Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mending Mutilated Minds

Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" Vanity asks the question, "Is it popular?" But, conscience asks the question, "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Terrorists have ambitions of empire," says Cheney. The irony was exquisite, if lost.
John Pilger

The United States currently has close to 162,000 (give or take a thousand) troops in Iraq and some 30,000 or so in Afghanistan. The number killed in Iraq now tops 3,700 and the number physically injured exceeds 30,000 or will very soon. Some have noticed that many returning from combat show no physical wounds, but they have sustained damage in many cases worse than the loss of an eye, a hand, or even a leg.

The mind can sustain injury every bit as much as the physical body. Unfortunately such terrain remains far less understood. Without getting into too long a post, let’s say that when the mind is confronted with material that crosses a line, injury occurs. We forget the jerk that cut us off in traffic, but as we ramp up the trauma, the ability to forget plummets. Past a certain point, the experience inflicts real damage. Easy to understand examples include rape, divorce, molestation, violence, betrayal, loss of loved ones (especially children) and others.

Our machinery hardwires concern for children, humanity’s future. Suffering and violence involving children produces high octane damage. You cannot process a six-year old girl walking up to your comrade and detonating a grenade, killing herself and your friend. Don’t argue. YOU CAN’T.

Skipping whether it is unconscionable to stretch our heroes in uniform to the breaking point, what is clearly unconscionable beyond all argument is our ineffective response to the psychological carnage we are both unwilling and unable to effectively address until we educate our military leadership in mental illness and the wounds our soldiers are sustaining. They are learning, but slowly. The VA Site lists some respectable details of the problem but the reality on the street of getting real treatment to real casualties is appalling. Go surf the PILOTS material and you can find lip service, but what care is really delivered?

Do you know what is happening to children in Iraq? Our soldiers do. Our soldiers have found it necessary to shoot kids. Process that. If you think you can, one of two statements is true: 1) you’re an idiot, or 2) you have no soul.

Our thinking machinery and our emotional machinery are intimately related, but just like a marriage, they are not the same entities. Damage and PTSD result when the emotional center is wounded beyond what the thinking center can process. The individual desperately tries to talk to itself, justify, explain, contextualize, rationalize, and the emotional center shakes its head, "I was there, idiot. I know what I saw. F*** off."

The traumatic memory draws psychic blood and tortures the soul. The damaged seek relief through medication, alcohol, or worse, and when the bleeding crosses a threshold, they commit suicide. Seen any recent press about suicide rates among serving or returning soldiers? Google it.

In theory, we can say the words. In practice, we are failing miserably to provide our mentally crippled veterans access to treatment that works. Because it was first distinguished using eye movement, the most advanced and effective treatment is called EMDR but it is not about the eyes. Francine Shapiro initially worked on rape victims with eye movements. The more advanced method uses hand held devices that alternate vibrations in a way that opens a gateway between right and left brain. Whether one is left brained or right brained (opposite of the hand you use), EMDR opens the gateway. With the gateway opened, a person can address past trauma and reprocess it in a way that stops the bleeding, allowing the most terrible experiences to be digested and classified in a way that alleviates the pathology. It does not erase the experience or the scar, but it stops the bleeding.

Anyone reading this is encouraged to learn more about EMDR and advocate it be made available to returning soldiers. It is not expensive or difficult, and it works. Those who understand the reality of mental health and care should advocate educating our military about the reality of PTSD and the existence of effective procedures for treating it.


Anonymous The Navigator said...

Absolutely fascinating.

You have clearly opened the door to noting that you speak of EMDR from personal experience. You have made it clear to at least one person that whatever the EMDR addressed is to remain undiscussed.

What happened to you, and I will say nothing more, did not occur on the battlefield, at least not the normal one.

8/21/2007 9:02 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

"It (EMDR) was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, after she noticed her own stress reactions diminishing when her eyes swept back and forth as she walked through a park."

This is really interesting. Shopping used to calm me down considerably, and I always thought it was because you are looking at some new object every few seconds. Maybe it's the eye movement as you walk through the stores?

8/21/2007 12:52 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...


I suppose that it is possible. The real deal involves intentional targeting during the alternating stimulation of the left and right hemispheres.

The example I mentioned a month or two ago about the guy that hit/killed a 7 year old girl (not his fault but that didn't help) is a perfect example. EMDR saved his life, literally. He was going down and fast.

I could tell lots of stories. I know a family who lost a 9 year old girl when a drunk in a subdivision flew off the road (50 mph) onto the sidewalk and killed her and the baby (of another family) whose cart she pushed.

The father became a complete alcoholic and died a few years after the divorce. I assert EMDR would have saved him.

EMDR is the best for PTSD. If I ran the military, it would be a mandatory part of a debriefing process. All soldiers would have to discuss disturbing events with a therapist while the equipment does its thing. The process involves no drugs at all. None.

Okay, navigator, yes, I experienced it. I knew someone and got access to tidy up my view of a divorce. It was incredible and very fast. The experience was amazing. Since I was already there, sure, I might have looked at some other less than pleasant experiences. Why not?

8/21/2007 8:10 PM  

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