by Steve Joos
A man is diagnosed with a condition that might surprise many--even him.
|It seemed as if a million eyes were fixed on Todd Baker as he sat in the counseling center waiting room that late winter day.
Todd had been in and out of counseling since he was 10 years old, so his current status really wasn't all that new, but this time seemed really strange. A sense of rejection hung over Todd as he awaited his counseling session, but there were other feelings, as well. Guilt over his sometimes angry outbursts, which had hampered his work history. Frustration over projects which never came to fruition over the lack of resources or assistance, and now, a feeling of being in the wrong place as he looked around at the older, weathered men staring back at him in the waiting room.
They looked as if they should be here, Todd thought to himself. I don't. I'm a hypochondriac in a room full of the critically ill. I have no business here.
"Do you know why you're here, Mr. Baker?" the case worker patiently asked Todd when their session began.
"Not really," he replied. "Why?"
"We've reviewed you case and made a diagnosis," the caseworker answered. "But first, we have a few more questions."
"Would you please recap how you grew up?"
"Mr. McClain, we've been over my experiences growing up several times," Todd answered with more than a little credulity. "Why do we need to need
"We want to be sure."
Tod sighed and once again responded to a series of inquiries about how he grew up.
Did he have a lot of friends as a boy?? No. Was he a good student? With the exception of a few classes, no, not really. Did he get along well with his parents? It could have been better, especially with his father. Why has he never married? Long story (although he was currently engaged). On and on, like a criminal suspect on TV being grilled over his story.
"Are we done now, officer?" Todd asked meekly as the session broke for lunch.
Mr. McClain nodded and chuckled quietly.
"At least you're keeping your sense of humor," he said, suppressing a grin.
As he left and then returned from lunch, Todd watched and listened to the other men in the waiting room, listening as they swapped their tales of disorders and their own pasts.
Their backgrounds and stories seemed so harrowing, as they discussed the horrors of combat and its brutality. Those stories only reinforced Todd's feelings of discomfort at being where he was.
Why am I here? These other men, they went through far worse.
I’m just an education reporter who doesn’t always like being around schools.
But it had been wearing on him and now Todd’s family and co-workers had encouraged him to get some kind of help.
In fact, it was the only way that Todd’s fiancée would say yes.
“Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?” he said with more than a little surprise after learning of the diagnosis. “Me?”
Mr. McClain nodded.
“But I’ve never even been in the service. I can’t have-“
“Those other men in the waiting room, they were combat veterans. What they saw, what they experienced yes, but not me,” Todd said with a sense of shock. “I’ve worked with guys like this. My great uncle was in World War II and they said he had what they called combat fatigue. I can’t have that.”
Mr. McClain looked at Todd and then dropped his head sharply.
“No, you weren’t in the military and no, you never saw combat,” he said. “But you had a very difficult childhood and adolescence. You have a lot of baggage and the tags are all from places where you went to school. There’s no other way to put it, you were bullied in school and at home, it wasn’t much better.”
“My grades? My jobs? I struggled with both. I was just beefing like a kid who's been caught misbehaving.I demanded the flak I caught.”
"Your dad told you that, didn't he?"
"He made you repeat it, didn't he?"
“You may have been emotionally abused.”
“I wasn’t keeping my grades up.”
Todd saw the woman from a distance and smiled. They shared a warm embrace later that afternoon. Valerie wiped away a tear after they kissed.
“How’d it go?” she asked Todd.
“They say I have, I have,”
“I thought so,” she said. “I thought so from the first time I met you. I guess that’s what I get for being a nurse in the Navy.”
“I just wish they’d call it something else.”