Tag Archives: psychology

Who You Are

“We choose the right to be who we are.” (THUNDERHEART)

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

Yesterday, I had a discussion in a meeting with a couple of other Veterans on campus. As I explained that I still didn’t know why I chose the path that took me to Vietnam, one of my friends said, “It made you who you are.”

I do not know which came first–who I am or the choices I made–but I know the two are intimately related, and it really doesn’t matter which came first. What matters is that I chose to be who I am.

One of my Officer Candidate School classmates came through our Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border in the Spring of 1970. After seven months in Vietnam as an Infantry platoon leader, he was still humping the boonies most every day. As he visited our team house and saw the way we lived, he told me, “Barnes, you really have it made.”

It made me smile because several months earlier some of my classmates laughed at me when a jump school student hung from his parachute on the tower across the road from our barracks. “That’s where you will be next week, Barnes.”

Maybe our choices make us who we are. Maybe when we choose to be who we are, we make lucky choices. Like Forrest Gump, I think it both might be happening at the same time. Maybe that is how Vision works.

In the movie, THUNDERHEART, which is grounded in some real events of the 1970s, an Oglalla Sioux named Jimmy Looks Twice explained to an Indian descendant FBI agent, Ray Levoi, why people were getting murdered on the reservation. “Sometimes they have to kill us. They have to kill us, because they can’t break our spirit.”

Jimmy Looks Twice is played by John Trudell, a man who lived the experiences of indigenous protests and losing his entire family to violence. He continues the explanation, “We choose the right to be who we are. We know the difference between the reality of freedom and the illusion of freedom. There is a way to live with the earth and a way not to live with the earth. We choose the way of earth. It’s about power, Ray.”

It is about power.

There is no greater personal power than living one’s Vision. But, sometimes they have to kill us. And, sometimes, like John Trudell, we have to go on after they killed our families.

Our power lies in our Intention to be who we are–and our commitment to that intention.

In my view of the universe, Vision is the way we see ourselves in relationship to the rest of our world, and specifically, how we see ourselves fitting into the world around us. I’m pretty sure another way of saying this is that Vision is our view of who we are.

Where do we get that Vision? Are we born with it?

For this sometimes cowardly human, it is a very good thing that my Vision is limited in clarity and scope, that I cannot see too far down the road of my future lest I lose my commitment to being who I am. So, my Vision becomes clear to me only like the road in my headlights on a dark night, a little at a time.

Sometimes it is foggy, dusty, snowy, or rainy. I have even driven into a mud storm, a dust storm with rain, but I survived because I could still see the tail lights of the truck ahead of me. Maybe I survived because I had had the good sense to be following a truck.

How have you survived? Have you been “lucky” because of some good sense, because of who you are?

Happy Tracking!

Passion of Purpose

Who are you?

It’s a serious question. Beneath the façade of style and guile, what is your name? Do you have a spirit name? Do you have a spirit identity?

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

Vision as an indigenous cosmology is a complex concept with purpose at its core.

When we find ourselves devoid of passion and purpose, the first thing we need to do is stop. But that’s not easy. The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become nervous and self-critical about what we should be doing and feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are. (Dawna Markova)

I am a teacher and Nancy is a nurse. We are blessed to be people who have found careers of purpose matching our passions. We have lived our identities. We are lucky.

But, luck needs help. Neither of us found our way accidentally. We wandered. We made choices. I found I enjoyed teaching in graduate school and as an Academic Staff Specialist at UW-Madison. Nancy found she enjoyed taking care of people as an Army medic and a nursing aid. Still, each of us needed a personal crisis to push us to a decision and we needed family to coach that decision. Sooner or later, we all need coaching.

Some of us make major life decisions as children and adolescents that steer our lives by passion. Many of us begin a life of purpose and developing identity. Too many of us experience trauma that disrupts that development.

In 1968 I was a science student accepted into graduate school to study genetics at UW-Madison. I had a research assistantship offer. In three or four years I could be a PhD geneticist and maybe a professor.

In 1969 I went to Vietnam.

Trauma has a way of changing who we are—or, at least, who we think we are. It has a way of changing what we believe about purpose, and it discolors passion.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Oh, I came back to finish my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Genetics, but the passion was gone. I had lost my Vision (although I didn’t know about Vision at the time). That life no longer fit my perception of myself, had I actually faced a perception of myself.

I found my way to a new passion, a purpose that continues to grow and develop even now.

How did I find my way?

I looked.

How I changed over the past forty-five years is still a mystery to me, a mystery I intend to pursue in the next year, but I know it all began with my searching for a purpose. I stopped and let the world race by me. I caught my breath and saw a glimmer of distant hope. Somebody loved me and believed in me. Answers came.

Have you stopped, I mean really stopped, to look at the tracks in your heart that show you who you are?

Happy Tracking!

Momentous Journey

“You’ve come far, Pilgrim,” the old mountain man said to Jeremiah Johnson.

“Feels like far,” Robert Redford (Johnson) replied.

This week is a slight digression from our study of character traits conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. Or, maybe not. August will focus upon the twelfth and last trait: Vision.

Have we come far? Well, we didn’t do it in a day.

Journey is a term originally referring to the work done in a day or how far we could go in one day. Just for today.

In the jungle of Vietnam, we could walk about one click an hour. One kilometer. So a day’s travel might be five or ten kilometers or five miles give or take a couple.

It is roughly twenty-two miles across the Grand Canyon, and people can do that in a day. Not me, but other people. My plan is to do it in four days.

Twenty miles was a journey for a wagon train.

Yesterday I drove nearly three hundred miles, but I have done many more in a single day. Today I hope to fly a couple of thousand. Quite a journey.

Our culture has twisted the meaning of journey far from the original meaning of marche du jour.

As I wait to go to the airport, I am pondering just today, this hour, this moment–while I think about the future.

Much of my life is wasted weighting events of yesterday or waiting for events of tomorrow rather than savoring my walk today.

My parents were married during the Depression, living on squirrels Dad hunted, day old bread they sold door to door, and what they could grow in a garden. “Those were the good old days,” Dad told Mom fifty years later.

“I think we’re livin’ in the good old days,” (Merle Haggard). I hope we don’t miss it.

Psychologically, we can never experience more than a moment, a fraction of one second. Everything else is memory, an illusion created by the mind to record the experience of a moment. Yesterdays are all illusions. Yes, they happened, just not quite like we remember.

Tomorrow is illusion. Yes, it may happen the way we imagine, more or less, but maybe not.

Today is all we have. Let’s make it momentous, grander than the tomorrow we dreamed, yesterday, grander than the memory we create. Let’s live in the good days.

We made a lot of tracks, you and me, some deep, some barely noticeable. Some we regret.

Tomorrow we will make more tracks, God willing.

Have you ever watched a track being made? Have you ever taken note of the Earth beneath your feet as you made a track?

I participated in a blindfold swamp walk in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We were led in a group, one person behind another, along a string through the swamp as were blindfolded. It was fun and comfortable, slipping into holes, feeling my way around roots, finding footing. After some time, we were stopped and told to remove our blindfolds. Quickening the pace, I took three steps and cut my foot. I forget to feel my track being made.

Momentous is another word our culture has twisted, originally meaning of one moment. Well, maybe that is not twisted. Maybe making note of a single moment is huge.

A funny thing happens when you face the probability of dying soon. You find each present moment precious, momentous.

One morning this week I went to my spot along the stream valley and noticed the activity of Chickadees. One flitted in a tag alder but three feet from my face, eyeball to eyeball, leaving a visual track in my mind.

Today, will you take a few moments to notice your breathing? Will you admire another part of life sharing this moment with you? Will you take a slow, deliberate walk and feel your tracks being made?

Happy Tracking!

Breakfast Call

Discipline, like charity, may only count when it is done with humility.

Without apparent humility, I shall proceed to brag about my adolescent discipline.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

I ate breakfast every morning as a boy, almost always a bowl of Wheaties with farm fresh milk and plenty of sugar. I marveled over the champions featured on the front of the box and the important reading on the back. As my testosterone levels began to increase, I became interested in growing into a champion.

One morning, I read a government physical fitness plan on the box that gave expectations for different ages. It said at my age (7th grad I believe), I should be able to do 13 push ups. Being a budding scientist, I tested that hypothesis. I did 13.

That’s fine, but champions do not aspire to mediocrity, so I did some more the next day and the next. I did push ups every day. By the time I was a high school freshman, I could do 75 push ups. Now, that is not the only reason I was a successful wrestler, but having the ability to push myself off the mat with an opponent on top of me helped make me become an escape artist. That is what wrestling is all about, to wrest, meaning to twist and pull away.

Wheaties really was the breakfast of champions, even though it was the words on the back of the box that produced the results

My point?

Discipline yields results. Reading the Wheaties box or eating the cereal did not make me a champion. Hard work did.

When I was a freshman, I was having trouble with an escape or reversal move called the switch. Coach sent a JV sophomore over to teach me. We worked and worked on it.

I worked on it myself. I practiced it at home. I practiced it right-handed and left-handed. Then I invented (re-invented) a move I learned was called the inside switched where I started the move in one direction then quickly changed to the other directions. I practiced it over and over, alone and with teammates. I used it in matches. It worked all the way through high school and into the Big Ten.

Today, I frequently lose patience with myself for what seems a lack of discipline. Yet, here I am again today, working on a blog when I could be walking in the woods, wrestling with a mini keyboard on my pad and trying to outwit a sluggish MiFi, getting impatient because I only got half the quack grass out of the garden this morning. I’ve been letting it grow.

That is another form of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden. But, it was necessary. Now it is strong enough so that I can dig it up and pull the roots out rather than breaking them off. So, even what felt like a lack of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden, was a form of discipline in patience.

Fasting requires the discipline of patience. Procrastination may be a simple form of fasting from familiar things, time to allow the conscious and subconscious minds to communicate. But, don’t forget to break that fast. Heed the call to breakfast.

Have you been hard on yourself for procrastination when it might really be the discipline of patience? Is it time for breakfast?

Happy Tracking!

My Way

It occurs to me that discipline is really fidelity to a way of life.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

When I think of discipline as rigorous obedience to rules, particularly as daily routine, I judge myself undisciplined. Oh, sure, I was sometimes a disciplined athlete and soldier, but I really dislike routine–even though I accept the value of routine in stress management. Routine is not my way.

What is my way?

I still have some materials from a greenhouse I bought forty years ago. I save stuff. For years I have been viewing this as a shortcoming, a lack of discipline in organization. Lately I have seen it differently.

I grew up poor, even though I didn’t really know it until I was in high school. My parents married during the depression and had five kids before Pearl Harbor followed by this early Baby Boomer. Waste was a sin although they didn’t call it that. We just didn’t do it.

I am a disciplined eater. There is very seldom anything left on my plate. “Take all you can eat, but eat all you take.” We were poor but not hungry because we lived on a farm. We grew and hunted our food. Somehow, when you produce your own food through sweat and discipline, it becomes too valuable to waste. That is the way my family lived and a way I call mine.

I am embarrassed to throw out food. It shames me.

I give things away. From time to time I force myself to go through the anguish of choosing what to keep, what to discard, what to sell, and what to donate. I hate those decisions even though the process is liberating.

In reflection this week, I admitted I learned this from my father. If we needed a board, we went to a stack of boards between the chicken house and the tractor shed. If we needed a link of chain, we searched the tractor shed or the garage. If we wanted worms for fishing, we dug them. When I needed training halters for my show calves, I braided them from used baler twine from our hay or straw. When my mother wanted to make me a bat boy uniform for my uncle’s softball team, she searched scraps of material and discarded clothes, cut them down, and sewed it.

A few weeks ago, I pulled a beautiful rock out of the woods to make a rock garden for Nancy. I found out a length of pipe I had bought for a project and not used. It was along side a shed waiting. I also made a stone boat of sorts with a plastic sheet I bought to drag deer but never used. I had them because I saved them, you know, just in case I might need them someday. That is my way and I am true to it.

It is not hoarding; it is recognizing potential utility in things and refusing to discard them. It is not organized; it is messy. But, it is ultimately pragmatic, and I am tired of being apologetic. I am not undisciplined. I am true to my way, and my way works for me just as it worked for my family.

My mother was disciplined in the garden, and I share that way. I like a productive garden, and I prefer to keep it free of weeds. It is a sense of pride, accomplishment, and independence to harvest my own food, but I also plant for the utility of beauty. I cannot garden without fond memories of my mother.

My father took care of both crops and livestock. While he did not fuss over appearances, he took great lengths to keep them healthy, and he never allowed animals to suffer. In animal husbandry, he was devoted and disciplined. Whenever I get to help on my brother’s farm where we grew up, I remember my father’s way. It is my way, now.

What is your way? Deep down inside, back to your pre-trauma self, do you find tracks of fidelity to a way of life that is disciplined in your own way?

Happy Tracking!

Quiet Love

If God is a Father, I can surmise that godly love is like pure parent love. Knowing little about godly love and more about parent love, I shall address the latter.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. June shares Love.

While I was in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, I bought a pair of ceramic elephants to be used as end tables or lamp stands. The Army crated and shipped them home for me. I still have one.

One arrived intact, but the other was broken, the elephant separated at feet and trunk from the base. At the time I really didn’t care. In the thrill of being home, it seemed insignificant.

My mother worked for hours, days I think, to repair that elephant. She found some glue that worked and chinked pieces into gaps like putting Humpty Dumpty together. It worked. I can still see her on her knees toiling away.

I wonder if she really knew, consciously, what she was doing.

When she grew feeble in her mid-nineties and had difficulty remembering names, she still recognized me, even though I only saw her a few times a year. Near the end she told me again that she loved me. She needn’t. I had always known.

I had not always known that my father loved me. Like me, he was not particularly verbal or demonstrative on his feelings. Until that day I signed away my little farm.

It had been on his recommendation that I bought it. I believe he said something like if I didn’t buy it, he would.

Then came divorce and I had to sell it, but that was during a real estate bust in the late seventies and it took two years.

I had to get a perk test and my dad came to fill the hole using what had been my D-17 bucket tractor. I was having a rebellious period and refused.

Then came that awful day when we stood in the little kitchen of that little ramshackle house and signed the papers. My dad stood there with me, silent as usual as I signed away my little dream.

I am sure he consciously knew exactly what he was doing. He taught me something really important about being a father that day, and I never doubted his love again.

It took me almost twenty years to get another piece of land and another sixteen to get a bucket tractor. And when I use it, I think of him.

I stopped grieving the loss of my father on Father’s Day of 1990, a little over two years after his death. I prayed aloud, that day in the Arizona Sonoran Desert, a prayer of gratitude for my father and for the privilege of being a father.

When I garden, I think of both my parents. Planting, cultivating, and harvesting is what we did.

Near the gate to my garden in the north woods stands a wounded ceramic elephant with a pot of flowers on its back. It symbolizes a few things for me, but most of all, it represents the healing power of Love, especially Agape Love.

Happy Father’s Day.

Happy Tracking.

Philanthropy Lost

“I can walk in those hills and no one is going to try to kill me, and I won’t have to try to kill anyone else,” I thought as I looked about Fort Lewis on my way home from Vietnam. Then, reality set in. Yes, part of me thought that, the conscious part, but another part clings to the belief that somebody out there is still trying to kill me, and I may have to kill, again.

I am compelled to judge. We all are, we sentient beings. It is programmed into our DNA.

Labrador Retrievers are programmed to believe that everybody loves them. Well, almost everybody. They still judge actions but are amazingly tolerant.

They also believe they can walk on water and almost do.

Are we born trusting our fellow humans? More or less, yes. We are born trusting smiling faces.

Then we learn to judge.

Note: On our journey to consider twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress, June embraces four kinds of Love.

Philanthropy is the love of mankind. We do that. Every one of us is willing to risk life and limb for another person in danger under certain conditions. Combat is such a condition. We risk our lives to defend and protect others. We willingly sacrifice our safety to help a brother or sister under threat. That is one example of a second form of love, a brotherly love called philos in Greek.

I have always known this. As the youngest of a family of six, I have always experienced it firsthand.

My sisters took care of me, fed me, clothed me, taught me colors, numbers, and letters, and loved me. They still do. They even gave me a perm fifty years ago. What hair I have left is wavy yet.

My brothers took care of me, too, in more ways than I can recount. They gave me jobs, lessons, and hope. I have always known that if I needed something, I mean really needed help, somebody would be there.

In the Army, I learned to trust some guys like brothers. I know of no bond as strong as the common experience of facing fire, of seeing the mettle of a friend in battle. It is philanthropy with the currency of self, of time and life rather than money. It is real brotherly love.

Who are my brothers? Who is worthy of such love, such sacrifice of safety?

We judge the other. We all do, based upon our education and experience. Some of us do it consciously. Most of us do it subconsciously.

Many of my Vietnam Veteran friends do not like the smell of nuoc mam, the sauce of fermented fish which is used like mustard on Coney Island, or the sound of tonal Asian languages.

I love Nature in part because it does not judge me. I am more secure with lions, tigers and bears in the north woods than with humans who would judge me, even kill me, because of the language I speak, the clothes I wear, the color of my skin, or the name of my god. It is my goal to be as civilized as my wild brothers.

But I am prejudiced.

Deep inside, we can all find tracks of prejudice that are consequences of experience. May we also find tracks of philanthropy that allow sentient management of our prejudices so that we may genuinely love one another, for philos is another doorway to greater love.

Happy Tracking!

Bower Power

June is Love month. Our exploration of twelve personal attributes I see contributing to recovery from PTSD and other past stresses continues with consideration of four kinds of love. Let’s begin with Eros.

It is no coincidence that the heart shape of our most common love symbol physically resembles buttocks.

Without the power of physical attraction, we would not…could not…exist. Besides, erotic love is a thrilling natural high. It is a good thing–an excellent thing. Eros is quite literally a portal to greater love.

Trauma sometimes damages this love, even if the trauma is not sexual. I don’t know why, but I know a bit of how.

Mentally wounded people are less attractive, or at least we feel less attractive. We are more guarded, self isolating, distant. Intimacy becomes more challenging.

We may appear to have lost something of our essence, our soul.

Then there is the anger thing–very unattractive, repulsive actually.

There is another issue: Trauma survivors gravitate toward addiction. Perhaps it is attempted relief from pain of mental obsession, but I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on TV.

Sex can become that addiction, that avenue of distraction and stress relief. Pornography raises its ugly head, a very real problem for some of our combat Veterans.

A doorway to greater love is closed. That is a great tragedy for all of us.

“Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.” (Frederich Nietzsche)

I don’t know about the Christianity part of the quote, but I am certain this is often true of trauma.

I have spent the past few days hauling rocks to build a new rock garden for Nancy. She likes rock gardens. She likes most gardens, so I work to make them pretty for her. I am a Bowerbird, fixing up a pretty haven for her Bridal Bower in the north woods.

Isn’t that romantic? Our thirty-fifth year of marriage and I am still wooing her. Sure, there are ulterior motives; I want her to be happy in the north woods because I want to be here more, and I want her with me. Sure, I am happier when Nancy is happy.

Maybe recovery is really that simple: doing something for somebody else. Maybe that is the essence of erotic love, the drive to do something to make somebody else happy even if it is for ulterior motive.

I said it was a gateway to greater love, this Eros thing, not the greatest love. We will get to that later.

Erotic love is not a vice, but an addiction is. As with most addictions, recovery from PTSD requires first recovering from any sexual addiction, and the first step to that is admitting it has become a vice.

No, I am not going to ask you to look for tracks of erotic vice in your heart.

Please, look for the tracks of true romance in the young heart of your pre-trauma self. Remember it and cherish it.

Happy Tracking!

Perfect World

We live in prisons of our own creation, trapped between two contrasting worlds of our imagination. The first is our utopia, the way we come to believe the world should be. The second is our dystopia, the way we come to believe the world might be. Both are false.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past trauma. May aspires to Hope.

We spend our days and nights drowning in the cold dark sea of reality, desperately trying to climb the icebergs of our imagination, alternately trying to climb the iceberg of our fantasies where everything works out just right for us and trying to climb back on that iceberg of our past trauma just to, you know, fix things and make them right.

Like the icebergs, these worlds lie mostly below the surface of our awareness, in our subconscious. The rules we choose to govern our lives are those we accept without judgment, for judgment requires acknowledgement of their existence. We pretend these worlds are reality. We deny that they are our own creations.

We hold the visions in our heads, the dreams of our perfect world and the nightmare of our fears and traumas. We do not rule them for they rule us.

Now, that is depressing.

In a perfect world, our childish fantasies are cherished memories replaced in governance by the beautiful schema of reality. We come to know the way the world really works. We learn to negotiate reality, to manage our lives, to accept the way things are.

Many of us do not live in a perfect world. We fail to accept the rules of the universe, clinging to our fantasies. Things never seem to work out the way we believe they should. We live with high expectations and dashed hopes simply because we cling to the iceberg we created rather than to swim the reality we come to know through experience. We live in denial.

Some of us live in the darkness of dread, fears of terrible nightmares and repeated trauma. Our experiences have been too terrible to reconcile with our world views, especially if our world views are dream world fantasies.

Maybe I should get to the Hope, already.

The world is not falling apart. The world works perfectly according to immutable laws, principles we can discern with careful observation and honest reflection. Well, WE can as a community. Any one of us is unlikely to figure out very much on our own, but together we can understand reality. We can explain and predict, we can negotiate and manage, and we can appreciate and accept.

I am in da Nort’ Woods this day. My body is sharing time and space with my heart, that is, my passion.

I cannot cheat the woods. There are mosquitoes and ticks and bears here, and poison ivy, too. I cannot deny that, and I cannot change that. I wouldn’t if I could.

Who am I to disapprove of the woods? The woods does not disapprove of me. I am accepted here the same as the mosquitoes and ticks and bears. Nobody gets special treatment of favor or discrimination. There is a blessed egality in the woods, in all of Nature. I appreciate that. I accept that.

I cannot find egality at the mall, on cable news, or anywhere in manmade worlds. Here, in Nature, I cannot escape it.

So, why am I alone, here? No, I am not lonely. I just marvel that most people spend so little time in Nature. I surmise that most of us prefer to keep climbing the icebergs of our childhood fantasies or our traumas.

Do you want freedom from dread and depression? Do you want Hope?

Well, you are going to have to melt those icebergs, and that begins with acceptance. In my case, time in Nature always helps me to accept the way things are in reality, and that allows me to perceive and accept my imaginary worlds as that, imaginary. That helps me to see my dream as childish folly and my trauma as a reason to need Nature even more.

Yes, there is Hope if you will have it, and all you really have to do is put your childhood fantasies in the toy box, turn the light on the closet of your fears, and accept the world the way it is.

This is a Perfect World. Go wonder in Nature.

Happy Tracking!

Low D

On a topographic map, there is a symbol marked by a closed loop representing a contour of equal elevation with hash marks inside. This is a depression, an area of land lower than all the land surrounding it.

One in ten older American Veterans suffers from depression (VA)http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20110624a.asp

Last week at Dr. Hart’s Combat Veteran Aftercare Group, I heard him tell a brother that most Veterans with PTSD also have another condition and that his was depression.

Depression is like being lost in a cedar swamp on a moonless night in the fog. Pitfalls surround you between the roots of tall trees that shade you even from starlight. One wrong step could drop you into a hole in the bog, into cold, dark water. You know there is higher ground somewhere, but even your imagination has lost sight of it. There is no light, not even in your mind. Darkness enveopes you; purpose escapes you; hope echoes like a cruel joke.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stresses. May aspires to Hope.

Eleven (11) percent of our older Veterans suffer from depression. The number seems low to me, but I expect that is because a lot of Veterans do not live to be old. On an average day, twenty two (22) American Veterans commit suicide.

Depression kills.

It lies there, waiting, between the anger and acceptance of a grieving process.

But, there is Hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things…” (Shawshank Redemption)

A line from a movie, yes, a story written by an author of horror. I find that amusing in a way.

If you are a Veteran, or if you love a Veteran, please recognize anger as an alternative to depression. Anger is a lifeline to higher ground, to life, to rescue from depression.

Yes, acceptance is a goal, the state of conclusion of grief. Yes, acceptance is possible and desireable. But, it is over there, on the other side of that chasm or swamp of depression. Will we survive the journey?

Some of us will. Many, too many, of us will not. Like combat, itself, even the survival of PTSD carries a sense of survivor’s guilt. Now, ain’t that depressing?

Anger management in the customary sense is dangerous for combat Veterans because it makes us vulnerable to depression. It strips us of our lifeline. It casts us into the swamp of despair.

So, where is the Hope, already?

Here it is: Brotherhood. Nothing helps a Veteran like another Veteran. We don’t need to sit around and talk about our PTSD. We do need to sit around and talk. We need each other. I don’t know why, the psychology of it, but I know it works. And at some point one brother shares with another an experience of Hope, an improvement in conditions through application of strategies, a psychologist that can be trusted. Trusted, yeah, that’s it.

And service. There is a blessing to feeling useful in service to your brothers. You feel a purpose, again, to share your experience with the Veteran in pain. I have witnessed it, experienced it.

If there are tracks of depression in your heart, get help. Reach out to a brother and ask him how he does it. You will find them at Veteran’s organizations, VA hospital or clinic waiting rooms, or VA Centers dedicated to serving combat Veterans and their families.

May your tracks follow you to help.