Jan 17

“Fearless”: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

It’s been about 30 years since the movie Fearless (1993) first took flight. Fearless was adapted for the big screen from the novel by Rafael Yglesias (who also wrote the script) and was directed by Peter Weir. It offers a cinematic view of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that’s pretty realistic and definitely worth seeing.

A 2016 study, among others listed here, found “that health care providers need to be aware that survivors may be at risk for PTSD or depression, regardless of the objective severity of their physical injuries” (PubMed).

What we know in the beginning of Fearless is that a commercial airplane is about to crash. In the final moments before it happens, married architect Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), a passenger with a fear of flying, seems to accept his imminent demise and turns toward comforting others. When he actually survives the disaster, he’s in total shock and disbelief.

Post-crash, Max is changed big-time. While now feeling personally invulnerable and godlike, he’s also emotionally distant from everyone and everything from his former life.

Are his changes related to PTSD? David J. Morris, author of The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, declared in 2018 that “the best movie about PTSD isn’t about war,” it’s this one. From TaskandPurpose:

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Fearless is its systematic demolition of virtually every PTSD cliché. It’s almost as if the filmmakers went through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the bible of psychiatry) and looked for ways to subvert the modern medical view of post-traumatic recovery.

The airline provides Max with a psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Perlman (John Turturro). Although he specializes in PTSD, he ultimately feels unable to get through to Max.

Perlman decides, therefore, to pair Max with another survivor, severely depressed and guilt-ridden Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez), whose infant son died in the crash. He explains this to Carla’s husband:

Dr. Bill Perlman: He and your wife are the only survivors I can’t reach. She won’t talk and he won’t admit the crash was bad.
Manny Rodrigo: Is that right? He says it was good?
Dr. Bill Perlman: Says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

While Max tries to help Carla, he also continually exhibits highly risky behavior and in one situation places her in harm’s way as well. Other life changes: “He’s robotic in his unfiltered truth telling. He’s burdened with nightmares and flashbacks, which his ‘invincibility’ barely masks. He’s stopped working productively as an architect, obsessed instead with visually recreating the ‘divine light’ he saw mid-trauma. His intense rapport with Carla and Byron has displaced attention to his own wife and son” (Lincoln Andrews, OnlySky.media).

Ultimately, Max and Carla build a strong friendship, each helping the other heal. And Max starts to learn that miraculously making it through one life-threatening and devastating experience doesn’t mean he can live the rest of his life fearlessly.

Mar 10

“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.”