“Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story” By Mac McClellan

At once a memoir, a cockeyed romance, a reporter’s travelogue, and a clinical case study, Irritable Hearts will provide great consolation to others who suffer from PTSD—and McClelland’s resilience and determination will resonate powerfully even with those who don’t. Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety

Journalist Mac McClelland‘s new memoir, Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, represents the taking on of “perhaps her most harrowing assignment to date: investigating the damage in her own mind and repairing her broken psyche.”

The author had covered the devastation following the Haiti earthquake of 2010. She’d seen the effects of unspeakable horrors, for example the incidence of brutal rape—and she’d been “threatened herself with sexual violence” (Ms. Magazine).

Sonia Faleiro, New York Times: “McClelland learned she had post-­traumatic stress disorder only hours after her return to San Francisco from Haiti…She ­quickly came to understand the true cost of working in a zone of catastrophic hardship — even those who are not directly ­affected are damaged. She was blindsided by nightmares and flashbacks and ‘changes in self-perception’.”

How did McClellan deal with her PTSD diagnosis? She tells Ian Gordon, Mother Jones, she was unprepared partly because she didn’t associate her kind of experiences with PTSD.

I was very resistant to it, because it sounded absolutely ridiculous. I was in counseling and was subsequently in more counseling, and I had my general practitioner prescribing me Ativan and all of these people were like, ‘PTSD!’ I mean, eventually I had to accept that it was true…
And part of my shock about it was one of the bigger problems because I had the symptoms, but then I had my reaction to the symptoms, which was that I was completely freaking out. I was so freaked out by my own self, like all the time. It’s one thing to be crying and then you’re sad. But it’s another thing to be panicking about the fact that you’re crying at the same time. And then you’re doing both, and that sort of snowballs…

What about her therapy? Faleiro writes that therapy, yoga, and a new love affair with a man, Nico, she’d met in Haiti failed to help at first. “In search of answers, McClelland executed an inward dive into her own history, and she shares with readers a pattern of sexual entanglements and infidelities.”

From Laurie AbrahamElle, “…At the recommendation of her therapist, McClelland enlisted a male friend to ‘safely’ reenact the images of sexual violence that had flooded her consciousness, in an effort to free herself from them.”

When McClelland then wrote an article (before Irritable Hearts) about this controversial approach, she received significant backlash, which then interfered with her recovery. “As bad as I was at many various other points throughout this whole process, there was no time that was worse. That was my personal introduction to suicidal thoughts. Before that, those thoughts were completely foreign to me. Even thinking about it now, sometimes it still makes me want to throw up, and that was three and a half years ago now.”

Kirkus Reviews: “As McClelland tried to hang on to her relationship with Nico, she realized that her experiences were representative of a large, undiagnosed demographic of suffering. She discovered that an extensive, therapy-based treatment regimen (involving the examination of every trauma in her past, including the explosive dissolution of her parents’ relationship) allowed her to move forward gradually, into accepting Nico’s impulsive marriage proposal.”

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