Thursday, February 28, 2019

Vietnam Veteran "At the end of it all, I'm a survivor"

Vietnam Veteran Had PTSD For Years Without Knowing

Huffington Post
By Chai Dingari
February 27, 2019
Today, Smallwood is an accomplished actor and writer. His book Return To Eden discusses his Vietnam experiences extensively to share with others who might have gone through the same thing. He still lives with depression and takes each day as it comes. At the end of it all, he acknowledges, “I’m a survivor.”

As Tucker Smallwood explains, when Vietnam veterans returned home, oftentimes they were met with the words “baby killer” and “cry baby.” Those unwelcoming sentiments only added to the severe psychological trauma that many of them were coming back with.

Smallwood’s story shares elements of many American soldiers’ experiences in Vietnam. Drafted into the army in 1967, he was wounded in action on Sept. 14, 1969. He was left for dead on the operating table before a second doctor saved his life. He came home and threw himself into a new life as an actor, quickly finding acclaim.

For years, Smallwood had a high-functioning and successful life. Then, an incident in 1978, eight years after his wartime injury, triggered a decade-long cycle of severe depression that he suffered through until he was persuaded to seek help.

As Smallwod explains, “There’s lots of kinds of PTSD. Anyone can be traumatized [...] You might break down right then. I might not break down for 10 years. It’s post-traumatic.”

The trigger for his PTSD came in the form of two young kids who pointed a gun at him one day in New York City and attempted to shoot him. Thankfully, the gun misfired and Smallwood was left standing there in confusion. Shortly afterward, while he was onstage performing in a musical, he broke down in tears in front of 600 people and had to be led offstage. At that point, Smallwood realized he had some issues he needed to resolve.

For more than 20 years, Smallwood experienced what is known as “anniversary syndrome.” Every year on Sept. 14, the day he was wounded in action, he would experience visceral flashbacks to the jungles of Vietnam. 

Smallwood lived with this annual trauma for two decades until he began talking about Vietnam in his regular therapy. It wasn’t until 1988 that he was formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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