People often talk about mental health as if it is something that has been solved; an incoherent problem that has been remedied. I’m here to say otherwise. I think there’s a a perception that people are better understanding mental health problems and people are able to empathise better with those who do have prevalent conditions. However, there is still a blunt gap between those who experience issues and those who do not have mental health issues. In he 21st century, there is still the reality that diabetes can be solved with insulin or a broken leg can heal but when someone says they are suffering from mental issues, the person will kindly nod, while smiling, and slowly back away from the conversation. I understand why they would. As a species, we are not biologically programmed to deal with issues like that; it does not benefit survival and it is alien to the way our biology works. Culturally, the mannerisms that are encouraged, such as individuality and non-reliance, means it is not within are mannerisms to be encouraged empathy.
What I am aiming to do in this article is debunk the myths surrounding a prevalent mental health issue: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and attempt to make the reader empathise with the condition by using writing to portray an image in the reader’s mind.
A key myth is that PTSD is it’s limtied to the warfare. Though it is prevalent on the battlefield, it is only so because the conditions and strains of warfare make it possible for the condition to become a reality. The first cases of post-traumatic stress were recorded in industrial and locomotive accidents during the 19th century (the condition was labeled ‘traumatic neurosis’). Today, it can include trauma caused by accidents; negative experiences and social, emotional, physical and psychological abuse. This leaves an underlying efffect on the way the mind reacts and develops based on those conditions.
Put it this way, the person suffers trauma at a young age or suffers an accident and though there is rationality to the way the mind deals with it, illogically the body gears itself up to the event happening again. For example, a driver might tense up or a person who was once abused may attack someone for no reason: it’s simply a means in which the mind comes to terms with the sudden anxiousness perceives an immediate danger (whether real or imaginary). One way this happens is by memories. In an experiment at an American University, a psychologist separated a group of students in two parts: the first wrote an account of events that were upsetting to them in their lives, the second wrote about some mundane aspects of their day. What was discovered was the people who had wrote down their upsetting/distrubing accounts recovered better than those who didn’t and the second group had a harder time. In other words, the mind attempts to recollect the experience the person has suffered through alternative means that are not obvious, it’s like the nerves and mind of the person as are trying to let the issue out but not directly reference. Kurt Vonnegut (author of Slaugherhouse Five who also suffered from PTSD) describes it as “describing the sun without staring directly at it”. Vonnegut does this in his novel by time travel to explore his experiences. It’s understandable, when you experience loss you try to describe it without confronting the problem because of the emotional impact the memory has and confronting it directly makes you nervous because your body reacts to an imaginary reprisal or consequence. With PTSD, it’s the same but times a thousand.
To give readers an idea of what I mean, I am going to describe what it is like to have PTSD using simple language and terminology, in order to build an image into the person’s mind. Imagine you are standing in a room full of people talking. Some of them you know, others you don’t. Some may be friends of friends, other’s relatives. It can be outside, in a party, an apartment, a beach, just somewhere where there’s a social event occuring. Now, looking around at all the people smiling, talking, laughing and building rapport, you feel that around the room there is an inside joke everyone is in on. For some reason or event, which you somehow missed, everyone is sharing this inside joke and you don’t know what it is. You can’t understand it and it’s not possible for you to comprehend without your mind going blank. Everytime you do talk to someone, your mind goes blank so you don’t know what to say. All you can do is listen and try not to go at 80mph and deal with things logically; if not logical, you will feel lost in a vaue feeling of confusion. Alone, your mind begins to think about things and speculate and shortly it turns into a memory and that memory becomes a fantasy. Your mind forces this memory onto you out of nowhere. In the fantasy, you recall something that happened and when you snap out of it, you realise you’re emotionally invested in the fantasy and you’re talking to yourself. Nothing really makes sense outside, I mean you know why everything’s happening but none of the social barriers, mannerism and time make any sense or seem to matter. You feel tired so you can only keep less fatigued by thinking and self-disciplining yourself to stay up. Talking to people, you can see something is not right with you, people think you are weird in some illogical way and you don’t conform to the emotional wave going forwards at a certain speed. Maybe they think you’re there to get something out of them or one-up them. Either way, they can sense something but don’t know what it is that separates you. Your head feels like there’s heavy pressure on it and you can feel the nerves around you coming alive. Your heart’s beating to the point where it feels like it’s thumping your chest and thumping the body with it in a massive vibration. You can’t get your head around how people are enjoying themselves or why they’re laughing, they just are; you can’t get on the inside joke and so you stay silent. Your mind’s still blank. You’re moving small parts of your body very quickly and realise you’re doing it only when it’s happened and it feels like there’s nothing you can do about it.
This is a taster of what it feels like to have the condition. I hope this brings a better understanding for people to understand what it feels like and how this example can also be extreme in varying circumstances.