Writing PSTD in a character, help

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curiouscreature

I don’t have PTSD, and I’m trying to write a character that does. This character has to directly return to the source of trauma, and I want to make them dissociate accurately. How would I do that?
 
It really depends on how you've written their PTSD already. PTSD isn't synonymous with trauma, it is an abnormal and disordered reaction - it represents a change to one's neurophysiology. People can also dissociate due to trauma without having PTSD - dissociation is a common, non-disordered way to cope with trauma.

Dissociation is an umbrella term, but it results in any number of reactions from zoning out, to having sensory information be distorted (changes in vision, hearing, etc) to having the character seem normal but then forget what just happened, to having the character be unable to form speech or thoughts correctly or to having them developmentally regress.

It also depends on what kind of trauma led to the PTSD and their psychiatric profile - are they a soldier going back to visit a friend's grave? They might be more likely to exhibit aggression, such as getting into a bar fight later and attributing it to "some idiot" instead of grief.

This is a more stereotypical, but still quite real, reaction. Obligatory not all PTSD is caused by war and not all veterans are violent. It all very much depends on the circumstances, so to help you be more faithful to the character I would have to know more about how you've written them already and how they actually have PTSD, not just trauma.
 
My advice is: Don't. Write what you know.

Continued advice: Don't come into a PTSD forum as a non-PTSD-haver and ask us to discuss our worst things with you. Self-described "writers" who pop up here from time to time tend to be extremely entitled and unwilling to understand why we might be unhappy discussing the subject with them.

More advice: Google is your friend. Use it.

Final advice: Go away.
 
I have to confess, when I read the title, my first thought was "Oh, THIS is going to be offensive." And it is, kind of. We can't really write your character for you. What to you want to accomplish by having the character dissociate?

To add to what @Weemie said, everyone with PTSD DOESN"T dissociate. My therapist used to tell me he didn't think I could dissociate if I wanted to. (Too hyper-vigilant) "Normal" people dissociate too. Day dreaming, thoughts wandering, etc. If you need the character to lose touch with what's happening in the present and get lost in the past, do some research on what "dissociation" means and it's many forms. It's not going to be the same for everyone and it's not going to be the same going to be the same for one person in every situation. A thing to consider about that "returning to the scene of the trauma" idea. Avoidance is a pretty important symptom too and a lot of people with PTSD would do almost anything to avoid returning to the scene and to anything that remotely resembled the situation. I'm not sure you appreciate how big a deal that might be.

Going back to where I started. Can you see where some random person just popping in to a PTSD forum and asking "Hey, crazy people, tell me what it's like to be crazy so I can use it in what I'm writing?" might be perceived as a bit disrespectful? This is a public forum. Anybody can read most of it. You might want to just look around and get an appreciation for what life is like for people who have PTSD. It's a very real, life altering thing.
 
A thing to consider about that "returning to the scene of the trauma" idea. Avoidance is a pretty important symptom too and a lot of people with PTSD would do almost anything to avoid returning to the scene and to anything that remotely resembled the situation.

Yah, I returned to the scene of my trauma and wound up an agoraphobic, unemployed, drug addicted mess. It f*cked my life up for like 6 years, and I am only just getting back on track. PTSD is a life-long thing - in movies and TV it tends to be shown as time-limited, like "oh, I had PTSD, but now I'm fine." Well, ya didn't have PTSD, you had a normal reaction to crit A (the type of trauma required to get PTSD).

My reaction to this thread is a lot more muted than others', people writing about PTSD and mental illness doesn't really bother me. They're gonna write about it regardless, so representing it faithfully is the next best thing to not writing it at all. If we only wrote what we knew, we wouldn't have a whole lot of fiction out there. Fiction is important to familiarize people with concepts like this in a normalized way, and I'm a writer myself (and I have certainly written about things I don't know first-hand, a lot of my fiction is about war and combat).

One of my favorite authors as a child wrote a story about a character who went through sexual trauma similar to mine, and in the apocrypha she mentioned that she had never experienced this, but had exposure to it through her occupation as a social worker and through stories told to her by coworkers and clients. For me, her personal lack of knowledge was much less important than being able to see someone like me represented in media in a faithful way. So - I get it, but as mentioned above: you should take the time to do the research on your own, and to spend some time in places populated by people who have the disorder.

As opposed to trying to get a snapshot sample based on one or two posts from people who will all have a wildly different interpretation of what PTSD means to them. There are some universalities, but a lot of it is stuff that you would not hear about on television or in a book. Another thing that is important to understand is that someone who develops PTSD from trauma in childhood is going to act differently than someone who acquired it as an adult, because childhood trauma impacts the formation of a person's brain and psyche.

So you might be looking at resources for developmental trauma and CPTSD, versus adult onset PTSD (think, child abuse vs. being incarcerated - and then single-event oriented trauma versus complex, long-term trauma). An adult has a fully formed foundation and sense of themselves, so they have more resources to cope with both trauma and PTSD, whereas a child does not, and often times children go on to develop other issues beyond PTSD, such as personality/behavioral disorders, dissociative disorders (which are separate to PTSD) or things like OCD.
 
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I'm not sure I have any feelings about this at all! But get what others are saying.

You haven't given much there to go on.
Don't know if you are also writing from the PTSD'd character's perspective or the view of another person.

But, agreed. Avoidance is key. So returning to the apurce of the trauma would need to be carefully constructed.
Being emotionally numb might happen. Thinking it's all ok. Only for emotions and behaviours to come out later in another way that might seem unrelated.
Depends how disassociated. How severe. What type. So many variables.

I second reading the forums here and seeing what we say we go through.
I intrigued.

What is it you are writing for? Cause we might like to read it and give it a critique!
 
My primary concern with this as a writer, editor, and authenticity reader, is that the OP is asking for free info. Writers sometimes have to step in other people’s shoes to make their story authentic. Because mental illness is so prevalent, it’s hard not to have aspects of it in a book. But don’t expect people to just give it up for your benefit. Do your research, find a sensitivity reader, hire an editor.
 
My advice is: Don't. Write what you know.

Continued advice: Don't come into a PTSD forum as a non-PTSD-haver and ask us to discuss our worst things with you. Self-described "writers" who pop up here from time to time tend to be extremely entitled and unwilling to understand why we might be unhappy discussing the subject with them.

More advice: Google is your friend. Use it.

Final advice: Go away.
Thanks, I didn’t realize how sensitive it was to ask.
 
Thanks, I didn’t realize how sensitive it was to ask.
Primary sources should NEVER be your first source.

Why?

See below.

(I wrote the following some time ago, to another aspiring author, that you might find useful. I was a bit short with that person, for good reason, but still showed them the respect of giving them resources, and it’s still info every professional writer -regardless of medium- should know by heart, and in their bones.)

@jules0260 “Who better to ask?”

I first started writing for publication when I was about 14.

I learned very early on 2 things;

A)'Never bring up my age until my parents were cosigning on my contracts (let the work stand or fall on it's own. If it's good? It's good. It's not "good for a 14yo".)

B) The rules for journalistic integrity apply to fiction, if anything, even more so than nonfiction. As you're not reporting facts, nor truth, but making up stories surrounding other people's lives. This piece right here? Hardens to the #1 Rule of Fiction = Write What You Know. How you learn that information, if it's not yours to begin with? It's not something you know, but something you want to know? Is as important as how you present it.

So I'm going to hope that you've already learned lesson A, and you're somewhere between the ages of 12-16, and are about to learn lesson B.

Because who better to ask? Primary sources should NEVER be your first source.

Reporters have also been accused of indecency in the process of collecting news, namely that they are overly intrusive in the name of journalistic insensitivity. War correspondent Edward Behr recounts the story of a reporter during the Congo Crisis who walked into a crowd of Belgian evacuees and shouted, "Anyone here been raped and speaks English?"[5]
This is known as the GoldStandard of what not to do. You've just done that ^^^ You've walked into a community of people who have suffered great tragedy & traumas beyond the scope of normal human experience; & blithely started asking questions with no foundation of even minimal research to engender understanding of the issues at hand, preparation, nor sensitivity to the harm your actions may cause. If you're embarrassed by this? Good. Use that to further your own education so you don't make the same mistake again, and build both your own character & ethical bottom line.

Some baseline & beginning reading for you.

SPJ Code of Ethics | Society of Professional Journalists | Improving and protecting journalism since 1909
SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers: Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims | Society of Professional Journalists | Improving and protecting journalism since 1909
The overriding point, however, is that journalists must be responsible both in how they gather and present the information in words and photos. Stories involving grief and victims go to the heart of one of the tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: Minimize harm.
SPJ covers the ethics for the entire range of human experience. For trauma specific ethical guidance? They (and I) very strongly recommend the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Dart Center
Tragedies & Journalists
Ethical Reporting on Traumatised People
The Art of Trauma Reporting: Pulitzer Prize Winners Reflect
ISTSS - Journalism Students Learn Victim Interaction Skills Through Role-Playing
 
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@Weemie now I can see his facial expression when he asks it too, complete lack of self-awareness. He’d definitely be wearing the hat.
"Never ever talk to me about before! This guy is me!"

Heh, but anyway, I digress. I think @Friday hit the nail on the head - when we're writing fiction about sensitive topics, it's important to approach it with integrity. I write a lot of fiction that deals with various forms of trauma, some of which I've experienced and some not. But even those stories, are generally constructed with things that I have actually been exposed to.

As a historical fiction writer, I've taken small bits and pieces from testimonies I have personally gathered from survivors of certain events (for a different purpose, not for the purpose of my story) with their permission. Because it's important to me to ensure that the stories I'm writing are faithful and accurate, and there's a purpose to these stories - while I haven't personally undergone these things, they are part of my heritage and my culture, and I have faced the consequences as a result of intergenerational trauma.

The interview sessions I conducted were for a restoration project here in my province, and I spent a lot of time with a few different people to help them codify their statement succinctly, and with as much power and reverence as they deserved. Two of these people did not speak fluent English, which was why volunteers such as myself were used, to ensure the line between "editor" and "author" was not blurred to a degree that rendered their testimony sensationalistic. I got to know these people, and I consider them my friends.

So for me, sitting down to write a story years later, the things I heard stuck with me, and I could not help but desire to process that through the medium of art. Much like the writer of that story I mentioned above - she may not have been sexually abused, but she did have legitimate exposure to these people, and she used that information to craft a respectful narrative that in the end, had an extremely positive impact. These are individuals who had already consented to having their stories be publicized, so I approached them and asked if it would be OK for me to take a few elements here and there to inject into a fictional character. They consented.

When our society moves farther away from these events in time - and we lose the people who kept these memories as a tapestry of living witness - it gets easier for us to forget history and repeat these mistakes. Fiction is one way to bridge that gap. Writing about a character with PTSD isn't inherently bad, which is why I answered the question - but make sure there is a reason for what you are doing, and that you aren't just writing it as emotional torture porn. This character should have a focus, and a purpose beyond the lens simply being traumatized.

All people who have experienced trauma are multifaceted sentient beings just like you. How would you feel if you were a victim of rape, and someone wrote a story and included a character who was a rape victim just to make things "more interesting" or "more sad"? Who had no other traits beyond "rape victim"? In a way, such things lack respect for the real people who experience these things. Just because it's fiction, doesn't mean it has no real impact. As a piece of art, it exists in the world, and it has the potential to cause benefit or harm.

Fiction is important, it's how we represent the things that happen in life, and work through them. So we want to make sure that we're representing trauma and its effects as accurately as possible, and to humanize these characters - because one thing trauma is very good at, in our lives, is dehumanizing us. That's where you are going to see a lot of people react with suspicion and anger. I lack these responses because of my trauma, so it did not affect me, but that is why it affected others.
 
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