Today on Fresh Air we discuss Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through the story of Iraq War veterans and couple, Kayla Williams and Brian McGough. In October of 2003 an IED explosion went off, sending shrapnel through Brian’s head and causing permanent brain damage. The couple got closer, fell in love, and eventually married. Kayla Williams’ memoir Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War shares the story of the unimaginable obstacles the couple faced, including rage, depression, and paranoia.
In the interview Williams explains how symptoms of PTSD are “adaptive in a combat zone”:
"A lot of what we think of as symptoms of PTSD are adaptive in a combat zone. So being hyper-vigilant, extremely alert to your surroundings, always monitoring your environment for potential threats and being prepared to respond with immediate violence if necessary if you perceive a threat — those are adaptive ways to be in a combat zone. Those traits keep you alive in a combat zone and it’s normal for anyone coming home to take a while to wind that down.
… I still feel my heart rate increase if I see trash on the side of the road because there’s a little piece of my brain that thinks it could be an IED. But for the vast majority of people those fairly normal symptoms fade within three to six months after coming home. But for people like Brian with pretty severe PTSD, that fading of those symptoms doesn’t happen and those normal ways to behave or think or be in a combat zone carry over into civilian settings where they’re actively counterproductive.”
photo of the Iraq War memorial at the Old North Church in Boston