There's a documentary floating around called "Hell's Angels Forever". It said the founders of the Hell's Angels were fighter pilots from WWII who came home and were having trouble assimilating themselves back into civilian society. One of the lines that stuck with me was that the pilots missed the adrenaline-pumping sensation of being in a speeding plane, which is why they donned their erstwhile bomber jackets and hopped on the motorcycles. It's pretty obvious today that these guys were dealing with a form of PTSD.
In this diary I look at the parallels and differences between ADD and PTSD - based on my own experiences with both. I observe that while the solutions will differ for every individual with PTSD, they do exist if we make sufficient effort to understand the syndromes. I also provide the solution I've chosen for dealing with mine.
We don't have to be Hell's Angels Forever - and we can put Hell out of business in the process.
I've been reading the diaries of testvet1668 and brokenskull on the subject of PTSD with the interest of a person who also experiences it, although to a lesser degree. When I first saw the World Trade Centers collapse, it was not on television, and it was in full sensurround.
After I managed to let my family and friends know I was alive and got back to my home on Long Island, I was in shock for three days. I only wanted to sleep, I only got out of bed when nature called, and I did not eat anything for those three days while I processed the day's events. I didn't need a television then, either, although I'm told that much of the content matched what was going on in my head. What made it worse was that part of what I was having to process was the knowledge - based on my running HQ USAFE's TS-level MAXI intelligence message handling system for 3 years of my tour of duty - that the US government certainly had to have seen it coming, as well as the further knowledge that a certain very shitty supervisor at my then employer, Sun Microsystems, deliberately tried to emphasize my assignment as the site rep for Cantor Fitzgerald as one of his first acts upon receiving the job. What did that tell me? I didn't want to even wrap my head around the possibility at the time, but the truth is starting to go mainstream now.
So yeah, that rocked my little Brooklyn socks in a not good way, tough cookie as I like to think that I am. You'd have to be inhuman not to be affected by something like seeing, hearing, and feeling those buildings come down and knowing in retrospect that you were experiencing the deaths of thousands of innocent people before your eyes.
I still trigger from it - mostly on the day itself. The self-serving, insincere hype and the 24-hour expiration date that is placed on a society-wide "license to practice compassion" still makes my skin crawl. The desire to put my thumbs into the adam's apples of the phony politicians and glassy-eyed kneejerk patriots who continue to exploit the bejesus fuck out of what happened that day reaches supremely redline levels, so it is rare I will even leave the house that day. I know there are people who genuinely grieve and care. That's not what infuriates me - it's the knowledge that there are those who can't be bothered to still remember what's important on 9/12 - and even worse, those who laughed all the way to the bank when it happened. Cantor Fitzgerald is one of the 23 brokerages allowed to handle transactions for the Federal Reserve, and there are transactions that took place at close of business on 9/10 that no living soul or existing equipment will ever have any record of. Do THAT math one time.
However, I have a little bit of a different perspective on PTSD than the average customer, because I've already spent a large portion of my life learning how to control my temper and other impulsive behavior that is generally frowned upon by society. I was born with ADD. I am not a warrior made, I am a warrior born.
At least, that's what Thom Hartmann thinks, and I am not disagreeing with him. Of anyone on this planet he's one of the people I find truly understands the syndrome from just about every direction he's analyzed it. Granted, he tends to use the more politically correct term "hunter" because these days telling parents, children and adult ADD folks that they are warriors is something that could infer an agenda to some people, and if you know of all the other stuff Thom does then you know why he's not pushing that agenda (and rightly so).
The point is, Thom says ADD is a natural mutation that is only called a "disorder" because it's designed to take advantage of frontiers and dangerous situations that we - well the Western or so-called "Free" world, anyway - no longer experience on a casual basis.
Looking at PTSD, it seems that there's a heck of a lot of overlap with the ADD syndrome. I mean - I have both, I know them well, and what it takes to control and/or direct one is exactly what it takes to control and/or direct the other - I speak from a lifetime of experience. So I'm going to take a chance and say that PTSD is about as much of a disorder as ADD is. It's a survival mechanism that is imposed by circumstance as opposed to genetics. Every reaction in PTSD is designed to maximize the survivability of the individual. The problem is that a person with no history of ADD AND/OR no history of having to deal with life-threatening experiences is going to have any idea how to handle what's being thrown at them by their own body.
However, the sorts of injuries or events that bring on the PTSD experience are traumatic simply because they are situations in which that individual had no chance to mentally record a positive resolution. There is no end game, no "win". There is simply a feeling of extreme dissatisfaction and an agonizing level of frustration. My immediate reaction when I was standing in Foley Square watching the buildings fall was to want to run down south and kick somebody's ass - and had there been a normal combat situation I would have done exactly that, although by then I had been out of the USAF for ten years. All my military conditioning and combat training, in combination with my natural ADD tendencies had every nerve in my body screaming at me to find whoever had done this and kick their ass into the next dimension. I only managed to control it thanks to a lifetime of practice - and I was totally incapacitated for the following three days.
During times of stress, the brain releases endorphins. Some of these act like amphetamines and some like barbituates. The Hell's Angels feeling the fighter pilot "need for speed" (later referred to in Top Gun) were very likely not too far from the truth. Likewise, the PTSD person processes event over and over because they are seeking a positive resolution to the event - literally at the molecular level. Modern American society likes to cater to the adrenaline junkie in us anyway - violence on TV, in movies tends to aggravate it because there's no way to react to what's being seen; but videogames can yield a partial outlet since there's interaction. The problem is, this is about as close the average American will ever get to knowing what it's like inside the head of a person who's been through something as traumatic as real combat or a real disaster - or what it's like to have ADD. PTSD isn't a "disorder", per se - it's something most of us have forgotten how to deal with because most of us simply haven't had to on that level for centuries.
I've been controlling my ADD for quite a while now by writing. Nobody bleeds when I vent at a keyboard or write in a notebook, and for years I used a diary as a means to analyze my reactions to things and re-evaluate them after the emotion had passed. I think that the Warrior Writer Workshop project is brilliant in that it allows the PTSD sufferer to explore a path to personal positive resolution. Very importantly, it also allows them to do this without the need for medication. In these days of "Medication Nation" where big pharma wants everyone taking at least one pill to be the norm, it's well known that the assorted drug cocktails used to twiddle brain chemistry can be about as fun and effective as juggling chainsaws.
Alcohol is a natural way that PTSD people try to self medicate the amphetamine-like endorphins and adrenaline back to a manageable level. There are links between alcohol use and ADD as well. Alcohol is a cheap and legal depressant. At least temporarily, alcohol provides a relief from the immediate emotional and mental anguish of not being able to do anything about a situation. As a depressant, it damps down the amphetamine-like endorphins and the adrenaline to a dull roar, but those chemicals are going to come right back in the morning because until there's a positive resolution to what put them there, your head is still on full auto. With ADD it's a permanent biochemical inbalance, but there too it is possible to learn to live with it. It's already been covered a lot elsewhere that alcohol doesn't help, but it's important to understand why.
Your brain got you into this mess and your brain can get you out of it. All you need to do is find a positive resolution for the situation that bothers you. Yeah, I DO know how easy that's not. Please bear with me.
As Thom Hartmann mentions, ADD people come into the world for a reason and that reason was once to serve as hunters, inventors, explorers and warriors in a dangerous world of many frontiers. In a not-so-dangerous world with no frontiers, there's no apparent need for the ADD person. The smart ones will find careers where they can excel - everything from athlete to musician for the more physical people; while mental types will seek interrupt-driven or goal-oriented careers as everything from artists to scientists. There are a lot of ADD geeks, and caffeine is not so much a fad among them as a lifestyle. The not-so-smart ones - or the ones unfortunate to grow up at the hands of not-so-smart or abusive parents - well, a lot of them end up in jail.
ADD still very much has it's uses, such as facing down a potential mugger or being the "crazier than me" medal-collector type in a combat zone. My theory is that PTSD is a temporary form of ADD. A lot of the symptoms and effects match. A lot of the same treatments might as well - I wonder if anyone has explored biofeedback as an option. The only difference between PTSD and ADD is that with PTSD, there's no lifetime of experience to teach you how to find that badly needed happy - or at least acceptable - ending.
I've learned how to control my ADD, more or less. Sometimes I screw up and lose my temper at someone who really doesn't deserve it. Sometimes I screw up and over-regulate myself, and DON'T lose my temper at someone who DOES deserve it. In general I prefer to err on the side of caution - I try to make sure that when my ADD is in play, there's GOING to be a happy ending or that beserker-doggie never comes off the leash, even if it is to my detriment. (Haven't had to go to jail yet for it, and I'd like things to stay that way.) I've learned thousands of ways of dealing with the fallout from that - writing, painting, playing instruments. But the best way to deal with it, as I found out that day with the mugger, is when you're in that stressful situation and you WIN. Nothing is more satisfying, and satisfaction brings everything back to normal. Not right away at first, but eventually that snarling doggie lays right back down on the porch and sleeps the sleep of one who has done well. I've learned that you can usually sublimate the lack of a positive resolution in one situation with a sufficiently happy ending (or some number thereof) in another. So basically you have to define and then reach the one that works for you.
The event which caused my PTSD has no happy ending. It won't until Bush and Cheney and all the soulless war criminals who have used that event to facilitate the destruction of the nation I swore to protect and defend with my life are swinging by their necks in the Hague. I work on that every day. It has become my life. It is my waking thought and the last thought I have before I go to bed at night. Like many of you, all of my time and energy is devoted to bringing this administration down by every peaceful and legal means possible. That's how I have chosen to treat my PTSD. I send the rage right back home where it belongs. My survival mechanism has been consciously directed into the higher goal of seeing to the survival of the nation and the world.
Those of you who have been given your own gifts of PTSD by our loving government, glad you could be here to do the same. We really ARE still at war, and we will find our positive resolution on the day we truly put paid to the Bush administration and their cruel and greedy corporate masters who would like to think that they are also ours. We NEED that hypervigilance, we NEED that anger - directed where it can do the most good, which is right back where it came from! These stinking war criminals were the cause, and it is only just and proper that they should also be the outlet - until the blessed, deeply satisfying day that it is no longer needed because they will be GONE. I know how good it feels, and that winning future is waiting for all of us. Let's use everything we have - ESPECIALLY the PTSD - to get it done.
Consider it group therapy.