Look to the Vets: Bombs, emotions, and PTSD

I am sitting and watching the television as I try and work. The images streaming on the news channels are familiar. I see them and I am reminded of my other senses. Sulfur, burnt hair, melted plastic. The attacks that have just struck our society again are unfortunately more common in other parts of the world. Ironically, if you find a Veteran of the past ten years, there is a good chance they are more familiar with this scenario than most Americans.  Hell, most of my facebook friends are well versed in this drill…  I hope we can lead the country at large around the pitfalls of these types of attacks.

“Chaos” is a singularly accurate word to describe these scenes, but singular descriptions are inadequate. I have written about the aftermath before. We are firmly entrenched in a review of details as a nation.

We will watch video and listen to interviews, but I am now paying keen attention toward the emotions. The emotions that will pour out of the trauma that has now affected thousands of people will take a long while to unwind. Feelings of people who ran towards the blast, people who ran away, those who panicked, those who resolved to stay and help, anger, sadness and helplessness  will feed many nights of sleeplessness.

The images are now seared into the minds of the EMTs, the Police, the first responders, and civilians and through the television, the rest of America. Feelings of a lack of safety, hopelessness, but also hope and resolution all juxtaposition in a heap like the crowds immediately after the blast. They are battered, bloody and waiting for triage. And even without the help of the evening news, they will replay over in our minds. I feel confident about these statements because it is a glimpse into my minds eye after a few key events in my service overseas.

In my head

I am anxious, but not as I would have been three years ago. My wife came home to see me at my desk with the news on as I sifted through work emails.

“You know you shouldn’t watch that all night.” she gently told me.

“Yeah, I haven’t been watching long…” I lied.

I have lived through the aftermath of more than one car bomb. One of the most traumatic events I have ever lived through was dealing with triage for hours on end as a result of a massive car bomb in Tal’afar, Iraq.   The lines of amputees and severely burned stretched to our gates.

I am now neatly preparing my mind for the next few hours and days. I am eliminating the “stuck points” or in laymen’s terms, using “always” or “never” in my opinions or feelings. I am forcing myself to stare at the triggers. The pictures of blood stained concrete are all too familiar.  In staring at them I force myself to realize that these are low probability events. There were half a million people at the race today. Three killed and over a hundred wounded is not much more unsafe than driving and maybe safer than some parts of urban Detroit.

This is what terrorism tries to do. It tries to impact your emotions into forming unreasonable and illogical conclusions.  It plays on safety and fear and it is powerful.  I think that had we known more about the treatment of emotions I would not have been hastened back into conflict so quickly.  Today and here we do not have to rush anyone today back to work.

Stiffen and Strengthen

One more resolution is to stiffen against these attacks. I can feel the callouses return. I think this is in our nature.

F#ck me?


F#ck You!

We can now replace the Brooklynese with Southie. I even looked at signing up for another marathon so I can qualify for the next Boston.

The details will unfold, but more important than the details of the day are how the details make you feel.  They will be much more telling about what is happening, and what is to come.  If you are waning or lost, and you know a Vet, look to them and reach out.  Both sides will benefit.

2 thoughts on “Look to the Vets: Bombs, emotions, and PTSD

  1. Juliza RW

    Hi Mikey, thanks for sharingyour reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing. I have been thinking about survivors of PTSD and how they were dealing with the news. Actually, I did not have to wonder so far – I could see my husband’s wheels turning as he ALSO kept the news on.

    One thing I wanted to add to what you already stated. You are right about rest after exposure to events like these. Research has come very far since 9/11, and now, we understand that psychological rest after significant stress is really good for us. The motto “taking a knee” is not just about of physical exhaustion – it is about our mental one as well. There was an article that discussed how much benefit TBI survivors have gained since 2011, when the military put in to practice protocols that required at least a 24 hour rest period after significant impact/concussions. This mandatory rest has kept more of our service members in the fight – for the longer haul. Most importantly, it has kept them healthier for the rest of their lives.

    One day we will get to the point where “emotion exhaustion” and “psychological distress” will gain as much valid significance as “muscle fatigue” and “physical exhaustion”. Weightlifters know not to use the same muscle days in a row unless they are willing to risk a muscle tear or a flat out “plateau” on progress. It just makes sense.

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