(Very mild thematic spoilers for Iron Man 3. The kind that you could basically take from the trailer, rather than the film)
It’s a brave step to give one of The Avengers PTSD. Obviously, it shouldn’t be but any admission of a mental issue in this society is a brave move. Similarly, for any regular person to say they’ve had trouble is just as brave and often just as difficult to express.
When I broke my foot a few years ago, people were all too keen to sympathise and hear my woes. And, of course, my workplace didn’t expect me to go anywhere near the place until I could walk again. How do you explain to someone that you can’t face going into work because your brain feels broken and you haven’t slept properly in a long time, though? You don’t. In my case, you try to plan ahead for the tough times by taking holiday time (in my case, avoiding anniversaries and Father’s Day) and you struggle through the unexpected times. Which is ludicrous.
PTSD is slowly gaining more traction. People are ready to accept it happens to soldiers and understandably so. To a lesser extent, people get that it happens to victims of terrorist attacks and other heinous crimes. The media is still all too happy to say less than a week after such an event that the family of a victim are “still” struggling to come to terms with it. As if the people involved should have figured it all out near instantly, rather than struggle to comprehend the huge and unwanted change to their life. But individuals are getting better at figuring it out, when pushed to.
Ultimately though, it can happen to anyone who has had something unwanted change their entire life forever. Not that anyone will ever talk about it. At a push, it might be discussed over a few drinks, once inhibitions have been lowered, all the less likely, someone might finally open up to a friend and then it all comes out and it turns out both parties have suffered in some way. It’s not like a physical injury though. The sympathy is entirely different and that sense and worry of being fake or overplaying one’s problems is all too apparent. It’s as if we need X-Rays of our brain to prove the problem.
Five years ago, around now, I hardly slept. I couldn’t sleep. The last time I’d gone to sleep thinking the world was an OK place, I woke up to the cries of my mother as my father had just collapsed out of bed. Then, I watched as my mother tried to resuscitate him while I was shouting at the woman at 999 why the ambulance wasn’t here yet as it was obvious my father was dying (I still feel bad for shouting at her. I wasn’t rude. Just desperate for help). I watched as he started fitting, making guttural groaning sounds that were utterly horrendous and like nothing else I’ve ever heard before. Throughout, my mother shouting to him to not leave us, to not die. I left the room when the paramedics got there. I couldn’t face seeing more. I knew it was over, anyway. I retreated to the cat. Hugged him tightly, told him things had just changed hugely but that I’d look after him. Everything did change. Nothing has been the same since that night.
Besides not sleeping because of the worry that something like that would happen again. I suffered from nightmares. Nightmares of exactly what had gone on before. I preferred not to sleep. I’d just watch mindless late night TV instead. I’d quit my job of the time, so it wasn’t like I had anything to get up for.
At some point, my Uncle (a well respected PTSD focused psychologist of all things) suggested to me and my Mum, when we briefly discussed how we were feeling, that we were probably suffering from PTSD. That was it really. It was never discussed further. I don’t blame him. It’s tough to pull out the mental threads of someone close. So I researched it. A lot. I matched mostly everything. Yet, I still felt awkward to ever state it to anyone.
The problem is, it’s just not something that’s discussed openly. It’s tough to talk about for anyone, admittedly. At times, in the past, I’ve found people near desperate to not take in what I’d sometimes like to say. Instead, keen to fob me off and just tell me I should go see a GP or find a counsellor rather than listen. Something that I suspect would never happen if it was just a niggling physical complaint. We might live in an increasingly open and sharing focused society, thanks to the wonders of Facebook and Twitter keeping us informed on every single minor detail in life, but we still don’t like to talk about the big things.
I don’t have as much trouble sleeping now as I did. This past April, I’ve slept very badly, with it having been the anniversary recently. Anxiety dreams have been the main issue, rather than nightmares of what happened. I sleep badly too, when there’s something major bothering me, such as last year when my Mum was ill. But, for the most part, it’s gradually improving. Similarly, I don’t deal with stressful times anywhere near as well as I used to, I’m waiting for the world to come crashing down again, but I’m working on it. I still struggle to ever say I’ve had depressive episodes or suffer from PTSD. There’s always that niggling worry that someone will think I’m being overly dramatic, or that I’m a fraud.
“Nothing’s been the same since New York”, resonates massively with me. I know I’m nothing like the person I was just over 5 years ago. My priorities have changed amongst many other things, much like Tony Stark’s has. And in turn, I notice stuff like the depiction of mental ailments more than I ever did before. While others might feel concern at seeing the weakness of heroes, I’m just pleased to see some humanity to them.
More so than any ‘National Mental Health Awareness Day’ across Facebook where people change their profile picture and pretend to care, it’s things like these depictions in mainstream films that will make people take note. It’s making it normal and OK to struggle to come to terms with things that happen, not something that should be hidden away and not discussed. That can only be a good thing.