A recent New York Times (Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010) review of Dani Shapiro’s new memoir, Devotion, underscores the general insensitivity and lack of understanding of trauma. Here is the link to the review:
The book captures Shapiro’s discontent, despite the fact that her life is going well: After two failed marriages, she has a husband she adores; her ill son now is recovered; she has a beautiful home and undiminished beauty.
Still, the reviewer Judith Newman writes, “She is a wreck. She wants to know why. So do we.”
Newman quotes Shapiro’s statements that she is as anxious as the days after 9/11, when she picked up her family and fled to rural Connecticut. “Deep within my body, the past is still alive,” Shapiro writes. “Everything that has ever happened keeps happening.” Later, the reviewer quotes Shapiro’s statement: “I was still shivering in the shadow of Jacob’s illness…I had trouble trusting that it was really over.”
Readers of this blog will immediately recognize that these statements ring with tell-tale signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD is rooted in exposure earlier in life to extremely stressful life-threatening experiences. For healthy people, memories are recalled as stories that change over time and do not evoke intense emotions and sensations. But those who suffer with PTSD relive the experience in the present and feel as if the trauma is happening all over again.
“I couldn’t help wishing that two years of spiritual searching would bring her out of her funk,” Newman impatiently writes, “that perhaps I could lead her to the Congregation of Cher, where instead of everyone chanting ‘Amen,’ they’d shout: Snap out of it!”
If only it were that simple.