The Madeleine Brand Show for August 13, 2012

The Long Walk: Brian Castner's story of life after war

Author Brian Castner starts out his new book, "The Long Walk," with a simple confession:

"The first thing you should know about me is that I'm Crazy."

Castner served three tours of duty in Iraq – his last as a commander of a bomb disposal unit in northern Iraq, in Kirkuk, 2006. That's the type of job portrayed in the Hollywood film, 'The Hurt Locker.'

His memoir centers around "The Crazy," a feeling that consumed him years after his experience in Iraq, one he could not describe in real terms. "It wasn't pain, nausea, stress, or any of those normal words that I could use. It felt completely different, but it's also all I thought about all day. It just came to be my constant companion that was always with me," he said.

Castner told Madeleine that while most war veterans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his experience with "The Crazy" was completely different.

"[I am not] what you see in movies or on TV, with that crazy vet uncle that always jumps from the kitchen table when somebody makes a loud noise, or can't watch war movies, or can't play violent video games or hates fireworks," he explained. "I had some of those things initially, but those things were all extremely superficial things that really faded pretty quickly. It was all these deep-seeded issues that stuck with me."

He added that unlike the stereotypical PTSD-afflicted veteran, he was affected by more mundane moments in his life. He described a moment where putting his son's goalie equipment on for the championship hockey game reminded him of suiting up his soldiers in bomb disposal gear.

"Every strap, and then the chest protector, the helmet on last – it's the things that you do every day that remind you of the war and is the reason you can never really let go of it. And so I started crying in the hockey locker room," he continued. "I don't have much of a filter anymore. How do you explain that to the other parents in the locker room? It's not really one of the conversations that you have in polite society."

Castner said that writing the book undergoing therapy has helped him better understand and curb his emotions, but he knows "The Crazy" won't go away.

"Part of the therapy of working through things and doing yoga and going on runs is that you can put it in its place, even if it's always there," he said. "My shadow is behind me. I don't have to stare at it. [But] when I lose another friend or when something else happens, it returns, and it reminds me that it's never really gone. There's no cure to any of this."

Guest:

Brian Castner, author of "The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows." Castner served three tours in Iraq, the last as a commander of a bomb disposal unit.


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