More Than Coping For Four Years

Four years ago today I ran my first article not knowing how this whole thing would proceed.  Today marks post number 1,626. Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way!

I learned quickly this blog was not going to be very interactive.  People mainly drop by to read and hopefully leave a little better off than when they got here.  I’ve tried to cover a lot of topics so as to have information available for those who are looking to read about an illness that affects them or a loved one.  I hope I’ve been successful in doing that.

I’ve learned the need for mental health information is still a vital need for the church as a whole.  There’s still too much ignorance and misunderstanding out there that has a detrimental impact for believers who are looking for hope, information, and even validation.  This need is a reflection of society as a whole.  We need a balanced understanding when it comes to mental health.

Medication is not the answer for everyone.  Professional counseling is not the answer for everyone.  Talking with your pastor or someone on staff is not the answer for everyone.  But all three are valid choices for everyone.  Doing nothing when you are suffering emotionally is NOT the answer for anyone.  Unfortunately that is the reality for many.  We need to be proactive in reaching out to the hurting among us and we must do so with the love of Christ.

We live in very difficult times.  Our nation is fighting wars on more than one front and this creates stress and turmoil for our vets and their loved ones.  PTSD is out of control and we need to get a handle on it.  This can happen as we create a climate for people to feel safe in seeking help.

Our economy is impacting lives every day as tough times continue.  The stress to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads is more than many can bear up under.  Thank God if you have financial security and all that comes with it.

Natural disasters take place all over the world and as we know even here in our nation.  When the reporters and camera crews leave the site of a natural disaster the emotional battles are just beginning for scores of people.  They have lost loved ones in unimaginable ways and quite possibly lost every possession they ever owned.  The emotional needs of all of these people must be tended to.

Life can be cruel to the individual who faces what seems to be more than their fair share of pain and suffering.  These life circumstances can send even the strongest believer into a tailspin of despair.  They need to know their faith has NOT been found to be weak.  They need to know their secret sin has NOT finally caught up to them.  They need to know the unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ which is often revealed through His people.

Yes, there are those who do develop a mental illness just as another develops diabetes or the flu.  Brains can and do get sick.  We must stop treating these people differently than the poor soul who has developed cancer.  To not do so is the height of cruelty.

Every crime and stupid decision is NOT because of mental illness.  There are evil and stupid people out there who must own up and suffer the consequences for their actions.  The claim of mental illness is not to be used as a get out of jail free card.

The fact is some of us who suffer emotionally do so because of sin and a wavering faith.  Yet when given the opportunity we must minister the grace of our Lord to them and do so in an honest and loving way.  Our goal is always restoration and not condemnation.  For some ‘victims’ this may include difficult truths to seek to deal with.

False hope can be a dangerous thing.  High hopes won’t cut it when seeking to help a person with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  Outside of God’s divine intervention medication and/or counseling will be needed for the sufferer to live a happy and productive life.  Sadly that isn’t always the reality.  It is important to deal with people truthfully while at the same time seeking God for His divine intervention according to His perfect will.

Jesus said He would never leave or forsake us although at times it may feel as if He has. He is not one to lie.  These and other truths we must hold close to our hearts.  God bless you.  Allan

Matthew 6:9  After this manner therefore pray ye. Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Matthew 6:10  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.
Matthew 6:11  Give us this day our daily bread.
Matthew 6:12  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:13  And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Rescuers, Tragedy Aftermath “Like PTSD”

Mitchell Police Officer Joel Reinesch, right, thanks Toby Kippes April 21 for his efforts to rescue two young brothers from a burning, smoke-filled house the previous night.

Taken from  The Daily Republic  which is located   HERE.

“Don’t hold it inside.” That’s what Mitchell Fire Marshal Marius Laursen told one of the men who risked their own safety by trying to rescue two young boys from a burning, smoke-filled house on April 21.

Laursen was speaking with Toby Kippes, a Mitchell native now living in Garretson, who was one of five men who worked to save the lives of a mother and her two sons after a house fire.

Jaxon Sehnert, 3, died April 22 at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls. His brother Jacob Sehnert, 6, remained hospitalized at Avera McKennan as of earlier this week.


The boys’ mother, Jessica Sehnert, was treated for smoke inhalation. So were Kippes and Clinton McQuistion, bystanders who went into the house to try to find the boys.

Kippes stopped at the damaged house on April 22 and chatted with Laursen, who was conducting an investigation there. Laursen told him it is important to talk about the event and seek assistance if needed.

“It’s a piece of advice,” Laursen said. “The guy seemed to be handling it well. However, if Toby does call out, I will do what I can for him.”

The fire marshal said he has the same advice for McQuistion, Trevor Wilson, Trevor Black and Dylan Van Bockel, who also ran to the house in an effort to help.

In the days after the fire, both Kippes and McQuistion said they had been talking to people about their experience and neither thought they needed assistance. Both said it was a remarkable experience that they had replayed several times in their minds.

Laursen said the Mitchell emergency responders were asked if they needed assistance on Monday.

“We held a debriefing with all the firefighters and people who responded to that,” Laursen said. “We offered to call in a team. All the firefighters and staff felt they were doing OK.”

But he said the Mitchell Fire Division staff will keep an eye on people and listen for any requests for help. If they notice somebody having problems, they will get them the help they need. Laursen, 41, has been a firefighter for 15 years. He said he has sought counseling a few times and thinks it’s a smart move for people in his line of work. He sought assistance after “really bad incidents or something that may involve children,” he said. “They bring in an outside team that does related-type things,” Laursen explained. “They could be firefighters, paramedics or nurses from outside the area.

“They ask questions, we sit in a circle and discuss the call. Usually, there’s some kind of clergy involved.

“The mental thing gets really difficult. Don’t hold it in. Talk it out. It can really affect someone. It’s like PTSD after a war. It’s really no different than that.”

Sometimes, emergency responders reach their limit, he said.

The “burn-out level” is a very real factor for firefighters and others who deal with life-and-death issues on a regular basis.

“You can only take so much,” Laursen said. “There’s a point in your life when you say, I can’t take it anymore.”

According to an online report on post-traumatic stress disorder written by Matthew Tull, who specializes in the study of anxiety disorders, most firefighters will not develop PTSD, but studies have found that “anywhere between approximately 7 percent and 37 percent of firefighters meet criteria for a current diagnosis of PTSD.”

The number varies depending on how the firefighter was interviewed, among other factors, according to Tull, an associate professor and director of anxiety disorders research in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.

“One study of United States firefighters looked at the type of traumatic events experienced,” he wrote. “High rates of traumatic exposure were found.

“For example, many had been exposed to crime victim incidents, people who were ‘dead on arrival’ (where the death was not due to natural causes), accidents where there were serious injuries, and some also reported that they had experienced stress associated with giving medical aid to children and infants.”

Tull wrote that it’s important for fighters to have social support available either at home or through work. In addition, it has also been found that having effective coping strategies available may lessen the impact of experiencing multiple traumatic events.

In The Heavenly Places: Streams In The Desert, April 28th, 2012



“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ . . . and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”Ephesians 2:4-6

This is our rightful place, to be “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” and to “sit still” there. But how few there are who make it their actual experience! How few, indeed think even that it is possible for them to “sit still” in these “heavenly places” in the everyday life of a world so full of turmoil as this.

We may believe perhaps that to pay a little visit to these heavenly places on Sundays, or now and then in times of spiritual exaltation, may be within the range of possibility; but to be actually “seated” there every day and all day long is altogether another matter; and yet it is very plain that it is for Sundays and week-days as well.

A quiet spirit is of inestimable value in carrying on outward activities; and nothing so hinders the working of the hidden spiritual forces, upon which, after all, our success in everything really depends, as a spirit of unrest and anxiety.

There is immense power in stillness. A great saint once said, “All things come to him who knows how to trust and be silent.” The words are pregnant with meaning. A knowledge of this fact would immensely change our ways of working. Instead of restless struggles, we would “sit down” inwardly before the Lord, and would let the Divine forces of His Spirit work out in silence the ends to which we aspire. You may not see or feel the operations of this silent force, but be assured it is always working mightily, and will work for you, if you only get your spirit still enough to be carried along by the currents of its power.
–Hannah Whitall Smith


“There is a point of rest
At the great center of the cyclone’s force,
A silence at its secret source;
A little child might slumber undisturbed,
Without the ruffle of one fair curl,
In that strange, central calm, amid the mighty whirl.”

Praise & Worship: April 27th, 2012

Song List

1a.  Reason To Sing-  All Sons And Daughters

1.  Breathe On Me Now-  Kathryn Scott

2.  Glory Bound-  Wailin’ Jennys

3.  Eternity-  Brian Doerksen/ Vineyard

4.  From The Inside Out-  Hillsong

5.  Once Again-  Matt Redman

6. Perfect Peace-  Laura Story

7.  Humble King-  Brenton Brown/Vineyard

8.  Clean Before My Lord-  Honeytree

9.  Jesus Messiah-  Chris Tomlin

10.  Does Anybody Hear Her?-  Casting Crowns

11.  Abba Father-  Vineyard


Children With Autism Are Often Targeted By Bullies


Taken from NPR  which is located   HERE.

Lots of kids get bullied. But kids with autism are especially vulnerable.

A new survey by the Interactive Autism Network found that nearly two-thirds of children with autism spectrum disorders have been bullied at some point. And it found that these kids are three times as likely as typical kids to have been bullied in the past month.

The survey of parents of more than 1,100 children with autism found that bullies often pick on kids like Abby Mahoney, who is 13 and has Asperger’s syndrome.

Abby, who lives near Baltimore, describes herself as “cool, different” and “a big geek.” When she gets interested in something like Star Wars, she says, she gets really passionate about it.

“I’ve memorized nearly everything about Star Wars there is to know,” Abby says, adding that she used to go to school dressed like Princess Leia. And when she got to school, she was sometimes so hyper that she literally bounced off the classroom walls, she says.

All of that made her an easy target for one boy.

“Every time I’d walk by, he’d call: “Police, police, take her back to the insane asylum,’ ” Abby says. “The other kids would run in and say, ‘We’re the police.’ And then they’d chase me.”

It didn’t help that Abby responded by fending off her pursuers with an imaginary lightsaber.

For a long time, Abby didn’t tell her teachers about the bullying. When she did, things got worse. And when she finally stood up to the kids tormenting her, she says, it didn’t go well.

“I seem to remember telling the boys, ‘You’re mean to me,’ or something like that,” Abby says. “They ran after me, and that ringleader, he threw a chessboard at my head.”

It missed. But Abby’s mom, Patricia Mahoney, says she realized something had to change.

Abby’s problems at school started long before the bullying, Mahoney says. Her daughter desperately wanted friends, she says, but her unusual behavior and interests made them hard to find.

“I remember she would go up to 5-year-olds on the playground and say, ‘You want to play Celts and Romans?’ ” Mahoney says. “And so she spent most of recess playing under a bush.”

As Abby got older, her differences stood out more. And when the bullying started, Abby didn’t seem to get what was going on in the minds of her tormentors, Mahoney says.

“She wouldn’t consider them off-limits to try to interact with because she just wanted friends,” Mahoney says. Mahoney wondered, “Why are you going to hang out with kids who have been so cruel to you?”

Eventually, she pulled her daughter out of school and quit her job so she could educate Abby at home for the next two years.

“Home schooling was really great,” Mahoney says, because Abby is so bright and interested in learning. But Mahoney realized her daughter also needed to learn how to interact with other kids.

So now Abby is in a school for kids with autism. And it’s working. Abby has made friends and has been chosen to star in the school’s production of the musical Annie.

The survey by the Interactive Autism Network turned up lots of stories like Abby’s, says Connie Anderson, community scientific liaison with the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. And the results show why kids like Abby, who want to make friends, are so vulnerable to bullying.

“The aloof children were less likely to be bullied than the children who desperately wanted to interact,” Anderson says.

Unfortunately, a few bad experiences can leave these children with lasting scars, she says.

“Bullying can undo all our efforts. I think that’s the most devastating thing about it,” Anderson says. “Children on the spectrum can be anxious anyway. This can just put them over the top and undo all the good that everyone’s trying to do.”

Children with autism would have fewer problems if every school had a policy on bullying and enforced it, Anderson says.

In the meantime, she says, parents should know that if their child has an individualized education program (IEP), it can include measures to prevent bullying.

For more information, Anderson recommends websites hosted by Autism Speaks and The Bully Project.

Army’s New PTSD Gidelines Fault Madigan’s Screening Tests

Taken from the Seattle Times  which is located   HERE.

The Army Surgeon General’s Office has issued new guidelines for diagnosing PTSD that criticize an approach once routinely used at Madigan Army Medical Center.

The policy, obtained by The Seattle Times, specifically discounts tests used to determine whether soldiers are faking symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It says that poor test results do not constitute malingering.

The written tests often were part of the Madigan screening process that overturned the PTSD diagnoses of more than 300 patients during the past five years.

Madigan medical-team members cited studies that said fabricated PTSD symptoms were a significant — and often undetected — phenomenon. They offered the tests as an objective way to help identity “PTSD simulators” among the patients under consideration for a medical retirement that offers a pension and other benefits.

The team’s approach once was called a “best practice” by Madigan leaders, including Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, a former commander who now serves as the Army’s surgeon general. But earlier this year, amid patient protests about overturned diagnoses, the team was shut down as the Army launched several investigations.

Though none of the Army findings have been publicly released, the April 10 “policy guidance” from the surgeon general charts new directions for PTSD screening at Madigan and elsewhere in the Army medical system.

PTSD is a condition that results from experiencing a traumatic event, such as a battlefield casualty. Symptoms can include recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, irritability and feeling distant from other people.

Some people recover from PTSD. For others, it may be a lifelong struggle.

The new policy downplays the frequency of soldiers faking symptoms to gain benefits, citing studies indicating it is rare. It also rejects the view a patient’s response to the hundreds of written test questions can determine if a soldier is faking symptoms for financial gain, and it declares that a poor test result “does not equate to malingering, which requires proof of intent… ”

Broad approach to issue

The new policy offers broad guidance on how the Army medical staff should evaluate and treat patients for PTSD, a condition affecting 5 to 25 percent of soldiers returning from combat zones. The 17-page document was distributed to commanders throughout the Army medical system.

During more than a decade of war, the Army’s handling of PTSD often has been contested.

Some soldiers at Madigan and elsewhere have alleged their symptoms were improperly discounted and they were unfairly denied medical retirements.

Within the Army and Department of Veterans Affairs, others have argued PTSD has been over-diagnosed, and they pushed for improved ways to ferret out malingerers.

The surgeon general’s policy document says PTSD is being under — not over — diagnosed. It states that most combat veterans with PTSD do not seek help, and as a result their conditions are not recognized and identified.

The policy also questions the use of a class of drugs in treating anxiety in troops with PTSD and other mental conditions.

The document found “no benefit” from the use of Xanax, Librium, Valium and other drugs known as benzodiazepines in the treatment of PTSD among combat veterans. Moreover, use of those drugs can cause harm, the Surgeon General’s Office said. The drugs may increase fear and anxiety responses in these patients. And, once prescribed, they “can be very difficult, if not impossible, to discontinue,” due to significant withdrawal symptoms compounded by PTSD, the document states.

The policy also said the harm outweighs the benefits from the use of some antipsychotics, such as Risperidone, which have shown “disappointing results” in clinical trials involving PTSD.

PTSD patients may frequently have other physical and mental-health problems. The new memorandum encourages a range of treatment options, including yoga, biofeedback, massage, acupuncture and hypnosis.

“Very welcome step”

Sen. Patty Murray, who earlier this year pressed for investigations of the Madigan screening team, calls the new policy guidance “an overdue but very welcome step.”

“It shows that the Army has been responsive to many of the concerns that have been raised, and I’m hopeful similar directives will be given to all branches of the military,” said Murray, a Washington Democrat and chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Andrew Pogany, a veteran who assists other soldiers in the medical-retirement process, says the big question is whether the policy will be followed by the Army medical establishment.

“On the surface, this absolutely is moving in the right direction,” he said. “There have been plenty of policies published in the past that weren’t followed.”

More than five years ago, Pogany helped document the struggles of Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers as they returned home from combat duty. Then, PTSD was seldom rated as a condition debilitating enough to render soldiers unfit for duty and eligible for a medical retirement with pension.

In 2008, Congress approved an overhaul of the disability system, saying a soldier rendered unfit for duty by PTSD qualified for a medical retirement.

Since then, the number of Army personnel with PTSD receiving a temporary disability (the first step in the retirement process) has escalated sharply. More than 2,790 soldiers were given a PTSD-related temporary disability in 2011, more than a fivefold increase since passage of the congressional overhaul.

The pensions, health insurance and other retirement benefits are financed through the Defense Department, which is facing significant budget cuts as Congress struggles to trim federal spending.

In a controversial presentation to colleagues last fall, Dr. William Keppler, then the leader of the Madigan screening team, said a PTSD diagnosis could cost as much as $1.5 million over the lifetime of a soldier, and he urged staff to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Keppler is a forensic psychiatrist whose work had helped Madigan gain a national reputation for innovative screening for PTSD before questions were raised about the accuracy of his team’s diagnoses.

Soldiers evaluated by the screening team often took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Test, which consists of more than 500 true-or-false questions. Some are relatively straightforward, such as questions about sleep and anxiety. Others are designed to detect patterns of exaggeration, such as answers that reflect what people think mental illness is like rather than what it is actually like.

Most of the screenings also included patient interviews. But some of the soldiers who went through the process told The Seattle Times the interviews often felt confrontational, at times hostile.

More than 300 patients screened by Keppler’s team are now being offered re-evaluations by new screening teams established at Madigan. The results of the new examinations have not been announced.

All this has spurred plenty of debate at Madigan and in the broader Army medical community.

One forensic team member, Dr. Juliana Ellis-Billingsley, quit in February, and in a letter of resignation blasted the Madigan investigations as a charade.

The surgeon general’s policy memorandum notes that many soldiers have become wary of the Army’s mental-heath care providers. It calls for a “culture of trust” that will give more soldiers confidence to seek help.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or

A War Correspondent’s Reflection: If I Don’t Tell The Story, Who Will?

Taken from the Post Gazette  which is located   HERE.
By Jackie Spinner

Coming Home PA is a project spearheaded by PublicSource, a local nonprofit investigative news group, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other local media partners.

We were an odd trio, sitting in a hipster lounge in Dupont Circle, last November, smoking flavored tobacco, sharing war stories, oblivious to the people around us.

Joao Silva, a photographer, was still getting treatment in Washington, D.C., after stepping on a land mine in October 2010 in Afghanistan while on assignment for the New York Times. He lost both his legs. A year later, Joao was in shorts, even though it had been snowing earlier in the day, and the disco lights kept catching the metal of his prosthetic legs in a dancing twinkle that matched our mood.

Bill Putnam, a multimedia journalist and former U.S. soldier, was on his way back to Afghanistan. Putnam has gone to war now as a soldier and civilian seven times since 1996. Once again, he was putting everything else aside to cover war.

“I literally don’t know anything else but this life,” he said in a recent email from Afghanistan. “I don’t feel fulfilled back home.”

The Post-Gazette is a news partner of PUBLICSOURCE, a nonprofit investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania.
Learn more at

Bill, Joao and I are part of a photography exhibit called Conflict Zone, a collection of images and video from the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Joao inspired the exhibit when he was injured, and we later dedicated it to our friend and colleague, Chris Hondros, a photographer who was killed in Libya a year ago.

The show represents a language combat journalists and veterans speak, even if we have had different roles and missions on the battlefield. It’s a handshake that in one grip says more than we could ever share with our families and friends who weren’t there and who have a hard time understanding how we could miss that life.

Bill and Joao were plotting that night to get Joao back to Afghanistan while Bill was there. I didn’t want to be left out.

I was back to normal after I’d survived the “war after the war” myself and tried to outdrink Hunter S. Thompson when I got home at the end of 2005.

The story was still calling to me. People often assume it’s the adrenaline rush that we miss when we come home. It’s not. I miss the story, the sense that if I don’t tell it, who will? These are stories of people who go to war and stories of people to whom war comes. Stories of the joys and losses that coexist in war.

I had already embedded in Iraq a half-dozen times in 2011 and spent Christmas and New Year’s with the troops, voluntarily. Who does that? Who chooses Camp Adder in Southern Iraq at the holidays over a beach vacation or going home to see their family? I didn’t understand it either, but I was confident of this: Bill and Joao would get it. It’s certainly something that many veterans can relate to as well.

The decade of wars and conflict, including the still blooming Arab Spring, has battered, mentally and physically, the journalists who have covered them. In 2011, 46 journalists were killed, according to the Committee to Project Journalists. Five of those were killed in Iraq and Libya, and 15 were killed in pro-reform protests while covering the Arab Spring. Of the 14 journalists killed this year, half died in Syria, the group reported.

The number harder to calculate is the number of journalists who have been mentally scarred. There’s a loaded acronym for the psychological damage, PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’ve seen the kind of human suffering that comes from war, seen the barely recognizable body parts, heard the sobs and don’t come home a little messed up, wouldn’t that make you a machine? Isn’t being a little screwed up by that normal? It’s hard to imagine that anyone, journalist or soldier, comes home intact.

Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, feeling numb, being jumpy or startled, becoming irritable or angry easily and having problems sleeping, according to the National Center for PTSD, an arm of the U.S. Veterans Administration. I’ve had them all. The symptoms can disrupt life. They also may come and go over the years.

“I was never diagnosed with PTSD,” said Susannah Nesmith, who covered the war in Colombia for two years for the Associated Press and later reported from Iraq for the Miami Herald. “I don’t think I ever had it. … I did come back from some deployments slightly shattered. But I think that’s just normal. You can’t become accustomed to people pointing guns at you or the sight of dead children and not be changed by that.”

Though PTSD, first defined by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980, is often formally diagnosed, many journalists informally diagnose themselves.

But that doesn’t mean we want to talk about it. I recently received an email from Barbara Barnett, associate dean of undergraduate studies and associate professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. She had heard me speak about my war reporting experience in 2006 or 2007 at a conference of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. She wanted to know if I’d be on a panel about PTSD for another conference this fall in Washington. My initial reaction when I got the email was, ‘Oh no! ASNE! That was my crazy period. How embarrassing!”

Barbara wrote back that I seemed “incredibly sane at ASNE. I don’t remember seeing any crazy signs or symptoms, so you held it together very well.” I was relieved.

Some journalists are careful because they don’t want the focus on themselves or on their role in the battlefield, which is an entirely voluntary one. We embed for varying periods of times, a few days to a few weeks, sometimes a few months, depending on the story. Though some journalists have stayed in the conflict zone for years, doing multiple “tours,” they have the option to leave, to come and go on their own terms. The biggest challenge for some is that after a while they don’t know another way to live.

Dan Lamothe, senior writer for the Marine Corps Times, who first embedded in 2010 in Helmand province in Afghanistan and is now there again, said he doesn’t believe he ever had PTSD.

But, based on conversations with other journalists, Dan said, “it’s common for war correspondents to minimize their own experiences.” And journalists are there for briefer periods of time than the soldiers and do not carry weapons. “Out of respect for the sacrifices made by service members, it’s common for us to downplay what we’ve seen and what the … effects are.”

Bill Putnam put it more bluntly. “The day I flew to my first Kosovo deployment, I called my ex, the love of my life. And she said something that only loves like that can say: ‘You chose to lead that life; deal with it.’ And, ever since then, those words said as a way to hurt me have been my bedrock. I deal with things seen in my coming and coming back because I chose it.”

Perhaps another part of the problem with diagnosing PTSD among journalists is that the “post” part of the disorder implies that the trauma is over. In fact, many journalists, like Lara Jakes, Baghdad bureau chief for the AP, are still in the midst of it.

“We still have bombings and deadly shootings almost every day, and you never really get used to them,” she wrote from Baghdad, where she has been for three years. “My immediate reaction is always to jump up and start working, because I have to — this is what I do. … I have been told that my sense of shock is now conditioned to manifest into a huge adrenaline rush. And so I am habitually on edge and jump at slamming gates, firecrackers, gunfire, squealing tires and black clouds of smoke.”

Lara’s husband, Army Lt. Col. Mike Jason, is in Afghanistan, commanding more than 900 troops. He was formally diagnosed with PTSD in 2006. Mike said he talks frequently with his soldiers about PTSD. He sees little difference between the clinical impact of war on troops or civilian journalists like his wife.

“I think it’s a combination of those sheer moments of terror, added to witnessing traumatic and horrible images, added to long stretches of stress and harsh environmental conditions,” Mike wrote from Afghanistan. “It is psychological, emotional, and absolutely, physical.”

Back in Baghdad, Lara said when she returns she will definitely seek counseling.

“I think it would be crazy to try to go back to life as normal when my world is forever changed,” she said. “I have seen some things that have upset me deeply.”

I think we, as journalists, and soldiers like Bill and Mike, try to make sense of where we’ve been, what we’ve seen and how it’s changed us. In December 2010, while on a Fulbright Scholarship in Oman, I prepared to head back into Iraq on yet another embed. I have been doing them on and off as a freelance journalist since leaving the Washington Post in 2009.

In 2010, I was headed to Iskandariyah, where I had last been six years earlier. I remembered a lot of that embed at FOB Kalsu in 2004, mostly because I could go back and see myself in a PBS Frontline documentary filmed while I was there. I felt old when I watched that version of myself. I still do, when I show the video now to my journalism students at Columbia College Chicago.

Mostly, I couldn’t believe that I was still going to Iraq six years later, then seven. “Be careful dear, one day I am going to kill you for risking your life like this,” Abu Saif, a former Post translator, told me when he heard the news.

But I realized that I had to go to Iskandariyah. It was called The Triangle of Death the first time I went in 2004. But not in 2010. It was a new shape — not entirely safe, not entirely dangerous either. I was not the same person I was in 2004 either. Me and Iskandariyah. From s— hole to redemption, I thought.

That period, between trips to Iskandariyah, had serious, but fortunately not lasting, consequences. In retrospect, I am even able to look on it as a gift. I call it my lifetime of Iraq perspective. With the distance I’ve come to see that it’s important for people to talk about PTSD, especially journalists.

Some of my most healing moments have been in the quiet conversations with other journalists, with soldiers and Marines. And why now that I’m healthy and not in the sustained conflict, I realize it’s important to talk about it.

Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, said it’s hard to know just what the lasting effect will be on the journalists who have covered conflict, who are still covering conflict.

“The length of these wars, the repeat deployments, the chronic violence, has been really destructive and has scarred a lot of folks,” Bruce told me. “We’re nowhere near approaching or understanding the full scope of that, the full meaning of this for journalists. It has been an exhausting decade.”

Jackie Spinner has reported on the Middle East since 2004. She was a staff writer for the Washington Post for 14 years and covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is the author of “Tell Them I Didn’t Cry: A Young Journalist’s Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq.” She is currently a professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago.
First Published 2012-04-22 15:20:57