|The Evil Hours, by David J. Morris
Narrated by Michael Chamberlain
In this important work, Morris traces the history of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even back into the ancient days. He begins the book with his own experiences with PTSD. He experienced many traumatic events when he was a war journalist in Iraq, most notably “the time he was blown up.” He remembers shortly before, one of the men asked him tentatively “Have you ever been blown up, sir?” Although the rest of the group chastised the man, it was too late. Morris had been “cursed.” When he was “blown up,” one of the men turned to him and yelled “What are you doing here?! We all want to go home and you’re here voluntarily?! What are you doing here?” Morris couldn’t answer that question. He understood that this moment had torn a rift between himself and this angry soldier – because Morris had chosen to put himself in danger. To be honest, I’ve often felt that way about war correspondents. Not that they deserve PTSD, no one deserves that. But if they repeatedly and purposely put themselves in danger, something will eventually happen.
In his book, Morris discusses not only his own PTSD & the history of PTSD, he talks about how PTSD affects the lives of its sufferers. He also discusses the major treatments for PTSD, many of which he has tried out himself. He apparently interviewed quite a few people for the book – at least he claims he did – though those interviews are generally chiseled down into two or three sentence mentions.
One point that Morris brought up about “PTSD” in ancient culture is his suggesting that Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey could be interpreted as allegories for PTSD. This was a fascinating new way to interpret an epic that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about lately (Gilgamesh, of course). The way he interpreted it, travel is good for the war-ravaged brain – seeing new places and having new experiences can release the trauma so that you can eventually return home to your life. I interpret it differently. I say that the voyage itself is in the mind. The voyage itself is the PTSD. Gilgamesh’s desperate hunts for immortality – whether by glory, by physical longevity, or by wisdom – they’re different stages in his growth and healing from a trauma. I’d have to think about it more, but it’s definitely workable.
Morris also had an interesting section on treatments. The first he discussed was one that is highly lauded as the most successful treatment for PTSD: prolonged exposure (PE). In PE, the patient is made to relive his trauma in exact detail over and over. The theory is that after reliving it so many times, the mind becomes immune to the trauma, and is able to move on. This treatment has fantastic success rates. Problem is, the “success rates” of these studies don’t generally include people who drop out of treatment. And most people drop out of treatment because it makes their symptoms worse (at least at first). So is this a highly successful therapy? Or a potentially harmful one? Morris dropped out of PE because he became much, much worse. Morris also tried a form of cognitive behavioral therapy which worked out much better for him – though Morris thought the idea of meshing out his cognitive distortions to be pointless and annoying. Morris also briefly talked about antidepressants. He pointed out that there is no proof that antidepressants have any effect at all on the symptoms of PTSD, but they might help the depression and suicidal ideation that often accompany PTSD.
One thing that disappointed me is that this is not a book about PTSD in general – it is a book about PTSD in military. PTSD is suffered more by women than by men. Most Americans with PTSD are women who have been raped or beaten or otherwise traumatized during a non-war setting. One review I read said “rape is also discussed extensively.” It wasn’t. Rape got a side comment every once in a while – generally in the form of a quote from Alice Sebold’s memoir. However, most of the research on PTSD, and Morris’ own personal experience with PTSD, is military-related, therefore it is understandable that he would focus on military PTSD.
The book also tended to wander and get a bit dull at times. And every once in a while there was a little touch of ignorance that the snobby intellectual will cringe at. Such as saying “as soon as I left PE, my stress almost mathematically declined.” That sentence is meaningless. Every decline can be modeled mathematically. I suppose he meant “exponentially declined.” But…sorry….I know….I’m a snob.
In the end, I thought this was a good book that could have been an amazing book if he had taken that extra step to include womens’ experiences a little more. Women are the majority of the sufferers of PTSD in the US, and a great journalist would certainly have the resources to look into this subject as well.