I met with a Veteran, yesterday. For our purposes, we’ll call him Angel – we superficially discussed his experiences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It wasn’t easy for him, as he describes himself, as “having issues with trust.” It was a good first conversation, I felt. Especially so, in light of the subject matter. I wondered about the intensity of what he described and my experiences of random people blowing smoke in my face, dancing and playing music within the subway cars, and otherwise intruding on my peace.
Having a discussion with a disabled veteran about how they’ve been affected by physical and/or emotional trauma isn’t always a free flowing, easy dialogue, especially when you and the Vet aren’t intimately familiar. Alex, another Veteran shared with me, “Dennis, I realize that you have questions about how PTSD works for me, and that you are asking because you want to look at how a service dog can help me, but this is really hard. It’s a bit of a mind-fuck, you know? There have been times I want to speak to family about it, but I CAN SEE IT – they really don’t want to hear about what my days and nights – what my life is like. I know they care about me, but it’s like knowing the family’s deepest dark secret and knowing that I am designated its only Keeper. Everyone knows about this ‘thing’, but don’t you fucking dare discuss it!” He continued, “The truth is that they don’t really know what my life is like, now. The documentaries that you see on TV – they don’t put you in my boots, Dennis. The things that I’ve done, the scents, and the normal things that trigger me – I have to find ways to make sense of that and make it work in some sort of normal life. And, I think most vets really do believe that no one wants to know what happened and what we think about.” I was concerned that any discussion about task training with this gentleman was going to have to wait until another, better time, but he said, “Encumbered. That’s a good word for what I feel. It’s a large part of why I want a service dog, too. It’s an oversimplification, but the thoughts and memories of what happened – if you can train a dog to help me carry this crap, it would be great to give up the extra weight.”
“I’ll tell you what, Alex.” I wanted to put a hand on his shoulder, but opted not to, “Let’s talk about what service animals can do to help some people with PTSD. If you believe it would be helpful, we can also invite people you trust into the discussion. Do you think it possible that others might have thoughts about ways that a service animal could be helpful? Perhaps, some of these people have spent time with you when you feel triggered?” The discussion is ongoing, but I believe it’s all going to work out.