Friday, May 8, 2015

PTSD before there was "PTSD"

The wounded soldiers above were photographed at a hospital in Fredericksburg, Va., between 1861 and 1865.(Library of Congress Prints and photographs division)
Sitting in the eye doctor's office this morning, I read the better part of an article in Smithsonian magazine entitled "Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD?" I finished reading it online.

What intrigued me about the title was the knowledge that the psychology woven into today's society as yet had not voice during the Civil War. How was anyone to assess or mitigate the symptoms where the depth and breadth of the ailment remained hidden? Was the suffering any less because the names and knowledge were not yet codified? And how much documentation could there possibly be?

The answer, as the article makes clear, is that documentation is hard to come by. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was differently named and differently viewed through various wars  including both World Wars. The shredded individuals were seen as lacking character or moral fiber. "Shell shock" and "battle fatigue" were no excuse ... suck it up.

The article is rife with places that cry out for more data where data must be incredibly difficult to come by. Diaries and journals may suggest the post-war horrors, but they are only a short step above what is called "anecdotal" evidence. For example, "We were murdered," one soldier wrote in the wake of Antietam.

Alfred Avery, traumatized at Antietam, was described as “more or less irrational as long as he lived.” William Hancock, who had gone off to war “a strong young man,” his sister wrote, returned so “broken in body and mind” that he didn’t know his own name. Wallace Woodford flailed in his sleep, dreaming that he was still searching for food at Andersonville. He perished at age 22, and was buried beneath a headstone that reads: “8 months a sufferer in Rebel prison; He came home to die.”
Lacking evidence does nothing to rein in my presumption that with or without the nomenclature, still a (wo)man's soul can be wracked and riven when walking across a field so strewn with riddled bodies that the footstep did not touch the earth. There are nightmares of the soul, yes, and there is something universally obscene about rousing them and tearing human beings apart.

Am I right to infer what I cannot prove by data?

Perhaps not. But I do it anyway.

PS. And let's not forget the euphemisms pointed out by George Carlin.

1 comment:

  1. It's not a condition for veterans alone. Any trauma can leave a scar, whether brief or ongoing. Abused children, extreme incarcerations, survivors or natural disasters and those who clean up after are likely to bear the scars of the experience.