November 17, 2005

About Shokooh

The other Iraqi war veterans

Dear Shokooh,

I am one of those “other” Iraqi War veterans. I was drafted into the Iranian Army during our 8 year war with Iraq. I was only in the Iranian military for a few short months before becoming injured and returning home. In the years after my service, I got married, moved to the United States, and finished my education. I haven’t really thought much about the war until recently.

I have suddenly found myself having intense nightmares about my experiences in the war. I can’t watch the news for fear of catching scenes that will remind me of my experiences. I was teenager when I was in the war, but I saw some horrible things that are now replaying and replaying in my mind. Sometimes I feel that I right there again, my heart pounds very hard and I have trouble breathing. I am scared that I am going crazy.

Why would this come back to bother me so many years later? What can I do to stop thinking about this? 

Thank you for your help,



Dear Anonymous,

Thank for your bravery in coming forward to talk of your experiences. I have no doubt that there are countless other veterans of the Iran-Iraq War who share your nightmares, your fears, and your anxiety. While I haven’t met you and am therefore not in a position to offer diagnosis, I can say that the symptoms you are describing, combined with your direct experiences in combat, sound consistent with experiences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after an individual is exposed to a terrifying event or traumatic ordeal in which serious physical harm occurred, was threatened, or was believed imminent. Examples of traumatic events which may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, automobile accidents, rape, sexual abuse, or military combat. 

Most people will experience a trauma at some point in their lives. As a result, some individuals will experience debilitating symptoms that interfere with daily life. These symptoms are often similar to some of the things you described in your email. PTSD is serious and can have devastating effects on an individual’s quality of life -- it is complicated by the fact that PTSD frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory or cognition, and other anxiety disorders. Researchers estimate that 5% of men and 10% of women experience symptoms of PTSD. The percentage is, naturally, much higher for veterans of any war, particularly those who served in active combat.

People who are suffering from PTSD often feel as if they are reliving the experience through nightmares or flashbacks. They replay specific details in their minds over and over again. They may even feel as if they are back in the moment, experiencing the trauma again. Many of my patients suffering from PTSD have asked the very question you ask -- what can I do to stop thinking about this? I wish I had a simple answer for you, something that would magically make the difficult memories disappear. You have experienced something intense and painful that has triggered equally intense and painful symptoms.

While the symptoms and statistics can seem overwhelming, please know that PTSD can be treated and there is every reason to believe that you can overcome the symptoms you are experiencing. 

Psychotherapy, in particular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, has been proven quite effective and is a promising treatment for PTSD.  I strongly suggest that you work with a therapist who has specific experience treating PTSD. With caring guidance and time, you can work through the trauma and minimize your symptoms.  In the meantime, please make self-care a priority. If possible, avoid the news, especially television news that may have visual representations of combat situations in Afghanistan or Iraq. Try to stick to your usual routines and do the things that have traditionally helped you cope with stress. And, of course, I hope you will consider finding and working with a psychologist who can support you through this difficult time.

Thank you for taking the brave step of writing to me and sharing your experiences. We tend to forget that new wars can open old wounds. I wish you all the best and I remain faithful that your wounds can, with time, heal.

Be well,



This column is for general educational purposes only-- it is not a substitute for medical attention, counseling, or therapy of any kind. The Couch and the staff of this website urge you to seek immediate medical attention if you are in an urgent, harmful, or potentially dangerous situation. Psychiatric emergencies or urgent matters should be handled by calling 9-1-1 or going to the nearest emergency room.   Please note that your emails will not be answered on an individual basis and your confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Top

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