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The Hidden Emotional Cost of War

Question: What are the\r\nmajor short-term and long-term traumas of war?

\r\n\r\n

Nancy Sherman: Sometimes the \r\nsymptoms don’t show up right away, and there’s a kind of\r\nnatural healing that can go on just like leaving a war zone and \r\nsometimes it’s\r\nnot good to talk to people, we think now, right afterward, but rather to\r\nalmost let the wound heal a little bit on its own.  But\r\n some of the symptoms that we’re aware of and they will\r\nbe a hyper vigilance, being in a hyper-sensory mode; so walking the \r\nperimeter,\r\nlistening with acuteness the way you would in a battle area, or it might\r\n also\r\nbe flashbacks, inability to sleep. \r\nOne of my soldiers, Rob Kissler, just found himself in a bar with\r\n his\r\narms around someone’s neck.  He\r\nstrangled this guy and then he realized that he had heard something and \r\nthought\r\nhe was in fighter mode, and had just slipped into fighter mode\r\nimperceptibly.  And that was about\r\na year after battle.  He was a\r\nlong-term patient at Walter Reed and being treated, by the way, for \r\nphysical\r\ninjuries, a loss of an arm use,\r\na titanium arm replacement and a leg replacement.  

\r\n\r\n

Other times it could also just be this numbing that\r\n you’ve\r\nhad to—you’re exposed to the sort of stresses that are so superhuman \r\nthat you\r\nhave to protect yourself by numbing, and you continue to dissociate\r\nafterward.  So those are some of\r\nthe physical—the physiological effects that we are familiar with. 

\r\n\r\n

But what I’m trying to explore are the spectrum \r\nthat doesn’t\r\nnecessarily, or may include some of these, but also includes these \r\nconflict\r\nfeelings, consensual feelings. \r\nFeelings of guilt for what you did or what you saw and did your \r\nbest,\r\nbut couldn’t help to do even better than you wished you could have done.\r\n To\r\nsurvive a battle when your buddies don’t, to be part of an accident when\r\nthere’s no fault at all, no culpability, but you were implicated, \r\ncausally\r\nimplicated and you hold yourself really accountable.  Or\r\n to love your buddies more than you love your spouse, or\r\nyour family, and one of my soldiers said to me, “You know, I’m in a tent\r\n with\r\nsomeone day in and day out and I know when he passes wind at night.  I know that fart.”  You know, \r\nand he said, “How can I tell\r\nmy mother that I was that physically close to someone?”  So\r\n that feeling of a betrayal almost of\r\nyour home family because you've reattached to others who got you through\r\n it. 

\r\n\r\n

Also feeling that life is darned boring at home \r\nwhen you’ve\r\nbeen so ramped up and revved up and hepped up, and it’s hard to find the\r\n same\r\nkind of thrill and adventure, even though it’s filled with danger.

Maddening boredom. Utter numbness. Comradeship so intense that it threatens family ties. War’s worst psychological effects can be the ones you’d never expect.

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