I think I have always written. I was one of those kids who enjoyed school and loved poetry, although I learned to be as tough as my friends to avoid being picked on. Later, during my time away from home in the military, my diary gave me a way to keep something of my private world alive so that I did not disappear completely to become lost in the uniform.
I have been a trauma clinician for much of my professional life since leaving the military and nearly all of my writing became technical – mental health assessments, theses and dissertations, and formal research papers. Writing turned into work; an activity that excluded my inner world from the written page. Any attempts to look inward would end repeatedly in a few scribbled pages which ended abruptly because I was not able to make that journey. Several years ago, my son asked me an innocent enough question: What was it like for me to continually hear the terrible things that soldiers and veterans experience in their careers? This conversation opened a tiny window as I thought seriously about his question; an emotionally painful window that turned into a poem and which later turned into my first book. The second one is nearing the first draft stage.
Returning to myself through written words has allowed me to reconnect with my emotional and private self. Writing can be a solitary journey. It has also shown me those things that I carried from continually witnessing the torments and devastation carried by military men and women. Things I had to push away to keep going; profound sadness and outrage, my own questioning of humanity and then rediscovering hope and wonder. Writing provided a vehicle back to my inner world and from there an urgency to communicate these messages to other people. It is a vehicle that I am introducing to veterans to help them rediscover their own humanity.
John J. Whelan
John J. Whelan, Ph.D., is the author of Going Crazy in the Green Machine, available now on FriesenPress.