PTSD: Mind over POP Culture
Guest Post

PTSD: Mind the mental health charity

May 18, 2021
PTSD: Mind over POP Culture by Viplove Bhardwaj

“(PTSD) Post traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”

The term came into being in 1980 as it was added to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. The phenomenon was previously known as shell shock, soldier’s heart, combat fatigue, operational fatigue or war neurosis. If we were to trace its history- we can assume that this phenomenon was very well known, even in the ancient time and was widely written about.

Taking an example of the great classic by Homer, Odyssey was written around 720 bc( 2800 years ago), In this tale of Odysseus, we witness how the trojan war affects the hero. After the victory of troy, it takes him ten years to make it home and when he does, he seems like a totally different person.

As the psychiatrist Jonathan Shay in his analysis of Homer’s Odyssey remarks about the hero- “He is emotionless and blank in the face of his wife’s distress. He mistrusts those around him and is uncomfortable in a crowd. The valid adaptations to danger, which kept Odysseus safe during wartime, have persisted into a time of safety. This is a classic experience of PTSD”

PTSD: Mind over POP Culture

Similarly, we see examples of this “war fatigue” in some works of Indian literature as well. The epic Ramayana was written 5000 years ago and we come across the character of the Marrich who after having a near-death experience starts to exhibit PTSD like symptoms like experiencing the traumatic event of the past.

Now as we have established that this phenomenon has been a part of human lives since the ancient days we may now, move on to how it has been identified in more recent times. The journey of the word associated with it tells the tale of the general perception about it, no one better than George Carlin once put it like this.

“There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum, can’t take any more input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shellshock. Simple, honest, direct language.

Two syllables: shellshock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along, and the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shellshock! Battle fatigue…Korea, 1950.

Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. The war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD: Mind over POP Culture

Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d have still been calling it shellshock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha that. I’ll betcha that.” is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”

The term came into being in 1980 as it was added to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. The phenomenon was previously known as shell shock, soldier’s heart, combat fatigue, operational fatigue or war neurosis.

People with this disorder experience constant fear, stress and anxiety with its roots lying deep in the traumatic experience of the past that they relive through flashbacks, dreams and other external motivations. If we were to trace its history- we can assume that this phenomenon was very well known, even in the ancient time and was widely written about.

Taking an example of the great classic by Homer, Odyssey was written around 720 bc( 2800 years ago), In this tale of Odysseus, we witness how the trojan war affects the hero. After the victory of troy, it takes him ten years to make it home and when he does, he seems like a totally different person. As the psychiatrist Jonathan Shay in his analysis of Homer’s Odyssey remarks about the hero- “He is emotionless and blank in the face of his wife’s distress.

He mistrusts those around him and is uncomfortable in a crowd. The valid adaptations to danger, which kept Odysseus safe during wartime, have persisted into a time of safety. This is a classic experience of PTSD”

Similarly, we see examples of this “war fatigue” in some works of Indian literature as well. The epic Ramayana was written 5000 years ago and we come across the character of the Marrich who after having a near-death experience starts to exhibit PTSD like symptoms like experiencing the traumatic event of the past.

Now as we have established that this phenomenon has been a part of human lives since the ancient days we may now, move on to how it has been identified in recent times like the twentieth century. The journey of the words associated with it tells the tale of the general perception about it. The semantic change associated with this i.e the euphemism, over time themselves become the taboo word…..this euphemism treadmill in context with what we identify today as PTSD was criticised was George Carlin in one of his comic performances as follows

“There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum, can’t take any more input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shellshock. Simple, honest, direct language.

Two syllables: shellshock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along, and the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much.

PTSD: Mind over POP Culture

Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shellshock! Battle fatigue…Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

The war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d have still been calling it shellshock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha that. I’ll betcha that.”

We realize how the perception of a thing hinges on the word associated with it. Now, in my opinion, I have furnished my reader with enough background information on the subject so we can tread on a very specific trail of tracing PTSD through the characters of movies and tv series in the more recent times of late twentieth century and early twenty-first century and maybe some none fictional examples too.

Peaky Blinders is a British period crime drama television series created by Steven Knight Set in Birmingham, England, the series follows the exploits of the Shelby crime family in the direct aftermath of the first world war. The story centres on the peaky blinders gang and their ambitious and highly cunning boss Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). In this tv series, we come across the Shelby brothers namely Thomas Shelby, Arthur Shelby and John Shelby. They fought the first world war and nothing was same for them after that.

PTSD: Mind over POP Culture

“In the end, it’s God who pulls that f*cking trigger anyway. We don’t get to decide who lives and who dies, Finn. Not us. You just have to flick a switch.” 

Arthur Shelby says these line to his little brother Finn and this quote mentioned above may sound very vague to conclude something but when we examine this quite in the light of PTSD we find the agony and pain the war has inflicted on the psyche of this human. We see the pain experienced by someone who seems have gone to many dates with death.

“The one minute. The soldier’s minute. In a battle, that’s all you get. One minute of everything at once. And anything before is nothing. Everything after, nothing. Nothing in comparison to that one minute.”

Thomas Shelby– Here we see what view of war Tommy has, who before the war was an ambitious socialist revolutionary turned to a cunning capitalist mob boss after the war.

The show greatly focuses on how differently the disorder can manifest in different characters who survived the war. Fictional characters with PTSD are often characterized as people who are meek and beings of poor emotional strength like the character of Septimius Warren Smith in Virginia Woolf ‘s Mrs. Dalloway seldom do the creators of art undertake the exploration of characters who are bound to fits of rage and experience different manifestations of the illness.

As we get to know the character of Thomas Shelby whose job during the war was to dig tunnels, we find how traumatizing the war has been for him that in the end, all he is left with is numbness and an eternal situation to be in a battle.

During the war, Thomas was in an everlasting situation of fight and flight with the two worst possibilities of either being buried alive if the tunnel collapsed or being attacked by some German tunneler and be buried dead both of which he had escaped. It sounds like a horror movie to experience all of this and then to live with all the memories of it. Hence, the emotionlessness and constant urge to fight to be alive in Tommy ‘s character can be justified.

Written By: Viplove Bhardwaj

Hey everyone, this is Viplove Bhardwaj. I hope you like it. I thank “That Amusing Girl” for giving me this opportunity. Do leave comments if you like it and I will reply soon.

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