I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in recently published novels, and that is that a fair number of them include a character – usually one of the main characters – who is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. A couple of the characters have been military guys who fought in the Middle East (with a minor character or two who fought in Vietnam), but some of them have been women suffering from PTSD for other reasons.
Even before noticing this, I myself had written a novel in which the main female character suffers from PTSD, although it’s not named as such in the actual story.
A few days ago, I finished a heart-wrenching novel entitled All For Anna. You guessed it: the main character, a young woman, suffers from PTSD. I don’t want to spoil the story for you in case you decide to read it, but suffice to say that she had not fought in a war. She had experienced a different kind of trauma.
Sometimes, a story hits close to home
I will say this: this woman, Tori, survived a traumatic incident in which someone else died. She not only saw the gory effects of the accident, but believed she was the cause of death.
In the novel, she ends up finally seeing a psychologist. I wish I would have bookmarked exactly what the doctor says that made me open my eyes, but at some point she tells Tori that isolating oneself and withdrawing, which Tori had been doing for the past three years, is a common symptom of PTSD.
Isolating and withdrawing. Like what I did at age twelve or thirteen.
I’m going to tell you my own story now, and warn you that it’s not going to be pretty. If you’re suffering from depression (read this post!) or are an emotionally sensitive person, you might want to skip it.
I grew up in a rural area, and we always had several cats. This was the ‘70s, so the cats were not neutered. As a result, every spring we had kittens – sometimes multiple litters.
The spring of my seventh grade year, I fell in love with the kittens from one particular litter. Every single one. They were a mix of gray and gray and white, and were the cutest things! By then I was old enough to know how to tame them, and so, along with my two sisters, I would spend time with them every day. When they were still quite small, the kittens trusted us to the extent that they would follow us all the way from the barn to the house.
They were maybe two months old when I got out of bed one morning and my dad told me, in a somber tone, that a tomcat had killed all the kittens.
He wasn’t one to beat around the bush. He also was clueless about the sensitive nature of a barely teenage girl.
In case you know nothing about cats, unneutered tomcats are very territorial. And if a particular litter of kittens did not come from his loins, he will happily kill them all.
Saddened by my dad’s words, I began walking the property to look for the kittens. There was one dead body. Another. Then the shock when I found the body of my favorite kitten: her head was barely hanging onto her body by a thread.
The tomcat had basically chewed her head off. The image would haunt me for years.
That day, after bawling my eyes out, I made a decision. I would never get close to a cat again. I started ignoring the female cats that we’d had for years, and I absolutely wouldn’t touch the kittens. Let them be wild; I didn’t care. Besides never wanting to experience that kind of emotional pain again, I was convinced that my training them to venture far from the safety of the barn was what led to the massacre.
My withdrawal didn’t stop with the animal kingdom. It would be years – maybe fifteen? yeah, I was in my late twenties – before I let anyone outside my family get close to me.
Well, except for my first boyfriend, who was a Big Mistake. Adding fuel to the my anti-social fire, he caused me to hate men for nine years. But that’s a story I will probably never reveal on this blog. Some things are just none of your business. 😉
(If you’re really curious, I give a little more detail about the relationship in my book, No More Broken Hearts.)
Anyway. There were young women I called “friends” during my teens and college years. But I was only ever invited into a clique because one member, for whatever reason, felt drawn to me (or sorry for me) and pulled me in. My relationships with all of them were superficial. I rarely went out with them, and never talked about Big Important Stuff. The two girls I felt might have been my “best friends” in high school, I eventually sabotaged the relationships (a few years after college).
Except, at the time I didn’t realize what I was doing.
I didn’t keep up with any of my college “friends” once I graduated. When I started teaching in Dallas, I distanced myself from colleagues. I did actually fall into a real friendship my second year, and we became, in her words, “best buds.” All I can say about that is that it was a God thing.
The fact of the matter is, God put her in my life to be my pastor, although I wouldn’t realize that until about four years ago.
Despite that, I was generally afraid to get close to people. I had learned that the end result could be very painful, and I didn’t want to go through a decapitated kitten trauma ever again.
So I closed myself off.
I wonder now, after having read All For Anna, if I was suffering from PTSD.
How I recovered, sort of
Long story short: in 1997, I tried eating a diet that didn’t work for my body and I shriveled up, going from ninety to seventy-seven pounds in the space of three months.
I went from skinny to Holocaust survivor physique. (I’m five-foot-three, in case you’re wondering.)
Some people who were attending the same worship fellowship that I was at the time noticed. Approached me about praying for me, though I didn’t know why. Then, as they laid hands on me and circled around me, somebody said, “eating disorder.”
All my defenses went up. In short, I drove home without letting them finish the prayer. I had started eating more by then, but it hadn’t shown on my body yet, so I believed I was fine. Besides, these people ate the Standard American Diet, so they couldn’t possibly understand!
All the way home (it was a thirty minute drive), I felt an uncomfortable stirring in my gut. I knew God was trying to tell me that my bailing-out had been the wrong thing to do. It was so uncomfortable that as soon as I got home, I fell on my face in my apartment and cried out to God, saying, “What? What? What did I do wrong?”
Dear reader, there are only two times in my life when I heard the voice of God so clearly I absolutely could not mistake it for my own thoughts. It wasn’t audible, but it was what I would term a loud thought.
This day was one of those times. He said, “You won’t let Me love you through other people.”
This was a fellowship that had a Sunday evening service as well as Sunday morning. So right before service started, I went back to one of the women who wanted to pray with me that morning, apologized, and asked her to pray again. A small group took me to one of the classrooms and prayed.
I won’t go into what happen here, because talking about the one obvious miracle I know I’ve received in my life is not the purpose of this post. Suffice to say that after that, I started opening up more to people. Being more transparent. I developed more closer friendships.
But it was a long road.
So, what do you think? PTSD? Or am I stretching it? If I’m not, I wonder how many non-military people out there suffer from it and don’t know it?