Last Saturday, after a leisurely morning allowed for a colossal cup of tea along side a well-plated brunch, with a phone call first from my mother and then my daughter, I took to town with a list of errands. Today was the day to do what I never get to, like swinging by the jeweler’s to have my diamond cleaned and inspected, or sifting through the writer magazines at Barnes & Nobles to make notes on upcoming contests and submission deadlines. You know the kinds of things you do when life seems to be riding a straight line. But driving between Healthy Living and the next on my list I had a NPR moment… when your errands are put on hold or cancelled all together because you are captive in your car, essentially trapped by story.
Ed Gavagan, one of the Saturday guests on The Moth, was retelling the years immediately after being nearly stabbed to death by a gang of teens. Through his painful narrative we learned how this attack affected him so deeply that he consequently lost his job and his home, all the while acutely suffering from PTSD. His story got me, I mean really got me. I sat spellbound to every word, but it was late and shops were closing, so I redirected back to my errands and tried to turn off the anguish as I left my car. But later that evening I was flooded again with trauma, for every station was working overtime with news of the release of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who, after years in captivity, had just made their life-saving escape. Minute by minute networks were scratching every possible source to uncover the secrets that bound these women to their hell in that house in Cleveland… Quickly, through the 24/7 media blitz, their joyous release was overshadowed with far more tantalizing tidbits of their nightmarish existence.
It was then that I linked the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) story which I heard earlier on NPR, to many of the horrific experiences people face in our world. (Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you’ve seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death). At that moment I questioned whether our media, our music industry and video games, our mainstream movies and TV dramas, even our newspaper rags and glossy magazines only amplify our sense of fear? Does the brutality that haunts our everyday lives in the form of entertainment cause us to experience some level of PTSD? And what of those who stand in harms way day after day, how are they faring with our culturally accepted terror as amusement?
According to a recent USA Today article, “Government and private researchers estimate that PTSD is present in 5%-20% of the 1.6 million veterans who served since 9/11. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which has treated about 56% of those veterans, reports 117,000 diagnosed cases. Even among those who have the disorder, their conditions are no better or worse than the estimated 7.7 million Americans suffering from the illness as the result of non-combat trauma, such as car accidents or sexual assault.” With further investigation I found the information connecting our Veterans and PTSD grim:
- 8 veterans commit suicide each day. 126 each week. 6,552 each year.
- PTSD can often lead to alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.
- Soldiers with PTSD are more likely to be divorced, be a single parent or become homeless.
- 200,000 veterans go homeless each night. 45% suffer from PTSD or mental illness.
- Many women suffer from PTSD, but fewer receive help because they weren’t in “direct combat”.
- Female service members also experience PTSD from sexual trauma while in service. (Expedia Balance)
Sadly, once home, our troops still face tremendous battles. Our troops need to come home to safety; don’t we owe them that?
As I continued to read more about PTSD I uncovered the most unsettling fact of all: just hearing about a traumatic event can cause a person to experience PTSD symptoms (anxiety, sleep disturbances or depression). Nightly we are attacked by graphic and violent images on small and large screens in our living rooms, through virtually every film coming out of Hollywood, and our news broadcast shows are no different. We appear to be a world thirsty for gore. Yet, the stark pain I heard in Ed Gavagan’s voice screams for a different response. In his story he recalled three responses that he was given shortly after his attack, all from well-meaning folks, advice that proved ineffective at best.
- “Everything happens for a reason”
- “You’ve just got to get over it”
- “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
Seems to me this advice only proves the point that not only have we become a nation of insensitive bullies, we don’t know how to heal those who fall victim around us.
I don’t care about the NRA-lobbied-Senate debate on gun control or ammo-rounds, I only want to return this world to safety. For our children, for ourselves, for real. If it means laying down our weapons, if it means spending money on education, if it means our churches shift from being anti-abortion to supporting the living, if it means truly addressing the abject poverty strangling the majority of the world’s population, if it means we each lend a hand to those struggling in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, no matter the measures, so be it. We need to create a safe world. From what I can gather curing PTSD is impossible unless a person is removed from their traumatic environment, and therefore can heal in a safe place. Can we even imagine that world? Is that possible as long as violence is the game that drives us?
Can we instead, like these brave few, this Ed Gavagan, who fought the odds to love and live anew, or the courageous women who broke free from their monstrous servitude, can we too rescue ourselves? Perhaps, if we celebrate the heroics rather than the barbaric…