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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
Living with personal dragons.

Although I took part in many ambushes, several minor “Fire fights” and three other major combat operations, one battle stands out in my mind. Operation Attleboro between September to November 1966. It was designed to introduce a new brigade to combat training needed for fighting in the jungles of our area of operations. This “Training Exercise” turned into the largest battle in Vietnam up to that time. When I look back Operation Attleboro in not so often mentioned instead it called the battle for Dau Tieng.

My primary trauma accrued within a 96-hour time period while taking part of the Phase II, of three, part of this operation.

During this time, my unit just happened to be bombed by our own B-52's in the middle of the night. It’s amazing what your reaction is like when woken up by being sucked out of your foxhole by the concussion of bombs going off near you!

The following morning, as we moved through heavy jungle, an opening appeared with an unexploded 750-1,000 pound bomb pointing downward in a crater. You have no idea of the fear that can run through your mind as you walk next to this bomb knowing that at anytime it could go off based on an internal timer! Many bombs used during a “Carpet bombing” had delay action fuses for follow-up destruction. What was on my mind? IS IT TIME FOR IT TO GO OFF!

The next components of my trauma took place on the same day that the above event accrued. The start of these events was walking into an ambush that took many of the lives of the individuals within my unit over a three day period. I suppress many of the events that took place over those next several days. Firing your rife at an object in a tree and watching a body tumble slowing from a tree. Moving along a trail under fire and seeing a US helmet with a hole in it. Seeing the destruction of most of the vegetation around you where trees are stumps and there is very little undergrowth remaining after all the small arms fire!

Do you know what a bullet tastes like as it passes between your lips? I do. Your tongue receives an electrical shock as though someone places a battery on it and you feel the shock wave as the bullet passes by. Not to mention the disintegration of the handset that you are holding at the time! In order to keep me busy, Lt. Hart asked me to move forward between the two undefined lines to obtain directions of fire and location of VC bunkers, spider holes and any visible tunnel opening.

One of the more difficult parts of this story is after getting shot in the neck and hand than being ordered to the rear for evacuation by Lt. Hart. I reported in and was put on the perimeter of the LZ in order to help protect the evacuation of the more seriously wounded and dead. After being shot in the thigh it was time for me to leave.

I then spent two nights and a day watching while Medevac rescue helicopters were being shot down trying to remove myself and other wounded from the battle zone. When I did get the call to leave we were also loaded with dead bodies wrapped in ponchos. Place in your minds eye the vision of these bodies slowly bouncing in rhythm of the rotor blades. As we were airlifted out, I can still see the ponchos along the dikes of the rice paddy containing the bodies of other soldiers killed in action and other wounded waiting (and wanting) their turn to leave!

Life since the Military:

For the last 30 years I have not lived a normal happy life. Since leaving the Army, I have found life difficult and trying for me. This was made very clear to me during a 13 week program to assist veterans with PTSD to readjust to the civilian world. This was in 1997 and I had been discharged in 1967… a long wait to try and fit back into society!

At the end of an afternoon my group of 12 had sat down and discussed each others concerns and frustrations of trying to live in the “Normal World” while experiencing our traumas and triggers of living in our own world! At 3am the following morning I could not sleep so I went into the classroom and wrote down the topics that had a direct effect on my life. Every so often I break out the list and see if there's been any improvement. Sometimes I have and other times I can see where I've fallen back! I have been in combat situations over six times. Since going into the Denver PTSD program even more events and their related flashbacks have been added to my memory as each recollection happen. Each flashback event presents me with its own images and many are now on a daily basis. Most flashbacks are vivid when they occur. With people dying, trees blowing apart and my fears and terror. Some are seen as in-complete events and I'm not seeing all that had happened nor with other people in them. Others visions are only images viewed through a small window of the fight. Many nights I find it hard to go to sleep, stay asleep or I wake up with cold sweat nightmares that I do not remember.

I have to live with anger and irritability on a daily basis. I am now dealing with frustrations over my “missed” life, a life that I've craved for and will never have now because of my age. I am bitter with the government and the Veterans Administration for the lack of insight into PTSD and the effects that it has had on my life as well as others that experienced Vietnam and the reactions of people upon my return from service there. When PTSD became a recognized disorder, 1981 (?), I personally feel that not enough effort was made to evaluate Vietnam Veterans for PTSD.

Many times over the last 30 years and even more often in recent times, I have felt that ending my life would be best solution for me. I become so angry with the government for not looking after the Vietnam Veterans that I feel that some form of action should be taken in that area too. Through therapy I am learning to recognize many of my PTSD problems (Dragons) that I was not aware of before starting. These symptoms, listed at the top of this report, have been so much a part of my life that I did not recognize them as being out of the ordinary. Since November 1996 I have emotionally continued on a downward spiral as I realize the wasted life from fighting this ingrained PTSD.

After losing my teaching position at a college in 1994, I returned to the travel industry where I have been employed for most of my adult life. But only after a short time (3 months) I lost this job because of an angry outburst on my part. I have looked back on my life and feel that I have accomplished little in my life, my depression has taken its toll, and I'm very tired because of this depression. For my benefit I was lucky that my family doctor knew of PTSD and referred me to a VA Vet center.

I will emphasize my deficiencies in the areas of work, family relations, and lack of anger management, plus other areas. I am unable to accept authority in the workplace, which makes it very stressful to me when I try to work for others and I get feelings that it’s necessary for me to change jobs because of the lack of satisfaction where or when I have worked.

Even though I've had many personal relationships, lasting several months, I still feel that I am isolated from people and the communities that I have live in. I feel that every time that someone has tried to be a friend, I push them away so that they don't learn of my past or for fear of losing them later as it happened so many times during my tours of duty in Vietnam.

I do not socialize well nor do I like to interact with most other people around me. For most of my life I have lived within a closed world. I have only one true friend, who is also a Vietnam vet, and I do not allow people to get close to me. This way I do not expose myself to inquiry about the war or the part that I played in it.

I have repeatedly moved around the country looking for the “right” place to live, never being happy in any one place for longer than two years. I've been married three times. I've had 20 plus live-in girl friends plus hundreds of short-term/one night relationships. It seems that anytime a woman tries to be close to me emotionally I push them away and I look for someone else. I try to find contentment, satisfaction and happiness with women but all it turns into is sexual gratification and escapism for me. I have found that I do not allow anyone near me on a personal/emotional level and still do not allow it today. These relationships, for the most part, have been for sexual gratification or emotional numbing only.

I am always looking for a better life, the right woman to be my wife, a better job, or place to live. I have, for many years, believed that I won't live past the age of 62. It’s my belief that I will not retire like normal people do.

I am a person, who would rather be out in the middle of nowhere than being forced into socializing with most, if not all people. This has caused additional problems in my relationships and I do not see any future change.

Within this 38-year time frame (as or 2009) I have had and lost many jobs, quitting most of them, and I have never been successful in the business world because of the anxiety of success in the workplace drawing attention to me. I feel that I have had many good ideas but have never followed through with them to completion. The fear of success can be overwhelming.

I am an “Emotional Stuffer” in the true sense of the word. I do not convey my feelings nor do I express my feelings to anyone very well. I have a difficult time being open with people and not wishing to hurt other people’s feelings I seldom express myself openly. During several times of great stress or anger, I have lived in isolation away from everyone, preferring to live in the mountains. I am much more comfortable living in small towns and even more so in a rural setting like a farm or ranch with no neighbors close by to my family or me.

Anger is the main controlling force in my life and I use it as a tool to protect myself from harm, which has accrued or may accrue in my life since Vietnam. This perceived danger can happen even in my life today and has been reflected in daily events as simple as yelling a people for blocking an aisle at a store while I'm trying to pass by.

I must admit that I do spend time confused as to the date, place or time that I'm in. Finding it necessary to relay on others for appointments, I'm usually at least a day or two off but it’s not uncommon for me to be at least a year off when trying to remember events in my life. While teaching, it was necessary for my secretary to keep track of events I needed to go to since I would forget where I was supposed to be.

I find it difficult to adjust to changing events or circumstances around me but especially in the business world. I either have quit or have been fired from many jobs since 1967 when I returned from Vietnam. I have found that the stress of working and making business decisions or the responsibilities related to work is very frustrating for me. It’s common for me to have anxiety attacks at work, worrying about if I'm doing the job correctly and if so will I remember to continue that way. It is not uncommon for me to start a new job, find it enjoyable, work hard and learn about the position I'm in, than become bored in a very short time. I have even received promotions and than become so concerned about my performance that I quit and move to a new location just so people would not have to trust me.

I do have a BA degree in geography. The major difficulty is that it is very non-specific in subject content and has not provided me with useful tools for outside employment after graduation. But now I feel so discouraged and depressed in life I will not go any further in my education. This is based on my lack of concentration, retention of material, memory problems, plus personal concern in my ability to study and learn.

During my time in Vietnam I got into the habit of going to sleep on my left side. The reasoning for this is to get my heart as close to the ground as possible. We had the feeling that during an attack the first rounds from the VC would be high so I wanted to protect myself as best I could. That is one habit that has carried over to today and I still make every effort to go to sleep on my left side.

I wake up in the middle of the night on many occasions with unknown sweat dreams. This is an ongoing problem that I have had for many, many years. I jerk awake in the middle of the night soaking wet, or at the very least, wet around the neck and shoulders. I have caused bruises to several girl friends and wives waking up this way.

One of the most vivid dreams and recurring dreams deals with my exposure to leeches after being hit and lying in a rice paddy for a night. When I woke up I had many, many leaches on me. I spent almost an hour looking for leeches then burning them off of me with cigarettes.

First, Flashbacks: I experience them. They can occur for no reason and without warning, coming from out of nowhere, or during times of stress. Secondly, Sounds: Sometime with a backfire, helicopter fly-byes, hail bouncing on a roof, close hitting lightning or distant thunder will produce a flashback. I return to Vietnam and my experiences come back to me. Thirdly, Smells have an effect on me: There are several smells that can cause an event but the most forceful smells are: Diesel fumes from truck exhaust or the smell of vomit.

I deal with anxiety attacks that can be rather forceful at times. They develop at any time and can last up to several days. Many others of these attacks are short in length and can be produced by the following: Diesel fuel smell, stress, anger at a news story that I feel there were injustices being done to someone. Grief or sadness for someone that has had a loss of a loved one or by watching a happy ending movie will have an effect on me. Sometime even bringing tears to my eye or a full outright crying session.

I will usually have an anxiety attack after bouts of anger. I wonder what the outcome of this anger will be in my personal life or business life. They have occurred in both, which has led to breakups of relationships, marriages and loss of employment.

I have a very difficult time controlling my anger. Recent events illustrate this, in August 1997, during a presentation to a travel group I lost my temper because the group could not make a decision on a departure date. This cost me another job and increased my negative outlook about myself in general and about my life as well. My self-esteem is pretty low at this time.

I wish to list here is my aversion of being in any crowd or people in general. I do not do not do not like, nor enjoy crowds of people. This includes movie theaters, cafeterias with long lines, and long lines of any kind, sporting events, or malls. A simple example of this is that I did not go to any of my school graduations while in college. It seems that I'm always on guard!

Because of thoughts about Vietnam and my past, I have difficulty falling and staying asleep. I have remorse over what I've missed because of my PTSD. Even though the knowledge of the effects has come to light only over the last two years, I realize that it is something that I've had since discharge from the service! I experience a great deal of irritability and outbursts of anger over this fact!

Most of the PTSD events listed above recur after I have experienced some form of stressful situation or I have become angry over something that has occurred that day. At other times, I can experience them with no forewarning at all. I seem to have no control over these things when they happen anyway. I have had little success in getting my anger, frustrations, short temper, nor my disappointments with life under control.

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