Band of Brothers and PTSD . . .

7 Jan

I bought our family (well, myself) the HBO Band of Brothers series for Christmas this year and just started watching it three days ago.  I watched the second segment (about D-Day) last night. Wellmade series.  I especially like the interviews with real Easy Company survivors at the beginning of each segment . . . and the listing of medals awarded to Easy Company men for D-Day which came at the end of last night’s segment.

While watching these airborne men parachute into France on D-Day, amidst anti-aircraft fire and flak, I reminded myself that what was a glorious sight to me would have been an event that produced some serious PTSD in its participants.  Only back then, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) was not called that.  It was called shellshock from World War I onward. 

Nonetheless, one could not have been there, amidst planes getting shot down and crews burning to death, and emerge unscathed, even if not one bone of one’s body was broken.  It was the kind of scarring of the soul that would remain forever.  

And, you know, God built us that way for a reason.  We can’t pass through life without scarring of our souls.  Some of it does last forever.  That is not to be regretted, really.  

Much of it is related to learning.  It is one thing to participate in D-Day, for the good of a greater cause, and quite another thing to participate in a painful situation that has no purpose.  Only, since we tend to be so unthinking in our actions, we can spend our lives participating in painful, purposeless situations until the consequences they bring force us to think them through. 

A friend made me laugh the other day by telling me that she learned, at age 5, to not produce backwash in her drinks while sharing them.  She learned this by way of being laughed at by older people who caught her doing just that.  At the time, she didn’t even know what backwash was, but by the end of that day she had a hypersensitivity to producing it that continues till this day.  Kind of a minor PTSD, as it were.  So much embarrassment attached to an incident that she is guaranteed to learn from it–to always react in a hypersensitive way to that situation for the rest of her life. 

Haven’t we all had something happen like that, something that produced lifelong learning in some trivial area just by being so utterly embarrassing?

I remember the days when I was just starting to need glasses, around sixth to seventh grade. Part of my nearsightedness revealed itself to me when I realized I could not see things normal people could . . . but that happened over the course of months, not instantly.  

One day I walked into the girls’ room at my junior high school and saw one of my cousins in there.  She was changing clothes, but I could not tell that from where I stood.  I thought she was wearing a flesh-colored shirt and I strained to make out what it looked like.  As I squinted right at her, I remember to this day her exact words:  “My God, you lez . . .”  No offense to my lesbian friends, but she said that to me in front of half a dozen other girls.  My cheeks burned bright as I realized my mistake.  

To this day, I have difficulty looking at another woman’s chest, even when she is trying to show me something she is wearing there.  Again, a minor PTSD.  A learning incident that became tied to painful and uncomfortable feelings of embarrassment.  

All that to say, God allows PTSD in order to reinforce learning by way of consequences that solidify it into our minds and souls.  Since God did not create war, there are many learning sequences there that are reinforced by PTSD and are also so major as to disrupt one’s life forever.  They are related to our minor learning sequences of life but are on such a major level as to be in a whole different league than the ordinary situations we all encounter.

Military PTSD has produced a whole new area of study which will be ongoing for years as we try to find some relief for those whose souls are completely scarred by the brutal things they have seen in warfare.


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