Warrior Wire: The PTSD Myth



When I pitched this story, the point was to talk about how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was being over-reported and how there were all these myths about veterans that were causing them trouble back in civilian society. The title ended up focusing on the PTSD part of the story, but it’s about so much more. It’s about how veterans are judged on when and where they served, and how those who served pre-9/11 or who never went to Iraq or Afghanistan are seen as less-than, or as having not really served at all. And it’s about how female vets sometimes aren’t believed to be veterans because they’re women (a point that was driven home recently by this story). And it’s about hero worship and how even that has its downsides.

One of the first questions I asked each vet I interviewed was, “What are some stereotypes people have about veterans?” and the number of examples they came up with was astounding. Matt Selvage, whom I had interviewed years earlier for another story, came up with a list so long that it took up two full pages in my notebook. They told me about positive stereotypes that can be harmful, about negative stereotypes, about misconceptions and preconceptions. They also told me about the conversations they have amongst themselves regarding these issues. And they told me about PTSD—and part of that conversation was about whether it should be the more-familiar PTSD or the newer PTS (as some believe it is inaccurate to call it a disorder, which implies that there’s something wrong with the sufferer).

And while I really, really wanted the article to not be about mental health and post-traumatic stress, I’m glad that’s what it ended up being about. I got to talk to Will Simmons, an IAVA Leadership Fellow, about his experience with PTSD and how he came to accept his problem and work through it. It was an enlightening discussion, one that really changed the way I looked at mental health care. I thought about that conversation recently, when another veteran I’d interviewed (one who did not appear in the article) asked me to write a buddy letter for them to submit with their VA claim for PTSD. I remembered what Will had said about how long it took him to accept his problem and admit to others that he was suffering from PTSD, and I thought about all the other stories I’d heard from other subjects I’ve interviewed over the years about their experiences with seeking mental health care—including while writing stories about things as simple as veteran writing groups and art projects. All those voices were in my head as I wrote my letter, and I know it helped me see the situation differently than I would have had I not had the opportunity to talk to all those men and women who’d shared their stories with me.

That’s always what I’ve sought to do in Penthouse‘s Warrior Wire: to help at least one person learn something or see things from a new perspective. And what I write about may not always seem educational. Sometimes I write about guys going rock-climbing, or about cool events, or about music, but there’s always some substance. And as I explained to someone not too long ago, I like having my stories sandwiched between a bunch of naked ladies. I like thinking that someone could be turning the pages, looking for another sexy photo of the Pet of the Month, and, whoops!, they land on an article about veterans’ issues and maybe, just maybe, give me a few minutes of their time.

So, to make a long story not too much longer … If you want to read “The PTSD Myth” from the September 2014 issue of Penthouse, click here.


Warrior Wire: Blood, Sweat & Prosthetics

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About this time last year, I got an email from D.J. Skelton, an Army officer who had once, several years prior, been featured in Penthouse‘s annual Badass Issue. He had apparently been living in China, and had only recently found out about his appearance in our magazine. He figured that, since we’d covered him once, maybe we would be interested in hearing about a project he’d been working on, and he included a link to Paradox Sports’ website. At the time, I was putting together a list of organizations that put on active, interesting events for veterans, and PS seemed like a cool addition.

I called D.J. and asked him if he could tell me a little about the organization, and we talked for a while about Paradox Sports as well as what he’d been up to since making our 2011 Badass List. He was funny and fascinating and incredibly well spoken, so after I closed out that story, I told my editor that I thought Paradox Sports—and D.J.—would be the perfect feature for the 2014 Badass Issue’s Warrior Wire column. And, as you can guess from the fact that I’m posting this, she agreed.

My favorite thing about getting to write stories like this is getting to interview interesting people, and everyone I talked to about Paradox Sports was fascinating. There was Timmy O’Neill, the professional climber (and amateur comedian), who’d founded PS with D.J. and who was the single most positive person I had ever encountered. It’s not that he’s overly optimistic or annoyingly chipper, he’s just … positive. He’s passionate about what he does and the people he works with, and he believes that if you try hard enough to see the brighter side of things, you can actually make yourself happy by sheer force of will. And the thing is, after talking to him, you’ll start to believe that, too. He’s also incredibly grateful for everything he has and all the people in his life; he sent me a handwritten thank-you note immediately after our interview, without knowing yet what the story was or how it would turn out.

Chad Jukes was pretty impressive, too. A former high-school band geek turned soldier turned ice-climbing instructor, Chad somehow climbs ice—ice!—even though his right leg was amputated below the knee and he now has a prosthetic there. I can barely walk on a slippery sidewalk without falling flat on my face and I still have my two original legs, so I find that mind-boggling. (I mean, I also fall flat on my face on non-slippery sidewalks quite frequently, so anyone capable of more than that seems pretty athletic to me, but trust me, Chad would impress even a non-klutz.)

And then there was Reid Olmstead, a civilian volunteer working with Paradox Sports. I got to hang out with Reid a bit not long before this article came out, and he was so nice. He volunteers with a couple climbing groups that focus on helping differently abled athletes, and though the other climbers are blind or missing limbs, he truly doesn’t see them as any different from himself. Talking to him, it’s clear that he doesn’t think of those men and women as disabled, they just use some different equipment than he does. And it’s clear from meeting people he’s climbed with that they appreciate his attitude. I got to meet a couple of people who’ve worked with him, and they couldn’t resist gushing about how kind he is, and how generous with his time and knowledge. My article was done by then, so I wasn’t quizzing them or pushing for quotes—they just really wanted everyone to know what a good guy he is.

The point of all this is to say that, if you’re into the outdoors or rock- and ice-climbing, you should check out Paradox Sports. Their events are open to everyone, so no matter if you’re a veteran or civilian, require adaptive assistance or not, you can join a PS event and climb (or surf or hike) with the inspiring athletes who help organize their activities. And if you want to read more about them, you can check out my article, “Blood, Sweat, and Prosthetics,” from the July/August 2014 issue of Penthouse.

Bunny Tales: The Women of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch

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I’ve been Penthouse’s go-to girl for what I like to call the “naked lady” interviews for a few years. Whenever there’s a last-minute addition to the magazine or a hard-to-get-a-hold-of lady, I get called to action. I think it started because I was the utility player, the low woman on the totem pole and the one who generally had more time to spend tracking down the lovely ladies. But even when I got busier and had more on my plate, it was still my job, because I’d managed to develop a rapport with a lot of the girls we worked with. And, by some miracle, I almost always managed to track down exactly what we needed. So of course when the magazine teamed up with the Moonlite Bunny Ranch to start a new column, Bunny Tales, I was asked to do the interviews. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s always entertaining to get on the phone with a porn star or working girl and pick their brains. I always expect to get the same responses, and yet they always surprise me by saying things I would never imagine. Over the years, I’ve probably heard it all. I’ve had girls say things that have made me scratch my head, and I’ve had them say things that I still don’t think I’m old enough to hear. One girl I interviewed once giggled every time I asked her a “dirty” question, and could barely say the word “sex” without a mild freakout about being inappropriate, yet in her job she’d had sex with who knows how many strangers. (She was young, and when I first started, I probably had the same reaction, so I didn’t judge.) Another lady I interviewed wanted to know if I could keep her interview sort of PG because she was really excited to be in Penthouse and wanted to be able to send a copy of the magazine to her mom. (That was too cute for words. I still want to meet her mom someday. She sounds awesome.)

What I love most, though, is getting to connect with these girls. I always have to ask them about their sex lives and the “naughty,” “dirty,” “kinky” things they do on and off the job, but even in the weird world in which I work, that’s not something anyone wants to just dive into. So I always start off with a really regular conversation. “How are you?” “What’s the last book you read/movie you saw/TV show you watched?” “Isn’t it crazy that we have to have this conversation at all?” And once the ice is broken, things get interesting. Sometimes they explain parts of their job to me that I’m not familiar with (like Nuru massage … Google it), or they tell me stories that I just couldn’t imagine (like how one model was involved in a photo shoot that involved holding Pop Tarts between her butt cheeks—a story I think of every time I see a Pop Tart). What’s even better, though, is when they tell me about their personal, off-the-record lives. I get to learn about their families and pre-porn pasts, their future plans—I’m full of everyone’s secrets. My favorites are about their totally normal lives, where they go to school, read historical romance novels, or are secretly super geniuses with MBAs, PhDs, or degrees in things like public health administration, psychology, and journalism.

You can read all of my Bunny Tales interviews over on my NSFW Writing page.