Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam Veteran and has been a Psychologist counseling veterans for many years. He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon.
When I was about eighteen I realized I had to choose a career. I asked myself what I liked to do best. That was reading novels. Of course I didn’t think I could earn a living at that. When I was younger and slaving away in my father’s boat factory, I would sneak into his office when he was away and write stories on a manual typewriter. So I decided I would be a writer. However, I did not want to be irresponsible like my father. Depending on which description you might be comfortable with, my father and his father were gangsters, hustlers, gamblers, or sharp operators. The boat factory was my father’s brief effort to get out of the bar business. The bar business can be a front for all sorts of activities. Our family income was highly variable. I did not want to be like my father. I did not want to be irresponsible, and I figured that being a writer was very unreliable and irresponsible when it came to taking care of a family. So I decided to get a doctorate in English, which would enable me to have a job. The Vietnam war intervened. I could have avoided Vietnam by joining a seminary or going to medical school, but I had already decided to get a doctorate in English. After my tour in Vietnam I began working on my doctorate. I hated it. Reading literary criticism all day, day after day, was boring for me. I switched to working on a doctorate in counseling psychology, and used my graduate courses in English for a masters degree in creative writing. My masters thesis was a series of short stories about Vietnam.
My first job after earning my doctorate was at a Vet Center in 1981. I had not learned anything about PTSD in graduate school—the diagnosis had just been recognized! But I quickly learned about it at the Vet Center. So many of the veterans were incandescent with rage then, just as many of the veterans freshly returned from war are today. I also soon realized that I myself had some of the symptoms of PTSD, although not enough of them to be diagnosed with PTSD. I told myself that God had let me have just enough symptoms myself so that I would be able to understand and help the veterans who had PTSD. In about 1984 I began writing a novel based on some of my experiences in Vietnam. Writing the novel was very emotional for me.
In Vietnam I had been an advisor, living and working with the Vietnamese. In my novel I wanted to help people to understand PTSD, and I also wanted to depict the war from all sides—South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, and Americans. Over the years I revised the novel many times. Toward the end of my career as a psychologist I began to realize I had been around violence all my life. My father was violent and associated with violent people, and others in my family did the same. My childhood response to that was to avoid conflict and retreat into the world of reading novels! In high school I thought the “tough guys” were just children compared to my family. In Vietnam I lived on a Vietnamese compound where one never knew for sure who was the enemy, because the compound was of course infiltrated by enemy agents and sympathizers. Would my throat be cut at night? And of course all of the military operations were with the Vietnamese, not Americans. After graduate school I began to work for the VA. I enjoyed and liked veterans, but at the same time I was also around many enraged and violent people on a regular basis, and the hypervigilance I had learned at an early age became well engrained into my character. There were many times that I could have been killed if I had said or done the wrong thing. My peers tended to refer dangerous patients to me because I was big and seemed calm under pressure. Thanks a lot! Eventually I had to admit that after a lifetime of being around violence I had PTSD myself. I had my own episodes of incandescent rage.
Recently, after twenty-seven years since I wrote the first draft, I published my novel on Kindle. It is A Dream of Heaven, written under my pen name, Michael FitzGordon. I hope that people will read it and enjoy it. Bob Kerrey read an earlier draft and wrote that it was “a compelling portrait of the destructive force of hatred, the ravaged psyches of those who have experienced war, and the enduring power of faith and love.” I hope that people will gain a greater understanding of how one can develop PTSD. The main characters are both American and Vietnamese, and I hope that readers will see war from both sides, see the folly of war, and work harder to avoid war.
*MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970. Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971. In addition to briefing the staff I briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army. I was in Vietnam for one tour.
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