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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in The Things They Carried

English Research Project

Melissa Lucero

on 1 October 2012

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Transcript of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in The Things They Carried

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, The Vietnam War and The Things They Carried Melissa Lucero
Pilar Ocampo Alvah, Donna. "Vietnam Veterans." Americans at War. Ed. John P. Resch. Vol. 4: 1946-Present. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 199-200. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 24 Sep. 2012.
Anders, Charlie Jane . "From "Irritable Heart to Shellshock": How Post-Traumatic Stress Became a Disease." Io9. N.p., 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. <http://io9.com/5898560/from-irritable-heart-to-shellshock-how-post traumatic-stress-became-a-disease>.
Blair, D. T., & Hildreth, N. PTSD and the Vietnam veteran: THE BATTLE FOR TREATMENT. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, (1991). Web. 29 Sept. 2012. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1026708509?accountid=1151>
Lifton, Robert Jay. "Home from the War." New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Print.
National Archives and Records Administration. "Vietnam War Pictures." About.com 20th Century History. About.com, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://history1900s.about.com/od/vietnamwar/tp/vietnamwarpictures.htm>.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1990. Print.
"Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. New York: Charles, 1996. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 24 Sep. 2012.
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." NIMH · How Is PTSD Treated? NIMH, 21 Jan. 2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/how-is-ptsd-treated.shtml>.
Tull, Matthew, PhD. "The Effect of PTSD on a Person's Life." About.com. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). N.p., 26 June 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://ptsd.about.com/od/relatedconditions/a/effectofptsd.htm>. Works Cited Diagnosis Mental Health:
- People with PTSD have greater risk in developing other anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depression, and other mental disorders.
- Greater risk for suicide and self-harm.
Physical Health:
- Greater risk for developing diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and respiratory problems due to unhealthy behavior.
- More likely to be unemployed due to lack of concentration, sleep, and efficiency
- More likely to be unable to maintain a relationship due to the stress the partner would face (managing the person's symptoms, loss of friends, dealing with crises, etc.) Effects Medicine which helps reduce anxiety and PTSD symptoms include: antidepressants, serotonin inhibitors and sleep medications. Treatment Post-traumatic Stress Disorder/Syndrome is a "condition marked by feelings of anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, recurring nightmares, and sudden outbursts of violence."
PTSD can be caused by any traumatic event.
(P.T.S.D, Encyclopedia) PTSD People have suffered from PTSD since ancient times, but it was not called post-traumatic stress disorder until the 1980s. There were clinical debates on whether PTSD was caused by physical injury or psychological distress. The results proved that it is caused by psychological distress. Before it was declared to be PTSD, this psychological distress had over 80 names. (Anders)
In WWI, it was called 'shell-shock,' in WWII it was coined as 'combat-fatigue.' (P.T.S.D., Encyclopedia.)
In "The Things They Carry," various descriptions of PTSD are presented, but PTSD is never directly named. History After a violent altercation between Jensen and Strunk, Jensen shows symptoms of PTSD. "I felt something shirt inside of me. It was anger, partly, but it was also a sense of pure and total loss: I didn't fit anymore." (O'Brien, 198) Norman Bowker has a hard time adjusting back to life as a civilian after the time he served in the war and witnessed Kiowa's death. He is traumatized and ends up committing suicide. Case 1: Dave Jensen Case 3: Tim O'Brien Psychotherapy and desensitization are methods used to encourage patients to express their feelings on the traumatic events, so that the memories become less frightening.
(P.T.S.D., NIMH) In O'Brien's The Things They Carried, we do not know if the soldiers ever received the group therapy treatment offered by the Veterans Administration in the 1980s.
We know that Lavender did self-medicate because he probably had PTSD. Taking the drugs made the war seem "mellow," so he did not have to face the traumatic events of war.

This could also be a reason why after Lavender dies, his company uses the rest of the tranquilizers. Treatment
The Things They carry does portray active instances of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, specifically, reveals the power of the psychological trauma felt by soldiers in the Vietnam War. The paranoid way that Jensen acts towards Strunk, the recurring nightmares experienced by O'Brien, and the actions of Norman Bowker when he returns home are all ways that show how these soldiers were effected by the war in Vietnam and PTSD. Relation to TTTC (National Archives and Records Administration, Vietnam War Pictures.) Greatest incidence of PTSD was documented to be from the Vietnam War. 500,000-700,000 Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD. (P.T.S.D., Encyclopedia) Conditions that led to increased PTSD: PTSD and the Vietnam War One-year tour of individual duty as opposed to platoon rotations
"uncertain and unpredictable nature of guerrilla warfare"
moral ambiguities surrounding the war (P.T.S.D., Encyclopedia) confused by feelings of relief for leaving Vietnam and a sense of dissociation from American civilians
mixed reactions from civilians: appreciation, apathy, hostility. (Alvah) " Jensen couldn't relax. Like fighting two different wars, he said. No safe ground: enemies everywhere.... Jensen would be sitting with his back against a stone wall, weapon across his knees, watching Lee Strunk with quick, nervous eyes. It got to the point finally where he lost control. Something must've snapped." (O'Brien, 63) The passage goes on to describe Jensen's violent outburst where he repeatedly open fires into the air and uses a gun barrel breaks his own nose. PTSD can be marked by a recurrence of violent outburst after a traumatic event "At night I sometimes drank too much. I'd remember getting shot and yelling out for a medic and then waiting and waiting and waiting, passing out at once, then waking up and screaming some more.... I kept going over it all, every detail." (O'Brien, 200-201) Dissociation and shock as a cause of PTSD: O'Brien was shot and then suffered from sever shock. Later he was taken to another site to be treated, but the separation from his platoon may have increased his risk for developing PTSD. Reliving the trauma as a symptom: O'Brien had a hard time getting past his second shooting and exhibits behavior of PTSD. "They told stories about Ted Lavender's supply of tranquilizers, how the poor guy didn't feel a thing, how incredibly tranquil he was." (O'Brien, 20) The Veteran's Administration, although slow to recognize and treat PTSD, did begin to offer counseling and group therapy for Vietnam Veterans with PTSD in the '80s. (P.T.S.D, Encyclopedia.) Connection to TTTC:
Norman Bowker becomes suicidal and cannot successfully acclimate back to real life after the traumatizing experience of Kiowa's death. A person would be diagnosed with PTSD if he/she:
- witnessed a traumatic event
- is re-experiencing that traumatic event in various ways
- avoids stimuli that could remind he/she of the trauma
- experiences increased arousal
- symptoms occur for at least a month and can still occur up to 6 months after the trauma.
Many victims of PTSD also struggle with alcohol and drug dependence or abuse. (Blair) (Tull) According to author of "Home From the War" Robert Jay Lifton, some Vietnam veterans "continue to associate nakedness of sex with Vietnam images of grotesque bodily disintegration," (Lifton, 271) which would make it hard for veterans to have relationships. Case 2: Norman Bowker Inability to cope with a traumatizing event: Effect on employment and lifestyle: "Bowker described the problem of finding a meaningful use of his life after the war. He had worked.... None of these jobs, he said, had lasted more than 10 weeks." (O'Brien, 155) "At one point he had enrolled in junior college... but the course work, he said, seemed too abstract, too distant, with nothing real at stake, certainly not the stakes of war. He dropped out after eight months." (O'Brien, 155) "In ordinary conversation I never spoke much about the war, certainly not in detail, and yet ever since my return I had been talking about it virtually nonstop through my writing." (O'Brien, 157) Inablility to cope in general: Bowker is unable to keep a job or focus on school, something that many other veterans with PTSD struggle to do.
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