Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – Veterans

Recommended movie: Waltz with Bashir

“Waltz with Bashir” is an  examination of post traumatic stress disorder in veterans. This Israeli animated film is a documentary on the Lebanon war, that took place in the early 1980’s.  The movie documents  the  journey of the director back  into the horrors of that war.  The director is driven to delve into his past  in an effort to fill in a period in his life that he has blanked out, but fills him with unease

The movie consist in interviews of people that were there, in Lebanon. The “animated” people in the movie are real people, identified by their real name.

As the director searches out friends from that period in his life he comes across the many forms that PTSD can take. Some have recurring nightmares they cannot shake off; or flashbacks that disturb their daily activities. One of the veterans could go through the day only by smoking marijuana incessantly. He left Israel , distancing himself from this environment, probably to avoid any trigger that could remind him of the war.

Most veterans felt guilt. Guilt for what they have done, or have not done, or failed to prevent. Sometimes even guilt for surviving, while others died.

The movie shows that  PTSD may be caused not only by  traumatic events that were personally experienced but horrors that were witnessed and events that fundamentally violate the ethics on which we were raised.

Sometimes PTSD takes the form of being alienated of daily life. One of the protagonists came for vacation from the war. He walks down the familiar street, but everything he sees seemed  strange, different. He cannot engage in the regular mundane life, with all its trivialities.  When I worked with veterans in Israel, many times this was the most disturbing symptom. As if they are not fully alive any more.

Many of the protagonists would be considered  “functional”. They manage to work and to have family. They probably do not fulfill the full criteria of PTSD as defined in the DSM. Nevertheless, they suffer. Their quality of life is diminished. Sometimes they are not able to apply their full potential, even if they seem from the outside as functioning people.

Now, that American soldiers are coming back from Iraq, this movie is more important than ever. It helps the victims of PTSD and their families understand  what they are going through. Hopefully, this movie will help them see that they are not “crazy” and will reduce their loneliness.

Warning: In spite of the movie’s  striking  beauty, it is not an easy movie to watch.