October 25, 2011

Seeking solace: High Tea in Banff & the ghosts of PTSD

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 7:39 pm

After finally arriving in Banff National Park the other day, I treated myself to high tea at the famous historic high-tone Banff Springs Hotel. Now this is the right way to camp!

Joining me for high tea at the hotel was an up-and-coming young filmmaker named Holly Chadwick. Chadwick is currently in the process of editing her new movie, “Seeking Solace,” a film whose plot revolves around the sad stories of two post-war veterans who have returned home after fighting in two of America’s bloodiest corporatist wars. One vet had fought in Iraq recently and the other had fought in Vietnam years ago — but both of them struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Over scones, Devenshire cream, cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey tea and looking out through a huge picture window next to our table at one of the most majestic scenes on the planet today, Chadwick and I discussed PTSD. And then, after high tea was over and it became obvious that there were no more petit-fours to be had, Chadwick then took me back to her artist-in-residence studio at the Banff Center to show me some of the clips from her new movie.

Most of the clips that I saw were about her characters’ nightmares — the horrible nightmares that war veterans so often suffer from after returning from battlefields.

Veterans apparently relive their wartime past experiences again and again in their dreams. And then, all too often, these same returning vets attempt to commit suicide — either consciously or subconsciously. According to the Army Times, 18 U.S. veterans actually attempt suicide per day. Others kill themselves less obviously by getting into automobile accidents or falling asleep while smoking or taking up extreme sports. “Suicide by Cop” also seems to be a current favorite with PTSD vets.

America is hemorrhaging all too many returning veterans’ lives. Chadwick’s movie deals with some of these problems.

“After making this film, have you developed any theories with regard to how to better recognize, treat and cure PTSD?” I asked Chadwick. Obviously she had given much thought to this subject and hoped that her film might supply some of the answers — or at least start getting more people to discuss and focus in on one of post-modern America’s most critical problems. By making this film, it is Chadwick’s intention to raise America’s awareness regarding this vast epidemic of misery.

“The basic plot of my film,” stated Chadwick, “revolves around what happens when the ghost of a Vietnam veteran comes back to haunt the protagonist, a female soldier who had witnessed carnage in Iraq. But Vietnam vet’s ghost is a helpful ghost.” Good. Vets need all the helpful ghosts that they can get — because sometimes constantly dosing PTSD sufferers with medication up to their eyeballs just isn’t enough.

I have read where serotonin-adjusting chemicals can sometimes help vets recover from PTSD — but can sometimes also drive them further over the edge as well.

“So what exactly do you think will help vets recover from PTSD?” I asked Chadwick. Besides ghosts, of course.

“One of the main things that appears to help them is peer support — someone who can honestly say, ‘Been there. Done that. And I got better’. Plus time helps. And a healthy, safe environment. Positive reinforcement. And also a sure sense that they also have a bright future as well as an unbearable past.” Then perhaps having meaningful jobs waiting for them when they return might really help. Fat chance of that!

And Chadwick and I both agreed that participating in any act of creativity may also help PTSD veterans to recover faster.

“There is research that shows that learning both math and music help with strengthening connections between different parts of the brain — and so studying math and music may also be beneficial in helping with PTSD,” said Chadwick.

How ironic is that!

In the past several decades, our government has been taken over in a bloodless coup by corporatists who are making their biggest profits from war. And taxpayers’ money that would have ordinarily gone to help returning vets to become artists and musicians and filmmakers and writers and such is now being siphoned off to pay for more and more wars — and these wars in turn create more PTSD.

Almost all of the money that should be going to help our vets to recover from PTSD is now being generously showered down upon the war industry — the very people who are currently busy CREATING more and more and more PTSD, far faster than anyone can cure it — a vicious cycle.

But hopefully Chadwick’s new film may help out.

PS: Here’s a link to Chadwick’s webpage if you would like to see some rough clips from the film and a prototype trailer as well:

PPS: Speaking of ghosts, Marilyn Monroe used to stay at the Banff Springs Hotel back in the day, when she was filming “River of No Return” with Robert Mitchum. And I think that I also might have seen Marilyn’s ghost flit by me as I ate my petit-fours and scones for High Tea. Perhaps she too suffered from PTSD — after they shot Kennedy?

PPPS: Now that Obama is allegedly shutting down all American military bases in Iraq, I am starting to get all nostalgic for my time spent over there — embedded in various forward operating bases, command outposts, transit airbases and dining facilities throughout Iraq.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally glad to see all these bases be abandoned (or at least to be turned over to Blackwater, which is apparently the new plan), and would even love to see America’s other hundreds of bases throughout the world close down too. But, Geez Louise, how I would love to go back and write an article saying farewell to Iraq — and to do it now, before everything that I remember there disappears forever. Me and Ernest Hemingway. My own personal Farewell to Arms.

And I bet that many soldiers who have served in Iraq in the past and are still serving there now will know what I’m talking about. One really does get nostalgic for the U.S. military experience in Iraq — such as experiencing close comradeship with others, the excellent skill-based knowledge of your compatriots, the fact that one actually has a job and gets actual benefits — and, of course, the D-FAC! But not the killing. That only brings on PTSD.


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