The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’

It‘s Been a Little While

It’s been a little while.

On 4th of July, someone popped one of those confetti thingies behind me – I didn’t know she was there. scared the bejeebus out of me, I was a shaky mess for quite a while. But…

That wasn’t The Thing. Not really.

I had a motorbike crash almost two months ago, broke my leg, surgery, hardware, etc. Could have been much worse. But you know, weirdly enough, except for the stress-relieving habit of cracking jokes left and right in the ER when I‘m jacked up, I was fine.

There have been a few things that have disturbed my basic groove. But…

It‘s been a little while since I’ve had to face The Thing. It‘s been a while since I‘ve been in That Place.

And then, was it yesterday? Maybe day before? I lose track sometimes…

I had just been reading something, somewhere, online, and came across a written account of the dialogue in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, in the scene where the German Soldier is grappling with, and then killing one of the characters with a bayonet.

“Give up. It’ll be over soon”. Something like that. The German whispered it like a tempting demon.

There was more, but I don‘t need to go into the morbid details. Seamlessly, like the strobing wink of a lighthouse on its rounds, I was in That Place. It’s not a good place. And this world, the real world for better or worse, was faded out completely. I remembered That Place. I felt the atmosphere-controlled air of an underway boat. I heard the inherent, constant hum of a living submarine. The boat moved through its exercises. And I felt it all go still, remembered like I was still at sea, sitting in Sonar. The boat went still, and then a cacophony of men running past the shack, grabbing rehearsed damage control equipment. We rigged our compartment in brisk, practiced movements. Voices gave commands, and passed info! just as we practiced. And then no one running. Everyone who could run aft had gone there, just as we had practiced.

But then… something was wrong. Time dangled with indecision, waiting to know what, why, something – anything. Only the depth gauge moved. I stood on a bulkhead, because our angle meant that was easier than the floor. Just when the tension of knowing nothing reached its apex, the Chief of the Watch started chanting. We could hear his words, and little else, on the open mike saying, “oh shit we’re gonna die” over and over again. The aux operator looked over at me, looking for something like confidence.

I didn’t have it to give.

And that moment, right there, where as a qualified submariner I didnt have an answer… that is where I stay, endlessly repeating. Why did I go blank? What look, what words, what action could I have taken to reassure the sonar crew?

We in Sonar couldn’t fight the casualty – we‘re on watch, the problem is back aft, and there’s as many as can be back there already. I can tell myself that a million times. But yet…

Over, and over.

So, we were! just waiting to die. Hope faded as we passed well into that zone beyond which sunlight never reaches.

It was a sick feeling, and I felt that sick feeling as keenly as the day I was there. The floor seemed to tip forward to the down angle we took that day. I could hear everything I heard then, all the sounds the boat made to agree with the COW, that we were indeed doomed.

I don’t know how long I stood there. I don‘t even recall standing up. When I bestirred myself the dogs had come to my side. I was weary from standing on one leg, and from the imagined stress of remaining upright in a tipped-over world.

And no one else in the room seemed to notice.

There are a fair number of people whom I love. There’s a lot of people who say they have my back. There are very, very few who seem to actually understood what they offered with that phrase when the moment comes. I guess I don’t really hold the grudge, I understand…well, how hard it is to understand That Place. It took me a couple decades and I‘m inside this head.

But when I absolutely, positively can‘t take the chance on being ok myself!

I‘ll be outside with my dogs for a while.

It gets better, I guess, in the sense while it still happens, between the right meds and counseling and some dedicated work – and the loyalty of two dogs – it’s gotten less frequent.  I‘ll figure it out.

But it‘s been a little while.



If the above looks like random characters created by my cat walking across the keyboard, this article might be for you.

If you’re only vaguely familiar with its meaning, read on.

And if you know EXACTLY what it means, from a personal standpoint, I’d like your opinion on what follows.

I got involved this morning in an interesting group conversation started by a woman who was thinking of getting a tattoo with those characters. But she worried that because she had never been in combat, and did not have PTSD, perhaps it would come across as a presumptuous attempt to ingratiate herself with that group.

The group she referred to are veterans who struggle with PTSD from their military service. The semicolon is from another movement aimed at preventing suicide in the general public. The letters are an acronym for “I’ve got your six”, a military way of saying “I’ve got your back”. Together the phrase, and the wearing of the tattoo, is a symbol of support meant to be seen by someone who needs it.

I thought for a bit about her question. These days, it seems many people want to belong to a group they consider cool, even if they’ve never done anything connected to that group’s common experience.  While I don’t personally understand wanting to be part of a group whose common core is a debilitating disorder, we’ve all run across the joiners of anything that sounds suitably dramatic.

I earned my submarine dolphins in the navy. If you wore those Dolphins as a tattoo “in support”, I might take issue, because you weren’t there. I earned medals, including an expeditionary medal, a result of having engaged in a difficult mission. If you had that tattooed “in support”, I’d take issue, because you weren’t there.

;IGY6 isn’t a military award. The theme belongs in a sense to veterans, I suppose. We lived, slept, ate, and fought with our shipmates, our platoon mates. We stood on the shores of hell together. Some flinched. Some stood forward and ready, and jumped into the fray. We learned who to trust through experience. Those people proved themselves in the ultimate test of character, and we place an incredible amount of faith in that test.

But in the awkward post-military world we struggle to survive in, we PTSD vets need people with things at our six besides weapons. The war is of a different nature, it is against ourselves, and we need people who can see, recognize, warn, and handle those things. Many times the ones who recognize the signs are in fact our brothers-in-arms, who have seen what we’ve seen, know it’s look in our eyes, and can call us on it when we try to hide. But beyond that, there are many other ways to “have our six”.

We need people who can take a look at us and say, with a sense of familiarity with the subject, “hey, you doing alright?”. Sometimes that’s a wife, or a brother or sister who know us well. We need people who see us in a rage, and can talk us down, or protect us and those around us until we’re safe. We need people to see us “go silent” in public, or beginning to panic, and can take time to be with us for a moment, or walk with us out of the Walmart that sets us off. We need friends who remember we haven’t been seen online for a few days, to seek us out and pull us out of a downward spiral with their voice, and quiet company. We need a non-judgmental reminder of where we really are and what we’re doing when our thoughts get out of control and we can’t think or talk right. We need people who can be trusted with the knowledge we aren’t always right, without the stigmatizing condescending assumption that we must never be right.

We could use an army of these people. It doesn’t take a veteran. There are plenty of other horrors in this world besides combat that can prepare a person to be empathetic. There are plenty of people who struggle to live with those memories – from childhood, from an abusive relationship, or from acts of violence or disaster. I’ve known adopted children, survivors of awful kinds of abuse, whose word and touch have pulled me back.

We all can have each other’s six in this fight. It is a different kind of army I speak of. Anyone can prepare themselves to be part of it. But make no mistake, it takes work. It takes study. It isn’t something you can just do flippantly to appear cool. At some point if you haven’t done something to actually learn and prepare, if you subscribe to the many myths and junior-high slumber party stories of what PTSD is about, you’ll find yourself face to face with someone’s crisis, and your shallowness and naïveté can cause more damage.

But if you can do those things, if you can genuinely care about someone else’s outcome more than your self-interest, then at this point in our life, you may be better prepared to have “got our six”, better even than some of our shipmates, or patrol mates. If you can be all or even one of those things, you can be a lifesaver.

And if you can be that, then by all means, get the tattoo.

for more information, check out these links:

Project Semicolon A Mental Health Organization