Sunday, November 9, 2008
PTSD Is Not An Excuse
I've thought a lot about this, and have wanted to say something about this for a long time, but I was never really angry enough to break past the filmy barrier that's been preventing us from saying things about this for a long time. Do I care for my brothers who have PTSD? Absolutely. Do I understand that PTSD is debilitating? Absolutely. I have it myself and it's a really hard thing to live with. Can it even be disabling? Yes. If you've seen some of the people I have, you'd absolutely understand that.
But it is NOT A FUCKING EXCUSE.
I will admit here that I struggle with my anger every day. Every single day. I am number one for walking out on the job right now, because my leadership understands that walking out and cooling down is much more productive than yelling or hitting something. But once you know that you have PTSD, I think you have a responsibility as well to try to temper it. You try as hard as you possibly can to avoid situations that you know are going to tempt you. For example: I used to love going out by myself to strange bars and drinking with new friends. I don't do it anymore, after the time when I got myself involved in someone else's fight and spent the next hour limping, bleeding, and talking my way out of trouble with the MPs. Do I wish I had the control to be able to do it? Yes, you're damn right I do. But I acknowledge that it's a risk factor, and so I don't go out drinking unless I'm accompanied by someone I trust to get me out of Dodge if trouble looks like it's rising.
I'm sick and tired of people who claim that their PTSD is the excuse for them indulging in all sorts of bad behavior. It's an explanation, but it's not an excuse. If you had the opportunity to mitigate or avoid the situation but decided to stick it out anyway because you knew you could get away with it by claiming PTSD? You are not a victim, you are an asshole.
I'll put myself on blast here, and explain that my PTSD is 'noncombat', in that it does not directly relate to official combat with an official enemy. Instead it is domestic violence and sexual assault related, in that the combat involved me unarmed, facing an armed enemy who also happened to be my husband at the time. I still, to this day, am affected by it. Every day, I am quick to lose my temper, and god help me if you abuse women in my presence. I once got into a fistfight with a man a head and a half taller and two feet wider than myself over it. When someone deserves it, I am happy, genuinely happy, to wade into the fray even if I am going to take some serious damage. But when someone doesn't deserve it, I hold back.
I've had to deal with a lot of other people with PTSD in the line of work I involve myself in. Dealing with veterans, you see a lot of it. But what I also see, and I wish I didn't, is a pattern of using it as an excuse. Using combat PTSD as an excuse for why someone beats their wife, or raped a woman. Why they attempted to attack someone half their size for no apparent reason. Why it's okay to rip kids off bikes if you think they're doing something like you saw once in Iraq.
It's not fucking okay.
It is not fucking okay.
It is NOT FUCKING OKAY.
If you feel like you need to beat your wife? Maybe it's time to go in to counseling. Tell your wife what's going on. Start leaving the house when you start getting angry.
If you feel like you're incapable of getting physical without forcing your way to sex at the end because dammit, you somehow deserve to get what you want? You need to be away from women for a while. Seriously.
And here's another important one: if you want to get people to tiptoe lightly around your mental health issues, you need to tiptoe lightly around theirs. If you want people not to make loud noises around you, you need to listen to a woman's request that you give her a room with a lock on it. If you want people to try not to provoke your temper? You need to try not to provoke other people's, and be adult enough to walk away when you are.
I respect those whose sufferings in combat have caused them great pain that they are not able to fully recover from. But their mental health issues are not one bit more holy or sacrosanct than anyone else's. We all need to be respected, we all need to be treated as human and as brothers. /Especially/ as soldiers and veterans, and especially within veterans groups.
Images here are from the very excellent Men Can Stop Rape campaign, that my SARC showed me to.