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PTSD and Literary Canon

by Carter Rose, Daniel Crandol, and Kimberly Dickens


You cant patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid - Michael Connelly, Black Echo

Soldiers were trained to fight, to kill, to survive, but what they werent trained for, what
they couldn't be prepared for, was what happened afterwards. Every day, hundreds upon
thousands of soldiers return home after their tenures oversea. Their wounds, those eventually
fade and go away, but their spiritual scars, they never go away. To the American people, the war
is over, but to them, a darker, more cerebral one has just begun. 1 out of 5 army veterans who
return from serving abroad have PTSD, an anxiety-based disorder triggered after the recipient
goes through a traumatic event.
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PTSD has been a recurring problem for U.S veterans since the
first world wars. The earliest account of PTSD amongst our soldiers occurred in World War II,
where thousands of returning soldiers experienced extreme trauma, much more gruesome and
long-term than the usual medical term, Shell-Shock. It was then that bestselling author Paul
Fessel exploited this mysterious disorder with his critically acclaimed novel, Wartime. Wartime
delved into the psyche of these scarred, debilitated warriors as well as recorded the first official
accounts of PTSD. The public interest garnered from the book release caused U.S officials to
better look into the fallout surrounding U.S soldiers, later leading to them coining the term,
PTSD for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the Vietnam War.
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Most veterans diagnosed
with it never fully recover, some just cant. It can cause the recipient to experience a wide range
of emotions, including helplessness, suicidal thoughts, confusion, and depression. Any person

1
"Shocking PTSD, Suicide Rates for Vets." Www.facethefactsusa.org. N.p., 5 June 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
2
Bentley, Steve. "A Short History of PTSD: From Thermopylae to Hue Soldiers Have Always Had A Disturbing Reaction To War."
Www.vva.org. U.S Congress, Mar.-Apr. 2005. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

afflicted with PTSD has lived through a traumatic, life-changing event in which they feared for
their very lives as well as the lives of those around them, or caused a sense of helplessness and
lack of control over their own life. Situations that can evoke PTSD include sexual assault,
physical abuse, military exposure, automobile accidents, and natural disasters. According to
recent studies, 11-20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will return home with
PTSD. 10% of Gulf War veterans have returned home with PTSD. About 30% of Vietnam War
veterans have been afflicted with PTSD.
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Symptoms of PTSD can include: reliving the event through hallucinations, feeling
numb/unable to express your feelings to family/friends, becoming hyper arousal (unable to keep
still), and avoiding events that remind you of the situation.
4
These symptoms can start surfacing
days, even weeks after the traumatic event happened. One of the most recurring symptoms of
PTSD is the recurring flashbacks, usually triggered by a sight or sound that reminds the victim of
the event. That could be anything from a war movie to a surprise birthday party, anything that
triggers a memory of the traumatic experience. These memories can materialize in the form of
nightmares or flashbacks. They can be very sudden. Other symptoms include numbness and
inability to express his/her feelings. Many veterans have trouble recalling their tenures overseas,
for some, the memory is just too painful to remember. It can be hard for them to think about, or
even remember pivotal parts of the event. They try to numb themselves to the thought entirely,
instead digressing to other subjects when asked to retell the event. This can cause them to
distance themselves from relationships, or avoid any of the activities they had previously
enjoyed. They can also become hyper arousal, or jittery. They can become increasingly alert,

3
"PTSD: National Center for PTSD." Http://www.ptsd.va.gov/. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
4
"What Is PTSD?" Www.warrioroutreach.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
4


breaking out into frequent outbursts or violent behavior triggered by any sudden noises. Their
instincts have already been sharpened to a fine point, theyll have trouble letting their guard
down, even against their family and friends. Being hyper aroused can be very dangerous for the
safety of the veteran as well as those around him/her, as a single drop of a pen can cause them to
retaliate at the nearest object, be it living or nonliving. They can be startled, even scared by a
simple pat on the back. They also try to avoid situations or events that remind them of the
experience, like veteran reunions or military public displays. The same can go for female
servicewomen as well. For them, sexual assault is a more prevalent cause of PTSD to them. At
least twenty-three out of every hundred women who enlist in the military have reported sexual
assault. The overall experience of being sexually assaulted/raped can be traumatic, especially for
women, triggering PTSD. It can be debated that sexual assault can have a more profound effect
on the traumatized, as the sense of being helpless to whatevers happening to you via sexual
assault can become quite prevalent in later years. The symptoms of PTSD only pale in
comparison to the effects, both short-term and long-term, of PTSD.
The effects of PTSD, simply put, can change the veterans life, sometimes for the better
but mostly for the worst. There can be mental, as well as physical repercussions of PTSD. For
one, veterans afflicted with PTSD can resort to drinking or drug substances in order to repress
the memories, a way to escape the pain. An unprecedented 30% of all American men and women
serving abroad will return with PTSD, the effects of which depend on the seriousness of the
event at hand.
5
The effects are even worse for those who have served in prior wars. More than
half of the male Vietnam veterans have encountered PTSD at some point of their lives.The
effects can range from alcoholism to abstinence, even to suicide attempts. Alcoholism can be
deadly, even fatal in the long run, especially to those who dont have anything left but it. Suicidal

5
"PTSD: National Center for PTSD." Http://www.ptsd.va.gov/. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

thoughts can also start surfacing in the victims mind, a sense of hopelessness guiding them to
inflict self-injury at first, then death. Everyday, at least twenty veterans in the U.S end their lives,
not being able to live with themselves or what theyve done.
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Many more inflict bodily harm on
them. Also, long-term relationships can be affected by PTSD victims. A sense of insecurity and
paranoidity can hinder a growing romance or an established marriage. Not being able to fully
trust their respective partners can lead to break-ups as well as divorces. That same lack of trust
can also destroy the chances of employment. Being unable to focus on their line of work can
cause employers to have second doubts about the veterans. There are many more effects of
PTSD, some of them much more devastating and emotional than the ones provided. Still, the
message being conveyed is clear. There is a severe, mandatory need to help these veterans in
need, these shell-shocked heroes. They need help, an outside intervention to help them overcome
their demons. Sometimes, its the help that comes from mans best friend.
Humans and dogs have always had an inseparable, powerful bond. For instance, when
someone has been sick, suffering from cancer, or are involved with the military, they get dogs to
help heal the victim. The trainers teach the dogs service commands to develop a patients ability
to communicate, to be assertive but not aggressive. The dogs can also assuage the hypervigilance
common in vets with PTSD. A behavioral health therapist at Fort Bragg stated that he sees and
deals with trauma, so he understands what war can do to human beings. He has a Belgian
Malinois whose name is Ddoc.
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Ddoc is a retired military working dog. Healing was a journey
for him, a process even, not something you snap out of. Service dogs are trained to assist in
medical crisis, provide related treatment, assist in coping with emotional overload, and perform

6
Basu, Moni. "Why Suicide Rate among Veterans May Be More than 22 a Day."Www.cnn.com. CNN, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
7
"A Different Kind of Hero." Guideposts Apr. 2014: 1-6. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

security enhancement tasks. The dogs are able to help adjust serotonin level, lower blood
pressure, help with episodes of depression, and provide companionship.
WAGS 4 TAGS are a private non-profit organization they are different from other
organizations. What's different? They have highly trained animal handlers and fosters. Offer
support dogs, as deemed necessary by the Veteran and his/her medical or psychological
provider. There is absolutely no cost to the veteran. WAGS 4 TAGS is located in
Raleigh/Durham.
The Pets for Vets team interview each veteran to see what they are looking for in a
companion animal. They pair the veteran with the dog that matches their personality. One of
their trainers teaches the pet basic obedience and other valuable behaviors needed to live with
his/her new owner. Pets for Vets are all around America.
A possible link between creativity and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would be the
different ways that some victims think compared to people that are not diagnosed with mental
illness. Some that are affected by PTSD have what society would consider to be an outside-the-
box mindset due to the traumatic experiences that, in a sense, takes them away from the way in
which the majority of people in society thinks and acts. It allows those victims to have empathy
and to relate to other peoples pain and suffering.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is also negatively stereotyped in the eyes of the media. In
most present-day forms of literature, characters that are affected by PTSD are stereotyped by
either not being affected by the mental illness in the least in everyday life and only look back on
the experiences, or are always on the edge, waiting to snap into a traumatic episode
8
. The gray
area between those sides of the spectrum seems to not exist, which makes PTSD quite binary in

8
Jericho, Arachne. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 4." Www.tor.com. N.p., 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.

how society looks at it. Another point is how literature portrays that PTSD completely takes
over someones personality, making a two-dimensional character with no depth or meaning
outside of being the character with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, instead of a realistic three-
dimensional character with aspects other than the mental illness. The truth of PTSD is definitely
warped in exchange for the publics entertainment.
Ernest Hemingway was an American author who had shown the truth of what could be
considered an early diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder among many of his works,
specifically A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The traumatic experiences from
his involvement in the Spanish Civil War and WWII may have caused the possible PTSD. Ernest
Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, about a decade before the term PTSD was ever officially
diagnosed and recognized.
9

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an epidemic of a mental illness that has attracted recent
attention since the many casualties that were witnessed by veterans in World War II. It causes
stress that is irreversible for the most part. The symptoms are intense and can hurt not only
victims, but their families as well. While PTSD creates a different mindset in some cases, it is
possible that it can make the victim more creative to societys standards. Society and literature
have changed how PTSD is seen as a whole, but some still try to show the truth to the world.






9
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-III. Gton, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1980. Print.
9



Works Cited
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Dec. 2009. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.
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25 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.
"What Is PTSD?" Www.warrioroutreach.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Http://www.nimh.nih.gov/. N.p., n.d. Web. 14
Apr. 2014.
Langley, Travis. "A Clinical Perspective on Panic and PTSD in Iron Man 3."Psychology
Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 10 May 2013. Web. 15 Apr.
2014.
"PTSD: National Center for PTSD." Http://www.ptsd.va.gov/. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr.
2014.
Beall, Lisa S. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Bibliographic
Essay."Https://www.myptsd.com. N.p., 2 Sept. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Gton, D.C.: American
Psychiatric Association, 2013. Print.
"A Different Kind of Hero." Guideposts Apr. 2014: 1-6. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
Gibbons, Kaye. Ellen Foster: A Novel. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 1987.
Print.
Jones, Ann. "When Soldiers Break." Www.nclive.org. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 12 Apr.
2014.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-III. Gton, D.C.: American
Psychiatric Association, 1980. Print.
Basu, Moni. "Why Suicide Rate among Veterans May Be More than 22 a
Day."Www.cnn.com. CNN, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

Bentley, Steve. "A Short History of PTSD: From Thermopylae to Hue Soldiers Have
Always Had A Disturbing Reaction To War." Www.vva.org. U.S Congress, Mar.-Apr.
2005. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.