Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I first researched as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after the Vietnam War has become a popular topic of both books and movies. One of my earlier western historical romances, Dream Catcher, involved a man home from the War with Mexico who had debilitating dreams and was haunted by those he’d seen killed up close during that short but bloody war. It never occurred to me he was suffering from PTSD, though it wouldn’t have been referred to as that in 1852.
When I began work on Rowena’s Captain, which takes place in 1874, I remembered what a fan of the series The Victorians had written regarding Blair Prescott, who was portrayed in Wilda’s Outlaw as a control freak, a woman hater and a drunk. He was to be the hero of the second novel in the series. She said, “Velda if you can pull off why anyone would love a man like this, then I’ll be surprised.”
So my work was laid out for me. Why did Blair Prescott behave the way he did toward the woman he was supposed to marry? So much so that she talked an outlaw into kidnapping her to prevent the marriage. Why did he often spend an entire night riding hard across the Kansas plains, then come in and get drunk before he could sleep?
An old friend said he had been a gentle, quiet boy growing up. Could something terrible have happened to cause this behavior? Being familiar with PTSD because of research for an earlier book, I began to research wars in which he might have fought and found the Franco Prussian War of 1870-71 and the elite French forces known as Les Zuoaves who fought under Napoleon III. So I sent this second son in a titled English family, off to war. Terrible of me, I know, for he would suffer dreadfully.
Since that decision and the first draft of Rowena’s Captain, I’ve learned a lot about the history of PTSD. For thousands of years diaries have been found that were written by soldiers and others suffering from this malady that had no name.
During the Civil War military physicians, at a loss to treat the problems, simply mustered the extreme cases out during the first three years of the war. “They were put on trains with no supervision, the name of their home town or state pinned to their tunics, others were left to wander about the countryside until they died from exposure or starvation,” wrote Richard A. Gabriel, a consultant to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and one of the foremost chroniclers of PTSD.
Gabriel’s research tells us that in 1863 the number of “insane” soldiers simply wandering around was so great, there was a public outcry. Because of this, and at the urging of surgeons, the first military hospital for the insane was established in 1863. The most common diagnosis was nostalgia.
In earlier times French doctors termed the symptoms maladie du pays, and the Spanish, confronted with the same reactions among their soldiers, called it estar roto (literally, “to be broken.”)
After finding this historic information on a website called Veteran, I knew I had an explanation for Blair’s strange and often frightening behavior.
A friend who is married to a Marine suffering from PTSD, writes a touching blog for those interested in learning how women who love these men deal with it. Wounded Warrior.
My novel, Once There Were Sad Songs, due out in early 2014 from The Wild Rose Press,
tells the story of a Vietnam Veteran living with PTSD and the woman who loves him. It is set in 1985 when so many veterans of that conflict were beginning to show signs of PTSD and it was finally recognized as a true result of the trauma of war.
Since that time PTSD has been recognized in firefighters, policemen and ordinary people traumatized by a horrific event in their lives.
A truly fascinating post, Velda–especially about all the roaming soldiers. I have heard quite a bit about Wounded Warrior. Good luck with all the books.
Andi, Thanks for commenting on this post. I hope we all can take the time to thank the men and women who serve and try to understand what many of them are going through, though that is the toughest part for us. Understanding is impossible unless we have been there.
Interesting subject, Velda, to go along with Rowena’s Captain. I admire that you were able to dig deep into your research, twice!, to discover a name for Blair’s malady and make him a loveable character. I’ll be sure to have Captain on my TBR list!
Thank you Velda. Being the mother of a Wounded Warrior, I can assure you it is no easy task in describing PTSD. It is a wicked evil demon that not only plagues the victim, but also the people who love them. Last year was the hardest my son was hit with this devastating disorder. I often wonder how they dealt with it after the Civil War. I have one book published that I wrote when we were going through some pretty rough times.
Fascinating, Velda. Gives me some ideas to follow with one of my characters in the WIP … Thank you!
Years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter, I asked Hayden Donahue, Mental Health Director for the State of Oklahoma, about a group of inmates who had “Shell shock.” He said soldiers have had the same problems throughout history, called by different names. He said “Shell shock,” was one of those, also “Battle fatigue.” He rattled off two or three other terms mental health folks used to describe the same symptoms. All of the terms were familiar. The current references are PTSS or PTSD, but all identify the same mental trauma born in battles all through history.
Yes, Sharon. I ran across those WW II terms as well, and remembered them from when I was a young, very young sprite. It wasn’t until after the Vietnam War, though that the men suffering from this malady were seriously treated. Many called them malingerers, others said they had psychological problems prior to going to war. Now we do a lot more for these people than ever before, but it’s still not enough. Thanks for your comment.