Consider this scenario (I promise I’ll apply it to climbing, but we need to go through these other exercises in reasoning first): There is a soldier – both a Military Police officer (enlisted) and a machine-gunner, and a small man – deployed to a combat zone in the Middle East where his main duty during his 12-hour-long night shifts is to patrol outside the wire with a fire team in an up-armored HMMV (or Humvee, for you civilians out there), manning the M60 machine gun that he has an extra M16A2 rifle to protect. He stands behind his machine gun – mounted in the turret – exposed to any enemy who wants a clean, easy shot at an American soldier’s head, neck, and shoulders as the HMMV drives around patrolling the Desert with nothing but headlights to guide the way. The nights soon take their toll on the machine-gunner’s sleep. He sometimes sees things that aren’t there, asking the nearest soldier urgently with that nervous tone, “Hey, did you see that?!” A muttered answer would come in some form that he recognized as non-confirmation of his sighting, and they would roll on in the dark. When they would stop, they would turn off the headlights of the vehicle and flip their NVG’s (night-vision goggles) on, looking for enemy combatants and trying to see past the bright green of the images into the shadows of the image that would reveal such threats. Large ferrel dogs, desert foxes, snakes, and other creatures that ruled the night would pass through the images, but nothing that seemed to be a threat would surface. This soldier, though, was so sleep-deprived that he couldn’t even see straight, so any movement in the image had him on full alert, regardless of what it was. More time, more night shifts, and more sleeplessness passed. Everybody was suffering the effects of this deployment to Hell. The heat, the sandstorms, the rations, the flies, everything… The machine-gunner carried on with his duties to protect his fire team and his fellow soldiers and his country night after night, though. Then, one night, he was called to the Commander’s tent. What would the Commander want at that hour, he wondered? The darkness of the Desert swallowed the machine-gunner’s soul that night. Afterwards, the Commander sent the machine-gunner back out on patrol with the others in his fire team. None of them knew. None of them could ever know. He could never tell anyone. When asked about the bruises, he shrugged them off as a friendly tussle with another soldier earlier. The trauma of that event was driving the machine-gunner insane. He couldn’t do anything about it. One late afternoon about two weeks later, while the fire team was on patrol outside the wire, a young Bedouin swung an AK-47 up toward the machine-gunner and the machine-gunner fired. The Bedouin kid was a wrecked mess in the thirsty sand. The reaction of the leadership was laissez-faire as far as the machine-gunner was concerned, and they sent the machine-gunner back out on patrol after checking him for wounds. All the machine-gunner could think about was the Bedouin kid. He would wake in a boiling sweat, screaming and jumping from his cot during the day when he was supposed to get that precious sleep before his next patrol shift. He would relive the experience over and over while on patrol, while exercising, while running the camp perimeter hoping he would die. It was happening again and again. And other things happened. When he was finally sent back to Germany, he ended up in Ward 9C, the inpatient psych ward of the Army hospital in Landstuhl.
The diagnosis was PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – and Major Depressive Disorder. He was discharged with only a 30% disability rating and compensation for the few years he had left in the military. His mind was a disaster. Eighteen years later, he wondered if any of it had actually happened after that initial trauma. He talked to his psychiatrist about it, and his doctor didn’t quite know what to think because he’d pondered the same question that the former machine-gunner was pondering now… Was it possible to have PTSD from a delusional event – non-reality that had been perceived to be real?
I know that this scenario is a far cry from the snowstorm example given in my post yesterday, but here, I’ve applied it to a potential scenario where perception is the difference between a person’s guilt over killing another person in combat and the idea that they can’t trust their own perception of reality. Perception is everything!!!