Tired of the Label

PTSD…. come on really. That stupid label slapped to anyone having a a little bit of difficulty dealing with life after combat. I hate it. PTSD, came about in the mid-80’s, if that doesn’t tell you something, people were wearing leg warmers and belly shirts when this theory came out. Somehow it got attached to us.

I have been reading a case study book complied in 1918 during WWI, its about soldiers with shellshock. Really ahead of their time, is what I thought when I picked this book up from the UH library. You will never guess who commissioned the study, the US Army! The book is actually very interesting. There are about 589 case studies of varying degrees of shell shock, from nightmares to incontinence tospace cadet. The most interesting thing is the assessments and causal relationships they came up with for shell shock. They are in fact the same ones that are used to describe PTSD. Here is a blurb from the intro,

“A glint of too great optimism may seem to shine from the lance of Achilles with its “Sad yet healing gift;” but out of shell-shock Man may get to know his own mind a little better, how under stress and strain the mind lags, blocks, twists, shrinks, and even splits, but on the whole afterwards is made good again.” Dr. E. E. Southard, 1918, Washington D.C.

That is a really profound statement to me. His optimism is incredible, during his time psychiatry was a baby pseudo-science, and yet there he stands not only intending on healing the ailing minds of veterans but also considering the possible scientific implications that studying them could hold. The thing that I find the most interesting though is the US Army’s involvement. The book explains that the US Army established the Neuropsychiatric Training School in Boston in 1917. In 1917, 93 freaking years ago. This book was published out of it the next year. We have built tvs, cell phones, radar, jet engines, computers, gone to the moon and so much more since then and yet we have not built more than a trivial amount upon this base of knowledge on shell-shock. Another interesting plot twist this book was reprinted in mass at the end of WWII and Vietnam, as if I wasn’t the only one that was dumbfounded to find such knowledge hidden in something so old.

So as I was traveling down the rabbit hole of this book, just reeling in what I was reading. I just kept saying to myself that the doc’s had said they just figured this out, while this book published some 92 years ago had it there in black and white. Then, the rabbit hole’s bottom fell out,

“At any rate, in commotion thus discussed the nervous structures are supposed to sustain some real injury of a physiochemical nature, whereas emotional states the neurones are affected somewhat after the manner of normal emotional functioning, except perhaps that they are called upon to deliver an excessive stream of impulses. The latter would be classes among the psychopathic, the former among the physiopathic affections, and yet the distinction between the two is not always quite clear.” Dr. Southard

So what does that say, in our terms PTSD and MTBI are linked. About 4 years ago this was revolutionary thinking and yet again, some old dude without all of our freaking technology figured that out about 93 years before the rest of the head shrinkers at the army, and worse yet its out of their own freaking play book.

How does this relay back to being tired of the label. It just goes to further express how useless that term is. If thats the new label and its the cutting edge of psychology and psychiatry circa 1980, I think I will settle for the old antiquity of shell-shock, it seems to have a sharper cutting edge than any of the new lot do. That label, is stamped on our records and used with such authority and yet, its freaking useless. It is not even a useful when attempting to describe combat, it fails to account for the exceptions, it fails to account for the multiple traumas, it fails to assess the common back ground and training, it fails to account for the removal of social normality at the outset of military careers, it fails to take in account the warrior spirit and pride, by all calculations its a civilian round term being stuffed into a square military phenomenon. So I reject your term PTSD and will substitute my own, life after combat. Maybe I should email the clinical director of the army the ISBN of this book, so he can look it up and maybe start citing some of his supposed big break throughs to a guy that figured it out 93 years before he did.

I think thats gonna be my slogan from here on out, down with the label. It has nothing but negative connotations and implications of being permanent and non-recoverable. It would have to be something catchy like, “I got four letters for you doc!” or “The only label I’ll settle for is a toe tag.” Whatever the case, finding that old book was like finding the rosetta stone to me. There will be more to come from it, its too interesting not too.

Southard, Elmer, Ernest, 1876-1920. Shell-shock and other Neuropsychiatric problems.


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