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Apr 21 2014

PTSD and Me(lody)

PTSD is a funny beast.

To suffer from it is not a form of weakness. It is your body and mind settling on a new norm.

Warning!

This is about PTSD and in particular my take on it. I debated writing this. Then I was linked to the Daily Mail, Thunderfoot and A Voice for Men. And I did so to show solidarity. In addition? My comment policy is back. This is a red topic. Safe zone with topics germane to the conversation.

How you cope with it is different too. Some revel in it and use it as a source of strength. They fight it and mock it and push themselves to not be held back by it. In many cases normalisation of routine helps PTSD sufferers by getting them up and about and back into routines. It was once considered cruel and counter-productive. In time it became the gold standard of treatment. It helps them stop avoiding the things that trigger it.

But then there are some people who avoid their triggers. That’s okay too it is a way of coping. I honestly don’t care how you live your life and cope with the beast as long as you live your life. Whether you harness the beast or you cage it it is up to you. It’s your monster, it’s your choice on how to fight it. I do know that it isn’t healthy and it wasn’t for me.

My PTSD is due to war and in other sufferers there is a range of reasons for PTSD. Some get it due to suffering wounds. Some get it due to seeing their friends die. Some due to the fear of artillery… the infamous shellshock and bomb happy. I was born and lived in Kuwait and I was a refugee from the first Gulf War. These are the traditional view of PTSD. It’s old names were shell shock or bomb happy.

 I suffer from it due to the actions of others and trauma inflicted. But I suffered it as a kid and it wasn’t fun dealing with it then. People are cruel. I often use the example of people throwing fireworks or popping balloons to trigger PTSD as an example of dickery because it was how children behaved towards me. I thought they were arseholes growing up, growing older? I think they are just children being children. They thought what they were doing is harmless. Luckily I survived.

I will also tell you that I never really celebrated birthdays. Or enjoyed Diwali or Guy Fawkes or New Year’s Day. I even had to be wary around match days where football clubs may have a fireworks display. I often still go, after having mentally prepared myself for the onslaught.

There is a greater acceptance of PTSD today but historically people suffering from it were usually treated as cowards. As draft dodgers. As those who didn’t want to do their duty.

But not everyone goes to war or is raped or is in a car accident before they get PTSD. There are some who get it over the weirdest things. A discarded and broken doll. A dead cat on the street. It’s not that incident that breaks something inside you but a slow application of stress and terror and abuse that eventually  breaks something. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. What we see is someone saying that they got PTSD because of a broken doll, when in reality what we see is the tip of the ice berg and ignore a plethora of pre-existing trauma. PTSD is often silent, the patient is unaware of changes and differences to their routine. I know a young lad who post-Iraq thought it was nothing to sleep with a knife under his pillow due to the paranoia and fear.

The dialogue about PTSD is almost exclusively military. Because here is a demography with a specific trauma trigger that we can relate to. We have enough “War is Hell” movies to show the sort of thing that creates their PTSD. We also have enough mass media to understand (to a great extent) the trauma of being hostages or rape victims. We have all been around or in car crashes or in accidents so we know the trauma of those too.

Many people get it due to work. Doctors, Nurses, Fire Fighters.

And there are those we puzzle over. People who have gotten it from a doctor’s visit or a dental visit. But remember what I said? The final straw was those things. The underlying issues and experiences have a role to play too.

It seems puzzling to us that something as harmless as a dental visit can cause PTSD but I know people who fought wars where the thing that broke them was not artillery, blood and killing but something as banal as a dead kitten or an abandoned doll. That was the point their minds rebelled. That was the point they had their first attack. The first time they realised something wrong was a disproportionate response to something banal and humdrum. Because there are underlying stresses and pressures that contribute to a slow grinding of a person’s psyche. That a past trauma can slowly destroy you until some little thing pushes you over the edge. Think of it as a house where the support beams and load bearing walls are destroyed by some other person to the point you can knock it over with a tennis ball.

It’s an iceberg of a disease.

Now here is the thing. Let us take a doctor who gets PTSD due to a traumatic work load. Being a doctor didn’t make him get PTSD, the trauma he witnessed did. Same for the soldiers, the fire fighters and the others.

Also? PTSD is not about the severity of the trauma but how you react to the trauma. No one holds down veterans and shows them people who were injured in similar incidents but who don’t have PTSD and then claim that they are weak and useless and faking it. They used to.

So what’s all this about? Melody Hensley’s PTSD. Want to know my take?

I don’t care. I really don’t. My PTSD is my issue and how I deal with it is my business. I know how much it sucks and I know that if you really wish to pretend to have PTSD then go right ahead. It is not affecting me, it is not affecting anyone else. It sucks, for fuck sake I am a grown man who flinches at the sound of balloons bursting and for whom a balloon being blown up is scary. Do you think I enjoy this? Fuck No. And I bet it’s the same for Melody. I don’t think she is enjoying this. This is not a pleasant feeling. Just as I would not want some dick weasel chasing me with balloons and fireworks, she probably doesn’t want her version of this wanker triggering her

We know cyber-bullying exists and I myself have charted examples of the stellar behaviour of people. We agree that it is traumatic or else Melody Hensley is the least of our worries. We should be out there telling GLAAD and Stonewall and It Gets Better to knock it off because gay kids aren’t traumatised by cyber-bullying and that it doesn’t exist. So we do agree that you can get twitter from the cyberbullying and harassment that comes with being a woman online. This means that we can condense this into the technically accurate statement

“Twitter Can Cause PTSD”. This is the statement of the anti-FTB and anti-Melody brigade (because there is a fair overlap). That it wasn’t their constant tweets, harassment and cyber stalking but twitter itself. There are two different strategies being used.

The first one implies that TWITTER (the microblogging platform) caused PTSD which is just so idiotic and vapid as a statement. The second one is an attempt to downplay the actual harassment.

I feel the second one is the lie you tell yourself to justify your actions. Of course you can’t be the villain, Melody is. What you are doing is not harassment, it’s criticism and suggestions. You aren’t like all those people suggesting those horrible things. Your things are  constructive.

Your Trauma Is Not Real Enough.

Is is hard to listen to someone with a Trauma you consider lesser. Imagine telling a story about how you were wounded by enemy fire and saw your friends get hit and one of them die near you and the next person tells you about a bad dental visit. Even within the army  there are those who lost limbs who are more capable of dealing with their PTSD than someone who merely witnessed trauma.

And often the feeling described is how pathetic you feel that your trauma isn’t as bad as others. Which is why PTSD is never compared. You never compare yours to others. It doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help others. If we start sitting around wondering whose trauma is real and whose isn’t then I am afraid we would make PTSD worse for all and reduce the number of people seeking help for it.

But we don’t know about the iceberg. Sometimes PTSD’s cause is loud and clear. Sometimes it’s a variety of things all precipitating it. And pop diagnosis on line doesn’t make things better.

I didn’t intend to write anything about PTSD and Melody, but I fear that not writing will encourage people like this. Oh, I know the anti-FTB brigade were rather interested in my PTSD claim. If they do read this, it’s simple. I was born in Kuwait. Site of the first Gulf War where I was a refugee. Due to my parent’s jobs they were captured and held because “Doctors Are Very Useful”. One day we were given a car and tried to leave. We left on the night of the 16th of January. We didn’t know what was coming.

I lived through Allied bombing and the Iraqi retaliation. The lack of information meant we drove along Highway 80. To those who lived through it, it had another name.

The Highway of Death, a shooting gallery of American long range bombardment and air strikes. After we saw one, we turned back. We drove to Saudi Arabia instead. Where we were held in a filthy room and treated like animals (I was fed a single boiled egg over a day). Until hell broke lose. A scud missile had struck a nearby building. We took the time to leave. Some kind soul unlocked the door. We assumed the war was between the Saudi and Iraqi sides. So we fled to Basra and then onwards through Iraq to the Israeli border with Jordan. At every stage we were subject to the fear that the Saudis would bomb us. It was there our luck ran out. We were not allowed into Israel. My parents say the white brits we were travelling with were separated from us. We got to go to Jordan, to a Red Cross camp set up to take in refugees near Amman. It was filled with Palestinians. And it was there we learned about the war. The bombings were by us and the Americans. After 6 months the UK found us and brought us home. A year later we went back to Kuwait.

After 6 months of living in occupied Kuwait I had been shelled and starved. Food and water was rationed and scarce. Fights and even murders occurred over it. The only reason we survived was that my parents could translate their skills as doctors into barter. And that at least one kind Iraqi lad was nice enough to protect us from something he knew was coming. I survived Kuwait from August the 2nd to January the 16th.  I had lost friends, one being shot and another having his house shelled while he was still inside it. I lived through all of this. I was bombed out both by the Allies and the Iraqis.

I was told this by my parents, I myself don’t remember the trauma. Partly because I was 5 and partly because I later found out that PTSD causes you to blank out incidents. By the time we were evacuated in August, a full year after the war began I had lost nearly half my body weight, was severely constipated by a lack of balanced diet and covered in sores and ulcers. I had scurvy and the beginning of Vitamin A deficiency (my parents would starve for a day every month to get a tin of sardines and force me to drink the oil). I weighed less than 12 Kg.

Now there are two responses to this story. You may go “That’s awful, I am glad you made it mate”. And then there is the other.

“You are a liar, you are a cheat, you just want to have PTSD for sympathy”. Which is fine, but I never wanted sympathy. I never got sympathy. 1990s were the time when PTSD was beginning to be diagnosed. And it certainly wasn’t for civilians to begin with. The fact is that there were thousands of refugees out there during that particular war and many other wars. I may not remember with perfect clarity all the horrors as those blend together but I remember the kindness. And what I chose to define my trauma was with that kindness.

It is why I still do all of this. To be a little piece of kindness to kids who experience the same things that I did and maybe give them the same chances I got.

And I have heard people say the same sort of things as what is being told to Melody Hensley. This isn’t real, this isn’t true, this is just fantastic. I don’t believe you have PTSD. And all I have to say “you are entitled to your opinions”.  But it hurts, it hurts when someone doesn’t accept that you are in pain. It hurts when someone refuses to accept your issues and makes light of them. Parents used to excuse their kids by saying that the balloons would “fix” me. It did, I had a choice. I got used to it. It affected me less and less to the point it causes apprehension but not crippling fear. And it forced me to fight back.

So when I hear the arguments being made about Melody’s “fake” PTSD, it throws me back to my childhood where people thought I was faking my fear of balloons. Now like her, I cannot point down the precise point of trauma that triggered mine. Maybe it was watching a kid get killed by a land mine, maybe it was that tent fire that roasted that family alive, maybe it was the building that fell on me, maybe it was the dead bodies. Maybe it was the fact my Birthday (You heard it here first!) is on August the 3rd and that Kuwait was effectively invaded a few hours earlier. It was a traumatic year.

Or maybe it was just the balloons. I just don’t know when it really started.

So what I see when Melody’s “fake” PTSD comes up is people who would say

“Don’t be Stupid Avi, you can’t get PTSD from balloons”

What I see when people try to trigger her are the kids who would would chase me with balloons because they wanted to see me run.

What I see when people defend the above as criticism, are the parents of those kids who downplayed the bullying.

What I see are people like Thunderfoot, Dean Esmay and Sara Malm (of the Daily Mail) supporting all of this and encouraging angry harassment because in their vast training as Biologist, Professional College Hater (seriously? Guy whinged about my University Education) and Journalist; they have an intimate knowledge about medical diagnosis of psychiatric conditions.

And what I see are victims of PTSD falling into the bad habit of comparisons of trauma, when they themselves should remember that it’s not the Trauma but how we respond to it. And the victims of PTSD forgetting that once their own traumas would have been treated the way they are treating Melody.

What I see are armchair psychiatrists making pop diagnosis online and then calling themselves skeptics who applaud when I make the same point about Anti-Vax and other quacks.

What I see are people who would state that I shouldn’t go to places with balloons because there may be arseholes who chase me with one..That I should not have Birthday Parties because sometimes balloons are there. That one cannot have the cake and presents without the inflated rubber bladders.

You may think of us as weak and effete. Of requiring smelling salts. But I am impressed with what Melody has done. I don’t run anything important. Hell, I barely have 2000 hits a day! She’s done things that thousands of atheists get involved with.

That’s an achievement in itself. I can’t do that. I am too ornery, angry and prone to the Jeremy Clarkson school of solving problems (Shouting and hitting things with hammers) to be of any use to such an environment.

TL;DR

I support Melody Hensley and think the people suggesting she avoid Twitter in order to deal with Twitter Harassment is forgetting that the real goal should be to avoid Harassment rather than Twitter. If you want to give money to support PTSD research. then check this link out.

113 comments

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  1. 101
    Steersman

    John Greg: Good question. Avi’s blog is, so far as I know, the only blog on the entire FTB network that has such spam, so, well, who knows. Only he can answer that one.

    Always a possibility I suppose, although I think it a rather remote one as I’ve seen similar types of spam comments on other FTB sites. For instance, this one on Ally Fogg’s:

    There is a new comment to Is gender inherently oppressive? .
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    Comment:
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    And I’ve seen quite a number on Ashley Miller’s, for instance this one:

    There is a new comment to A thorough analysis of Woody Allen’s letter in the NYTimes.
    Comment Link: “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2014/02/08/a-thorough-analysis-of-woody-allens-letter-in-the-nytimes/#comment-173013″
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    In addition, I’ve seen likewise on blogs other than FTB ones, Michael Nugent’s for example.

    Seems to be more in “the nature of the beast” than an intent to defraud or anything like that.

    While there is maybe much in the way criticism that could be laid at Avi’s doorstep, although substantially less than many of the “usual suspects”, I think it wise to give credit where it’s due, and to not overindulge in hyperskepticism.

  2. 102
    johngreg

    Oh, OK. I had not seen those. Thanks for pointing them out.

    Ah, yes, that ol’ evil Hyperskepticism. Tsk, tsk.

  3. 103
    shari

    @93 Steersman –

    I am actually not insisting anything about her claim that all cases of PTSD are equal. What I am insisting on is that people who pile on and harass someone gratuitously – are harming anyone who has ANY mental illness.

    And that anyone who does it knowingly should not be surprised if their criticism isn’t taken graciously, and that anyone who does it knowingly isn’t making one thing better, and is only making things worse.

    And I don’t get why that is so hard for people to stand against, instead of digging in their heels to insist that Their criticism (and some of your comments on Melody here are snotty and sarcastic and personal) is legitimate. You want to publicly attack what she’s doing While she defends herself from harassment – that’s an indecent thing to do. You know she has issues but you think you are doing no harm, or you think that it’s worthwhile….for what?

    And you ask if being a ‘godbot’ is why I won’t view Thunderf00t? No, Thunderf00t is aggressively hostile to women online and it’s hurtful. Why the hell would anyone who is against people being shitty to other people give him the traffic? Christianity doesn’t make my views intractable. It doesn’t make me a judge of his behaviour, for that, one just has to experience middle school.

    It doesn’t take a godbot to make that decision. That’s just drawing lines and not supporting what you don’t believe is right. You are sending him traffic I am sure, so I imagine he’s thankful for the hits.

  4. 104
    leni

    Shari-

    Their criticism (and some of your comments on Melody here are snotty and sarcastic and personal)

    I agree with your points here- I’m just going to rephrase a bit in a less charitable way:

    If being a periodically rude made people ineligible for a PTSD diagnosis, no one would ever get a PTSD diagnosis.

    This is exactly the kind of gaslighting that people use to pretend no one is culpable for happens to soldiers.

  5. 105
    Steersman

    Shari: What I am insisting on is that people who pile on and harass someone gratuitously – are harming anyone who has ANY mental illness.

    The thing is that “it” is not really “gratuitous” – she has, maybe arguably at least to some extent, bought and paid for a substantial amount of the response that she has received. She has made a highly questionable claim about the spectrum of symptoms associated with PTSD, and added insult to injury by characterizing someone’s quite reasonable question about that spectrum as harassment. Until she acknowledges some degree of responsibility for derailing that “train”, for that precipitating event, I can’t see the possibility of much further progress.

    Shari: You want to publicly attack what she’s doing while she defends herself from harassment – that’s an indecent thing to do. You know she has issues but you think you are doing no harm, or you think that it’s worthwhile….for what?

    Even if she is suffering from, to some degree, the various symptoms of PTSD, that is hardly a get-out-of-jail-free card. Which you, and apparently no few others, wish to view it as. You might want to consider that our individual “feelings”, if not our lives, very frequently amount to a “hill of beans” – so to speak – when various principles which affect us all hang in the balance.

    Shari: And you ask if being a ‘godbot’ is why I won’t view Thunderf00t? No, Thunderf00t is aggressively hostile to women online and it’s hurtful.

    I’ll concede that he seems to be unaware that PTSD can be produced by a range of conditions and actions including egregiously nasty bullying and harassment – which seems to have led him to be unnecessarily critical of Hensley. However, you might want to consider the possibility that he isn’t hostile to all women, but only or primarily to those – primarily “feminists” of a particularly dogmatic flavour – who happen to make egregiously untenable claims.

    Apart from which, you might want to consider the idea that “hurtful” is not necessarily to be deprecated – “no pain, no gain”. Seems to me you have to ask yourself whether what is causing the pain is due to being confronted with something that is true or not.

  6. 106
    leni

    I’ll concede that he seems to be unaware that PTSD can be produced by a range of conditions and actions including egregiously nasty bullying and harassment – which seems to have led him to be unnecessarily critical of Hensley.

    I’m just going to quote this and let it lie here.

  7. 107
    Steersman

    Leni: I’m just going to quote this and let it lie here.

    I’m not sure what you think that proves. Maybe you, apparently like Holms above, think that me conceding that I think that he’s wide of the mark or unfair in some areas means that I think there’s nothing of value anywhere in his arguments or perspectives.

    People can, obviously – or at least to those capable of any degree of critical thought – be wrong in some areas while being manifestly right in others. Analogously, maybe you think, because Newton was, apparently, somewhat of a misogynist, that means we should throw out every last bit of his physics – sorry, but neither physics nor life works that way. You might want to reflect on the biblical aphorism about separating the wheat from the chaff.

  8. 108
    leni

    People can, obviously – or at least to those capable of any degree of critical thought – be wrong in some areas while being manifestly right in others.

    Mhmm.

    But you aren’t Newton defending physics, are you? You are just a garden variety shitbag defending the status quo.

  9. 109
    leni

    It’s also interesting how you fail to extend that generosity you give to Newton.

    It’s ok that Newton is a huge sexist or racist prick, but God fucking forbid anyone else is. Because that would be unfair to you, and we can’t have that.

  10. 110
    Steersman

    Leni: But you aren’t Newton defending physics, are you? You are just a garden variety shitbag defending the status quo.

    I kind of thought I was defending a principle or two, notably that false accusations are to be anathematized, particularly when they come from someone supposedly in the business of promoting “free inquiry”. But “defending the status quo”? That’s a laugh – how do you get from criticizing someone’s judgement to that? And you’re an ignorant twat who’s apparently overdosed on the “feminist” Kool-Aid, or who has a problematic tendency to black-and-white thinking. “Four legs good; two legs bad” – you may wish to read the book that that came from, Orwell’s Animal Farm.

    Leni: It’s also interesting how you fail to extend that generosity you give to Newton.

    It’s ok that Newton is a huge sexist or racist prick, but God fucking forbid anyone else is. Because that would be unfair to you, and we can’t have that.

    How am I supposedly “sexist”? For criticizing a woman? The horror! You might have had a point if I was criticizing her simply because she’s a woman. But I’m not. So you don’t.

    But I’ll concede that Melody has probably done some good work, particularly as someone else in the Pit has defended her for that. However, that is not the point; it is that she’s made a problematic error in judgement and, adding insult to injury, has made an egregiously false accusation of the fairly serious crime of harassment. No shame in making a mistake or two – Lord knows I’ve seriously fucked-up a few times in my career. But the point is to acknowledge that, to take responsibility for it.

  11. 111
    Raging Bee

    The thing is that “it” is not really “gratuitous” – she has, maybe arguably at least to some extent, bought and paid for a substantial amount of the response that she has received.

    She mentioned that she had PTSD, therefore she deserved to have assholes like you picking on her for it? Steersman, you’re just another victim-bashing idiot with nothing to contribute to a grownup conversation.

  12. 112
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  13. 113
    Steersman

    Raging Bee: She mentioned that she had PTSD, therefore she deserved to have assholes like you picking on her for it?

    Where the fuck do you get the evidence to justify that accusation? Out of your nether regions? You might note, if you’re capable of unbiased reading and evaluation which seems rather doubtful, that I’ve rather clearly – and repeatedly – acknowledged that Hensley has been subjected to no small amount of “gratuitous nastiness” and unfair criticism. The problem is that she and you and a great many other “social-justice warriors” have some difficulty differentiating between fair criticism and harassment, between friend and foe.

    Raging Bee: Steersman, you’re just another victim-bashing idiot with nothing to contribute to a grownup conversation.

    Raging Bee, you’re an ignorant dickhead, a proponent of the “my country, right or wrong” “philosophy”; a fellow traveler of Benson with her equally ignorant “connecting ‘virulent’ with ‘feminism’ is misogyny”. Rather remarkable and somewhat amusing, if rather problematic, that Orwell managed to characterize so many of you so well with the above noted aphorism.

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