Tag Archives: startle reflex

The PTSD Startle Response: Never far from the Surface

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

PTSD is an unwanted gift that keeps giving. One of its many manifestations is a startle response. My wife Judy can tell you about them, and it took me many years to understand how inadvertent and programmed they are, she’s had them for decades, me just since returning from Iraq in 2008. Until I started dealing with my shit, I failed to understand hers and many times when she would startle and I wasn’t very sympathetic. She has dealt with childhood PTSD for a lot longer than I have combat PTSD, and even after I came back from Iraq I didn’t understand how deep the trauma she experienced still affected her.

I remain hyper vigilant, have terrible nightmares and night terrors, when I go out somewhere I always stay aware of my circumstances, but it has been a few years since I had something happen like today. I was on my way home from work at the beginning of rush hour and and was about a mile or so off base when a large pickup truck with one of those noice enhanced exhaust systems roared up close alongside on the right lane. The noise caused me to look over my shoulder and I caught the vision of the truck, just big and dark, speeding past me. I went into my automatic response, I swerved to avoid a possible collision, entered the edge of the grass on the median and then hit a curb in a turn lane. The impact blew out the tires on the left side of my car. I didn’t try to keep driving and slowly pulled into the grass of the median and turned on my emergency flashers.

The interesting thing was that hundreds of cars passed me with none stopping to offer assistance until a female Virginia Beach Police officer coming from the opposite direction stopped to help. She got me a tow truck and the car will be in the shop until tomorrow afternoon. I am going to let my insurance company, USAA, know what happened in the morning.

Of course I have no positive identification of the pickup truck and he probably meant no harm, just gunning his engine to get home quicker. The fact that the loudness of his exhaust system and noise enhanced muffler startled me is irrelevant. That’s not a crime. But what surprised me is that nobody but a police officer offered to help. I couldn’t do that. I paid for the tow to a tire store that I do business with and walked to meet Judy at a restaurant where I had here waiting in case I needed a ride.

I have nothing but praise for the Virginia Beach Police officer and the tow service. I also thank all of my friends who have contacted me on social media, and for Judy who stayed in touch with me until she was sure that I was safe. I just knew that the location of the incident wasn’t conducive to her traveling to retrieve me.

Whatever happens next I am glad that I am okay and that apart from some money that it won’t cost us anything. I am safe and have a new appreciation for Judy’s startle reflex.

So until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

“You can observe a lot just by watching” Yogi Berra….How PTSD has made me a lot more Observant

human condition

I love Yogi Berra quotes.  Somehow so much of what he said, even most of the things that he never said really resonate with my warped mind.  Somehow the illogical logic makes sense and I stop and say, damn…why didn’t I think of that?

I quote him here because it is absolutely amazing how much more observant I am in daily life having served in Iraq and come home with a nice case of PTSD, a bit of anxiety, hyper-vigilance and insomnia. I used to fret about the PTSD, anxiety and the rest of the stuff.  It did bother me and I guess it still does, but the insomnia gives me time to write and the hyper-vigilance really helps on the Interstate Highways of the Norfolk, Virginia Beach and greater Hampton Roads metro area.

Now I have been noticing this in the past month more than even at the height of my crash. Back then I had all these things but was way too gooned up to even figure out what they meant. I was talking with my Vietnam Veterans of America buddies Ray and John the Beer Men the other night at Harbor Park.  They man the beer stand behind home plate that sells Gordon Biersch Märzen and Bock, Yuengling Lager, Shock Top, Miller Lite and Micholob Ultra.  I of course will have either the Märzen or the Yuengling depending on my mood, since the Märzen is a premium beer you get less of it for the same price.  Anyway I digress….I was talking to these guys, both of who served in Vietnam about how much more aware of what is going on around me than I was before.  And it seems that although I seem to be doing better most of the time that I am more geared up than I was a few months ago.  I am noticing everything and when I’m driving I can sense the danger of the idiot driver careening across four lanes of traffic not signaling and talking on a cell phone while eating a hamburger even before I see him.  This was the case on my way home several times this week.  I could sense things going on before they happened.  It used to be prior to Iraq that Judy would see or sense these things before I ever would; now the foot is in the other shoe. Ray and John tell me, as does Elmer the Shrink, that this is a normal reaction to perceived danger.  Now I do understand his intellectually, I have read books and gone to seminars about PTSD and Combat Stress at the same time what is going on still makes me think.  I was telling Ray and John, half-jokingly that it was almost like “using the force.” I mentioned to Judy and a friend that it almost seemed that I could drive with a blindfold and still get through safely like the Jedi train the Padwan’s to do.  Of course I am not stupid and will never try this out unless perhaps I buy an x-box or wii with a driving program and do it in the comfort of my living room.

1001In a CH-46 over Al Anbar in a rare day flight

So with the hyper-vigilance I am in the zone so to speak. My mind and body feel more closely connected than ever before.  I notice changes in my body, hear better and am alert to anything.  Now lately I must be even more spun up than before and I don’t rightly know what is causing it.  I will have to go down and discuss this with Elmer the Shrink.   The part that is different now is that my spunuppedness now includes a pretty good startle reflex.  This is new, I had a bit of one probably since I was halfway through my tour, and now it is much worse.  So I’ve been thinking about how my dad came back from Vietnam.  Before he left he was pretty intense but he could relax.  Unless he was really provoked he seldom got angry.

After he returned from his Vietnam tour and then deployed again for 11 months barely five months after his return from Vietnam he was way different.  He was much more angry, drank heavily, and his startle reflex was out of this world.  He would talk about being “nervous as a cat.” He never talked to a pastor or therapist about anything, never re-connected with the people that he served with and did not go to veteran groups for any real socialization.  He seldom talked about his experiences and when he did he shared little.  I think I can understand why now, the thoughts, feelings and sensations are intense and often unnerving.  Sometimes they are downright frightful.  Maybe that is why it is so hard to get to sleep.

mental floss

I have become very aware of surroundings as well as myself and that has made me better at my vocation as a chaplain and Priest.  I notice body language, eye movement, choices of words as well as non verbal cues when talking with a person and I can sense things going on in ways I could not have done before.  So I observe a lot more simply by watching and I hope that I have not contributed to any lack of miscommunication by my readers tonight in writing about this rather surreal subject.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: The Tides might be getting things back together, they won their third straight and are back to 2 games behind the Wild Card Gwinnett Braves and 3 games behind Division leading Durham.

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Filed under Baseball, iraq,afghanistan, PTSD, vietnam