thought they were crazy and dangerous and shunned them.
Sadly, many homeless veterans today suffer from this disorder.
One of my early books, Moonspun Dreams, now on Kindle as Montana Dreams, has a hero, Ben Poole, who served in the army from the age of 15. He prefers to live alone, has put down no roots, does not trust other people. His symptoms are not severe, but he obviously suffers from soldier’s heart.
A later book, Rowena’s Hellion, which will be released later this year from The Wild Rose Press, is about a hero so debilitated by fighting in the Franco-Prussian war and the four months he fought in the battle for Paris, that he drinks too much, is often controlling, and cannot sleep so he rides the prairie all night. This was the first time I actually developed a character with raging PTSD in my historical novels.
Once There Were Sad Songs, which came out last October, is about a Vietnam veteran who is self destructive, homeless and distrustful, until he meets a woman who has some understanding of him and teaches him to trust and love again.
Writing novels about these men, and meeting people who are dealing with PTSD have given me a greater understanding of what they face. If we haven’t “been there” we can’t truly understand, but we can do our best to offer help and support.
Once There Were Sad Songs
Blurb: 1985 – A school teacher escaping an unsatisfactory existence and a Vietnam vet on the path to destruction run headlong into each other and discover a love that changes their lives forever.
Excerpt: The damp root smell of earth, the sense of untamed wildness, propelled him back to his first year in the woods after he came out of ’Nam, his home a cave halfway up a north slope not far from here, well hidden by gigantic hickory and pin oaks. He’d spent that summer, fall, and winter in the company of ghosts of the Quapaw, the downstream people of the mighty northern Sioux. He walked with their bronzed women and handsome children, their lustful warriors, the wise and withered old men in this Arkansas land that was named for them. Their ghosts spoke to him, taught him to survive, to find peace. He thought later he might have been hallucinating on leftover LSD, yet when he studied the tribe, reading about them in the tattered pages of yard sale treasures scrounged as best he could, he found his visions to be quite close to the truth. The knowledge brought him at last to a certain serenity. Perhaps there was a higher power caring for his bruised soul. Leading him beside the still waters.
Amazed and awed, he had grown content to rest in the slanting golden rays of sunlight, immersed himself in the power of the flow of clear green water, and on occasion joined in mourning with the call of the mockingbird and whippoorwill. He existed in such a way for so long that he forgot the real world, except to pick up his check and cash it. He forgot that time passed. Then, one hot summer, temporarily insane, he crawled from his haven to join in the Atoka, Oklahoma madness of drugs and rock-and-roll and sex. He found it a disgusting and feeble attempt to recreate Woodstock, which he’d missed due to the distractions of a minor conflict in Asia, and couldn’t return to the woods soon enough.
He didn’t emerge from his wilderness retreat again until Lefty lured him out with his pleas of loneliness and approaching madness after his wife took off. It was then he learned to his great surprise that he had spent nearly seven years living in seclusion. Once out, he never went back. Someone had to keep Lefty from killing himself.
Today, he was aware that he lived in the summer of 1985 because Shadow insisted on keeping a calendar of events he deemed of importance. He packed and unpacked the thick and tattered records with a reverence he gave to nothing else. Perhaps he felt they were all he had to prove his existence.
Steven wanted no such ties, in case they bound him to some sort of reality. Anyway, that’s what he’d thought until he dragged the wet and half-drowned woman out of Lake Ouachita a few days earlier, and found himself hauled from the brink of his own mortality by her mere existence.
Negotiating a horseshoe bend in the track, he glanced upward to see her little blue car on a snakelike curve above. Following along. He hadn’t thought she would actually come this far. Perhaps he’d been testing her. Faced with the fact of her presence, he began to build a fantasy of the way it would be to have her with them. He was suddenly as excited as a child awaiting his birthday, forgetting what often happened after the party was over, the ice cream eaten and cake crumbs scattered all over the place. Only a mess to clean up.
Once There Were Sad Songs on Kindle: http://amzn.com/B00G8H2TEO
Other Books by Velda Brotherton:
Bio: Velda Brotherton writes romance and love stories, both historical and more recently vintage novels, with an authenticity that makes her characters and stories ring true. She has been writing for over 20 years and enjoys doing research almost as much as writing. Tough heroines, strong heroes, villains to die for, come alive in her novels.
She lives with her husband and writes from her home in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Her background in journalism adds to a wealth of experiences that lend to her storytelling.