When I took the job working with vets my intuition told me it would not be easy. There's been too much pain and suffering for young Americans. Last week it hit home. One of my co-workers, another vet handed me an article that he wanted to share with me. It was about an Army captain, Peter Linnerooth. He was a psychologist who did his very best to treat PTSD during the worst year of the Iraq war, experiencing a great deal of the horror first hand. He was also critical of the Army's neglect in treating the trauma related to the horrors of war, sharing a Chaplain's belief that "the army is criminally negligent in its mental-health care of soldiers." When Linnerooth had enough he went home, attempted to help as many as he could, yet spiralled himself into deeper and deeper PTSD. In an article in TIME he said: "The Army is focused on the short term- 'I need a warm body manning a gun in a Humvee," adding: "That's great-until that warm body is crazy and eats his gun."
"In the early morning hours of the second day of the new year, alone in his apartment, that's just what Linnerooth did, after mixing Jack Daniels with Diet Coke with a telephone argument with his wife." He left behind a four month old daughter. This hit me hard. I'm thinking how can you be so irresponsible to kill yourself and leave your children behind, and yet a part of me, the vet, knows that there comes a time when you just know that you can't go another inch.
Another vet wrote the following: "Sometimes I feel pathetic. My hands shake when under pressure, and I wonder if everyone sees it. You wonder why an old man trying to cross the street before the walk sign expires (or he does, whichever come first) looks so very vulnerable, so very fragile; and then it starts to happen to you, the sense that your're not what you used to be
I wonder sometimes if I have PTSD. If I do, I have had it since I was twelve if not longer. It is not caused by my military experience, though that exacerbated it. The shaking, the anxiety, the default desire to end this experience when pressured or in pain. I never dwell on it, but it is always there like an invisible friend.
And no one really understands. Maybe another vet, but they are usually lost in their own swirling mist of existence. What would I say? 'I feel pathetic.' No one has time for that. We have to get on with our material lives, after all, the I-phone 787A Plus surely is coming out today, or at the latest the New Year. I've got to get in line at Walmart.
How many vets kill themselves a day? Well I can tell you. Twenty-two according to a recent study. That is unfathomable to me. No one mentioned that to me when I took my oath. As long as there is a warm body on that Humvee all is well, until they go crazy and eat their gun.
And I am no longer in the military. I have been a civilian for about forty-five years. But still I am a warm body on a Humvee trying to say I can't do this any longer. And no one is listening."
I said a long time ago that Viet Nam was not a place, it was a state of mind. So too the more recent Nams that we have shed blood in.
The Nez Perce Native Americans knew of this condition long ago, and likely dealt with it much more effectively than we have. Here is their Warrior's Reflection:
"He said I would be changed in my body.
I would move through the physical world in a different manner.
I would hold myself in a different posture.
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.
He 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
He 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.
He 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. He predicted that I might do harm to others without plan or intention.
He knew that my spirit would be wounded.
He 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 conections between myself and the rest of creation. I would look forward to an early death.
And I would need cleansing in all these things."
So let the cleansing begin. The Mindfulness group lives, next at 3pm Thursday at the Lindholm Center on Highway 99.