The Rules of Engagement: Meet PTSD- Part 2, by Autistic Prepper

Illness Triggers

High fevers can also trigger flashbacks. During a bad bout of flu, H’s temperature soared to 105 degrees, and he went back to the hospital where he was treated for peritonitis after being shot. Sometimes medical treatment in Vietnam had to be improvised. H was placed in a tub of ice, which burned like fire but did lower his temperature. Now, in the present, he looked at me with beseeching eyes and begged me not to put him in the ice. I promised I wouldn’t.

Hyper-Vigilance: Once Learned, Never Forgotten

Hyper-vigilance, or hyper-alertness, is also common. People who have been through hell are sure it still lies in wait for them. H always sits with his back to the wall. To me this has become normal, and when we’re out I automatically give him a corner seat where he can view the door.

He learned from combat that everything can be dangerous. The VC put crushed glass in popsicles. They also attached explosives to youngsters and set them in the street, knowing the Americans wouldn’t run over a child. When the American picked up the child, the explosion killed them both.

H knows danger is always there. That may be why he won’t open presents. I have to give them to him unwrapped.

Silence is Not Golden

H hears the slightest sound and cannot rest until he has identified the source. A helicopter overhead will send him to the door to verify its location. He can tell what type of copter it is by its sound.

At the same time, he cannot tolerate silence and immediately turns on the TV when he goes to his room. I asked about this once, and he explained that when the jungle got quiet, that meant danger.

Guilt—Exactly the Way Freud Predicted

A pervasive feeling of guilt haunts many veterans—guilt for things they did, guilt for having survived when others didn’t. The eternal question “Why me?” is always there and can never be answered.

H was once driving in a truck convoy. He was scheduled to drive the first truck and his friend, K, would drive the second. For some reason, at the last minute, they swapped places. That change put K in the first truck and H in the second. It was the first truck that hit the explosive, and H had to pick up the pieces that were left of K.

When a replica of the Wall came to Nashville, he wanted to look up K’s name, at least part of him did. Another part of his mind couldn’t tolerate reliving his friend’s death. So, he did what Freud said he would do. He blanked K’s name, a psychological strategy which kept him from finding it and having to face the fear, grief, and guilt again. I remember him standing by the wall, beating it with his fists until I finally reminded him of the name he wanted to both remember and forget.

Once Learned, Never Forgotten

During our marriage, I’ve seen H act with stunning coolness in several dangerous situations. One involved a car accident with a passenger pinned in a burning car. He pulled her out and away from danger. However, afterward, he drove for hours to relieve the stress of remembering other rescues he’d made. If you keep moving, the enemy is less likely to find you.

And then there was the icy night a car went off the road and we saw a body lying in our front yard. H went to see if help was needed. He was armed, of course. Both men were drunk, and he saw that one had a gun. He came inside to call 911, warning the police to approach silently and telling the operator about the gun.

A single car arrived silently. The policeman was handcuffing the driver when H, who can size up a situation in a microsecond and had already stationed himself on the other side of the car where he could see the second occupant, saw the second man reach in his jacket. H told him not to even try it. “If he doesn’t shoot you, I will,” H warned the man, who turned out to be a fleeing felon from another state. I hope he never has to use a weapon in defense again, but I know he would have done whatever was necessary to protect that policeman.

Don’t Go the Same Way Twice

H will never return by the same route he took to get somewhere. This frustrated me when we went to a new store that I wanted to return to. I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood and hoped to pass through it a second time. “Why can’t you go home the way you came?” I asked. He was silent for a moment and then explained. “If you go the same way twice, you get ambushed.”

Sweet Kisses

It will come as no surprise that my husband and I don’t sleep in the same room. He’s afraid he’ll have a nightmare or flashback and hurt me. We love each other dearly, but there are things we can’t do. What I regret the most is that I can never awaken him with a kiss. He’s done this to me many times, and I know how sweet it is. However, I’ll never be able to return the favor.

Understanding the Rules

I can never touch him unexpectedly; he must always know I’m there. There can be no surprise hugs, no approaching him from any direction except the front, where he can see me. These are just the rules. Over the years, they’ve become second nature to me.

But other people don’t always understand them or how important they are. When H was in the hospital, I gave his nurses careful instructions about never startling him or touching him unless he was conscious. The nurses on his floor were cooperative, wonderful, and there were no problems.

Unfortunately, he was moved to another floor one night after I had left the hospital, and the precaution got lost in medical dataland. A new, unprepared nurse came into his room with her instrument cart and put her hand on his wrist while he dozed. He bolted up in bed screaming, “No!” The terrified nurse stumbled over her cart as she went to get a larger male assistant. When they came back H was shaking so badly the bed rattled. It hurts when I can’t protect him.

The Stories

Some of H’s stores, of course, are comical. Whoever believes people aren’t capable of laughing in even the darkest times doesn’t know human nature.

His tales, I love them and often beg for a retelling. He’s happy to tell me about Mickey, the baby mongoose he found and kept until it was mature enough to return to the jungle. Mickey liked to stay in his shirt pocket, ducking out of sight when there was shooting.

I Know

I know about PupPup, the stray puppy who found his way into H’s camp and stayed, spending the night under H’s bed. A few years ago H saw a mixed breed dog at an adoption event who had a strong resemblance to PupPup. Of course, we brought him home.

I even know about Billy, a young Vietnamese orphan he found. Apparently Billy’s parents had been killed by the Viet Cong and he attached himself to H, sleeping across his feet at night. H wanted to adopt Billy and bring him back to the U.S., but the military wouldn’t allow it. Before leaving Vietnam, H took Billy to an orphanage, gave the priest there a large sum of money, and told him to care for Billy and get him out of the country if it started falling apart. I still wonder where he got so much money, but I don’t ask.

There was also a hilarious incident involving a tiger, which I can’t relate because this is a G-rated site.

Hear a Lot in a Few Words

I’m very aware that I know only a few of my husband’s experiences. The really bad things he keeps to himself. Hints of what I don’t know sometimes slip out, like the time we were at a military collectors show and he saw a North Vietnamese helmet. H picked it up, remarking, “The last time I saw one of these was through my sniper scope.” I’ve become good at reading between the lines.

Why I Wrote This

This article began because someone asked a good question—how is autism related to prepping? I’m the over-analytical person who took the question and, having applied it first to autism, decided preppers should know at least a little about a completely different kind of psychological difference. So, why I wrote this was to educate and prepare the prepping community.

If SHTF, Some of the Most Valuable May Have PTSD

If a SHTF event ever happens, we will find ourselves dealing with a wide variety of people. Some of the most valuable may be those who are so different the “normal” prepper will be at a loss in dealing with them. I want the prepping community to know PTSD exists and what it means.

Military Personnel Now Serving Will Need Understanding, Love, and Compassion

Thousands of military personnel are now serving our country in hostile environments across the world. They are having the experiences that will someday haunt them in dreams and flashbacks. They will need all the understanding, love, and compassion we can give them. Furthermore, I don’t trust the government or the medical establishment to provide our veterans with the care they’ve earned.

On the Church Steps

One beautiful November day, I was at the Veteran’s Day parade. Bands were playing, children were scrambling for candy, and I sat on the front steps of a Gothic church near an older woman. We exchanged a few words about the weather and music. When she asked, I told her my husband was with the Vietnam veterans. I asked if she had someone in the parade. “Yes, my husband is with the World War II group,” she answered. Loud seconds passed before I found the courage to ask softly, “Does he still have nightmares?” She gave me a long, knowing look. “Yes,” she replied.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

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  1. I tried to get into all four branches of the military back in ’67 . Thankfully they all turned me down because I was not yet 18, married, and had a baby at home. Shortly thereafter so many of my friends and family started coming home in boxes and those that made it back alive were strangely changed into paranoid dehumanized basket cases. then I changed my mind about “serving my country” as I realized the damage done from unceasing wars abroad. My heart goes out to them but I also realize that Jefferson’s warnings not heeded about “foreign entanglements’ have taken a grave toll on the youth of my generation. I love America but I realize also that we have stumbled and are reaping the whirlwind. I still try to make contact with several of my childhood friends but they live in an alternate reality. If they had been lucky enough to have a blessed woman like “H” has, they would have had a chance in life but every one of my old friends got dumped on and their women left them. H is a very lucky and/or blessed man.

    1. Hey, maybe a home security system that was set up to provide white noise, bird song or more expensive cut the TV when you have movement or a door opens. The “ American sniper” Kris Kyle chased himself from rm to rm as the system was saying “Intruder Rm 1, Intruder rm 2 etc, etc”

  2. Thank you. My oldest brother was in ‘Nam during the Tet Offensive. Your article brought many of my own thoughts and memories, none of them as “intense,” but still there. One of the things many people don’t understand is they want the warrior, but don’t think about the baggage that comes with it. Thank you, again.

  3. “The way you use that word, I don’t think terrific means what you think it means.”

    It’s a terrific sensation when someone you are looking at just disappears. One moment, they are there, the next, they are not anywhere, or they are everywhere, take your pick.

    There are some things you just can’t really imagine until you actually have experienced it. Then not only can you imagine how it really is/was, you can’t forget it.

    Terrific is not a desirable exclamation. It proclaims something I’d rather not be witness to.

  4. I loved your story and the care in which describe each of H’s episodes tying his past and present lives. The ways in which war traumatizes it’s participants are many and yet as you so aptly relate in your own love story – never diminishes the worth of those who, because of their character, are always willing to sacrifice themselves for others.
    You have a good man and he is blessed to have you. LuvYerBro

  5. I am 101st Airborne Infantry in Vietnam. My training was to kill people. They broke me down (removed my American morals) and sent me to war. Never had any help restoring the American values after Vietnam. Four months after coming home, I went deer hunting hunting in my home state of Michigan. Sitting by a tree someone behind me shot a deer I was watching in front of me. I rolled over had the safety off and had that man in my sights. That is when I realized I was home, I had to fix this myself. I yelled “cease fire”, and ejected the all my shells. I never hunted again. It took 28 years to adjust myself so I could hunt again.

    War is hell. The things you do to protect, after, yourself are endless. No shrink can help, they never experienced it. They do have some good ideas. You have to figure it out on your own. One good thing is the V.A. PTSD classes, it is a tool.

    You develop protection after the big war. Beware of your surroundings, sit in the corner, cry to yourself, avoid crowds, hate helicopter rotors, checking locks on doors throughout the night, staying in your room, do not go the same route twice, limit close friends, stay prepared, avoid the wall, keep contact with my brothers. I have learned that Veterans are the best resource. The best relief was helping people.

    I joined a paid on call fire department. Paramedic Firefighter for 30 years, helped me to pay back my fellow Americans to give back life. My PTSD has been turned around to benefit countless citizens.

    The VA is a tremendous organization. Veterans are the best help you can find. We take care of ourselves when the going gets tough.

  6. Thank you so much for offering your insights. We can never fully understand anothers challenges unless we ve been there but it is so helpful to have someone share what it s like. I have learned much from your article and some very useful tips in how to relate better to those who have gone through so much. You are a very wise woman who has learned how to come along the side of your husband.

  7. You have blessed us by sharing the realities of your life together. I believe you exemplify the beautiful commitment of for better or for worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health, etc. Truly humbling.

    I am so humbled by your account that I offer the following only after prayer and sitting for a while in God’s presence. I have known men who have suffered similarly, and have been a part of ministering to such agony along side a group of Godly men, and sometimes women as well. We know that God is not without power in seemingly hopeless situations. Jesus is the healer.

    Revelation 12 makes it clear we have an enemy and he intends to destroy us. There is a battle being waged against us, making your situation too real. Any warfare situation is serious, but believers have been given God’s power and authority to stand against the enemy. I pray others will come along side of you, standing together against the schemes of our enemy, that he would flee the very presence of God. May the Lord bless you as you seek freedom in Him.

  8. The VA tried many times, in the 70’s and 80’s to get me to list myself as having PTSD, which I never had. Glad I kept it to myself, as the VA happily handed over to the ATF the listings of people with PTSD, and those people promptly lost their Second Amendment rights, with no hearing at all, and no recourse they could appeal for relief. I found that in extreme conditions, life and death should be joked at, because if your number is up, it’s up, no use getting all down about it. Infantrymen are on keener terms with all their bodily functions, which is why we cuss a lot, and refer to those bodily functions all the time. If a person has PTSD, a good way of helping them fight it and relegate it to no influence is to get them to travel, and see how the rest of the world lives. I was there almost fifty years ago. I’m still wary, but not scared.

    1. Actually the diagnosis of PTSD didn’t come into being until 1980. The VA may have noted something going on in the 70s but it wasn’t a common term until the 80s. Lord knows I certainly had in the 70s but the army called it a character disorder. When I grabbed my captain and begged him for help. All I got was a charge of assaulting an officer. After the ACLU intervened it was downgraded to a field grade article 15. It was still a death of career incident as E-6s don’t get promoted to E-7 afterwards. Sin Loy.

      I have been officially diagnosed with PTSD since the mid 1980s. I’ve been in a number of groups through the VA since then and have had ongoing care through the VA since that time.

      I know of only one person who has had his firearms removed after a psychotic breakdown. His wife has since had them returned to her care. Most of the members of the two groups that I currently am part of own firearms.

      I fear that a letter such as yours might make folks who need help hesitant to seek it out of fear that they will lose their weapons. That is really only a concern if the veteran is involved in domestic violence or is suicidal and if he or she is, the weapons should be in someone elses care.

  9. I have never had to go to war, thanks to all the American Patriots who have done combat for all Americans. So since I have no battle scars (except the civilian kind) I could never understand what they went thru, or still go thru. Thanks for explaining their suffering so well. I had two Uncles that went thru WW ll in the U.S. Navy. I will never know what they went thru because their war records burned up in St Louis. I did go to my Uncle’s military funeral with my two brothers and my mom (his fraternal twin). It was so beautiful the way the military honored him in death! My mother received his American flag and medals, and I will never know his suffering, but I know that he suffered much! The only way to end all human suffering is to accept the free gift of Salvation and to rest in the Grace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace! When Jesus returns and evil departs, that is the day we all look forward to!

  10. I came home in October ’67 and was rabbit hunting on my grandfathers farm in No. Ga. at Thanksgiving with an uncle and cousin. I wounded one, found him, and when I picked the sucker up and was holding him he gave a death rattle and squeal and died in my hand. I have not hunted a living thing since.

    I watched Tet mostly on the nightly news and start to cry at the futility of the dying because of a war that old men started so the young could die..

  11. Your husband is fortunate to have a patient, long-suffering wife.

    As others have mentioned here, psychology and the VA can offer only so much. Often, it is the case that Sigmund Freud and his faithful students do more damage than good.

    “The eternal question ‘Why me?’ is always there and can never be answered.”

    No man is free from guilt (regardless of its source). Yet, could your “eternal question” be answerable after all?

  12. Excellent articles-brings out the long after suffering of many combat vets. Apparenetly “H” was a Marine sniper. These guys are the best of the best but as with any sniper the work necessarily brings the duties to a more personal nature, as seen through a scope. Also the intense stress of being without a large support group (patrol group, platoon unit, etc). During Viet Nam many Marine Scout Snipers operated in a two man team-HORRIBLE SCARY SITUATIONS, I’m sure. Many many scout sniper teams were wiped out.

    Semper Fi, “H”

  13. Austin Chapter Texas Association of Vietnam Vets – 1985 – first time I was able to talk with others. I was treated as someone special. When asked what I did I said I was a Medic. The guy turned around and yelled, “Hey!!!! Doc is here!!”. Most of the guys came over and showed me various scars and talked about how “Doc” took care of them. It was nice.

    About 8 years ago my wife and I are on the Big Island of Hawaii, we’re doing a one day drive around. We’d mainly seen the sights on the West, North, and South sides. Driving on the east side for a bit my wife asked me what was wrong. I said, “Nothing, why?”

    Her reply, ” You’ve been looking around, up, down, left, right, checking the mirror like crazy.”

    During the drive, the east side (wet side) forest came all the way up to the road. I realized it had a junglish look and realized I had become hyper-vigilant. I could have heard a gnat pass gas at 50 yards till I relaxed. It will sneak up on you.

    My wife has noticed I don’t always take the same way home. She thinks I’m kidding when I tell her I think it’s safer that way.

    I’ve given up trying to understand Why them and not me. I accept that it is what it is and try to live the best I can. It’s the least I can do because it was not me.

    Any Vet I see (generally wearing a hat or such) I greet and talk with. I always shake hands and say “Welcome home Brother/Sister”. I’ve had some from Vietnam up to today’s stuff say to me that I’ve was the only non-family member to welcome them back home.

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