We know it’s bad… when it happens to a white woman
CNN featured the story of Michele Cross, a University of Chicago student who was diagnosed with PTSD after she returned from her studies in India. CNN and other news outlets who discussed the story never failed to mention that Cross was a “fair-skinned, red haired” woman, as opposed, one assumed, to all thosee dark-skinned, dark-haired Indian women who inhabit the continent. The story Cross originally told in a CNN iReport under the screen name of RoseChasm” rack[ed] up more than 800,000 page views” within 3 days of publication. Could it be because Cross herself emphasized her whiteness, her hair color, her blue eyes in a short piece of dramatic prose, full of florid passages like the following:
There was no way to prepare for the eyes, the eyes that every day stared with such entitlement at my body, with no change of expression whether I met their gaze or not. Walking to the fruit seller’s or the tailer’s I got stares so sharp that they sliced away bits of me piece by piece. I was prepared for my actions to be taken as sex signals; I was not prepared to understand that there were no sex signals, only women’s bodies to be taken, or hidden away.
I covered up, but I did not hide. And so I was taken, by eye after eye, picture after picture. Who knows how many photos there are of me in India, or on the internet: photos of me walking, cursing, flipping people off. Who knows how many strangers have used my image as pornography, and those of my friends. I deleted my fair share, but it was a drop in the ocean– I had no chance of taking back everything they took.
If everything Ms. Cross says is true, she endured a level of harassment that was awful. And of course no woman should have to put up with that. But I find it incredible that in all her description, she did not find it in her heart, even once, to mention what daily life must be like for Indian women, who have been in the streets protesting a campaign of murder and rape waged against them by their countrymen. A “South Asian Studies” scholar, Cross did not for a moment contextualize her own suffering — nope, this was all about her. And the public ate it up—this story of a white woman pawed by native men. Though Cross claims she is not the only UC student who experienced this harassment, at least one other woman on the trip attempted to counter the tone of Cross’s narrative. Katherine Stewart, a black UC student, confirms that there were attacks on women in the program, but takes issue with—what she tactfully does not say outright—the racism evident in Cross’s response. Stewart wrote:
RoseChasm does not address the fact that there are warm and honest men in India. When we do not make the distinction that only some men of a population commit a crime, we develop a stereotype for an entire population. And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism….
I understand RoseChasm’s pain, and I too had a hard time readjusting to life in America after my experience in India. I truly hope for her to be well again, but I will not sit back and allow the image of India’s men to be tarnished by an article that does not articulate other sides to India. I experienced love, excitement, and awe in India. And while I did experience unacceptable harassment, I know that my ability to not generalize a population will allow people to see that we must find another way to deal with this issue.
You can bet Stewart didn’t get 800,000 hits in three days.
You’re all whiners… or maybe not
Psychologist Michael J. Hurd (Ph.D., LCSW) rants on delmarvaNow!com about the lack of definition of “trauma.” This pretty much sums it up: “Our government and educated intellectuals (psychiatrists included) have frankly turned many of us into a bunch of babies.” His “argument” seems to be that if psychiatrists didn’t go around inventing ridiculous diseases, we wouldn’t have them. Just makes you want to jump up and run to his office for therapy, doesn’t it?
On the other side of the spectrum is Michael Pond, a therapist who works with First Nations patients in British Columbia. He thinks it’s a good thing that the diagnosis is now “pervasive”:
And before anyone rolls their eyes derisively, according to the updated criteria for the illness in the new DSM 5, the bible of psychiatry, it’s very likely the diagnosis is correct.
I treat a lot of First Nations people for addictions, depression, anxiety and aggression. But the more they reveal the extent of the horror they experienced in residential schools, the more obvious it is to me that my clients actually suffer from PTSD, and all the other problems are symptoms of it.
The pervasiveness of the condition, Pond argues, will help us take the victims of violence more seriously.
Making money off of war…
HeroBracelets.org (don’t let the “org” fool you — it’s a commercial endeavor) was founded by Chris Great, an advertising executive who speicalizes brand development, marketing and entrepreneurship. His company markets commemorative bracelets to soldiers and their families for prices ranging from $14 to $134.50, says it donates $2/bracelet to “military support organizations.” One of these organizations is the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (where do they get these names?), to which they recently donated $150,000 in bracelet money (which means they sold at lest 75,000 bracelets, at, say, an average price of $25, which totals to something around $7.5 million earned from soldiers and veterans and families. IFHF raised money to build a treatment center for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) on the Navy Campus of Bethesday, as well as other centers for treatment and study of TBI. We’re talking big, big bucks here — these centers can cost upwards of $50 million, so HeroBracelets.org’s $150,000 is a drop in the bucket. But Herobracelets has certainly used this as a PR opportunity, marketing its bracelets as a way to “support our military”:
HeroBracelets.org gives them an opportunity to spread awareness by wearing their bracelet, and it allows them to make a financial contribution to a charity of their choice.” said Christopher and Loree Greta, founders of HeroBracelets.org. “$2 per bracelet may not seem like much, but it has certainly added up – and $150,000 later, it’s allowed us and our customers to make a difference for the thousands of service members and their families who rely on Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the NICoE Centers for treatment of their invisible wounds.
$2/bracelet. Doesn’t seem like much to do for our veterans, does it. Especially when it’s them and their families forking over the money in the first place.
It’s rare that clinical studies include PTSD with comorbid disorders, so it was nice to see this August 7 randomized clinical trial on Naltrexone and Prolonged Exposure Therapy in patients with both PTSD and alcohol dependence. It’s tough to do a double-blind study for psychological interventions, since therapists need to be trained in the methods they use. Thus, this was a single-blind study, meaning the patients did not know whether whether they were receiving the medication or a sugar pill, and did not know if they were receiving Exposure Therapy (ET) or supportive counseling (SC). As usual, symptom severity was the measure of success, along with the Alcohol Craving scale: were symptoms and drinking days reduced more by the naltroxene or the Exposure Therapy or by both in combination? The group they studied was mostly between 36-43 years old, about 66% male, and the majority of subjects were black. (An odd note here — blacks made up 70-75% of those given ET+Naltrexone and ET+Placebo, but only 50-60% of those given SC+Naltrexone and SC+Placebo.) Also unusual is the fact that combat vets made up only about 15% of the study group. The predominant traumas were sexual assault and physical assault. Like many other surveys, this one found that there was no significant difference between the effectiveness of Exposure Therapy and supportive counseling, and PTSD symptoms did not decrease significantly in any of the combinations. The study found that the patients prescribed naltrexone drank less often. The best they could say about Exposure Therapy is that it “was not associated with an exacerbation of alcohol use disorder.” That’s a good thing to know about one of the most frequently prescribed talk therapies for PTSD: at least it doesn’t make it worse.
Veteran Doug Setter, and his colleagues Linh Lai and Dave Iten are doing a “four-mile open water relay swim across Bellingham Bay [WA] in honour of American and Canadian servicemen that lost their lives to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Along with other military stressors, Setter blames “the public’s [negative] perception of soldiers” for some of the stress veterans feel when they return home. It’s not clear what the swim is designed to do except “honour soldiers who killed themselves because of PTSD” and “shine a light on the challenges soldiers face with their duty is done.” The swim is named after a local veteran who committed suicide after a tour in Iraq.
War on Film
Steven Grayhm of Astoria Film Co.(Los Angeles) is trying to raise $750,000 on Kickstarter to fund Thunder Road, a film based on a story told to him by Iraq war veteran Nick Carbonell, who witnessed the death of his best friend on a nighttime operation in Iraq. From the Kickstarter site:
Thunder Road is the story of returning U.S. soldier SGT. CALVIN COLE (played by Steven) whom we meet in present day Detroit as a troubled veteran who suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and tbi (Traumatic Brain Injury) from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Initially resistant to the VA system COLE must find a way to assimilate back into civilian life before he ends up dead or in prison.
Through his rekindled friendship with his estranged childhood friend PFC. DARRYL SPARKS (played by Matt) who he served on the “buddy system” with and his newly formed relationship with a doctor at the VA Medical Center, COLE finds redemption and salvation through sharing his captivating experience as a combat infantryman. The film also explores the psychological repercussions of war and seeks answers to the growing epidemic of PTSD and tbi in returning soldiers.
A pretty predictable plot trajectory, and certain one right out of the mainstream pop culture representations of PTSD: damaged warrior helped back to health by a wise VA therapist, finds redemption in sharing his story of trauma. A report on its quality will have to wait until the film is made, but I don’t hold much hope it’ll be groundbreaking. I’m sick of films that imply that the only two choices choices facing a vet with active PTSD are either winding up dead or in prison. The vast majority of people with PTSD continue on with their lives, dealing as best they can, and commit neither crimes nor suicide.
This notion that sharing a trauma is an end in itself is very popular, despite the fact that thousands of such stories have been shared by traumatized soldiers, and that there’s no evidence that simply sharing these stories actually contributes to improved reintegration or happiness. Trauma survivors who make a practice of telling and retelling their stories, particularly for public consumption, over many years, rarely seem to move beyond the trauma of war. It cheers the public up to see stories in which an earnest vet, traumatized in war, regains his ability to connect with his emotions and with his significant others, and it’s even better if he then shoulders the burden of dealing with other vets like himself. But that’s a rarity — the vast majority of vets who are treated for PTSD by the VA are still under treatment four years later. If there is “healing,” it’s a slow process and conclusion is far from assured. And one reason that it’s such a slow path to recovery might be that the public taste for trauma narratives does not seem connected to the public’s interest in ending the circumstances that cause trauma.
And the inevitable PTSD Diagnosis by Media section…
The L.A. Times says that journalist Michael Hastings “may have suffered PTSD from work as a war journalist.” Hastings died in a single-car accident, and in such cases there’s often speculation that the crash was a form of suicide. Despite the claim of journalists Richard Winton and Andrew Blankenstein, the coroner’s report seems to contain no evidence at all that PTSD had anything to do with Hasting’s death. Hastings may well have had PTSD, given his experiences in the war, and he may have said that he used medical marijuana to treat PTSD, but that’s a far cry from PTSD causing a suicide. Perhaps the L.A. Times journalists confused the coroner’s comment that Hastings had died of “traumatic injuries,” with “post-traumatic stress disorder,” contemporary journalistic standards being what they are.