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Post traumatic stress syndrome is a mental disorder that arises from exposure to a traumatic, awfully frightening or life threatening experience happening either to oneself or to a close friend, relative or colleague. The symptoms of this disorder are manifested a while after the experience. The symptoms include reliving the experience, avoidance and hyper arousal. One can re-experience the trauma through flash backs, nightmares, anxiety and frightening thoughts. Avoidance involves keeping away from places, objects or events that remind one of the experience. A person may sink into depression. There is also a loss of interest in activities that once seemed enjoyable. The individual in question also experiences emotional numbness. In hyper arousal, the person gets tense, is easily upset and over-sensitive. The person is also hyper watchful. For diagnosis to be made, the symptoms must have lasted for at least a month. The onset of these symptoms is also delayed by weeks or months.
Even though this disorder has been in existence for a long time, it was formally diagnosed in 1980. It has been given other names such as shell shock, stress syndrome, traumatic war neurosis and battle fatigue. In the First World War, the victims of this disorder were said to suffer from gross stress reaction and surviving soldiers of the Vietnam War were said to suffer from post Vietnam Syndrome.
With the above background on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, one can clearly state that the disorder cannot be dissociated from surviving troops of a major war. For the soldiers who survive a war and its traumatic experience, there is no escaping the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and in most cases, life is never the same again.
This statement can be evidentially supported by the three war stories given. In the first story, the narrator is the brother of a soldier who survived the Vietnam War. As stated above, the troops in this were said to have Post Vietnam Syndrome (Medicinenet.com, 2010). The narrator reminisces the good times he shared with his brother before he joined the army and was sent off to war. The brother, Henry returns a totally changed person but not for the better. In the second story, Krebs is a soldier who returns from war long after the war heroes have been celebrated. Much as he tries hard to live a normal life, no one understands him and he seems to be living in a world of his own. The third story is narrated by a former war veteran who talks about his experiences with his fellow soldiers in the war. He talks about how a true war story is not moral but full of atrocities. He however says that the truth of a war story is someone's experience and is judged by the listener.
Story One: The Red Convertible
In the first story, Henry is a guy full of life and enjoying it to the fullest. He shares a warm relationship with his brother Lyman the narrator. He is also very friendly and can make conversation even with strangers. On their summer tour, he invites a girl he had not met to ride with them so they could take her home and they end up spending a substantial amount of time at the girl's home. He is also funny and makes people laugh like when he carries the long haired girl on his shoulders so that he can have a feel of having long pretty hair. He is adventurous, which is clearly shown when he and his brother spend the whole summer driving across the country.
Henry is also depicted as being very enthusiastic and lively. He is spontaneous and not afraid of taking risks. Together with his brother, he spends his pay checks impulse buying a car even after he has been laid off. During their summer tour, Henry is depicted by his brother as having a carefree attitude. This is shown in the way he relaxes under a tree napping peacefully with no cares in the world and enjoying the moment while it lasts.
Henry then joins the army immediately after the summer trip. He is sent off into the Vietnam War and it takes about three years for him to return home. By the time he returns home, he is a completely different person. The narrator indicates that the change is not for the better. He also says that even though the war is over in the government's mind. It is going to be long before it is over in Henry's meaning that the war experience will be engraved in his mind for a long time. Lyman also goes on to say that it is going to be hard to expect his brother to change for the better.
Research shows that war veterans who develop Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome have difficulty re-entering the society after war and having normal relationships. They bear invisible wounds and battle with their emotions. The shame they fight with causes them to isolate themselves. They are unable to talk about their war experiences with anyone. A significant number will commit suicide when they lose the battle within themselves (Sederer, 2010). In this story, we see Henry struggling to fit into the society once more. As is the case with most war veterans, he struggles to have normal relationships with his family and friends and doesn't talk about his war experiences. As one veteran says, war stuff is "stuff you cannot talk about in the civilian world", that is so detached from the war (Simon).
Avoidance (Medicinenet.com, 2010), a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome sets heavily on Henry's life after the war. In addition to not talking about his experiences in the war and avoiding the subject altogether, he also avoids close relationships for example the cordial relationship he shared with his brother before the war. He loses interest in the red convertible that he once liked very much which worries his brother. Nothing seems to matter anymore and according to his brother "he was such a loner". He seems emotionally numb and when he laughs, he seems like he is crying. He is also no longer the jolly person he was, always cracking jokes and as his brother says, "you cannot get him to laugh".
Henry also becomes very quiet. He also cannot sit still and is ever moving up and down. This is in contrast to his relaxed carefree self before when he would sit down whole afternoons without moving. He seems to always be on the lookout for something and was always tense, sometimes gripping the armrest of his chair with all his force as if afraid that if he let go he could crash. This indicates hyper arousal a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
You can tell that Henry is reliving his experiences when he bites through his lip. Blood flows down and he does not even notice it. It soaks his bread but he continues eating it which is probably a scene that he lived through in the war. He also kept wearing the clothes he had come back in. When he sets about to repair the red convertible, he works nonstop to the point of his brother thinking he will freeze himself to death with the work, an indicator that he still remembers the hard days at war.
At one point, Lyman can feel the struggle that his brother is going through. Despite all that he tries to be normal and to fit into the society once more. There are times that he seems better and acts normal. Post Traumatic Stress has however got the better of him and no matter how hard he tries, he finds that a war veteran does not get over his experiences and become normal that easily. He does not live in the same world as other civilians and soon enough, he becomes one of the statistics in the record of war Veterans who survive the war ordeal but lose their inner battle to suicide (Sederer, 2010).
Story Two: Soldier's Home
In this story, Ernest Hemmingway tells a story of Harold Krebs a soldier who returns home after fighting five major battles. On his return, Krebs tries hard to fit into the society. It does not help things that he returns long after the heroes have been celebrated. Before the onset of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Krebs is seen as a sociable person. On his return, he goes to the poolroom to try and reconnect with people. He also somehow never stops liking his sister as stated, "He liked her. She was his favourite sister". This indicates that he shared cordial relations with the sister and still liked her. There is also an indicator that Krebs was ambitious as indicated when his mother speaks to him concerning his father's worries; "He thinks you have lost your ambition". He however seems to have been very detached from his father.
When Krebs comes back, he initially wants to talk about his experiences in the war. However, no one gives a listening ear and his stories do not seem interesting enough compared to the atrocities that people had heard from other veterans. Soon enough he is forced to lie in order to get people to listen to him. Clearly he is having difficulties re-entering the society after war and fitting in. This is aggravated by the fact that he did not receive a hero's welcome. According to a Vietnam veteran, soldiers were likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome when they are not welcomed back home as was the case with most Vietnam veterans (Wellness Directory of Minnesota, 2006).
Krebs badly wants to resume his normal life but no one understands him and he seems like he is living in a world of his own. Even when he tells lies, the stories are still not interesting enough. The society that is supposed to help him deal with his experiences and cope with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome fails on its part. One researcher says that after returning home, "A combat veteran needs time, support and understanding of other people" (Wilson, 2009), and "have an opportunity to talk about ...... and, eventually, to feel the emotions associated with" (Wilson, 2009) the trauma. As is the case with an Iraq war veteran (Simon), Krebs' true war story is incomprehensible by the people around him. Krebs is pushed by the society he is living in into assuming that nothing happened and he has to go through avoidance to face the situation.
Avoidance sets in in full gear in Krebs life and his once normal relationships fall apart (Medicinenet.com, 2010). The once sociable Krebs now decides to seek refuge in solitude at the library. This is clearly observed in victims of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as is noted by one medical doctor (Sederer, 2010). In his words, he says that the shame they soldiers go through in the battlefield "has them isolate themselves".
Krebs also avoids intimacy, romantic relationships and any other thing that would make his simple lifestyle of avoidance any complicated. This is characteristic of the sufferers of PTSD. He does not want to come out of his shell and face anything that would complicate his life further. He starts living in fear of facing reality. He tolerates his mother but he does not love for. He wishes anyone would understand the world he is living in and the fact that he does not love anyone. He has undergone emotional numbness and also lost interest in things that he had previously liked (Medicinenet.com, 2010). To avoid being pushed further, he promises to go and look for a job.
In relation to fellow soldiers, Krebs seems to think they understand him more. However, when he talks to them, he relives his experience at the war which was scary and is forced to face reality. This makes him guilt laden and all the things he did nauseate him. He feels guilty that he survived and shame for all the things he did in the war.
Story Three: How to tell a true war story
This story is told by a soldier who is trying to find out the mystery behind a war story in relation to reality. He talks about his fellow soldiers in combat and the stories they tell while trying to tell a war story in order to be understood. In the story, there is Bob Kiley whose best friend and fellow soldier Curt Lemon is killed and Mitchell Sanders who is seeking to be listened to and understood. The soldiers in this setting are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Rat Kiley is struggling to stay in touch with his feelings when his best friend dies. He is emotional and humane and despite the war experience, he still has a very vulnerable part of him. According to the narrator, "a true war story is never moral" otherwise it won't be believed. Consequently when Rat writes an emotional and moral letter to his friend's sister, she never replies. The frustration of not being understood leads to him being insensitive and emotionally numb, a case seen in PTSD (Wilson, 2009). A little later, Rat is talking dirty and calling the sister a dumb cooze. He has a lot of anger which according to a war veteran is a symptom of PTSD and is misdirected. Rat unleashes this anger by mutilating a baby buffalo as the other soldiers look on without saying much. They clearly understand what he is going through.
According to the narrator, war is a mysterious experience. It is rarely about acts of heroisms and more about anger and inability to deal with terrible and awkward experiences effectively. A war story only makes sense to the narrator and only the listener can judge the truth of the story. It's also about what is real to the story teller whether they die or live after the incident. The narrator portrays the challenges of a soldier in the battle for example, when Mitchell is telling a story; he really wants to be believed. He keeps asking, "Understand me". Even though he tries to act as though he tries to act as though he does not care whether he is believed, the narrator can tell from his sadness that he wants to be believed.
The narrator also expresses symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He relives the experiences he has been through and has the images engraved in his mind twenty years later. He can remember the last moments of Curt lemon and how he looked like. He can also remember getting Curt Lemon's body parts of the tree; "I remember the white bone of an arm". He tells the story in a very indifferent way portraying emotional numbness (Medicinenet.com). He ends the story by talking about the true picture of war as the memories and the unique experience a soldier goes through which involves being afraid and is nothing close to heroic acts. He echoes the words of a former veteran who says that "what is learnt in combat is never forgotten" (Wellness Directory of Minnesota, 2006)
The other soldiers also portray their share of PTSD symptoms through the weird experiences and the noises they hear that lead them to doing things that even their commander would not understand. All in all, the soldiers understand each other because they have been through similar experiences but their experiences are beyond civilian comprehension.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is an experience all too familiar with most war veterans. Their suffering is however incomprehensible to most civilians and their experiences are not understood by civilians. At the end of a war, the soldiers may receive a heroic welcome but due to the bizarre experiences they go through, their lives are never the same again and it takes a lot for them to fit back into the society.