Every war story is a ghost story. -Iraq veteran
PTSD is a disease of time. -Allan Young, anthropologist, McGill University
Why A Book About Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD seems to be everywhere these days. Who's got it? What is it? Is it contagious? Does Batman have it? What about John Goodman's character from "The Big Lebowski"?
Jokes aside, PTSD is a serious mental health condition that affects approximately 15% of all combat veterans and almost half of all rape victims. An estimated 8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. That's 25 million people. And yet, there is no one book that captures the extensive history, science and personal experience of post-traumatic stress.
The Evil Hours Project
I've been interviewing PTSD experts from all over the world for a year now. I have recorded over 100 hours of interviews with combat veterans, rape victims, tsunami survivors, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, social workers, historians, mountaineers, political refugees, poets and philosophers. Drawing on my own experiences as a Marine and reporter in Iraq, my goal is to write a book that addresses the questions: What does it mean to survive? What does it mean to be haunted?
PTSD is one of the defining disorders of our time and there are tens of thousands of people in the US who study and treat it. And yet, PTSD remains an enigma. As pioneering trauma theorist Jonathan Shay puts it, "PTSD can unfortunately mimic almost any condition in psychiatry."
Who is David Morris?
I’m a San Diego-based writer, teacher and photographer. I'm also a former Marine officer and from 2004-7, I reported from Iraq for a number of news organizations including Salon, PBS Newshour and the Virginia Quarterly Review. In Iraq, I spent months in some of the deadliest, most-contested areas of the country, places like Fallujah, Haditha, and the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. In 2006, I was one of the first reporters the US military allowed into Ramadi, a town that was described as "the Chernobyl of the insurgency."
I've also written for Slate, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy and The Surfer's Journal. I've received writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The MacDowell Colony, The Norman Mailer Writers Colony, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
I first got interested in PTSD when I read a newspaper article about how some Iraq veterans felt "poisoned" by the war, as if it had fundamentally altered their existential position in the world. I am fascinated by this moral component of survivorship—how events in life can freeze us in time, seeming to render us unfit for the everyday world. This is essentially the same question confronted by Ishmael at the end of Moby Dick, as he looks out on the vast sea from Queequeg's coffin: How does one live in the aftermath of the impossible?
Here is a story I wrote that was included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology, edited by Dave Eggers.
So wait, aren't there already like a million books about PTSD?
Yep, in fact, there are a lot of PTSD books out there, but most of them zero in on one specific area of traumatic stress, e.g. an exciting new treatment, or one person's journey through it. PTSD is a complex condition, and unfortunately, most people who study it are so busy that they don't usually talk with people outside of their individual discipline. Psychiatrists don't talk to historians, victims’ advocates don't talk to poets, neuroscientists don't talk to Afghanistan veterans. My goal with The Evil Hours is to bring all these voices together in a single volume and show more fully what PTSD is—what causes it, what it's like to live with it, and how it changes what we know about human identity.
One of the little known facts about PTSD is that it wasn't acknowledged by psychiatry until 1980. The fight to have it officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association was the culmination of a decade-long campaign by a group of anti-Vietnam War veterans and activist psychiatrists. This group—Vietnam Veterans Against the War—fought against widespread criticism from veterans of other wars and the Nixon administration, which mounted an intensive surveillance and intimidation campaign against them. Drawing on new information gleaned from interviews and the archives of the Nixon Presidential library, The Evil Hours will tell their story for the first time.
Since 1980, scientific research into post-traumatic stress has exploded and our understanding of what causes it and how to treat it has grown exponentially. Today, PTSD has practically become the international lingua franca of human suffering.
The Evil Hours is under contract with Houghton Mifflin, a US publisher, and will be released in Fall 2014.
Wow, this whole thing sounds like a huge downer, why should I contribute?
You should contribute because chances are good that you know someone with PTSD, and a thoughtful, well-researched book on the subject can help to change the conversation. And also because PTSD is everywhere in our culture right now: in our movies, in the way we talk ("Dude, I think I just had a flashback"), in the way we think about stories and time and personhood.
PTSD has always been with us, but with the increased interest and funding generated by the War on Terror, we’re living in a golden age of trauma research, one that our tax dollars pay for and about which the average citizen knows almost nothing. That’s why a book like this is so important right now.
I have completed 80% of the research required to write this book. However, because of the scope of the project and delays in navigating the labyrinth of the Veterans Administration, the fact-finding process has taken longer than I originally anticipated. (As the sister of one Iraq veteran said to me, "Dealing with the VA is like growing orchids.") Your contribution will help me complete The Evil Hours.
Where Will My Money Go?
Your contribution will cover research expenses like travel and lodging, interview transcription, interview tape duplication (archival tapes are incredibly expensive), research book purchases, academic journal subscriptions, marketing, photocopies, office supplies, a scientific proofreader, and my "Friends of the UCSD Library" card privileges. If we raise enough money, I hope to travel to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Conference in Philadelphia in November 2013, and possibly even to Israel to visit with the clinicians at NATAL, the Israeli PTSD nonprofit, and the UN Relief & Works Agency in Gaza.
Selected Quotes from The Evil Hours:
I do not want to take drugs for my nightmares, because I must remain a memorial to my dead friends. -Vietnam veteran
Shell shock. How many a brief bombardment had its long-delayed after-effect in the minds of these survivors, many of whom had looked at their companions and laughed while the inferno did its best to destroy them. Not then was their evil hour, but now; now in the sweating suffocation of nightmare, in paralysis of limbs, in the stammering of dislocated speech. Worst of all, in the disintegration of those qualities through which they had been so gallant and selfless and uncomplaining—this, in the finer types of men, was the unspeakable tragedy of shell shock. -Siegfried Sassoon, World War I veteran and poet
Veterans are the tip of the candle flame. -Thich Nhat Hanh
The most striking evidence from these fragments is that the description of traumatic symptoms has not changed in 4000 years. -From a 2011 article in Stress and Health, discussing traumatic reactions in ancient Iraq, circa 2000 BC
I have become afraid of my own imagination. -Iraq veteran
We have come out of the time when obedience, intelligent courage, resolution and the acceptance of discipline were most important, into that more difficult time when it is a man's duty to understand his world rather than to simply fight for it. -Ernest Hemingway, at the end of World War II
The war is never over in the mind of any veteran. -General Hal Moore
Risks and challenges
This is some dark material and writing about trauma, war and death can be numbing, to put it mildly. The good news is I've done this sort of thing before and have worked under some pretty arduous conditions as a reporter in Iraq.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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