The Complexity of PTSD

December 23, 2012

Dear Fellow Travelers:

Recently, Joyce and I had the privilege of interviewing Michelle Bellon, author of The Complexity of a Soldier. Her book is a work of fiction, but it is based on a very profound and deep problem that many of our soldiers are now facing; PTSD.

PTSD, also called post traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event according to a Mayo Clinic article on this syndrome. The condition has symptoms that may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event that caused the onset of the condition.

Michelle is the author of several books; a registered nurse and a mother of four. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, close to an Army base where many US soldiers were shipped off to Vietnam during that conflict. Most of them arrived back a year later, to be processed and re-assigned to stateside duty stations or to be discharged. While all of them were changed by their experience, some were changed more than others. Some had scars caused by shrapnel, punjy sticks, AK-47 rounds, or other obvious signs of combat. Many had scars that were deeper, below the surface, some festering even years later. I was one of those that passed through that Army base headed for Vietnam in 1969, returning in 1970 physically unharmed but forever changed. I don’t have any war stories to tell; for the most part even though I had some close calls, my tour of duty was largely uneventful, especially compared to many others. And yet the effects of that year are still deeply rooted in my psyche. During an afternoon nap a few weeks after my return while still on leave, I suddenly found myself crawling on the floor clutching frantically for my M-16 (left in Vietnam for some other soldier to have as a companion for a year) when a truck backfired in my normally quiet neighborhood.

Prior to Vietnam PTSD was simply referred to as battle fatigue, shell shocked, or any number of similar phrases to describe someone whose nerves could no longer handle as much stress as a “regular” person. Sudden noises 42 years after Vietnam on occasion still provoke a response (mostly a jerk accompanied by a choice word or two); particularly if I have recently been thinking about some of the events of that year. My current situation usually lends itself to a chuckle after the event; for many others the condition is much more severe.

Michelle admits she is not an expert in PTSD, but she brings many elements of that characteristic into play in her story; the plot may be shocking to some but it could be a reality story taken from today’s headlines. While soldiers are not the only people to suffer from PTSD their statistics are sobering; the lifetime occurrence in combat veterans is between 10 and 30%, in recent years the number of diagnosed cases has increased by 50%. One in five troops that return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from some form of PTSD, soldiers who serve more than one tour of duty are dramatically and proportinately more at risk. That risk increases with each tour of duty; it is estimated that more than 300,000 American veterans of the Iraqi conflicts are struggling with PTSD. Research findings for soldiers with active mental health issues indicate that 38% lack trust in mental health professionals, 41% are embarrassed to seek help, and 50% felt that to seek help would damage their careers while 65% of those surveyed feared being labeled as weak if they sought help. In the 20% of service men that do seek help it is not uncommon for the soldiers to be rejected five or more times due to lack of funding and red tape.

While it may be unusual for the Powerful Patient to be interviewing an author of a fictional work, this story by Michelle Bellon raises awareness of PTSD without being overburdened by the terminology of the professional. PTSD is something that more and more of us are being forced to deal with as we are gradually seeing an increase in the number of people who are experiencing this condition.


An organization by the name of Emotional Tuning says that in addition to as many as 30% of veterans suffering from PTSD, some 45% of battered women, 50% of sexually abused children, 35% of adult rape victims, and a lesser percentage of health workers, police and firefighters suffer from PTSD. In an effort to combat this situation as well as a reluctance for many PTSD sufferers to seek counsel, emotional tuning has developed and made available a series of self-help video programs that are available through the Internet to view in the privacy of a person’s own home that perhaps can help someone.  While neither the Powerful Patient nor this writer gives an endorsement for these programs, the following link will provide additional information about the videos:

Once again I would like to thank Michelle Bellon for stopping by and spending some time with Joyce and I and discussing her latest work The Complexity of a Soldier; at this time of year when we want to celebrate the vision of Joy To the World and to proclaim Peace, Goodwill Toward All Men, perhaps this will serve as an inducement for us to try to share understanding and resources for those who are suffering with PTSD.


Warmest wishes, best of success–Michael Lawing

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