The Fall 2012 issue of Breath & Shadow, Ability Maine's journal of disability literature and culture, is up now.
This edition's essay is a gripping and heartrending story by Arthur W. Schade, "The Persistent Demons of War: A Personal Story of Prolonged PTSD." Schade reveals that it took him three years to write this essay, and it was time well spent. While reading, I sometimes found myself leaning into my computer screen, my teeth clenched, while other times tears sprung into my eyes or a laugh burst from me.
Schade begins his story as an eighteen-year-old entering the Marines and being swept up in the chaos and confusion of enlistment and training: noise, strange surroundings, and, well, naked male butts!
We went through lines of examinations and stood around for hours, recognizing one another's bare asses before we could learn each other’s names. We did not realize so many of us would remain together in squads and fire teams, building deep-seeded bonds of friendships along our journey. Our initial ‘shock’ indoctrination began immediately at Parris Island; intimidating drill Instructors scrambled our disoriented butts off the bus, organized us into a semblance of a formation, and herded us to the barracks for a night of hell. Following what we thought would be sleep (but in actuality was a nap), we awoke in awe to explosive clamor as the DIs banged on tin garbage can lids next to our bunks, yelling “get up you maggots.” Even the largest recruits trembled. Flooded with anxiety and apprehension, already we were second-guessing our decision to enlist.Everything changes from literally the moment that Schade stands on Vietnamese soil, revealing a shocking mishap that I had never even known was a danger of war. He describes how just fourteen months in 1966 and 1967 changed him forever and left him feeling out of place among his nineteen-year-old peers when he returned the United States. Yet, for decades he managed to keep his "demons" to himself -- the nightmares, anxieties, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) -- and "pass," explaining how and why it was so important to him to cope the way he did. Until the option to keep everything under wraps was yanked away by a new war:
When the first Gulf War began in 1990, I sensed the demons bursting from within. No matter how hard I tried to avoid them, I saw vivid images and news coverage of every aspect of the war. The bodies and faces in the media were not strangers anymore. Instead, they were my brothers from a much older and forgotten war. I sought refuge with the Veteran’s Administration and began attending group therapy.Connecting with fellow vets and PTSD survivors took Schade on a new journey he shares with Breath & Shadow readers. I am moved and grateful for having read his story. I learned a great deal from being able to learn from what Schade witnessed, heard, felt, and did before, during, and after his tour in Vietnam and his time now as a warrior in supporting veterans with PTSD.
Read Arthur W. Schade's essay at Breath & Shadow here.