PTSD – IT’S A REAL AND PRESENT DANGER

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Two Parkland shooting survivors are no longer surviving. A father of a Sandy Hook victim took his life this past week as well. These are the very real and present dangers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that affect anyone who has suffered a trauma directly or peripherally.

My first introduction to PTSD occurred back in 2004 when I was contacted by a man and his wife who wanted help telling their story. Their therapist thought writing might help them both recover from the debilitating effects of PTSD. They found an article I’d written in a magazine in the doctor’s office and gave me a call. The first time they called, they were tentative and wouldn’t even tell me what had happened to them that had left them traumatized.

I met with them at a coffee shop. They were reluctant to talk. So, I did what I sometimes do when I’m nervous. I chattered. I told them about my life which had taken a major hit in the past three years. Something about my honesty made them trust me, and they told me their story. As I listened to their tale, I realized I too had been suffering from PTSD symptoms ever since the murder of my two great nieces by their mother in 2001.

I wrote the book for Brent and Barbara Swan and went through their horrific experience with them, which helped us all. Brent had worked for Chevron in the 1990s as a helicopter mechanic. He was stationed in Angola . He’d do six weeks on and six weeks at home. There was a small faction who’d formed an unrecognized government because they wanted the proceeds from the oil production to come to them. One morning as Brent drove to the airfield, he was kidnapped by the rebel government and held hostage for sixty days or “two moons” as he viewed his time in captivity. The U.S. government had strict guidelines about not negotiating with terrorists. Chevron had to work on his release undercover. The rebels loved Brent because he acquiesced and was a good prisoner even though they loaded up their AK-47s each morning next to his bed so he could never forget he was a hostage.

When the release was negotiated, the rebels gave Brent an honorary citizenship certificate with all their signatures. They gave him a map of all their camps, and group photos with their hostage. Brent turned it all over upon his release to the authorities.

And nothing happened. No arrests. Nothing. Brent came home and resumed a life as normal as he could. Six or seven years passed and 9/11 happened. Then all of a sudden the U.S. government became intent on bringing all known terrorists to trial. They started with the head of Brent’s kidnapping team and then the feds called Brent and told him he was the star witness.

Brent and his wife Barbara went into full survival mode PTSD when he had to travel to Washington, DC, and face his kidnapper and testify. Brent fell apart at the trial and afterwards. Barbara didn’t fare much better. When I met them in 2004, they were struggling to pull themselves out of the trenches of psychological warfare. After that initial meeting, I didn’t hear from them for more than a year.

Then I wrote their book, Two Moons in Africa (Patricia Camburn Behnke)Today I’m happy to say they are better but still living with the quirks that come from the PTSD.

My PTSD reasserts itself in times of stress or sometimes just because it can. In the past, I’ve dealt with it by writing about things other than the trauma I experienced back in 2001 and 2002. But this winter when it returned with panic attacks and depression, I decided it was time to write about how the deaths of loved ones has had an impact on me and how I cope with life’s irregularities. So far, my own self-imposed therapy is working.

I will have to finish the book before I decide if I’ll publish or not. It might turn out i’m simply writing for myself unless I see benefit to others going through similar situations.

As the news of the suicides hit this week , I considered what we can do to help those who suffer after trauma. Staying silent is not an option. Here’s a few things without even researching or digging very deep.

  • If someone doesn’t show signs of trauma after an event, it doesn’t mean she isn’t feeling isolated and alone in her fear, paranoia, grief. Without being a pest, keep her on your radar with calls, texts, cards, and/or visits. Any acts of reaching out to show her she isn’t alone may be just the thing they need.
  • Let him talk about the tragedy if he brings it up. Too many times if I tried to talk about the murders, others changed the subject. One person has told me several times he can’t deal with hearing about it because it’s too sad. Other people tell me they don’t want me to get upset by talking about it. It’s upsetting when it’s ignored, and we all should remembered that.
  • Each of us has our own timetable for grief and mourning. Do not attempt to dictate what you believe to be the proper time for someone to be over “it.” It only makes the grieving person feel as if something is wrong with her.
  • Don’t discount how a traumatic event has affected another person. Soon after I returned to work after the murders, a co-worker said to me, “Why are you so upset? It didn’t happen to you.” That set me back in my healing process by years. I still hear that voice in my head in the worst of times.

There are more I’m sure, but those are the immediate ones. Share any others you might have by leaving a comment. It can only do good because the alternative only creates another opportunity for PTSD to take hold of another life.

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Giveaway at Goodreads

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I wrote a nonfiction book in 2009 for and about a man and woman in Chiefland, Florida, who suffered first through an act of terrorism in Angola and then faced full-blow Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms for nearly two decades as they faced the trials of the man’s kidnappers. Two Moons in Africa: Barbara and Brent Swan’s Story of Terrorism by Patricia Camburn Behnke (my former name).

From January 26 to February 26, I’m offering a giveaway of two autographed hardcover copies on Goodreads.

The book also is  for sale on my website, in both paperback and hardcover. Visit the e-store on at www.pczick.com for details on ordering.

Book Giveaway For Two Moons in Africa

Giveaway dates: Jan 26-Feb 26, 2013

Description: Two Moons in Africa (nonfiction book 2009) – On October 19, 1990, Brent Swan, of Chiefland, Florida, was kidnapped in Angolo by members of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda in Angola. When he was finally released 61 days later, Brent provided the FBI with complete descriptions of his kidnappers and their camps, but it took until 2003 for just one of those kidnappers to be brought to trial, with outstanding warrants still on file with the U.S. Justice Department for three others. The U.S. government contacts the Swans and gives them information when they might need Brent as a witness, and each time they receive a call, they are thrown back to 1990 and forced to relieve the nightmare once again. There are days when they aren’t sure who the real terrorists are. Two Moons in Africa: Barbara and Brent Swan’s Story of Terrorism brings Brent out of the jungle with Barbara at his side. It is the story of Brent’s literal journey into a dark and dank jungle at the hands of rebels. It is the story of Barbara’s journey as well as she awaited first his release and then his recovery. It is the story of the love between two people who suffered and survived. But it is also the story of a country crammed with deadly land mines and embroiled in decades-long civil wars. It tells of a people destroyed by hopeless poverty while oil fields and diamond mines sit within view but beyond reach. It shows the true meaning of Africa as the Dark Continent. It is the story of rebels so intent upon their cause that the troubles of one American family have no bearing upon their fight. In fact, these fighters for Cabinda’s liberation felt they were so right in their cause, they made Brent Swan an honorary citizen of a country that does not exist except in their minds. It is also the story of how victims of terrorism are treated in the aftermath of the terrorist act as justice is sought but not always achieved. Two Moons in Africa represents their desire to tell the story. It is Barbara’s and Brent’s attempt to take control of a situation that has been out of their hands since 1990. But it has never been out of their minds or hearts or souls.