Mental Mire

1970 is a year that lives in infamy, if only in my mind.

It actually is a very significant year: Apollo 13, Cambodian Incursion, Kent State shooting, Sterling Hall bombing, Woodstock cleanup, I came home, My Lai trials. Now, honestly, is any of that stuff on your mind?

“…Always on my mind…”

Reminder: For the past few months, this blog has been dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

We don’t really know why one person develops symptoms of PTSD while another person doesn’t. I overheard a cell phone conversation (well, half of it) on campus as a girl postulated that maybe one person already had a reduced hippocampus volume. It is very good to hear that anybody cares, but we really don’t know. That is not a bad hypothesis, though.

One thing we do know, however, is that people affected by trauma are often stuck in time. Sigmund Freud called it fixation in reference to his stages of development (oral, anal, sexual). There is an arrest of psychological/emotional development—as though some obstacle keeps us from moving on.

The obstacle is that the experience just doesn’t make any sense. So, here may be a susceptibility or pre-disposition to PTSD. People committed to making sense of the world get stuck in a time that makes no sense.

It would seem that introspection may contribute to ongoing symptoms of post traumatic stress. On the other hand, not thinking about the time leaves us stuck subconsciously and we never make recovery. Now, isn’t that a dilemma—a Post Traumatic Stress Dilemma.

“When people overreact to a moment, become too angry, too sad, too aggressive, too anxious, to a particular situation, it is most likely that the events of that moment have triggered unfinished business.” (Hart, 2000, p. 139)

An emotional conflict remains unresolved. The trigger can be as simple as an encounter with others expressing strongly held beliefs. Oh, campaign season is not comfortable for me. It feels like war, and the metaphors do not help. I am stuck in 1970. The war is not over for me.

In many ways, my emotional development arrested in July of 1970 when I was transferred from my A-Team camp on the Cambodian border near Thien Ngon to finish my tour in a recycled French villa in Bien Hoa. I never finished my work. We hadn’t ended the war. Even though I was twenty four, I was still a rather naïve college student in a First Lieutenant’s uniform.

Dr. Hart explains that those with little responsibility in trauma often have difficulty accepting responsibility, later. Those with a great deal of responsibility in combat tend to take charge, later. I was stuck in the middle.

In the middle I seem to be stuck, today. I am very comfortable accepting certain responsibilities for small groups of people. Teaching school was good for me, particularly teaching high school where students accepted a great deal of responsibility for their learning. College might be even better.

The intense emotional response triggered by a situation is the result of my amygdala, part of the primitive brain, grabbing the stimuli and shunting the information directly to the primitive fight/flight reaction. Recovery requires struggle—an effort by the high road of stimulus processing through cerebral cognitions of the smart brain. We have to think our way out of the mire.

Breathe. Left brain, talk to right brain. Remember that these feelings are left over from 1970 rather than caused by the situation I face, today. Use peripheral vision to desensitize (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). Slide into my clear space. Go do something, especially something for somebody else.

And turn off the damned news.

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