Sunday, March 29, 2009

PTSD? Hah! Been There, Done That. Thanks Yeshivah.

Dear Diary;

Today I talked to a friend, who's being discharged from the Army for having PTSD. While I wouldn't fathom equating my life experiences with with his, I couldn't help noticing how familiar some of  the symptoms sounded. Obviously PTSD is in the news a lot these days, and especially being in the Military, I'm very aware of it, but I never thought about it in relation to myself, until I discussed it with my buddy.

After speaking to this buddy, I looked up the symptoms of PTSD, and what do you know - out of 17 symptoms, I have about 10 of them. What the hell?! I'm not depressed, I'm not traumatized, what's going on?

The first symptom that jumped out at me was " Feeling jumpy and easily startled", I hadn't really thought about it, but I flinch at the slightest hint of what could be a possible physical threat towards me. When I say "possible threat", I'm talking about gestures that most people wouldn't even notice or would ignore, for example high-fives, back-slaps, and the like.

Beyond that though there was, "feeling of intense distress when reminded of the trauma", "feeling detached from others and emotionally numb", and "hyper-vigilance". Plus a few others that I recognized in myself. 

I guess now would as good a time as any to back up and explain what "trauma" it is that I'm talking about, I'm talking about Yeshiva. More specifically a certain Yeshivah.

Shortly after I turned thirteen, my Parents sent me to a "sleep-away" Yeshivah located in my home town. By the afternoon of the first day I was calling home in tears, begging my Mother to come get me. In trying to describe the physical, and emotional abuse that went on there, I'm doing the place a disservice. Beatings were so normal a sight, they were completely ignored by other students, Rebbeim bragged about how much they intimidated us, and kids walked around with bruises, welts, and all sorts of marks.

Besides the physical abuse there was the mental pressure put on us, every second of the day was controlled, starting with the wake up at the crack of dawn, to the fifteen minutes we had to run to the Mikvah, haul ass back and be seated at our spot, and heaven help you if you were seconds late, all the way to laying down on the left side and waking on the right. Not tolerated were: Laughing, talking about anything aside from what we were studying, contact with the outside world, no food or snacks outside of the three meals served to us (fifteen minutes a meal with no talking), no personal books, or tape players, and on and on. 

And the rules! There where rules on everything, from our hair-cuts, to how many showers we could take a week, and what kind of soap we could use, to what kind of underwear we wore. Violation of any of these rules resulted in a beating, if you failed a test you were promptly beaten, if you were caught dosing off in middle of the day you were beaten, pretty much anything was cause for a good beating.

Now when I say beating, I'm not referring to a little slap or even a backhand to the head, I'm talking about all out UFC style - anything goes straight up beat-downs. Fists, elbows, sticks, and anything handy were all fair game. I've seen coffee jars used as weapons, heads slammed through drywall, chairs and trash cans thrown, all in one session.

The truth is I couldn't possibly portray an accurate picture of the place within the narrow confines of this blog, I could go on for days, and still not do it justice, I have enough individual instances to fill a book, but just suffice it to say that we lived in constant terror. Yet on the other hand we grew immune to the beatings, it got to the point where we bragged about how badly we got hit that day, I even remember thinking to myself one day, that today was the first time an entire day has gone by without being hit once. That day was one and a half years into my time there.

Over the years since then, I've thought about what the thought process was behind their tactics, and I've yet to come up with anything concrete. I'm sure somewhere deep inside, these people thought they were doing the right thing, on the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that at least some of them got off on beating these defenseless kids, in fact some of them positively relished it.

Before I go on I must clarify that I was not by any means what's known as a "problem child", I wasn't a trouble maker or anything like that. On the other hand I was not a Masmid either, I was an above average student in subjects that interested me, but just average when not, and the same could be said for the majority of the rest of the kids in that Yeshivah.

I attended the Yeshivah for two and a half years, at first I begged my Parents to take me out of there, I showed them bruises and marks, all over my body, but it was a dead end. My Parents being the naive BTs that they were, believed that anyone with the title Rebbe, Rosh Yeshiva, or Menahel (Principal), could do no wrong. No matter what I said to them, the answer was the same, "He's a Rosh Yeshivah, he must know what he's doing". Eventually I gave up, and stopped trying to convince my Parents to remove me from the Yeshivah.

After I left the Yeshivah, I made a conscious effort to forget and get over my experiences there, and to a large extent I was successful. I moved on, for the most part blocking the whole thing out of my head, but certain things wouldn't go away. To this day I never sit with back to the room, I avoid talking about the whole experience, and when I do I get physically ill, (as I type this, I'm sweating, my heart is pounding, and my hands are shaking).

One good thing that came of the whole experience was, that when I went to basic training, the Drill Sergeants couldn't intimidate me the way they did all the other trainees. I remember thinking as they were yelling in my face " Is that all you got? I've dealt with a lot worse, bet you won't hit me".

So I guess by the book I have PTSD, what does it mean to me? Nothing really, I don't walk around thinking about that Yeshivah all day, it had no impact on my life aside from the aforementioned symptoms, and luckily I don't have the more serious (in my opinion) symptoms like depression and the like. So thanks a lot Moshe Lazer Blum, Shimon Goldbrenner, and a few others whose names I can't remember, I guess I'm a better person for it. (I contemplated putting addresses and phone numbers, but I decided not to.)

P.S. I'd like to reiterate, that in no way do I want to imply that my seismic lifestyle change, was caused by, or connected to any feelings of resentment, toward my parents or teachers. It was mostly an intellectual decision.