Sometimes we need to step back and grab ourselves a little perspective. Sure, we all complain and kvetch about how difficult we have it, trying to make our way in the male-dominated world of work when we never learned to slay the dragon. But how about, just for today, we consider ourselves lucky
Because nothing we angst about even remotely compares to the plight of many military women — who actually DO learn to slay the dragon — serving in the Middle East. Not only do they encounter an often hostile workplace while they are in the field, but when they come back they are as likely to suffer the devastating effects of post traumatic stress disorder as their male colleagues. Because until recently, no one paid attention.
Heartbreaking, really. Because PTSD often manifests itself differently in women — and because women aren’t assigned to combat — their PTSD wasn’t readily recognized. And, because women’s underlying issues were often different than men’s, no one was quite sure how to treat them. Oh, and add this: Many of those women — who can’t bear to be touched, who freak when they hear loud noises, who can’t eat and can’t sleep, who suffer from intense feelings of isolation — come home to take care of their small children, often by themselves. Just imagine that.
And here’s the kicker. In addition to having the horrors of the war scene on constant replay when they get home, many of these women have the scars of sexual assault and harassment to deal with, too. Here’s more, from this past Sunday’s Mercury News:
When imagining a war veteran with an anxiety disorder, it’s likely few people picture a young woman. But women make up 15 percent of active-duty military members, and the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that by the end of 2020, women will represent 10 percent of the nation’s veteran population. And though military and congressional policy says women can’t participate in direct ground combat, they’re faced with many of the same situations. Because of the unpredictable nature of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, everyone is serving on the front lines. Women carry guns, and use them. They drive Humvees hit by improvised explosive devices. They interrogate, and witness bloodshed. Women come home with the same long-term, emotional and physical problems as their male counterparts, yet women return to a society that for the most part doesn’t understand — or accept — that they’re serving in the line of fire.As a result, the feelings of isolation can be even more overwhelming, especially since a woman is often one of few in her unit, says Natara Garovoy, program director of the Women’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Center for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
Complicating matters, some female soldiers live in fear of being attacked by one of their own. In 2008, the VA reported that one in five women screened for military sexual trauma had in fact experienced such an incident, be it sexual harassment or sexual assault. Garovoy, a clinical psychologist, says that because the risk is so high, most women in the military are required to do everything — from top-secret details to visiting the bathroom — with a buddy.
As an aside: Three years ago, Liz Weeker, one of my journalism students, wrote her capstone piece — a longform piece of investigative journalism — on this very subject. She did a fabulous job, picking up on a serious issue long before the mainstream media noticed. But here’s the thing. She found women with PTSD who were willing to talk to her, but had a tough time finding any studies or research, or “experts” to provide background, analyis or talk about treatment.
You can guess why. No one was paying attention.