Men Without Scars

This morning I listened to a radio interview of an author who’s written three or four novels around characters who suffer with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from having experienced such traumas as deadly floods, school shootings and childhood abuse.

Being man who has dealt with PTSD most of my life, I expected the interview to be enlightening and helpful. Instead the author’s words led me toward a familiar feeling of depressed isolation, when once again, my specific situation was ignored completely. I briefly wanted to abandon the writing of my own novel, which helps readers live inside the mind of a boy during the onset of PTSD, because the author left me abruptly ashamed again of being who I am because of my lifetime struggle with PTSD. Once again I didn’t fit the social mold of who is allowed to get help and who must quietly suffer in silence. Do I truly have the right to process my feelings? (I’ll grant this author the immunity of anonymity for anything he said that may have led me to grief, because his work has done a lot of good for a lot of women over many years).

His characters are men and women who’ve seen inhumane suffering, contracted traumatic brain damage from it, and then gone on to interact with each other in unhealthy ways. Very realistic. The problem is that his male sufferers contracted PTSD from exciting, violent crashes, and his women from being sexually or mentally abused as girls. In his interview, he referred to only one male character that’d been sexually assaulted as a boy. Guess who that character grew up to be; none other than the pedophile who gave PTSD to the main character when she was a girl.

Is this a fair message to send to the unknown number of men in our world today who have seen no warfare, weren’t beaten to a bloody pulp by an alcoholic stepfather and have never watched six people burn in a fiery plane crash, but who still find themselves in the grip of lifelong traumatic responses? Is a victim of childhood mob-bullying only able to suffer PTSD if she was a girl, but not if he was a boy? By glancing over the top few websites that come up in a casual search, the men who’ve survived are given little excuse for their uncontrolled bouts with depression, self-destructive actions or for quietly drinking themselves to sleep each night. Women are emotionally traumatized and qualify for help, but men are weak and need to man up. Since help is not available to them, they suffer in shame.

Google searches on PTSD in general bring a lot of hits for women molested as girls and men who were soldiers. A quick Google search of “Men molested as boys” yields a nice selection of information about the negative emotional effects on them, but the highest hitting sites that caught my own eye make no mention whatsoever of PTSD. A quick Google search of “Men with PTSD” brings up a fair number of military-centric sites. I opened an article from a recovery facility in which they posted reasons why men don’t get PTSD like women do. They said it was because men have less hormones than women, and because men don’t have emotions like women. Personally, I wonder how many men just don’t know they have it—or worse—they’re afraid of being targeted or written into a book as a pedophile. And if the recovery site was correct, that less men are prone to PTSD from mental, emotional and sexual abuse, then who’s speaking for those few who do?

By the glaring lack of information, it seems that unless there was gunfire, there’s nothing that can be medically wrong with men. They can call themselves depressed, overly-emotional, addictive-personality, wired-too-tight, day-dreamers, unable to trust others, or to handle daily stress. But what do they call their dissociative trances, illogical fears, flashbacks or nightmares? Again, these are the men with no bruises or stories of hearing the screams from within their sinking ship. Women’s voices are more quickly heard by media and writers who don’t need to see scars. But then—according the research, women have emotions.

I Dreamed I Was Alive – By James F Johnson

The prince lay still. Asleep beneath a layer of plush, silk quilts. The glow of a warm fire dances on the walls. The quilts gently rise and ebb with his steady breath. Beside his large bed sets an ancient, sturdy wooden chair easily supporting the weight of his formidable Father, the King. Strong. Compassionate. Fair. His Father waits, holding the limp fingers of the boy whose face shares outlines of His own.

The King’s eyes watch the closed lids of His slumbering child. He moves not a muscle and listens only to their synchronized breaths and the fire’s occasional crackle. Every minute or so, He gently utters words, “Wake up my son. I love you. It’s Dad. Wake up.”

The son is dreaming. He’s in a place where he can’t find his Father. During parts of this dream, he believes he’s being chased by animals and can’t lose them. In this dream he calls out for his Father to protect but can’t find Him. Meanwhile, that Father, detecting panic, leans closer and whispers again, “Wake up, my Son. Nothing can hurt you. Just open your eyes. I’m right here.”

The son can’t hear his Father’s words because the dream is noisy. Inside his mind are jetliners overhead, fire engines in the streets, barking dogs next door and people arguing over nothing on television news. Each time he solves a problem a new one crops up. He’s distracted by a demanding job, worries about the children he’s dreamt of having, and whose struggles are breaking his heart. He can’t sense the stillness in the room he’s sleeping in. He can’t hear the still, small voice of his Father’s whisper, now leaning only inches from his panicked face. “Wake up my son. I love you. It’s Dad. None of it is real. I’m right here.”

In the dream, he grows increasingly frustrated at his Father’s refusal to come to his aid and who doesn’t seem to hold to any of his promises to “always be there for him.” Has he offended the King? Is his Father real or not? If He’s so “loving” why doesn’t He intervene and make this dream more pleasant?

Sometimes the prince calms enough to wonder if maybe this really is a dream. Once he turned on a thug in chase and yelled, “Stop right there! This is MY dream, GO AWAY!” And it worked. The thug vanished. The son had performed a miracle. He tried to perform more of them but the dream became noisy again and he dreamt instead of losing his job. The worry brought him back into the illusion. How will he dream of eating food without an imagined job? His Father, all the while, remains at his side gently caressing a shoulder, whispering again, “Wake up my son. You’re in the Kingdom. Everything I have is yours. I love you. It’s Dad. Wake up.”

The wise King knows not to awaken the boy too violently, because the dream is so real to him that waking up and seeing his Father’s face won’t make sense and he’ll close his eyes and fall back into another dream. So the King continues to whisper words of peace and Love. He knows that subconsciously, his son, at times, will quiet down enough to hear the still, small voice reminding him that he can let go the fantasies of noise and strife and anger and hatred—he can completely forgive every person in the dream. No one’s really done anything wrong. Every person really is a part of himself. The King is patient and will sit and whisper for as long as it takes. When his son one day tunes in with his Father’s voice, that son will simply open his eyes, see his Father and smile.