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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Blues

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There have been times when I've wondered whether the majority of our society's population is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I can't come up with any other explanation for people's willingness to accept at face value all that's designed to distract them from reality.

Television, religion, drugs, money, the rat race, material goods, computer games, the Internet, and most aspects of our society are diversions that keep us from noticing what's really going on around us. Who's got time to worry about anything beyond paying the mortgage, will the kids stay off drugs, and whether that new guy at work is after the promotion that really should be ours?

The human brain is a remarkable thing and does some truly amazing feats of prestidigitation to help cushion us from the effects of trauma. It's been known to completely shut down during moments of extreme horror in order to protect itself from harm. For example if you were in a horrible car crash and suffered a variety of broken bones your mind would shut out the memory of the pain so you wouldn't remember how  excruciatingly bad it was. (Which probably explains why women are willing to go through childbirth more then once; they really don't remember how bad it was.)

But that doesn't mean the pain didn't exist, because it did, it's merely locked away in some storage compartment of your brain beyond your awareness. As long as your brain is distracted enough and you never suffer from a similar trauma again you will continue on in blissful ignorance.

PTSD doesn't have to be caused by remembering some long forgotten abuse; it can be caused by any situation that causes a person a severe physical or psychological injury. You could have been injured in a card accident or you could have witnessed the same accident and suffered equal trauma. Watching somebody be thrown through a car window and ending up on the hood of their car can leave scars as bad as if you had gone through the window yourself.

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD I decided I wanted to find out more about it. Seeing how this was in the early nineties and I didn't own a computer, let alone have access to the Internet, I went to the library. The term was first used to describe the condition of Viet Nam veterans who couldn't acclimatize to being back in civilian life. They would dive for cover when they heard a bang, reach for non-existent weapons at sudden movements, and basically act as if they felt their lives were still in constant danger.

People with more severe cases would experience flashbacks of events that happened to them while in service. A flashback is a type of memory, but it is a memory that has not been processed by the brain. If something triggers (anything that stimulates a flashback is called a trigger) the memory the person believes the event is happening right at that moment instead of in the past. They experience every single emotion and physical sensation that they had felt when they originally lived through it.

We're not just talking about seeing it in your mind's eye either; we're talking being back in the jungle with machine gun fire, bombs blowing up and people being killed in front of your eyes. The worst thing about flashbacks is that you are completely awake for them. People who were sexually abused are raped again as far as they are concerned, soldiers watch their best friend be killed again, or a factory worker watches his co-worker be crushed under a piece of machinery. Any traumatic experience that was never properly processed is a potential flashback awaiting a trigger.

Now just because they only invented the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the past thirty of forty years doesn't mean the circumstances for creating the condition hadn't existed before then. Do you not think that maybe soldiers serving in the trenches during World War One could have suffered something similar? How about the people who survived the concentration camps in World War Two?

Think of all the wars, the ethnic cleansings, the terror attacks, the bombing raids, natural disasters, random violence, airplane crashes, car pile-ups, and any of the other things that happen on a regular basis. Why is it so easy for us to accept those traumas as commonplace?

Why are we so ready to believe the lie that an expression like collateral damage makes everything all right? Would it be all right if the police came over to your house and shot your wife and children and than apologized because it was accident? Why is it that when people are being killed by the tens and twenties on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan we can shrug it off, but a whole nation is captivated by some stupid girl going to prison?

Yet in spite of this, the latest statistics show that something like one in four people admit to be taking some sort of anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication. Since a lot of people aren't going to own up to taking something like that it's probably safe to say the figure is close to one in three people.

Nobody is being treated for anxiety or depression. The drugs they are being given are so that they can be happy, functioning members of society. What kind of civilization needs to drug between a quarter and one third of its population in order for them to function?

Let me ask another question: what do you think would happen if all of a sudden there were no distractions from reality? No Internet, no personal computers, no television, nothing to provide us with peace of mind and prevent us from really thinking about what is going on around us? If people actually began to comprehend what it meant when they saw a family begging for money on a street corner, read about a little girl whose father raped her repeatedly, or heard about bombs falling on a neighbourhood and inflicting collateral damage, do you think they would be able to go about their daily business in the same way they do now?

I'm sure that some people would still be able to do what they were supposed to, people did work in concentration camps without having been forced to, remember? But I'd like to think that the majority would be too horror-stricken to cope. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would actually be the healthiest reaction people could have.

I know I said at the beginning that I sometimes think our society suffers from PTSD, and I guess I should amend that statement. It isn't suffering from PTSD; it has made itself the single biggest cause of potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. By artificially creating the circumstances that our brains do to ensure that we survive a traumatic situation, our society has created millions of potential sufferers. Let's just hope they don't all succumb at once.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdEJB7UPmUc Tom Smith

    Thank you for the article. This issue of PTSD for current conflicts, past conflicts, and as you say other reasons like domestic abuse is a huge problem. Unfortunately, those suffering from it, and their familes, are often underserved by our systems. My URL provides a “Talking Post Trauma Blues” which speaks to this point. -Tom