Tag Archives: DEROS

Desperate Dates

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

One of the happiest anniversary dates of my life is DEROS, my Date Eligible to Return from Over Seas. I left Vietnam on 1 November 1970. It has been on my mind, especially since I planned this blog series and I have been helping organize Military and Veteran Appreciation Week on campus. This should be a joyous time, right?

“Some of the reactions those affected may experience as the anniversary date nears include difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, irritable outbursts, nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep, and feeling detachment from others.” (APA)

Except for the loss of appetite, I have had all of those symptoms the past couple of weeks, including this morning. First, I looked for physical causes such as a virus, heart problems, or worse. Then, I blamed it on work.

I had been confused.

Time generates anxiety. All I had to do in Vietnam was stay alive for 362 days and I could go home. The closer I came to that date, the more I worried about getting shot down as I visited A-Team camps by helicopter, or a rocket attack on our compound (one hit my building about three weeks after I left). I was holding my breath. Maybe that was what I was feeling on my DEROS anniversary.

Sunday, November 2nd, after I expressed gratitude for getting home forty four years earlier, I had an epiphany. Since my deployment had been for one calendar year, this was also the anniversary of the day I patted my baby in her crib, hugged my wife, said goodbye to my parents, and went to war. The dual nature of this anniversary date had eluded me all these years.

I am grateful that my baby did not have to grow up without her dad. I am grateful that my second daughter was conceived almost a year after I got home. After decades of guilt, remorse, and anger, I am grateful to be alive.

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” (Thornton Wilder)

Perhaps there is no more compelling feeling among survivors than a need to make something of the life spared, a life of gratitude, as expressed at the end of the movie, Saving Private Ryan.

My first visit to “The Wall” was an unplanned escape from pain. I came away knowing that it was okay that my name was not there. Knowing it deep down, inside. I had been told.

When my friend went to Vietnam to be an airborne brigade recon patrol team member, he was still a teenager. He has never been to the Vietnam War Memorial. I suggested, once, that he should go, but he told me that he couldn’t until he had made something of his life.

It can be difficult to feel grateful for something we do not believe we deserve, something we have not earned.

The bad news is that like other PTSD symptoms, date reactions will never go away. The good news is that as long as we are still alive, we have opportunities to turn from habits of grief to practice of gratitude.

May you find the embers of gratitude in your heart, and may humility fan them into flames. Gratitude is in you—you just have to find it.

Happy Tracking.

Joy of Science

I have followed my passion. From that almost forgotten day in my high school teen years when I thought I would dedicate my life to understanding the universe, I have lived inquiry. I have sought answers and meaning to life’s big questions—and have found some. Science is the way I have traveled.

If you have not studied science just for fun, you may not understand my meaning. From Latin, the word “science” means “to know”. It is both an assembly of what is known and a process of coming to know, a process of rigorous inquiry. No, there is not one “scientific method”, but there are some general principles that span the breadth of physical and life sciences, quantitative and qualitative research, and visible and invisible domains.

My Genetics Major Professor used to say, “If you look for something, you will find something.” One hard lesson of science is that what we find may not be at all what we think we are seeking. I find joy in that. Not everyone does.

The Agronomy Professor that hired me as a freshman kept a note tacked to his bookcase above his desk, “It is what we think we know that prevents us from learning.” I enjoy knowing that.

I have said since high school, “Nothing can be proved except that nothing can be proved.” I would enjoy your attempt to prove me right or wrong to a standard of science.

My Educational Psychology Minor Professor claimed, “Science is a form of rhetoric.”

I find that less than completely true. Certainly, coherent and valid argument is a requirement of this special epistemology we call science; however, more is demanded. Some form of empirical inquiry is necessary to move from question and/or hypothesis to conclusion. We have to look (or otherwise observe).

Life was my initial passion, and I chose Genetics because I loved its central relevance, its logical beauty, and the freedom of choice it gave me as a major. Chemistry and Physics were only necessary for me to understand life (I came to love them only as a teacher). Earth science grew on me later, also as a teacher, as I became more committed to understanding the ecological relationships of Earth’s biosphere.

Psychology turned me off. As some former students were quoted, “It’s either bull shit or no shit.” That is not what turned me away. The contrived attempt to make psychology appear scientific through abusive studies of Behaviorism (Stimulus-Response studies) left me cold. I still maintain B.F. Skinner set American education back a century. So, I studied it. I went back for my doctorate in education because I found no educational psychology I could believe. In gratitude and joy I claim to have found some.

I studied the hyphen. “Hyphen psychology” was actually a derogatory term for people trying to investigate what happens between the stimulus and the response. Thinking is what happens, what we call “cognition”. In my mind, interesting things happen between the stimulus and the response where perception, cognition, and volition live. I would enjoy reading your comment if you find any references to such a claim.

Even spirituality is not beyond my scope of science. Yes, I believe I know how to research it and have even done some of my own guided inquiry. Perhaps we will get to that much later (a year or two). I hope so because it is the great joy of this old man.

My focus for 2012 is on learning as a process of recovery from disease with the specific example being Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During our little blog holiday, I made the personal commitment to focus on PTSD recovery for myself and to share my progress here. I will blog at least weekly (~Wednesdays) and perhaps more frequently when I cannot contain myself. I call the line of inquiry “Beyond DEROS”. The acronym stands for Date Eligible to Return from Overseas, the most important day in the life of any reluctant combat troop. Mine was 1 Nov 1970.

Here is the premise: Combat PTSD is a syndrome of behavior learned in response to traumatic stressors of combat through Classical (and, perhaps, Operant) Conditioning as studied by Skinner and the other Behaviorists. Recovery is also a learning process, but definitely not through conditioning. We learn our way to recovery through perception, cognition, and volition.

When asked how his Aborigine friend found his way in the dark, Crocodile Dundee replied, “He thinks his way,” and so do we.

You probably know a combat Veteran who is, this day, suffering from PTSD (although he or she may not believe it). We can help. Love can help. Experience of others who have been to the wilderness and back can help. Cognitive psychologists can help. Will you help me to help our brave troops who bear invisible wounds? That would bring us joy of science.