Tag Archives: PTSD

#FlashFictionFriday: Old Man Walking

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_070

Old man walking to the tavern

No license, mumbling.

Saw too many things

Knows too many things

War is one of those things.

Old man riding to the tavern

A young boy’s bike.

Lost his license

Lost his mind

Lost his self-respect.

Old man walking to the tavern

No license, mumbling.


Old Man Walking, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2017 All Rights Reserved.

Head of a Bearded Man (Manner of Rembrandt) after circa 1630 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you or a loved one are a wounded veteran and are struggling with PTSD, call Vet to Vet Assistance 888-777-4443 or log onto the National Veterans Foundation https://nvf.org/about-national-veterans-foundation/

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#amwriting: drawing on personal experience

Map of Mal Evol, color full size, no roadsWith Valley of Sorrows on the editor’s desk, I can finish revising my other book based in the world of Neveyah. This is a stand-alone novel, The Wayward Son, which will be published late in 2016 after Valley of Sorrows comes out. It tells the story of John Farmer, Edwin’s father, and takes place concurrently with Forbidden Road. This book was far easier to write than many others, as it explores combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition I am all too familiar with, as a bystander.

John’s story opens with an incident that changes his life. Twenty-five years later, John must return to Aeoven and face the past, and somehow learn to live with himself.

We writers all use our knowledge of the world around us to draw on when we are creating a scene or a character, even if we are not aware of having done so. I have deliberately drawn on observations made during my childhood and young adult years to create John’s gut-reactions and to show how his life was colored by his experiences.

My father was a veteran of WWII, and a man who’d intended to make the military his career. The loss of his left leg changed his career path. He became a draftsman and made a very good living. Other than being inconvenienced by having only one leg, everything went on normally.

On the surface, anyway.

US Army Signal Corps photo of SCR-299 radio set in operation 1942, US Army Signal Corps

US Army Signal Corps photo of SCR-299 radio set in operation 1942, US Army Signal Corps

The injury that had cost my father his leg was not combat-related, although it occurred while he was on active duty.  But  the most devasting things that impacted him had happened long before he met his fate in El Paso, TX in 1946.

Dad joined the army in 1938. He rose to staff sergeant in charge of a radio unit. During his time in the military, he had marched across Europe carrying his SCR-300, a portable radio transceiver used by US Signal Corps in World War II. One thing he was always willing to discuss was how his backpack-mounted unit was a large two-way radio, and it was called a “walkie-talkie.”

Later in the war, he was in charge of something called an SCR299. This was a large mobile radio station.  The Signal Corp and men like my father provided long-range communications between permanent bases and the battlefront.

Dad was always just behind the actual battlefront, always passing through the aftermath. He never discussed it, but the enemy knew how important these communications outfits were, so they must have been important targets. I do know he’d lost several close companions, men who were there one minute and gone in a pile of wreckage the next.

Drafting Table, courtesy Wikimedia Commons {PD GNU Free}

Drafting Table, courtesy Wikimedia Commons {PD GNU Free}

My dad and my uncles never really got over the war, and they all suffered from survivor’s guilt to a certain degree. They came home and settled back into society, and began building the American Dream. When he was sober, all Dad ever really said about the war was that the good guys had won. When he’d been drinking, he might say more, but not much.

Dad was an avid gardener, a musician, a brewer, and a winemaker. He was passionate about his interests, a renaissance man who insisted we read (and discuss) all manner of books from the classics to comic books, be athletic, and learn to play a musical instrument.

But Dad was also a volatile man who drank too much every weekend and partied as hard as he worked. We all knew how to mix drinks and serve canapés by the time we left home, as we were Dad’s bartenders whenever there was a party. That may be why I have always been more of a non-drinker.

90px-US_Army_WWII_SSGT.svgAs my dad grew older his lifestyle began to catch up with him. He grew erratic and his once hilariously cynical wit became less funny and more bitter. Good Dad lost the battle to Bad Dad. We never knew just what would trigger a tirade, and we developed coping mechanisms.

When I look back, I can see that some of his most outrageous tantrums were actually panic attacks. When he was in the grip of one of those, all bets were off–your best choice was to just walk away and let him rave until he was done. His health suffered–he developed type-II diabetes and never got it under control. He was forced to retire early from his job at the age of 59 because of his health, but he had two good pensions, one from the military, and one from the State of Washington.

San-felipe-baja-california-2000 via WikipediaAfter he retired,  he and mom, along with Aunt Lillian and Uncle Wes, who’d been in Germany and North Africa during WWII, began wintering in San Felipe, Baja, Mexico for most of the year.  Dad was happier there. He loved the sun and people of Mexico. Even so he lost many lifelong friends who loved him but couldn’t stand him when he was drinking. He had destroyed his marriage–Mom hung on out of old-school Lutheran stubbornness.

Dad died at the age of sixty-six from complications of penicillin-resistant osteomyelitis (the cause of the loss of his leg 34 years prior), diabetes, and alcoholism. In his last years, he wanted to be happy, but he couldn’t, and his confusion and instability was a black pall that darkened every day for those of us around him.

WWII US Soldiers Marching, image courtesy www.berkeley.edu

WWII US Soldiers Marching, image courtesy http://www.berkeley.edu

As a child I saw how my uncles were also affected by war–Uncle Don came home from the Battle of the Bulge with a metal plate in his head, Uncle Dean spent the war on a destroyer in the Pacific theater. Uncle Billy died in Korea, and Uncle Bobby came home from Korea a changed, angry man. They all experienced the trauma and flashbacks differently, but the lives of everyone who loved them was affected in negative ways.

There was no help for them. They were told to suck it up and be men about it, no matter what it was. To a certain extent, the US government is still dropping the ball when it comes to caring for our combat veterans, whose many documented mental illnesses stem directly from their war experiences.

Using this unfortunate personal knowledge of how witnessing events in war can affect a soldier for decades after the war has ended, I created John’s story. His story and those of his companions were written in my head long before I ever began writing Tower of Bones. I wrote John’s story for my father, my uncles, my older brother and for all the young soldiers, men and women who’ve seen combat and who must somehow reintegrate into society.

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Dad, the renaissance man

Fred+Flintstone+FredFlintstoneToday is Fathers Day here in the US, and my dad, long gone, is on my mind. He wanted us to be as well-educated as was possible, and I grew up in a household where reading was not only encouraged, it was required, as were music lessons, and roller-skating lessons. My younger sibs and I were definitely the product of post-war American prosperity.

During WWII, Dad had been in a radio unit. He loved radio communications even though, besides everything else a soldier carried in those days,  he marched and hiked his way across France carrying a 30lb radio on his back.

He saw many terrible things during that time, and had a few narrow escapes. He was back in the US by the day of the Ardennes Counteroffensive, known here in the US as the  Battle of the Bulge.

While my uncle, Don Hutchins, was fighting on the front in  the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia (Belgium), Dad had been rotated back to  Fort Bliss, Texas, USA.

Uncle Don came home from Ardennes with a metal plate in his head, and dad…dad was was riding dispatch between bases on a motorcycle and was run over by a lady driving a 1937 Woodie Station wagon, who didn’t see him and turned left, driving  right over the top of him.

Nearly every major bone in his body was broken, and in the rush to save his life, his left leg was accidentally set crooked. After he’d recovered from his other injuries, the doctors at Beaumont Army Hospital went in and re-broke his leg to set it correctly.

He developed an antibiotic resistant bone infection, osteomyelitis. He spent the next seven years in and out of Army hospitals, and in 1952 he was  forced into a medical retirement after fifteen years of service in the US Army. In 1954, when I was about a year old, they finally amputated his leg, and life went on from there.  He was never able to wear his artificial leg, as prosthetic limbs in those days were really more for show than utility.

Dad had not wasted his time when he was languishing in and out of the hospital. He had gotten his high-school diploma, and then went on to college, hoping to get a degree in engineering. He did get an Associates degree, which enabled him to work as a draftsman, a well-respected, well-paid trade.

He worked for the State of Washington, which was a good employer in those days, designing plumbing and fish ladders for salmon hatcheries, among other things. He enjoyed his job and was proud of what he did.

Even so, dad was frustrated by his rather visible handicap. He was, by nature, a volatile man. He regretted that he could no longer hunt, but he loved to fish. He bought us his dream house on Black Lake near Olympia, Washington, and fished from his boat every day that he could. But he was also a renaissance man–a voracious reader, an avid music lover, and a wickedly satirical, incredibly gifted cartoonist.

Dad absolutely adored modern technology. Every new technological wonder, from cassette recorders and loud stereos to color TVs and toy robots came into our home the day it landed on the shelf at Sears or Radio Shack. Working in engineering as a draftsman, he was a genius with a slide-rule and higher mathematics in general, but he owned one of the first electronic scientific calculators, which had cost a months’s salary.

I think about dad a lot these days. He would have been so proud to know I am a published author, and selling books to boot. He was always our biggest supporter, cheering us on in our every endeavor. Failure was never an option, but anything short of abject defeat was rewarded with a steak-and-eggs breakfast at the RibEye Restaurant.

I’m a vegan now, and dad would be completely mystified as to why I would do such a hippie/liberal thing. But he would support my right to do it, all the way to France and back.

WWII US Soldiers Marching, image  courtesy www.berkeley.edu

WWII US Soldiers Marching, image courtesy http://www.berkeley.edu

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I #amwriting

Map of Neveyah, color copyWriting is going well. I’m fleshing out the third book in the Tower of Bones series. The prequel to the Tower of Bones series, a stand-alone novel, Mountains of the Moon,  is in the final stages of production and will be published in July. I’ve also been working on some short stories in the Billy’s Revenge series, follow-ups for Huw the Bard. The re-write of The Last Good Knight went well, and the rough draft is now resting on the back-burner while I finish up the third book in Edwin Farmer’s story,Valley of Sorrows. VOS is nearly complete, and will be my main area of focus for the next three months.

Valley of Mal Evol B&WValley of Sorrows picks up where Forbidden Road left off, and is a rather dark book, although there are some moments of hilarity. We will see a great deal more of Stefyn D’Mal, and find out what sort of person Lourdan is. Valley of Sorrows will finally take Edwin home, but what waits for him when he arrives back in Aeoven? We should know by next spring!

Set concurrently with Forbidden Road is John Farmer’s story, The Wayward Son. That book deals with the issues of PTSD, survivor guilt, and what happens to the men and women who return from the war. Some wounds are not visible from the outside, and John Farmer’s story takes us deep into that aspect of a soldier’s life.

One reason writing has been so slow on Valley of Sorrows was that I had to write John’s story, so the book would make sense–so I have been writing two books.  I’ve always known John’s background, but his back-story has always remained just that–reams of untold back-story.

John, Garran, and Halee have some serious issues to overcome stemming from a series of traumatic incidents that occurred during the last days of the war in Mal Evol. Twenty five years have passed, but for each one of the three who were once so close, some scars have never healed, and John’s return to Neveyah reopens the wounds. While those problems are hinted at, they’re not discussed in Forbidden Road. In order for John and Garran to be at Braden, waiting for Edwin and ready to join the quest, I had to resolve some of those long-festering issues.

MOTM MAPAlso, several things occurred in Aeoven during Edwin’s absence, things that set him on a different course. These things are explored in the course of John’s story, and that book, The Wayward Son, will be published right around the same time as Valley of Sorrows.

During the re-editing of Tower of Bones I took the liberty of changing one character’s name. She is briefly mentioned in that book, but her part really very minor. However, she assumes a somewhat larger role in Forbidden Road, which caused some problems, as her name was only one letter off from another female character’s name, and they rhymed.

At the time I first published Forbidden Road, I was concerned about the names being so similar, but I didn’t know what to do about it. But it occurred to me that since I am an indie, I can do any thing I want, so I went ahead and changed the abbess’s name to Halee. The simple expedient of changing her name from Marta to Halee ensures she doesn’t rhyme with Marya.

So my writing life has been quite full–when I run out of ideas on one story I pull out another and work on it until it’s time to move on to a different one. My books have new interiors, new maps, and new covers. They are back on the shelves for sale, and the sequels and prequels are moving along just fine.  My writing life is good!

Twer of Bones Postcard Front

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Fantasy and the cold hard truth

Saint_Alban_(cropped)In a good novel, there is a moment where the interactions between certain characters can become highly charged, fraught with anger and other intense emotions. That is the case with what I am writing now:  three of my characters spent a long time fighting alongside each other, brothers and sisters in arms, completely dependent on each other.

They have a long history. Several terrible incidents occurred during the war they once fought that they don’t understand, and which created a rift between them. Some of their close companions were killed under bad circumstances (are there ever any good ones?) and each of my characters suffers a little survivor’s guilt.

After the war, they went their separate ways and for the last 25 years, have rarely seen each other or spoken. They all bear a burden of responsibility for things they can’t change, and their lives are affected by this, although they don’t know why. For each of them, their anger and remorse are expressed in different ways.

Two of them can’t be in the same room for long without trying to kill each other.

One character in particular suffers disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and what we call ‘fight or flight syndrome,’ the uncontrollable urge to either fight or flee. These characters all three demonstrate varying degrees of avoidance,  withdrawal, aggressive defense, or in one case, complete frozen immobility. Certain memories trigger these behaviors, and now all three are being forced to face their demons.

My challenge is to bring these people back together with sensitivity and realism, in order to advance my story, and use only 1/3 of the allotted word-count for this book.

Does this sound like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? You’re right. For more information on PTSD, see an article  on the website, Military Pathways, and this news article aired by CBS on their show, 60Minutes.

Because it’s a new term, I can’t refer to this ‘injury of the spirit’ as PTSD in my manuscript. But I can give it another name and air both the symptoms and the sometimes life-long problems untreated PTSD causes.

GeorgeSPatton - WikipediaMy father, and my uncles all suffered from this long after World War II ended. In many ways it has shaped our post WWII society. Our fathers were told to just shut up and  get on with their lives–something that is not always an easy thing. Alcoholism and domestic abuse lay just under the surface of many families in our community, hidden but there.

Prior to World War I, the U.S. Army considered the symptoms of battle fatigue to be cowardice or attempts to avoid combat duty. While the causes, symptoms, and effects of the condition were familiar to physicians, it was generally less understood in military circles. General George Patton garnered substantial controversy after he slapped two United States Army soldiers under his command during the Sicily Campaign of World War II.

It was common for soldiers who reported these symptoms to receive harsh treatment. At the time of the slapping incidents, the two soldiers Patton assaulted were suffering from “battle fatigue,” otherwise known as “shell shock” or “battle stress.” Today, this condition is characterized as a form of PTSD, which can result from prolonged severe exposure to death and destruction, among many other traumatic events.

220px-Sir_Galahad_(Watts)

Even though I write fantasy, the reactions of my characters to certain situations has to be realistic, and that is where a good grasp of what really happens to our vets comes in handy. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is real and affects our returning veterans. More must be done to help ease our military wounded back into society, but generally speaking we pay more lip-service to that problem than we do tax dollars.

We write about incredible personal challenges, because they make great stories. But what about the people who live through those moments? How do they quietly go back to the farm once the war is over, and pretend it never happened? This is what I am writing about now, and it has been an emotional journey for me as as an author and a human being. Everyday, our paths are crossed by men and women living with PTSD caused by a variety of terrible circumstances,  They are just ordinary people trying to keep their lives together, not understanding why they sometimes do the things they do, and wondering why things just keep going to hell all around them.

 

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