Stephen F. Dennstedt
Can photography help those suffering with PTSD? I suspect that maybe it can but I have no scientific or clinical proof to support that suspicion. I’m not even sure I have a clear understanding of what PTSD is or all of its potential ramifications.
When I came home from Vietnam in 1968 after the Têt Offensive all the civilians stateside were saying things like: all you Vietnam Vets are just fucking crazy. And maybe we were. I certainly felt crazy enough and couldn’t find my footing or balance.
For Marines like me our combat tour of duty was 13-months in-country (for the Army it was 12-months). I deplaned in Vietnam as a nineteen year old Corporal in early January 1967 and returned to the USA as a twenty year old Sergeant in February 1968. Going to Vietnam was like dropping down Alice’s rabbit hole and coming home again (for those of us who did) often wasn’t any better—disorienting to the max. My war was fifty-years ago and is increasingly forgotten as new wars take its place. But as is true in all wars veterans are still suffering and dying—often by their own hands.
Upland Geese (Male & Female) – El Calafate (Southern Patagonia) Argentina
I was never officially diagnosed with PTSD largely because it didn’t exist after Vietnam—well, it existed but it wasn’t defined or diagnosed as a thing. The military and the Marines in particular didn’t believe in victimhood—just pull up your big boy pants and get on with life. Except that a lot of us didn’t—alcohol and substance abuse, failed personal and work relationships and anger and distrust dogged our heals. Some Marines saw more combat than me and others less (some never experienced combat at all even though they were in Vietnam) so I never thought of myself as a victim.
Orange-winged Amazon Parrot – Northern Amazon River Basin, Ecuador
I thought of myself as weak as my life would periodically implode over the years: failed marriages, failed relationships, failed jobs and failed attempts to quit medicating with alcohol. Weak. Weak. Weak. And Marines (and men) aren’t supposed to be weak—they’re supposed to be strong. Over the years I gained some professional success but failed miserably in the personal arena—seven years ago I abdicated completely: I quit my thirty-year job as a bank vice president, accepted my wife’s filing for divorce and left the USA for parts unknown. I still don’t think of myself as a victim.
Male Chimango Caracara – El Calafate (Southern Patagonia) Argentina
I haven’t solved my problem but I’ve come to terms with it in my way. I know my triggers and I know my responses. Big cities, crowds of people, manmade noise, electronic devices (like iPhones) and social media make me crazy. Nature, peace, quiet and solitude make me sane. Patriotism, nationalism, racism, bigotry and politics make me angry, cynical and distrustful. Authority and rules make me aggressive and combative. Long periods of inactivity or routine (sameness) brings on boredom and with it depression. Removing stress from my life has taken away the need to medicate with alcohol.
River Crossing – Rio San Juan, Nicargua
My motto or mantra today is to: live simple, live cheap, live free. I accept the fact that I’m damaged goods but I don’t accept that I might be a victim. I cannot live in harmony with others so I don’t. No more romantic relationships for me—I just can’t make them work. I’ve tried and failed. Oddly enough my relationship with animals is completely different whether wild or domestic—maybe it’s because they don’t ask for anything in return. They just accept me for who and what I am. I’m an introvert, a recluse, a solitary figure but I’m at last modestly content. I don’t have the stress of trying to please anyone else.
Galapagos Sea Lion – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Sometimes you reach a point in life where being content is enough. The triggers haven’t gone away I’m just better at avoiding them. And through it all I’ve had my photography and writing—perfect creative outlets for a solitary man. I have good Facebook photography friends who hookup for group outings, I envy them but I could never do that. I like being alone with my camera, thoughts and photographic subjects. Nature is best but I can even find peace in the big city when I’m behind my camera—it’s my shield against the world (it’s my crutch). Can photography help those suffering with PTSD—yes I think it can.
Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) – Northern Amazon River basin, Ecuador
Field Notes: This post is not meant to be a pity party. You don’t have to feel sorry for me. I am not a victim. I am as content as I’ve ever been in life—life is good. I know who and what I am. I have a plan for how I want to live my remaining years. But if you’re struggling with life, as we all do from time to time, you might consider photography or some other creative outlet to give your life direction and meaning. Activity (of any kind) is a great way to treat routine, sameness, boredom and depression. We can’t always fix broken but sometimes we can mend it to a point where life has meaning and purpose. SFD
Me Chill’n on the Rio San Juan, Nicaragua: Live Simple, Live Cheap, Live Free