PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) first came to my attention when working for a public policy/current events information service during the 1990s. I covered military medicine and veterans’ health topics ranging from debates on illnesses linked to Agent Orange after the Vietnam War to Gulf War Syndrome after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Coverage of PTSD in professional publications and the popular press ranged from skeptical to the Next Big Thing. Reactions among servicemen, policemen, and other out-there types I’m friends with was “so what else is new.” But the mental health industry and the media really ran with it. Today we even have articles and books on PTSD in military service dogs (i.e., Wardoggies).
Dereck Stevens bonds with his military working dog before a practice drill at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. 
-- Bryce Harper for The New York Times


Life is PTSD; PTSD is life. Many people believe or are told that they suffer PTSD caused by events and conditions affecting them from pre-birth to old age. Intrigued, I volunteered for a PTSD study related to updating the DSM [Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]. I’m hypervigilant (I prefer hyper-reflexive or hyper-observant) but “being paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t out to get you” even if hypervigilance is a link to PTSD. Living in New York City—if you want to keep on living—it behooves one to be alert. That’s true before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) and even more so after. As the war of terrorism continues, PTSD is a matter of personal and public concern.
FDNY Rescue Co. 1 -- Source: Urbarama Atlas of Architecture, http://en.urbarama.com/project/fdny-rescue-company-1

9/11
A detour to vote in the local primary election on my walk to work that clear September morning delays my arrival at the editorial office on West 43rd St. by a few minutes. I nod to our receptionist who is at her desk listening to a small radio but she doesn’t respond. I go on to my cubbyhole and place a telephone call to a colleague in Ohio while gazing out the window. Almost simultaneously the door of FDNY [Fire Department of New York] Rescue Company 1 station, across the street and below, opens to flashing lights and wailing siren while my friend on the other end of the line informs me that there’s an incident at the World Trade Center (WTC). 

Déjà-vu. In 1993 I sat in the same office as Islamic terrorists detonated the Ryder truck bomb under the WTC. We all knew people who made it out; their faces on the TV news looking like squirrels, blackened with dark streaks under each nostril where they exhaled soot. That was bad; this will be worse. I watch the Rescue wagon roll out. We’ve been neighbors for over a decade but their number is up—it’s their last run.  

As this fateful day wears on the news gets grimmer. My colleagues alternate between confusion and shock, waiting for other shoes to drop, or frantically trying to contact friends and family. Cellphones are useless. Our management shares the uncertainty and lack of knowledge, vacillating between inaction and scattered bursts of activity.  

In the pit of my stomach it sinks in—this is war. But exactly who are we at war with? A been-there-done-that kind of guy I try to settle down into a monitoring mode. But I’m angry and getting angrier. They got us. The SOBs got us. Our iconic Twin Towers in our country’s biggest city taken down by commercial airplanes used as kamikazes. So much for the Peace Dividend—where’s our air cover? This is my generation’s Pearl Harbor.

I’m a fire marshal with duties and responsibilities. I decide early on that at some point we will evacuate. But I’m frustrated too, reduced to planning how to shut down the office, perhaps for several days. Literally—it was the day of the week to water the plants, and since nobody else can get it together, I water the plants and do other displacement activities. Not easy for a 50 year old to mobilize (and many of us have “mobilization dreams” where we geezers are yet again called to arms) but I try.

Below us silent crowds surge westward toward the Hudson River ferries. The traffic tunnels are closed and rail service suspended. Our office is in a public building, the New York Public Library Annex, with restrooms and chairs for people to come in to rest for a few minutes. Few take advantage of our facilities. The staff starts to make their exits. Some elect to take to their cars or public transit.

I pass out photocopies with my home address in case the bridge-and-tunnel folks can’t make it off Manhattan Island. Later I leave to prepare my apartment in case I have to shelter company. The year before we went through the Y2K scare [potential software problems forecast to shut down computers with unknown consequences on January 1, 2000] so I have some survival supplies laid-in. On the road for the company I collect new toothbrushes, hotel size soap and shampoo, and shower bonnets for houseguests with hair. These I now try to supplement at the local supermarket. Surprisingly there are fewer shoppers than during a blizzard alert. I hunker in my Bunker on Broadway on the top floor of my building. Not the most secure location but then again Mayor Rudy’s “emergency bunker” is on an upper floor of WTC 7. It’s gone when the entire structure collapses before nightfall.

Alone, I arrive at the office the next day. Surely there’s something for us to do? No. Management tells us to get out and go home. I wander as far north as Columbus Circle before I can find a copy of a newspaper. There is a photo of a severed body part on the front page. Even in black and white that’s graphic. I repair to the nearby Coliseum Bar before reading the articles.
                                                                                      312 W. 58th St. New York, NY 10019

Some of us try to volunteer our services. Not easy. I’m lucky enough to have opportunities based on my previous career(s) and contacts. Many of my friends collect socks and other gear for first responders or post pictures of missing persons. Unclaimed cars in commuter train and bus parking lots are roped-off.

After we reopen for business, I walk through Times Square and watch dirty red fire engines, filled with exhausted firemen in bunker suits, looking like smoky duffle bags tossed into the back of their trucks, on their way south to The Pile. The closest I get to Ground Zero is checking on people we know living in Chinatown. Too many funerals to attend and I felt there would be yet more.

Mayor Rudy is ubiquitous and with us. He appears at our Carnegie Hall concert to thank us for attending. He throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. As we carry on our social evening schedules my friends and I nod to and thank the police and National Guard posted in the subways and public transit stations. Armories are ringed by military vehicles and Jersey barriers. Soon the streets see NYPD [New York Police Department] Hercules Teams—SWAT [Special Weapons and Tactics] in black battle-rattle (with the so-called “Hillary Bags” holding a gas mask strapped to their thighs) deploy. “Surges” begin—blocks-long single-file lines of police cars and vehicles speeding up and down the avenues. Unity and good feeling: “Blitz mentality” for a time. We see something, we say something. A lot of somethings.

But unlike earlier wars the citizenry is not mobilized. Mayor Bloomberg likes bike lanes but not armed militias. Dubya (pace Molly Ivins) and Cheney want us to go out and shop while they start wars they can’t finish. A new but uneasy normalcy asserts itself: read Drift: the Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow.

Post-9/11
Quotidian life now, mostly, except when it comes to low-flying aircraft. On a cold winter day another airliner, engines shut-down by bird strikes, makes an emergency landing in the Hudson River. I’m at work in a small library in Midtown. Students run in—like I’m the librarian so I should know…what? This time I do have streaming broadband news.

And some bureaucratic genius elects to have Air Force One, trailing a fighter, buzz the Statue of Liberty in sight of Lower Manhattan. Brilliant photo op.

Then there’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in 2011: yes Virginia—there is PTSD.
                                  In 1997, Rudy Giuliani dressed as Marilyn Monroe for the "Inner Circle" GOP gala.
                                  Read more:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,294358,00.html#ixzz20tcj9FKE

Lighter notes
Humor in the midst of disaster. I’m standing”on” (New Yorkers don’t say “in’) a lunch line with a group of people in dark baseball caps and windbreakers with initials on their backs: FBI, NYPD, etc. One petite woman from FEMA had got hold of some yellow electrician’s tape and added in smaller letters “LE”—FEMALE. Nice touch. 

Xmas 2011. At Trenton Transit Center I change from an express New Jersey Transit train to a local SEPTA train bound for Philadelphia. Swarthy-looking little guys swarm the platform and pile big cheap-looking suitcases onto the seats facing each other at the end of the train cars Rather than sitting down with them they then leave the train. The transit police show up. Third World gibberish and gesticulations ensue. A few of the prospective passengers re-board. Older Spanish-speaking Latinas sitting around me converse in low tones and exchange glasses.

Just then two tall African American guys in dark suits, white shirts, thin black ties, and tall red fezzes with black tassels appear in the entryway. The Latin buzz goes up several octaves. Too obvious think I: they’re Black Muslims and will detrain at North Broad Street station. They do. I saw something—and read the newspaper.
                                                                               BattlingBARE -- http://battlingbare.org

Which brings me to the impetus behind this posting: highlighting an organization founded by military wives struggling to help soldier husbands afflicted by PTSD as reported by Sarah B. Weir, a Yahoo! blogger.

“Our Purpose:
Unite women and children who love a soldier dealing with PTSD by providing comfort in knowing they are not alone, a pathway of speaking out and battling back against the struggles they have faced with their soldier, along with offering support and encouragement so those women will continue walking the path of healing with their soldier.

In the process of empowering and encouraging these women and children, we will raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of PTSD while combating the stigma associated with this condition by increasing understanding of PTSD allowing for veteran suicide rates to decrease as the willingness to seek help and healing increases.”

Military Wives Strip Down to Raise Awareness About PTSD: Battling Bare
By
Sarah B. Weir, Yahoo! blogger

Rob is about as tough as they come. The career soldier spent 8 years in the Marines before joining the Army after 9/11 and serving on two tours of duty in Iraq, but in April this year, he hit a wall. He locked himself in a hotel room with guns and alcohol and told his wife "he might do something stupid."

Thankfully, he came back home alive. Ashley reached out to the Family Advocacy Service at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they are currently stationed, and discovered that, like many other soldiers who are suffering from mental anguish or who might have
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), finding the help he needed without putting his career in jeopardy would be a struggle. When Wise, believing her conversation to be confidential, divulged to a counselor that Rob had once become physical with her, an MP was immediately brought in. Husband and wife were not allowed contact for 72-hours and Rob now faces domestic assault charges (which Wise is trying to have dropped).

"The last thing a soldier needs is to be separated from his wife," Wise tells Yahoo! Shine. "Guys kill themselves because they think they are such a burden to their families." Wise says soldiers avoid telling anyone they are feeling depressed, angry, or even suicidal for fear of being dishonorably discharged. "Take the number of men who actually report having PTSD and multiply that by 50."

That evening, Wise told a girlfriend, "I want to streak across the 101st command building, because then maybe the general or someone would listen to what I'm saying." Instead she grabbed an eyeliner pencil and had her friend write these words on her back:

"Broken by battle,
Wounded by war,
I love you forever,
To you this I swore:
I will quiet your silent screams,
Help heal your shattered soul
Until once again, my love, you are whole."

Wise posted a picture of her naked back on
Facebook, invited other military wives to share images of themselves, and the organization Battling Bare was born. "Our initial intent was to take Facebook by storm," says Wise. She says, at heart, she simply wanted families to be able to enjoy normal things together like "eating at Chuck E. Cheese's or going to the fireworks." When she spoke to other women and "realized how big the problem is, we knew we had to do something."

Now, just two months later, Wise is working with seven other military wives to launch a non-profit organization to raise awareness about PTSD and the impact it has on spouses and children. In three years, they aim to have a chapter in every state in place to support military families and hold workshops based on a model developed by
Operation Restored Warrior.

While some people are critical of their bold approach--she says she's had some ugly feedback and got a call from a stranger who called her "an attention grabbing whore"--the military isn't asking them to take their website or Facebook page down. Wise tells Shine that Battling Bare is "on the Pentagon's radar," and when she spoke to Colonel William Gayler, Fort Campbell's Chief of Staff, he assured her, "I want to fix this."

http://shine.yahoo.com/love-sex/military-wives-strip-down-raise-awareness-ptsd-battling-182300698.html
(Note: accompanying illustrations not included.)

References
Mayo Clinic on PTSD
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246

FDNY Rescue Co. 1 website
http://www.rescue1fdny.net/rescue_1/Home.html

Article on canine PTSD in military service dogs
Dao, James. After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers. New York Times online
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/us/more-military-dogs-show-signs-of-combat-stress.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
(Illustration from “Dogs of War” slide show shot by Bryce Harper)
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/12/01/us/20111202-canine-ss.html



Leave a Reply.