Stigma as defined by dictionary.com — a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.
Recently while trying to promote this site and the effort to get this idea in gear, I undertook a bit of flak for the name. “The Jolly Roger, all I see is death, thats not going to make people want to come to this website.” I nodded and took a note of what they had to say, I didn’t really have a reply at the time. After some thought, I have talked myself through to why the name will stay what it is. First, the idea of the name jolly roger came from Iraq, the squad I was with we flew the jolly roger pirate flag off the back of our trucks, our own little sick joke. Second, I have done quite a bit of research into pirate symbolism just out of curiosity. The pirate flags were warnings of death and were threats used to make ships that were to be plundered less apt to fight back. It was like hoisting up the message of death and doom. So how does that apply to us? Well when we were given that almighty stigma of PTSD, the world viewed us just as those merchant ships once viewed the pirates. They thought the pirates deadly, crazy, and murderous. The same is now being freely applied to us returning vets. People assume their worst fears realized in you.
Now you might feel I am reaching a bit. Allow me to give an example, yesterday, I was sitting before the last day of class up on campus. A Muslim girl was sitting across from me outside the class, she was wearing the hejab (religious head dress). I was sporting an Army PT shirt because I was going to the gym shortly after class. The little Muslim girl named Saeeda, was burning a whole into my chest with a glare that would make a bull run away. I could tell she wanted to say something about the army shirt so I, being the mean bastard I am, initiated a polite conversation with her. She was filled with misinformation and half-cocked theories that we were baby-killing grunts, the crusaders 2.0. She knew that PTSD was really just a cover word for the fact that the military had driven us mad before sending us overseas. I told her I had PTSD, her eyes got incredibly wide and I believe in that moment she feared for her safety, I just kind of laughed quietly under my breathe. I asked her where she had learned all these things and she said CNN and books. I told her to turn the TV off and get a better library. She and I talked for about 45 minutes and I just explained things to her. She asked if hated Muslims, I said only the ones that shot at me and my friends. She asked if I agreed with the war, I said it was not my place to judge the war, but even if evil men made a bad decision it still put good men in a place to do good things. I felt like EOD disarming a bomb. She and I finished our conversation and she apologized for how she had acted, I told her not to worry about it, she wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. I asked her one question at the end, why would you ever base a personal belief off of somebody else’s opinion? She was taken aback by that and just gave me a puzzled look. The last thing she said to me, you don’t have PTSD, you can’t, you don’t have flashbacks or look all strung out. You aren’t a psychopath and you smile a lot. You don’t have the STIGMA. I smiled and nodded and just said I am good at hiding it.
She was convinced that I had to be frothing at the mouth to have PTSD. She had bought whole sale into some propaganda that all of us vets were murderous bastards of the worst kind. She felt that if there were no outward signs I didn’t have it and that I was safe, but moments ago when she had first learned I was in fact diagnosed with PTSD, she thought I would kill her. Strange, it was as if I had hoisted my jolly roger and told her to prepare for the worst, and then she found out that I just looked like a pirate ship and just worked for an amusement park putting on a pirate show. This is just one passing incidence. This Stigma follows us where ever we go, it affects work, friends, life, and chance occurrences. People are quick to cut us short, thank us hollowly for our service, and send us packing. All because all they know of PTSD is the guy shaking in the corner with flashbacks, and that’s all they care to see. They feel that they are fully informed and that we should just be dismissed because we are crazy. Well my friends, I see only one solution, and it’s the greatest coping tool I ever found in combat, graveyard humor. I feel that the name the Jolly Roger is kind of symbolic to the fact that death and war is what brought us to the mental state we are now in, but also gave us the some of the strongest bonds to other humans we have ever known. The name the jolly roger is kind of a nod to all those who are misinformed, misguided, or just lost in the sauce in general about what PTSD really is. Its a nod to our time in the shit, dealing with war, and our constant association with death. Most of all its a nod to the brotherhood that we all found over there, we were united under our little flag, and ran by our rules, with only one goal (get as many home as you can). So to hell with whoever doesn’t like the name of this site and the ones that will dismiss any vet as crazy, frankly I don’t care what they think, because I am here for us not them.
Do ya’ll have any experiences with the stigma? Share them? How’d you deal with them? Does anybody know any good links or resources for dealing with employers that misunderstand PTSD? Sound off.