Since 1966, I have lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And, after all these years, I now have learned firsthand the difficult decision many people with mental illness face when considering making their mental illness known to others.
Two years ago, I began a journal about my experience with PTSD and, using it as a centerpiece, I recently completed what I hoped would be an informative book to help others with PTSD. But right before publishing it, I decided against doing it.
First, a definition: The National Institute of Mental Health states PTSD is an anxiety disorder developing “after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened,” such as with a violent personal assault, accident, disaster or military combat. “People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb.”
Several symptoms of many include sleep problems, feeling detached or numb, or being easily startled.
It has been mentioned a lot in the media because hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have returned with it. They just aren’t the same person as before.
Although I don’t like admitting this about myself, I initially decided against publishing because most people still look down on people with a mental illness. It carries a stigma. In deciding, I had to think through how others would treat me and if I could be hurting my clients outside this column, my family, and career.
PTSD itself doesn’t carry a social stigma, but what I did in this potential book, besides offering information about PTSD and raising awareness, was put my PTSD-related experiences and thoughts down on paper exactly as they occurred. People with PTSD have to work through irrational anxieties. In fact, I wrote several times that if people read what I wrote they’d think I was “nuts.”
In that vein, people in American society perceived as “nuts” often get marginalized into a special category where everything the affected person says going forward becomes tainted with their being “nuts.” I wish I lived in a more accepting culture where a person with a mental illness was viewed the same as, for example, a person with a physical illness.
And yet after initially deciding against it, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll publish this book after all. More on this in a future column..