A new PTSD perspective: Filmmaking helps veterans cope

Although my life as a young woman in Boulder, Colorado, is very nicely sheltered and protected from the harsh realities of war, I am a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I understand the discomforting feelings of anxiety and confusion associated with being diagnosed with a disorder for having (what seemed to me) a normal human reaction to trauma. My confusion stemmed from the fact that I really felt that I had never suffered a trauma, but even a car accident is damaging to the human psyche.

A filmmaking workshop allowed PTSD sufferer Jason Gallegos to share his story, to therapeutic effect.

It is hard to imagine what living through trauma day in and day out would be like, but many returning soldiers deal with it every day. PTSD is a growing problem in the military and we are struggling to find ways to improve conditions for those who live with it. This doesn’t mean that PTSD is “incurable,” but in my personal experience the best methods of learning to cope with it do not involve using pharmaceuticals as the primary method of treatment. While they may be a good supplement for those in need, they should not function as an alternative to therapy.

When I find myself overwhelmed by the persistent sensory memories of my car crashing, I like to turn to my sketchbook for refuge. What ends up on the page may not be a beautiful drawing, but I feel a sense of release having put my feelings out there. I felt I didn’t have to carry the weight of stress all by myself; whether anyone saw the drawings or not didn’t really matter. This is the beautiful power of expression.

“The Rand Corp. said as many as 300,000 veterans of war may have suffered PTSD or major depression. The Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department have been ramping up therapy options for several years now and the effort continues as some troops continue to go undiagnosed or untreated.” –Associated Press report

That is why I was especially interested to hear about the I Was There film workshop offered to returning veterans at the Army Warrior Transition Unit at the military base in Fort Carson, Colorado. Ben Patton, a New York documentary filmmaker, and Scott Kinnamon, a Denver educational filmmaker, have teamed up to help some 20 veterans tell their story through the powerful medium of film. Although there is very little research on PTSD and filmmaking, it is a more creative way to approach therapy. Rather than answering prescribed questions asked by a therapist, as in traditional sessions, individuals are able to describe their experience in any way that they want.

“Hero to Zero” (see the video below) by Master Sergeant Jason Gallegos is an amazing story that touched me deeply and really opened my eyes to a new perspective. He tells the story of giving his all to his military career and the abrupt end that came with his leukemia diagnosis. Listening to Gallegos and his children speak showed me a side of the Army I never knew about. More importantly, it showed me a new side of a solider, one of pure emotion, passion, and dedication for what he does for this country. Jason’s story moved me more than any Hollywood blockbuster I’ve seen about war and it was only 9 minutes long, including his testimonial about the film program. Watching “Hero to Zero” was an inspiring and humbling experience at the same time. It is well worth watching.

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