What veterans have seen at war doesn’t just affect them – it also affects the people around them. Journalist Mac McClelland has been reporting on how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects families and how they cope when very little treatment is available. KALW’s Casey Miner interviews McClelland about her recent article in Mother Jones magazine titled, “Is PTSD contagious?”
The article opens with Brannan Vines’ story:
“Brannan Vines has never been to war, but she's got a warrior's skills: hyperawareness, hypervigilance, adrenaline-sharp quick-scanning for danger, for triggers. Super stimuli-sensitive. Skills on the battlefield, crazy-person behavior in a drug store, where she was recently standing behind a sweet old lady counting out change when she suddenly became so furious her ears literally started ringing. Being too cognizant of every sound – every coin dropping an echo – she explodes inwardly, fury flash-incinerating any normal tolerance for a fellow patron with a couple of dollars in quarters and dimes. Her nose starts running she's so pissed, and there she is standing in a CVS, snotty and deaf with rage, like some kind of maniac, because a tiny elderly woman needs an extra minute to pay for her dish soap or whatever.”
Brannan Vines’ husband, Caleb, did two tours in Iraq, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and developed severe PTSD. Since he returned from the war seven years ago, things have gotten worse – for Caleb, for Brannan, and for their daughter.
The secondary trauma families experience manifest in various ways. “One of the children in this story has this thing where he counts exits all the time, so if you take him into a new space, he’ll count the exits, just over and over and over, and make a map of them, and point them out to other people, and keep his eyes on them all the time. He’s like six years old,” says McClelland.
Click the audio player above to hear the complete interview.