IVINS – On Saturday evening, veterans, spouses and children of veterans, and members of the community gathered at the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins to hear noted author Bridget C. Cantrell give a presentation on living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Capping off a week of tributes to veterans, the event entitled “An Evening with Bridget Cantrell: Rebuilding a Life, a Family, a Future; Living with PTSD,” offered veterans and their loved ones an opportunity to learn new ways to move forward with life as they cope with PTSD; whether directly or as a spouse or loved one.
The event started promptly at 6 p.m. with a little bit of humor as Bruce Solomon, chairman of the St. George Mayor’s Veterans Action Council welcomed the crowd.
“It is 1800 hours military time and I have PTSD so we are going to start,” Bruce Solomon said to an appreciative crowd.
The event began with the posting of the colors and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance after which Bruce Solomon, as a veteran living with PTSD, paid tribute to his wife of 47 years, Dorothy Solomon, for standing by him and being “his angel.”
Bruce Solomon then introduced the guest speaker for the evening calling her far more than a scholar, a warrior.
Cantrell is the daughter of a World War II Navy veteran who served on the USS Pennsylvania and in combat in the Korean War. As a child, Cantrell said, she knew firsthand the effects of living with a loved one who suffered from PTSD and the impacts that it can have on a family.
“Her father was her hero,” Bruce Solomon said in his introduction of Cantrell, “but he would have these fits of anger and everyone would ask, ‘what is wrong with daddy?’”
Cantrell did her doctoral work on the impact and social symptoms of PTSD, she said; and, as Bruce Solomon said, she has arrived at what was up with daddy.
Cantrell now counsels veterans from all branches of the military and gives workshops all over, she said, citing her father as her inspiration.
Cantrell began her presentation by discussing the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder. While there are several variations on the wording, PTSD is commonly defined as a mental health problem that can occur after a terrifying or traumatic ordeal.
Cantrell defined it as a “reaction to experiencing something that is outside the realm of normal experience … a traumatic experience.”
Cantrell went on to explain why some people have these reactions.
“We are not a warrior society,” Cantrell said. “We don’t have the rites of passage and the ceremony that brings people home and helps them heal.”
Cantrell brought a detailed power point presentation that outlined important information about PTSD including diagnostic information, the high cost of untreated PTSD, challenges returning warriors face and overall objectives of the talk.
One of the key points of the evening was the importance Cantrell placed on communication and creating a platform for veterans to tell their stories.
Though communication is often a challenge, Cantrell said, it is important to have a place that is safe to be able to share experiences.
“We need to tell the people that we love, what it is, how we feel, why we feel,” veteran and action council member Bruce Raftery said. “That is out of respect to them, out of respect for people who care about us.”
As the night progressed the presentation evolved into a roundtable as one by one veterans and their loved ones rose to tell haunting and personal stories of their time in battle and at home.
A range of emotions from anxiety, anger and sadness filled the room as attendees spoke of coming to terms with being diagnosed with PTSD, to being abused by relatives who suffer from PTSD and trying to understand their lack of empathy for those they supposedly love.
Others told of things that trigger PTSD reactions including the sound of a car horn, certain smells, low flying aircraft, nostalgic music, specific calendar dates and even the beating of their own heart.
Floyd Kitchen came home from Vietnam practically disabled, he said, and spent almost seven years in a VA hospital because of a total breakdown. In addition to the mental and emotional effects of PTSD, Kitchen is also suffering from the physical aftermath of being exposed to agent orange; in the past year, Kitchen said, he has suffered from a heart attack, neuropathy, diabetes and respiratory illness.
Kitchen is currently struggling with what he said are terrible anniversary dates of traumatic events that took place during the Vietnam war, including one that happened on Thanksgiving day in 1967 when his whole company was wiped out.
“I came out to see if there was anything new that I could use,” Kitchen said. “It just seems like I have done everything I could do … I got some good ideas … I think it is important for all of us, regardless of what war we were in, to find ways of comfort for the things we have to deal with.”
While most of the focus was on those who directly suffer from PTSD, the warriors, Cantrell and attendees also highlighted spouses, children and even grandchildren who suffer from secondary PTSD, and the floor was opened up to those with personal experience to address these concerns.
Perhaps the most sage advice came from Dorothy Solomon who said this of living with secondary PTSD:
PTSD takes the front seat all the time, it is the center of the universe but if you can keep growing and you can have a life, you can hang in there; without it, you will go down too. Take classes, join groups, keep growing. Find something that makes you feel fulfilled, something that reassures you that you are vital, that you are not alone.
Cantrell also stressed the importance of educating children to the best of their understanding about what their parent is going through.
“Set healthy limitations, help them understand,” Cantrell said. “Educate them on their age level about how to interact.”
While Cantrell and those present agreed that there is no cure for PTSD, the overall message was one of positivity and support.
“This is a journey and this is a process, this is part of your fabric, part of your weaving,” Cantrell said. “Keep learning, reading, communicating, do something positive and reach out to others, you are not alone.”
- Veterans Aware: Noted author Bridget Cantrell lectures on rebuilding life with PTSD; free, reserve a seat
- Countywide Veterans Day celebration: ‘We are still the land of the free’; STGnews Videocast, Photo Gallery
- Veterans Aware: Reducing, eradicating suicide plague on American spirit; public events
- Washington County Veterans Court, now in session
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