Just as polio loomed over the 1950s and AIDS stalked the 1980s and 1990s, post-traumatic stress disorder haunts us in the early years of the 21st century. Over a decade into the United States' "global war on terror", PTSD afflicts as many as 30 percent of the conflict's veterans. But the disorder's reach extends far beyond the armed forces. In total, some 27 million Americans are believed to be PTSD survivors. Yet to many of us, the disorder remains shrouded in mystery, secrecy, and shame. Now David J. Morris - a war correspondent, former Marine, and PTSD sufferer himself - presents the essential account of this illness. Through interviews with individuals living with PTSD, forays into the scientific, literary, and cultural history of the illness, and memoir, Morris crafts a moving work that will speak not only to those with the condition and to their loved ones but also to all of us struggling to make sense of an anxious and uncertain time.
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In most lives, there is at least one trauma; i.e. a traumatic experience that imprints a sense of unease, fear, or terror that affirms physical mortality. It may be a near death experience, a car crash, a sexual assault, a natural disaster, or the relentless physical/mental trauma of war.
David Morris is a former marine who served his country in the 1990s, when America is between wars. After four years, Morris resigns his commission and returns to civilian life. Then, 9/11 occurs. America becomes embroiled in Iraq and Morris chooses to become an embedded civilian reporter. That fateful decision leads Morris to a mental dysfunction widely known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the end, Morris suggests PTSD is fundamentally a symptom of time distortion. There is no universal cure but his journey infers that any treatment that makes the sufferer “live-in-the-moment” rather than the past will ameliorate PTSD’s debilitating consequences. Contrary to the desire of the Veterans Administration, Morris infers science will not discover any universal therapy that effectively treats PTSD. Causes are too diverse. However, Morris suggests PTSD has a redeeming quality for some that survive its debilitating symptoms. PTSD’ survival can change the course of one’s life for the better with recognition of humanity’s interconnection and the value of living life well.
As I was driving into work one day on the 5 South, passing the University of California at Irvine that David J. Morris mentions several times in "The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (2015), I heard something in the narration that truly shocked me. Sharp intake of breath, cold running from my hands to my feet, pounding pulse surprise. Morris mentions that some people actually ask veterans if they've killed.
I served on active duty in the US Army from 1982 to 1986, and I'm not one of the few people that saw combat in Granada. My drill instructors were in Vietnam, though, and so were a lot of my senior commanders. Asking that question was the strongest taboo I ever encountered in military life. It simply wasn't done. As soldiers, we collectively understood that trauma belonged to the soldier, to be shared by choice. And if a soldier chose to share, you listened attentively, you learned, and you were grateful.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn't a new condition, although the term is. Morris traces its scientific, ethical and sociological development - its genealogy, as he calls it. His emphasis is on Western conflicts, especially the American Civil War and World War I, and of course, Vietnam. Morris delves deeply into the moral conflicts that can cause or contribute to PTSD, even after a 'good war' like World War II.
Morris' discussion of treatments for the disorder is both fascinating and horrifying. He has PTSD and has treated for it through the Veterans Administration hospitals. One widely accepted treatment, Prolonged Exposure (PE) left him so debilitated he stopped treatment - but only after breaking a knife blade stabbing his cell phone. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) did help him - and it certainly sounds like most people respond better to that. Medications like Paxil work for some people, but no one is sure why. Morris explores alternative treatments, and it sounds like one in particular works well for a lot of folks: yoga.
Morris doesn't limit his discussion of PTSD to combat veterans. Rape is one cause of trauma he discusses extensively, as well as the difference in PTSD signs, symptoms and treatment between men and women.
"The Evil Hours" is wide ranging and sometimes difficult to follow. Morris jumps from philosophy, history, neurobiology and neuroscience, pharmacology, cultural conditions, technological developments in armaments . . .
It's a difficult listen. It's intellectually challenging, and compelling. I would have done better with it on text, but I wouldn't have been able to sit down and read it for months, or maybe even years. I found myself wanting to tell Morris to slow down and explore his ideas in more depth, but I realized that he's set down a guide for what could be his life's work, and will guide researchers interested in PTSD for years.
This is another Audible I wish had a true Table of Contents, so here it is (with thanks to Villanova's on line library) Audible 1 - Introduction; Audible 2 - The warning; Audible 3 - Saydia; Audible 4 - In terror's shadow; Audible 5 - Toward a genealogy of trauma; Audible 6 - The haunted mind; Audible 7 - Modern trauma; Audible 8 - Therapy; Audible 9 - Drugs; Audible 10 - Alternatives; Audible 11 - Growth; Audible 12 -Counterfactuals; and Audible 13 - Epilogue.
I wasn't that wild about the book as an Audible, and it could have used an edit. It tended to meander and get repetitive. I am giving it 5's because the importance of the work makes up for an occasional lack of focus or an obscure point. Giving it any less would make me feel like I'm devaluing a landmark.
The title of the review is from Siegfried Sassoon's "The War Poems."
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