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PTSD, Poems And Presidential Inspiration
By James Monroe Johnson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 James Monroe Johnson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLiving In The Aftermath
I have been fighting battles every since, many of which I have never understood until now, which led me to the realization that if I didn't dwell on it, in other words, didn't think about it, I could, indeed, make it. As noted psychologist Dr. John Wilson testified at the US Senate Hearing in May, 1980: "We now know that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a dynamic survivor response to the catastrophic stressors experienced in the Vietnam War and to the intense social stressors accompanying it. The symptoms which are defining PTSD syndrome among Vietnam veterans are virtually identical to those observed among the survivors of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, Korean POW camps, the Nazi holocaust, and the Buffalo Creek Dam disaster." After hearing that from a fully qualified social worker teaching MAPS classes at the VA, I felt sort of relieved that my problems and that of many other veterans, weren't simply something that only happened to have happened to us, but that all combat-related injuries to veterans, and other stressful situations, can be just as troublesome, and often is.
When Obama was first declared the winner of the Presidential Election, there were cries of joy, hope, pride, equality and yes, anticipation of better daysto come, and I am yet filled with that sense of hope. After every other election, there were celebrations galore. Some people partied for a week, or more, but this one, we could not show anything special, formative, advantageous and/or celebrant. We had to pretend that history had not been made, that every Black person in the USA didn't have a reason to be proud, that this was not a day that we all had been waiting for and that absolutely nothing fantastic has occurred. But, we did.
Personally, I can hardly realize how I made it over all of these years, how I made it through all of the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, ins and outs and other intangibles that stood so devastatingly in my path, that rocked my whole world, shattered a lot of my dreams, but here I am, so I must have made it over all the obstacles, because I am still standing. I still have problems, some nights I can't sleep, still get cold chills and feelings when forced to think backwards, and other nights, I get very little sleep, and oftentimes, when I do, I am constantly awakened and running to the bathroom because of my prostate problems.
However, I have managed to survive thirty-six (36) years of PTSD. Oh, I had a lot of problems along the way, such as not being able to control my anger, anxiety and open hostility and immediately lashing out at whomever was in my path. Being depressed most of the time, and later learning that clinical depression can be, and very often is, a grave disturbance that often hinders an individual from actively handling his daily role. Suffering with "fear, mental anguish, confusion and deep sorrow" is highly depressing, but I survived it day by day. Going from physical exhaustion from working so vividly in my wood shed, building things just for the sake of staying busy, was often downright frustrating as I was always wallowing in "self-pity," which often lead me to be highly impatient, argumentative and cocky. I was always expecting the best of everyone else, including total honesty when I was systematically dishonest, especially when I didn't want to be bothered, such as, when I was asked a question: "What are you doing?" My answer was always something like, "playing tennis, or finishing my third round of golf, or getting ready for my next game of football." Only the people that personally knew me surmised that I was, in fact, stretching the truth.
After returning from Nam the second time, and being sent to Army Recruiter/Career Counseling school at Fort Ben Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana for four long weeks, I was assigned to a local unit there in Circle City as Career Counselor. Not being able to keep my voice down when I got upset with a lieutenant colonel about the telephone bill in my office, I was re-assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to a basic training brigade as career counselor, where my problems only escalated. Within a few short weeks, I had insulted the training officer and the CSM, (Command Sergeant Major) who understood and actually vouched for me to my CO (Commanding Officer) about the training officer incident.
The CSM had only arrived at the base a few months ahead of me and who had just left Nam as well. So, he was my protector (of sorts), trying to reshape me as a seasoned soldier worthy of retainment in the Army. In my personnel files, I had great accolades on my PCS (permanent change of station) moves and had received four awards in Nam, including the Army Commendation Award and a Certificate of Appreciation from President Nixon.
However, when I "cursed" out my Company Commander, the CSM decided that was the last straw, that he could no longer defend me and withdrew all of his support of me, leaving me to depend upon the First Sergeant, with whom I had also had words, but had subsequently made up. The commander understood and actually accepted my apology, but said he would withdraw his court-martial if I would voluntarily leave military service. I reluctantly agreed and sadly left the Army on July 27, 1973.
A civilian now, I started watching the news on a daily basis, something that I had never done until now, and at the time, the Watergate Hearings were the lead story on all channels. Sitting at the kitchen table in my apartment in Willingboro, New Jersey, I watched the Watergate hearings while I wrote letters to the VA, The American Legion and other service organizations, as there weren't many people talking about anything other than "was our President a crook?" On almost every occasion, I was told that there weren't enough information on Vietnam, so they gave me general information. However. I have since gathered enough of the relevant information on Vietnam and learned that it is constantly changing.
But, for the grace of God, I survived and I owe my entire life to uplifting His Holy Name, and encourage each reader to always be mindful of the saving grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Although, the purpose of this book is not spiritual in nature, I must be thankful, grateful and will acknowledge He who has been instrumental in the salvation of my soul. When I find myself in a confused state of depression, I am discouraged from doing anything worthy except praying. For some reason, I could always pray, and other times, I would attempt the singing of an old gospel song that I grew up hearing, Precious Lord, Take My Hand. Not knowing what kind of depression I had, if it was major depression, which lasts six months, or longer, if untreated, or bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic depression, which individuals can experience emotional extremes, or dysthymia, which is not as bad as major depression, but depressive enough to cause an individual to not function normally, or seasonal affective disorder, which is caused by lack of sunlight during autumn and winter.
Since I wasn't readily treated by any doctors for any of the above, it matters not at all to me what they were called, or what the major functioning of each was. They were all equally as troublesome and I had nowhere to turn, but to a much higher power. Getting all kinds of advice from family and friends, I happily listened not, as I thought that I had the bull completely by the horns, and that absolutely nobody could tell me any difference.
One of the most important statistics separating Vietnam from all other wars and conflicts is the age average. For instance, the average soldier in World War II was twenty-four (24), but in Nam, the average age was eighteen (18). I have thought back to when I was 18, and fighting a war was nowhere in my mind at that time. I was twenty-two (22) when I joined the Army, which means that if the average age in Nam was 18, then that puts the average soldier going to Nam directly after AIT, (advanced individual training) unless he was a grunt, where they shipped out as soon as they finished their two weeks' leave at home.
And, if an 18-year-old-young man is exposed to war and all of the hidden characteristics thereto, it is bound to throw him for a loop his entire life, some of which he, may not readily recover. Being in the MAPS classes with a lot of young veterans, I see the whole devastation the toll of war and the many factors thereof, has taken, and I genuinely feel sorry for them, because I see me back then. I managed to survive, but a lot of our veterans with PTSD and other underlying problems will not make it, according to the suicide rates of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fact that PTSD symptoms can interfere with trust, emotional closeness and communication between families members, responsible behavior and other effective problems solving techniques and situations.
The latest information, as supplied by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion, states that Nam was a different kind of war for the following reasons:
I. Of the married veterans before going to Vietnam, nearly 40 percent were divorced within 6 months after returning from the war.
II. Over 90 percent of all Vietnam Veterans have been divorced twice.
III. Between 50 and 79 percent of all Vietnam veterans have persistent problems with emotional adjustment.
IV. The national average of accidental and suicide rate for Vietnam veterans is 33 % higher then for the rest of the nation. The suicide rate among vets who have completed the VA Maps programs is 2.5 per hundred.
V. More then 58,100 veterans died in Vietnam and over 150,000 have taken their own lives since the end of the War.
VI. Over 500,000 Vietnam veterans have been arrested, or jailed by the law. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Vietnam veterans are in prison and more than 250,000 on parole, or otherwise in the criminal justice system.
VII. Alcohol and drug-abuse problems run between 75 and 69 percent.
VIII. Forty-five percent of Vietnam veterans are unemployed and more than 25 percent earn less than $7,000 annually.
There are more contracting differences associated with Vietnam and the vast majority of our soldiers are yet paying for it. For instance, no other war has ever had its soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines return home to anything less than a victory parade, but during the turbulent sixties and seventies, there was absolutely nothing but contempt and resentment at us coming home alive and well, and some of that attitude has stuck with many of us Nam vets. However, most of it has been toned to a degree that it still might hurt, but it is definitely tolerable at the last date. Even if and when we labor and dare think back to those rough and tumble days.
As I am now learning in the MAPS clinics, in one of my classes on SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training), some of the guidelines for effective self-promotion are:
1. List all of your accomplishments and qualifications
2, Know how you feel when you're talking about your assets.
3. What are you telling yourself? Are you boasting, or will some people think you are?
4. What are your irrational beliefs, and should other folk know them?
5. You should challenge SHOULDS, MUSTS and DEMANDS
6. Try and replace your irrational beliefs with rational ideas.
7. Develop a careful plan to make significant people aware of your accomplishments.
8. Don't be discouraged, or put off if others laugh at your efforts.
9. Stay focused - your goal is to be recognized as a valuable worker.
10. Relax and be patient - success is a long-term project, not an immediate need.
I wished that I had known about these tools back when I first got out of the military, or when I first came home from Nam. So many years have passed and so much nerve-wrecking time of embarrassment have been put on edge, it is probably safe to say "if there really is a cure for the suffering of PTSD, somebody please step forward now," and give us some relief.
There were probably many, many times in the last thirty-six (36) years when I have disturbed and bugged somebody, troubled and irritated everybody, pestered and bothered anybody, got on everybody's nerves and wound up as nobody's friend, but I managed to survive with what little brain I could muster and use to any real advantage and extent.
At least I can now say prefer instead of must, choose to instead of should want instead of have to, choose not to instead of can't, had better instead of ought to, many instead of all, often instead of always, don't like instead of can't stand, highly undesirable instead of awful, bad behavior instead of bad person and I failed at instead I am a failure. Thinking back over my life after I left the military, I was a complete failure more often than not, but I managed to make it, somehow, in spite of all of my shortcomings. But, looking back, I could've done much worse, and as my family and friends tell me now, I could have done so much better.
Knowing that you really can change, however you think you are, it a really and self-fulfilling prophesy. Various researches from some of our greater institutions of higher learning have shown that people and change and a relative few have. However, not enough of us believe in ourselves that we, indeed, can make that real change in our lives, including me, I suppose. When I read varied magazine articles detecting many individuals that tried changing and failed, it in itself, becomes just another shortcoming.
"IN A LAND THAT HE LOVES" March 3, 2008
I am me but, who am I? other than a simple man doing the best that he can not to cry .....in a land that he loves
Out of a new source of pride this simple man has always tried above all obstacles, he has survived to find himself on the political side .....of a man in a land that he loves
It was all about a certain people of tone who worked the soil for too long 'til their fingers and toes showed the bone dreaming of this day that would come along ..... about a man in a land that we love
With all of the inspiration that will naturally appear from the multitude of folk both far and near above everything indefinite borne solely on fear that it's all destiny in the words we hear ,,,,,from that man in a land that he loves
My head is hurting but my heart won't stop meticulously beating for a man named Barack!!
And now, I truly understand the agony that we Nam veterans face, as it relates to our everyday happenings. How I survived all of those years is really amazing, but I know that God had to have been taking full care of me all of the way. I promised Him when I was in a fox-hole on top of Qui Nhon Mountain during the Tet Offensives in 1968 that if He would bring me back home safely with all of my faculties and limbs in working order that I would serve Him. So, rejoining my local church, where I have been a member all of my life, (except those years that I was at Okolona Jr. College, Episcopalian then, the University of Miami, Judaism then, and during my short stay in Dallas, when I practiced teachings of the Latter Day Saints), I have remained to this day, teaching Sunday School and as well as being lay leader and Local Lay Speaker.
I soon realized that if I stayed busy, stayed in church, read a lot, wrote a lot and used all of my other gifts and talents, and used my writings, paintings, sketches and kept knowledge of my readings that I wouldn't have that much time to think, and as long as I didn't dwell on the past, I never had to deal with the ramifications of the past. God have bestowed upon me many gifts and I knew very early in my childhood that I had the ability to draw, paint, sketch and play an instrument. One of my cousins, Harvey Marshall, played guitar with a college blues band and I picked up the guitar also, watching him, or any other guitar player, as often as I could, and actually learned to play quite well, playing with rock bands in both Vietnam and Germany. In addition to the guitar, I picked up the bass, piano, organ and drums. Ironically, I blew the clarinet during the high school marching band, but never preferred it as a blues instrument.
Somewhere along the way, I developed a likeness for woodworking and ceramics, and a few other artistic skills that was instrumental in sustaining my sanity over the past 36 years, including designing my own clothes, to which I will devote a little time and will show some examples later, so every chance I got, I built something (picnic bench, table, gliders) swings, dog and bird houses and cedar specialties, such as desk nameplates, closet shoe racks and hanging picture frames. I have written over 1400 poems and short stories, which many have been published, including a Black history book. Having numerous jobs, beginning with the United Students (the Black Student Organization) at the University of Miami, where I created a monthly publication amply named US Publication. Then, accepting a job with one of John Sengstack's newspapers, a spin-off of the Pittsburgh Courier, which was called the Florida Courier, as a writer/photographer and working my way up to Editor before my anger caused me to be canned summarily. I could always get a job, because of my impeccable resume: I could do anything and had a written history to show it. My temper and uncontrollable anger caused me to lose almost every job I had. Then I didn't lose, I was forced to give up, so what's the difference?
Excerpted from PTSD, Poems And Presidential Inspiration by James Monroe Johnson Copyright © 2009 by James Monroe Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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