My uncle Davy (my dad’s brother) was not an emotionally stable man. He was a successful accountant, but he seemed to plod through life in a perpetual daze. His wife died of breast cancer at 39; he lost a 10-year-old son to rheumatic fever; his youngest daughter had open-heart surgery. None of these momentous events appeared to have any great impact on him. Yet, when he lost a major and long-time account, he went into a tailspin. That incident unleashed years of unhappiness and misery and he was never the same again. His depression became progressively worse. Shock treatments helped a bit, as did other drugs, but he basically lived for decades in a state of unhappiness and hopelessness. He died in his eighties.
After seeing the brilliant HBO documentary, War Torn 1861-2010, I now understand what happened to Davy. He had served in The Pacific Theatre during WWII and he returned a different young man. Only no one understood what psychological transformation he had undergone as a solider.
Back in the day, soldiers who developed anxiety or depression after living through intense artillery battles (some would flee from the battlefield; others actually became physically paralyzed) were called “shell shocked.” Everyone thought that the shell blasts had a physical affect on the men. Treatment was abysmal since no one understood what happened to their minds. Watch Warn Torn and you’ll find out. You’ll meet the mother of a solider who fought in Iraq and put his dog tag to his face, pointed a gun at it and pulled the trigger. You’ll meet the dad whose son was evaluated for 10 minutes by an army psychiatrist, told there was nothing wrong and given back his gun. He returned to his barracks and shot himself. You’ll hear the diary entries of a Civil War solider went to battle excited to fight for his side and ended a broken soul.
Today, we finally understand what war does to young men—and women. We call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which also affects those who have gone through traumatic experiences off the battlefield (911, plane crashes, etc.) Thank goodness, we’ve become a more psychologically attuned society. It is our responsibility to watch over these people. We are their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends.