thank you for sending me this Guardian Angel called Mamadou and working in the labour Trade Union.
He is an African living in France and working for the same company for a long time.
He’s got the same sense for Justice and he is giving me dignity and awareness of who I am today and who I want to become tomorrow morning.
Mamadou told me, as soon as you get fixed at your Job, after your Recover from burn out and PTSD, you will become a Giant Tree.
Then, I want to be soon a Redwood Sequoia.
A tree that has developed so much knowledge on how to take care of one self that, no matter what, I will preserve my health. And other people will come to me and enjoy the fresh air of my leaves shadow.
Well, I promise, … I will become a tree and it will be a giant one.
Well, before facing this topic I have been meditating and taking time for breathing, alone, in the woods. This is one of the most sensitive subject I am still willing to write about. For the side story, I am one of those who experienced panic attacks and tremors, neurosthenia, physical and mental break down, which led to occupational burn out, as a consequence of « Paris Terror », in january and november 2015. Still dealing with the aftermath. But I am confident, and I will sort it out or bust.
By the way, I lived a « fake alert », while terrorists were around the parisian region ; trauma is like you face your death, and I was still on duty when november’s attacks stroke. The hall of the hotel, where I was serving, was full of thousands of guests and some of them had lost a friend in concert hall « Bataclan ». Too much to handle for a little creature of the Universe, like me.
Our duty, my team leader told me, was to take care of the guests and their needs were priority. My hands were shacking and couldn’t make a sense of what was happening, so that I called my mother to say « It’s alright, Mum, I am okay ». In those morning hours I felt like I was experiencing a hospital battle camp. A lady firefighter told me about the girl who lost her friend, and a few minutes beside that, a guest, a spanish lady, breaks down to tears because her vacation was fucked up. How can you not go insane?
« Life is simple » a doctor of Occupational Medicine told me once, while signing for a sick leave between two temporary missions in the administration. « Something has broken ». He was refering to me and my Management. In fact, although my Manager in duty was pushing me to get back to my service at front desk, in order to boost my reaction, in a positive way, a part of me was struggling to avoid to go back, as Self preservation.
Back to 1918.
One century ago, in his office, Sigmund Freud meets the soldiers back from the war front, and he detects war neurosis or shell shock due to no-stop artillery bombing in the trenches. Men loose control of their senses, from speech to blindness, they can’t explain what they are experiencing, or want to see that hell anymore. They also develop paraplegia. Personally, I was in shock by seeing old pictures, in black and white, with soldiers hands on the ground. The Italian cinema shows a scene in the movie « The Great War » by Monicelli which shows comedien Alberto Sordi getting scared from seeing a « lost hand » in the trench. « What is that ? » he says. Italians showed to the world how to treat delicate stuff with humour, but still great poetry and humanity. Think about Roberto Benigni and « Life is beautiful » which won the Oscar touching such a topic with great bravery though respect. Humour in this case is meant to put a distance between our mind and horrific reality, as a shield or a filter of what would make you getting mad.
But WWI wasn’t just an Italian affair, of course, and we can see Germans against French on the western front in the movie « All quiet on the western front » from original book « Im Western nichts Neues » by Erich Maria Remarque, 1930. And eastern front, between Russia and Poland, when Austria – Hungary invades this territory. Personally, I have been in Mount Sabotino trenches, and mountains on the Carso, in Northern Italy where Ernest Hemingway has served and was wounded by a german artillery shell.
In his own words, “There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn’t dead any more.”
Hemingway’s wounding along the Piave River in Italy and his subsequent recovery at a hospital in Milan, including the relationship with his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arm. His story “Soldier’s Home” conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn’t understand the psychological impact the war had had on their son.
Shame and guilt.
In 1914, the contemporary scientists and medicine men are involved in the War, and ethically challenged. The therapy has the target to get soldiers back to combat and not to rehabilitate them. Psychoterapy is at the starting blocks and Freud, with his collaborators, mark a milestone in the human psyche’s understanding. Mental health starts to be recognised as apart from physical health.
First, what leads to modern PTSD, it’s recognising that an external event, like a shock, can damage the man’s mind, though brave, courageous and rational human being. Finally, sensitive officers can break down, after sending their men one by one to die under enemy fire to gain an uncovered lookout point. The risk to be seen as weak or wimpy was limited to a manlike system which still perdured in the military discipline. Big boys don’t cry, right ?
Second, not only there’s an enemy out there, but according to the german Psychologist, the real enemy is inside. There are the Peace Self and the Warrior Self, and second is one to watch out, the one who wants you to sacrifice and takes pleasure from it. Soldiers finally realize that they are going to loose their lives and it doesn’t make any sense any more. Their Peace Self wants to live and go home to their families. Many officers are just « boys ».
Shot at dawn.
During WWI, shell shock is also a way to escape from the frontline battles. Sometimes, at the cost of your own life. The officers in charge of their command are often so greedy and vanish to execute their soldiers who couldn’t or wouldn’t face the bombing anymore. The sentence states cowardice. The case of Harry Farr and Jimmy Smith, to mention just a couple of these young heroes, speaks out loud. After Somme, Gallipoli and other bloody battles, they just couldn’t take it anymore. In case, shell shock victims were supposed to be commuted by the martial court. Not in that instance. They were put a blindfold to cover their eyes, cognac from the evening before, and a round of paper on their heart to mark the target. « What a way to get leave. » Wait, Private Farr, refused the blindfold, actually. And I spare other details in deep respect of those who left, and also the ones who « gained the leave » for shooting to their camerades. Pardon was given in 2006 by British Governement, to those who deserted and were executed at dawn. Will the others ever forgive them selves ?
Isn’t that a sort of « karma » ? Well, I mean, shell shock today is haunting our minds as cultural heritage and stigma makes it hard for anyone to take a sick leave, at work, just to have a rest, saying no to team leaders or managers when the task is simply too tough and we are running out of time and co-staff. The Peace Self says it clearly that we can’t take it no more, but the War Self forces us to sacrifice for the good cause. We fear to loose our job and the boss confidence, while in the meantime nobody is taking care of your healthy conditions at workplace. Sometimes we live again that nightmare of those who left their heart in a foreign trench. « Who is the real enemy ? » Listen to the inner voice, the Wise Men say, and you will get it.
The part that is envious, cold hearted and devious
Greedy, mischievous, global, colonial
Bloodthirsty, blind, mindless and cheap
Focused on borders and slaughter and sheep
Burning of books, bulldozing of homes
Given to targeted killing with drones
Lethal injections, arrest without trial
The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has a pdf of a gripping article on Private Harry Farr, a 25 year-old British soldier shot for cowardice during World War I, despite having being treated for shell-shock.
As with all other WWI soldiers executed for cowardice, Farr was pardoned earlier this year by the British Government.
The article is written by Professor Simon Wessley of King’s College London, who puts the Farr’s court martial and execution in context of the history of World War I, and in the context of what was known about trauma-related psychiatry at the time.
There is little dispute about the sequence of events on 17 September 1916 that led to the execution of Private Farr. Harry Farr was a member of 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, which was taking part in the battle of the Somme. That day his battalion was moving from their rear positions up to the front line itself. At 9.00 am that morning Farr asked for permission to fall out, saying he was not well. He was sent to see the medical officer, who either found nothing wrong with him, or refused to see him because he had no physical injury‚Äîthe Court Martial papers are unclear on this point. Later that night Farr was found still at the rear, and was again ordered to go the trenches. He refused, telling Regimental Sergeant Major Haking, that he ‘could not stand it’. Then Hanking replied ‘You are a fucking coward and you will go to the trenches. I give fuck all for my life and I give fuck all for yours and I’ll get you fucking well shot’. At 11.00 pm that night a final attempt was made to get Private Farr up to the front line, and he was escorted forward. A fracas broke out between Farr and his escorts, and this time they let him run away. The following morning he was arrested and charged with contravening section 4 (7) of the Army Act ‚Äî showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.
The article discusses why Farr was executed, when over 96% of soldiers convicted of cowardice escaped this punishment, and how the concept of psychological disorder was understood in 1916, particularly by a British Army in a precarious military position.
For more information on shell-shock, and a paper by pioneering WWI military psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers on the condition, there’s a good overview available here.
pdf of article ‘The life and death of Private Harry Farr’. Link to shell-shock info from FirstWorldWar.com
The article I am preparing on coping with PTSD in WWI will be quite emotional. These are body armors built by Ferruccio Farina also known as Brewster Body Armor shields.
They were employed in trenches, actually, from one trench to the other, in order to cut the barbed wire inbetween.
The fact is that in Italy when they used them for the very first time, soldiers, they didn’t really tested them. And there is this story about a volounteering troop who went out from the trenches, and Austrian were just waiting for them to come out, with submachine guns.
They were also adopted by American troops in unhappily welt-famous Verdun, on the French western front.
The atrocity of this war, apart from the mass of dead people, was the dishumanity from talking with your enemy in one moment, exchanging chocolate and cigarettes, and shooting to each other a few hours later.
Today I was having my lunch next horses, in the pony farm near where I work, horses were riding and you would say they were enjoying it and having fun, despite they are not wild and free. I thought to all those soldiers, who couldn’t change their mind, and simply go back to their homes, and If I can put into words, I wish that if there is any karmic reincarnation, that those souls fallen in WWI, could pass by a spirit life as riding horses. Wouldn’t that be great divine justice?
“COWARD” is a 28 minute film set during World War 1 that brings to light some of the brutal treatment soldiers received for suffering what would now be known as shell-shock. It follows two cousins, Andrew and James, from their home in Northern Ireland who join the British Army to fight for their Country and make their families proud. Through their eyes we see the reality of life on the front lines.
On Friday, November 13 2015, a series of terror attacks erupted in Paris. They were mercilessly launched on people gathered at various social outlets and events in order to maximise the carnage. A football match was the first target in this co-ordinated killing spree. This was followed by shootings at restaurants and cafes and finally a metal concert in the Bataclan Theatre. Hostages were taken there also. A total of 130 lost their lives and over 4,000 were injured, almost 100 seriously. These were the most serious attacks on the city since WWII. Isis claimed responsibility.
It is no surprise that the impact of these attacks on the psyche of those involved, both directly as victims and less directly as observers, has been studied in depth by psychiatrists and psychologists, as have attacks in other locations. The London bombing and 9/11 attacks in New York have both generated large volumes of research information. In the April issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, a paper exploring the impact of the Paris attacks, headed by Dr Stephanie Vandentorren, of the French Public Health Agency, has been published.
Two groups were studied. First responders were fire officers, rescue workers and so on exposed during the first 12 hours after the events. The second group were witnesses – those who were themselves under threat of being killed, held hostage or injured or had seen somebody in that position, or heard of a close relative in that predicament. These could be either directly exposed or have witnessed them from their homes. Seeing these events only on the media did not constitute exposure. Various face-to-face structured interviews were administered and over 400 people were interviewed.
Among rescue workers, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was diagnosed in 3pc and an anxiety disorder in 14pc. Among civilian witnesses, more than 15pc were significantly distressed, 25pc had possible PTSD, while 18pc were diagnosed definitively with it, and 10pc had depression. As expected, those indirectly threatened had lower levels than close relatives of victims, and the highest rates of mental health problems was in those directly threatened.
Almost half of civilians had more than six months treatment for a mental health problem, compared with a third of first responders. However, most had returned to work six months after the attack. These results show that first responders had lower rates of mental health problems than civilians and they required less professional help.
This study shows that people witnessing traumatic events are more vulnerable to mental health problems than are first responders. It may be that the training those in rescue and first response teams receive helps them withstand the distress of their direct involvement. It is also likely that if they had concerns about mental health difficulties developing after the attacks, they pro-actively sought help as a preventative measure and needed it for a shorter period.
During their training, they will have been made aware of the help that it available should they ever require it. Civilians on the other hand may feel less entitlement to such help and may defer seeking it until their distress is much more incapacitating.
The positive finding, that all but 6pc returned to work, shows the power of healing. Similar results were described following the 9/11 bombings and the London attacks. Either time or therapy seems to have benefited those who were suffering in the aftermath. This surely proves the resilience that human beings are endowed with, enabling them to deal with major traumas and to emerge from the quagmire of distress that engulfed them.
Resilience is determined by several factors. The personality of each individual is probably the single most important element, while the presence of support from family, friends and the community is next. Having a person to talk to is undoubtedly beneficial. The scientific literature on resilience has been developing in recent years and it also describes the value of positive coping, religious coping, having a sense of purpose in life, and altruism.
It is comforting to know we are not long-term victims of the events that befall us. Rather, we are strong and can emerge from the suffering of terrible events with more compassion and a better understanding of life.