Mother’s Day and PTSD
I was thinking about this for the last couple of days and
trying to organize my thoughts to be able to capture my thinking in a coherent fashion. The obvious part of a Mother’s Day greeting
would be the service women, who are also mothers, and have someone tending
their child or children while they serve their Country in some foreign location. I had a hard-enough time just managing myself
let alone have another small one out there somewhere to worry about. My grown son once took a sabbatical from
college to “find himself”. My wife and I
worried the entire time he was away (one year).
This is the reverse of being the one away but I’m sure the worries of a
parent remain the same. So, I’m guessing it would place an additional layer of
problems for someone who is open and liable to somehow obtain PTSD as a
This got me to thinking of my own tour of duty in
Vietnam. Most of my thoughts about my
own PTSD were self-centered. By that I
mean that I didn’t give any real thought to what my overseas duty was causing my
parents and family members to experience.
I remember getting a Christmas card from a little girl who somehow had gotten
my address, as a school project. The card
was pretty and inside she wrote a short letter, “Mr. Dzierzynski, I hope you
don’t die in Vietnam!” It was a bit of a
jolt when I read it but then I realized that this was probably what everyone
back at home was thinking and knew it came from a sincere and honest place.
As I was dealing with my day to day existence in Vietnam, my
parents were going through a whole different experience knowing that, at any
time, I could become a casualty. I was
out from under their watchful wing. No
matter what their half-empty/ half-full viewpoints were, it would be insane to
think that in some small corner of their every-day existence that there was some
part reserved for the possibility that tragic news could visit their
doorstep. I wonder if there is a separate
PTSD branch that got its start by just this?
I live in California and every time there is an Earthquake, no
matter where it is, I get a call from family and friends. “Were you affected by the Earthquake?” Of course, most of the time the answer is “No”
but people away from this location have no clue. But the same thing happens in reverse. I’ll ask, “Did you get any damage from the hurricane?” The point I’m trying to make is that most
things that might potentially affect us, we fortunately miss but there is worry
none-the-less. That means news programs
or stories we overhear or however else news, whether good or bad, finds our doorstep
is a potential worrying moment.
But it doesn’t end there.
Then when we return, hopefully unharmed, but for some much less than
that we encounter a different situation.
For the married woman with child, her return is again trying to fit in
because she has been out of the schedule loop for a year or more. Reestablishing ourselves in any social system
takes some time but now it could be complicated by PTSD or other disabling
circumstances that the family needs to work into their schedules. Not an easy task under the best circumstances
yet alone with these obstacles.
For those who are coming back to their Mothers and wives the
same fitting in takes place but as a stranger, who has been changed by the War. Caregivers need all the support we can give but
and many don’t realize the PTSD can be passed on to others such as wife or
children. Those with PTSD must always
remember this is not solely about you and so my advice is to act accordingly.
Letter from a Follower-
After writing my last post, which I put up two days ago I
continued to read letters that I had received.
Part of my memory path was thinking about my own secrets and how I got
to them, but I was unable to reconstruct it from my actual notes or concrete
steps I took. However, I came across this
letter and it really caused me to stop and recollect. I am not at all saying that this was my own
experience but one that made me think of my own feelings and reluctances to
confess my own secrets.
The actual letter said, ”…how do I ask my friends and family
to accept a murderer back into their club?”
I know his experience was not the experience of everyone who served in
whatever War they served. It isn’t the
same experience that someone who was raped, or was molested, or worked in a stressful
profession, or however else PTSD entered your life. But there is a question or questions that we
have or had festering in that dark inner chamber wherever that might be. I wrestled with worst secrets long ago and I’m
sure I still grapple with some of them now.
We are punished and re-punished again and again. We ask, “why me?”, and there is never a good
answer. My theory is that we live in a
cause and effect World. The principle is,
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. The most common demonstration of this is a
thing we’ve all seen, where there are six or so steel balls suspended from
strings on this wooden square apparatus.
If you take the last ball and pull it apart from the other balls and
then release it, it swings back to the balls with a force and then from the
other side the furthest ball responds by swinging away. If you do this experiment with any
combination of balls the same equal and opposite reaction occurs. So, then what
about us? What was the big thing terrible
thing that I did that has caused this PTSD reaction? Why did it happen to me and not to my roommate
or the next guy? Why did God choose
me? As you know I am not religious, but
I thought I’d throw this in for those who are religious. You see this reaction coming from someone who
has survived the ruins of a hurricane, let’s say. The press interviews the survivor and they say,
“I want to thank God for sparing my life” or something like this. To my thinking I don’t factor God or religion
into these situations because if I did, I would have to include, “And why God, did
you decide to destroy everyone’s home and kill so many of my neighbors in the
I have come to believe that we sometimes forget how
infinitesimal we all are. I think about
all the things going on, all over the World, every moment of the day. Things that are just random. Nothing personal about it. If you happen to be at a certain place at a
certain time you will have to deal with whatever comes along. The cause and effect are still there but it
simply has nothing to do with you personally, you are just like the steel
balls. That same apparatus could have
stood on the shelf for years with no one pulling the balls apart. It only reacted because I chose to start the
thing reacting. It very easily could
have been the apparatus sitting idly next to the one I chose to activate or
none, at all. It was just a random act.
So, the letter from our follower was dealing with his issues
and his struggle about inflicting his terrible experience on those who were
unsuspecting and vulnerable. His family and friends would then be trying to
understand, “Why them”, and so, the World turns. What I learned is that not every secret has
to be shared with every audience. Posting
and journaling is a safe place to unload without making it personal. It always eventually will make you feel
better not bearing the terrible secret.
But instead of doing it personally which sometimes might make you feel
worse knowing that you have somehow transferred your terrible experience to
others who are within your sphere of influence without meaning to. Our site is
not to infect others but to heal you.
Tell Me A Secret- PTSD
One of my favorite TV programs comes on Sunday morning on
CBS at 6:30 AM my time here in California.
It is called the Sunday Morning Show.
I like it because it talks about various short stories dealing with current
events, entertainments, sports, special events, travel etc etc. These 15 minutes always intrigues me and
informs me and more than once has stirred me into some action.
This week-end there was a segment which dealt with something
that could easily be what I’m all about here at www.beyondptsd.org. Telling me your deepest secret which obviously
has to do with PTSD. In this segment a man
came up with an idea that everyone has a secret that they have not told to anyone,
ever. He started by handing out
postcards and instructed the recipient to anonymously share a secret that they
have never shared with anyone ever before.
It started as wanting material for a book that he was planning to
write. The experiment, that he had
undertaken, resulted in literally millions of secrets. Some secrets funny, some sad and as they said
in the segment “Every time you think that you can not be more fully surprised,
a postcard arrives that stuns you”
So how does this relate to www.beyondptsd.org ? Many people with PTSD
hold tightly to their innermost secrets.
I can remember thinking at one point, “How can anyone really want me if
they find out what I have done?” The person who came up with the postcard idea
said, “I think that holding on to a secret may keep you from ever dealing with
it or ever getting past it.” I feel the
same way about PTSD. I strongly feel
that eventually getting to the heart of this secret and exposing it to the
light of day, is the only way to eventually rid oneself of this terrible
Of course, I do not feel that the average person is able to
start at the secret itself. Nibbling
around the edges allows for a boldness to set it. The more risk you take the bigger the reward
you might make. Eventually you will
develop the courage to deal directly with anything and everything and this will
allow you the freedom that you need but which might have temporarily lost.
How did PTSD find you?
Most, who are regular followers here, know that PTSD found
me sometime while I was in Vietnam in 1968-1969 and it followed me home. I’ve been struggling with it for close to 50
years. Keep in mind that I didn’t know
what I was struggling with PTSD for years after returning, since there was no
title for my visitor since the PTSD name tag came after I returned. Also, keep in mind, that for years after that,
even though I figured out that I probably was suffering with it, I never was
officially diagnosed with PTSD for many years later.
There are so many ways where PTSD can lie in wait. I was free and clear of it for 23 years while
growing up. I had negotiated my way
through all my school years and had graduated college and then enlisted in the military
because I was about to be drafted.
Vietnam was in my future, but I had no way of knowing what else was
there for me. PTSD was lying in wait for
me and would soon dig in its claws.
Recently, I read an article regarding the molestation of
children in churches, schools, the Boys Scouts and yes even in the home. I had cruised my way through all these things,
and it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I had to deal with the PTSD of
life. These young children are
struggling against this beast with very little skill or experiences to fall
back on. They are just children who
should see the World as a safe place, yet do not. The frightening thing is that this is not
like getting a disease where once you get it you can not get it again. PTSD is a life-long burden and the pain and agony;
the terror and heartache, are lifetime baggage that needs to be carried by
those who have it.
The worst part for me is, though I know that this is true, I
have never experienced PTSD through molestation. The sounds crazy but I feel like I can’t
offer someone who has this extra weight to bear any “I know what you are going
through”. They know, in their own way,
that I really am only speaking the words.
PTSD victims need allies. They
need people to understand them and provide whatever support that they can. Though we all have PTSD circumstance of how
we got it are very varied.
Come tell your story.
Let others know the width, breadth, and depth of this problem. Visit us at www.beyondptsd.org.
Why did you start this web site?
I have been asked this question many
times over the course of the years that I have been posting here. I
answer it pretty much the same way each time, but it has become more and more
apparent to me that many people want to complain about their condition but very
few want to read, work and try to get better. Today I was
watching a news program, and someone said something that really hit home for me
and summed up what has been motivating me all along.
Lilly Tomlin wrote a book entitled “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”. This is a humorous look about life and a whacky view of it. In one section of her book, she looks at an issue (Name one, we have plenty to pick from here) and she said , “I wondered why someone wasn’t doing something about… (that issue)? I looked at myself and realized ‘Hey I’m someone, why am I not doing something about it myself?”
When I returned from Vietnam, I found that I was suffering from something
that had no name (PTSD was
not named until after I arrived home). Not only did I not know
what I was suffering from, I quickly found out that there weren’t any solutions
established for its treatment either. So, it was left to me to try and
figure out what it was exactly that I was suffering from and what was going to
help me feel better. No one prodded me into doing something nor
did anyone criticized me if I did nothing. No, it was me who
motivated me. I thank whatever it was that drove and pushed me to act and
not simply accept my fate as so many at this site seem to be doing.
The solution that I stumbled upon was journaling. It was accidental
believe me. No drugs nor therapy nor any miracle cures. It was simply me,
sitting down and writing what I was feeling and then me again attempting to
understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling. All I knew for sure
was that something in me was different. I was acting erratically and the
person who returned from Vietnam though seemingly the same person, was not
I liken it to the Body Snatchers where people were
complaining that the person who was living with them was not their mother,
father, wife or husband. They looked the same, sounded the same but
something was wrong. Others looking and living within my sphere of
influence knew it too, but every one of them remained silent about it.
They were trying to “wait it out” hoping that time would change me back.
Knowing what I know now, I am completely
thankful that I didn’t wait for that miracle to come along to heal me, because
PTSD does not heal itself. I didn’t know that at the time, nor did any of
my loved ones know anything about what I was going through. PTSD was a one-way street if it is left
untreated and I had no idea about this at all. PTSD could only get worse
and as badly as I was feeling then, I cannot imagine what that “Worse” person
would have been like.
Journaling was not a quick fix as
most of you who have stopped by and blogged a time or two,’ have come to
realize. Healing PTSD doesn’t work that way. Just as an
example, most Vietnam tours were one year in duration. That’s 365 days,
24 hours a day. Posting takes maybe a few minutes. Let’s say
my average post takes me about 15 minutes or so. If I post twice that’s a
half hour. To expect to unravel a 365-day, PTSD complex problem by
devoting 30 minutes is simply unrealistic. I’ve been posting for over 40
years. In the beginning often multiple times per day. I wanted
answers and they could only come from me.
People still say to me.
I came by your site and posted but never heard back from anyone. I might ask them, “How many times did you
try?” The answer is never more than “Twice”. I must tell you this is like the expression “You
can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. This site was not established to cure or heal
you. That is your job. All this site is, is the water. It is here for you to start trying to
understand yourself and how you are responding to who you have become. Please do not expect me to provide you the
answers. The answers are yours to find
but they are safely inside you waiting to be discovered. But, be pre-warned it doesn’t happen quickly. The journey is for you and I would suggest
that you start learning to enjoy it versus seeing it as a chore that you hate doing. Attitude is key here. Ever hear them talk about a runner’s
high? I’ve never personally experienced
that since I hate running but as I write this, I can tell you that my statement
is why I don’t run so don’t use it as the excuse to keep you from posting.
After years I think I have made significant improvements. My wife,
who is a psychologist, one day, a few years ago, said, “You should create a
blog to help others. If it worked for you, maybe you could help others
find some relief.” Looking back on Lilly Tomlin’s quote above,
struck me as the answer. Someone should have a blog where others come and
anonymously post and examine their own PTSD. Not only would it help them,
it might encourage others to do so, as well. So, there it is, to answer
the question again about “Why did you start this site?” I did it because someone needed to.