The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fallacy:
A Mental Health Industry Bonanza of Profit and human Desolation
Four months it took me. Yes, four long and excruciatingly despairing months. I had to make up my mind whether to live or die after the engine exploded five feet away from me at 6000 feet altitude shortly after takeoff. The aircraft’s 4000-foot drop in my mind portended certain death for me. It promised death for 144 passengers. And it promised death for the six other crewmembers aboard. It was written in the sky. No other possibility existed. Death’s inevitability was so clearly obvious that I ended my life at that moment, awaiting impact as calmly as if I were strolling along a seashore on a sunny summer’s day.
But impact never came. We made a full emergency landing on one engine after dumping fuel over northern Quebec’s forests for about two hours. Fire trucks in tow, we escaped a mid-air blow-up by a hair’s breadth. Rushed onto the miraculously waiting, spare aircraft, we returned to home base.
Life continued and I with it. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) showed up quickly. New behaviors emerged. I bought a Cadillac Eldorado 1973—the largest, heaviest and in my imagination safest means of transportation I could get my hands on. It turned out to be a complete lemon, but what did I know? Besides, armored tanks were not available.
This was not the first near-miss I had survived. I escaped from an extraordinary number of them in my 25-year career as a North American Airways (NorAm) flight attendant, 10 of them since the PTSD-causing event. I felt the need for protective cover if I was ever to venture out again and feel at ease in this perilous world, danger and death lurking everywhere.
Over the four months following the explosion, everybody knew how badly I wanted to fly again:
· my immediate circle
· the flight attendant union shop stewards
· the powers that be, NorAm’s management
· the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB)
As I had never been in such a situation before, I didn't notice just how little people cared. None of them tried to contact me. None of them offered to help me recover, in particular not NorAm. Until recently, it had been government-subsidized, but was then being publicly traded. For them, I may as well not have existed. Mind you, a sick employee means loss in shareholder profit. That's all that counts at any large, shareholder owned, corporation. Besides, a PTSD affected employee would share her PTSD experience and consequent treatment received from the airline, the WCB and the union with other flight attendants when back on the line. That could disrupt worker moral.
WCB demanded that NorAm let me work again nine months after the PTSD-causing event. The treating psychiatrist consented. And I smelled no rat. In my infinite ignorance, I believed the company was eager and delighted to help me mend my broken wings. In particular, I assumed the mental health professional assigned to help me was acting in my interests. I trusted that they knew best, even though I voiced my trepidation.
I returned to work, believing that my healthy survival had been guaranteed by them for the rest of my career. I looked forward to at least another 20 years of working in the profession I adored. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Only when recurrent PTSD crept up on me 30 months later did I smell that rat.
In the line of duty, I discovered that the psychiatrist treating me, and his equally well-papered wife, were both NorAm affiliated. They most likely enjoyed the inherent perks of free flights and vacations at exotic locations. I realized that he was working in the company’s interest, not mine. So it would be with almost all “professionals” dealing with my case afterwards, 24 in all.
Only two acted with honor and integrity, ethics and morals. One of those was my Irish psychiatrist, a frequent NorAm first class flyer. He would save my life, my sanity, my sustenance and my livelihood by covering my back.
It was, however, my own probing, what I found and what I did with that information that made me whole again.
No other mental health practitioner played a role in my recovery. The others just aggravated it. You see, PTSD is not at all a mental disorder, even though the so-called “experts” with purported knowledge in the field say it is.
Instead, a PTSD-causing event creates an existential crisis. It makes a person question life’s very foundations, its meaning, its purpose, its values. Thus the resolution to/of PTSD can be found solely by the one living through it. No other human being can help.
James T. Webb, Ph.D., is one of the 25 most influential American psychologists on gifted education. In his 2011 Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) article “Existential depression in gifted individuals”, he explains the risk to gifted and talented people. Those with higher intellectual ability are more likely to experience an existential depression than non-gifted people. The depression stems from a major loss or the threat of a loss, which highlights the transient nature of life. This existential depression lingers within, while the PTSD sufferer tries to come to terms with the very basic issues of existence.
Irvin David Yalom (1931-) is an American existential psychiatrist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, California. He describes four basic issues of existence or “ultimate concerns”:
Two things become excruciatingly clear during a PTSD-causing event. First, death is inevitable. Second, it is ever-present and can occur at any second. This is what always lingers foremost beneath the surface of a PTSD experiencer’s mind. This constant awareness of death as an inevitable occurrence isn’t the only force at work. It combines with the PTSD-associated loss of sense of invulnerability to form quite a combination with which to come to terms.
Freedom in an existential sense means not having an external structure. Humans do not enter a world that is inherently structured. Webb asserts that we give the world a structure, which we ourselves create.
Isolation means that no matter how close we get to another person, a gap always remains. We are still alone.
Meaninglessness stems from the first three: death, freedom, and isolation. If we must die, if we build our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?
After the PTSD-causing event, PTSD sufferers are overcome by an overwhelming meaninglessness of life. If there is no meaning in anything, and death is the result of everything anyway, why go through the motion of living?
PTSD travelers have two decisions to make. They have to choose whether to live or die. We can will ourselves to die. But if we choose to live, we have to give our individual world a structure. This is something only we can create for ourselves. The PTSD-causing event wiped our slate clean, with all its structure and habits. All our wishes and desires, joys and fears, likes and dislikes–gone. All our loves and hates of friends and foes, marriage and partners, children and friends–gone. Our soul left with the event, while the body remained on Earth–lost.
No-one tells us what it is we are suffering. We have no idea what happened to us. We are unaware that to create a completely new structure for our life is a necessity if want to live. There is nobody out there to enlighten us. The experts pretend to know about how it is to live with PTSD, but they are the blind leading the blind. They have no idea about the reason for a despair so overwhelming and colossal that it opens the way to hell. Consuming pharmaceutical and other drugs only makes it worse. It’s not about healing; it’s about reconstruction. PTSD is actually a gift. But we don’t see it, and the professionals have no idea. Thus, the knowledge of imminent death at any given moment of life, the ensuing refrain becomes ever-present:
“Why go through the motion of doing anything?”
The desire for isolation may also be a barrier to reconstruction.
The initially incomprehensible feeling of desolation and emptiness within creates the need for isolation. The sense of an overwhelming bleakness of life and living suddenly felt within creates the need for isolation. The feeling of barrenness in everything one sees and everything one looks at creates the need for isolation. The sense of being in this world but no longer of it, creates the need, the desire for complete isolation. This isolation is needed to subconsciously figure out what happened to the Self. The isolation due to the complete feeling of desolation we feel is twofold, though. It precedes the decision whether to live or die.
As mentioned, isolation means that no matter how close we become to another human being, a gap remains. We are always alone. So why go through the tedious effort to maintain old relationships? What is the purpose, if death will part us anyway? Why bother?
The isolation we feel is twofold, though. Due to the PTSD-generated existential crisis brewing within, we need time for isolation, peace and quiet. We need this time to figure out what has happened, what is happening and what, if anything, to do about it once we decide to live.
The problem is that no one, not even the afflicted, knows what is happening. Those pretending to know bark up the wrong tree, from lover to husbands and partners. That includes:
· friends and family at large
· mental health practitioners
They all push and pull in various directions. They create more aggravation, more hostility despair and turmoil in the PTSD sufferer’s psyche.
No human being alive can ever understand what the other is living. No-one can ever understand …..without having experienced it.
They don’t understand how life turns upside down for the PTSD experiencer without having experienced it. Even those we formerly loved and cherished, with exception of the dog, hold little value and may never do so again. This throws all parties off and out of rotation and creates further friction in the PTSD sufferer’s domain.
It is isolation that we desperately need to recuperate. It is isolation that PTSD afflicted desperately seek. Neither the powers that be nor family members will grant that isolation. That is what causes the PTSD experiencer’s fall into the abyss, as the peace we need for healing is denied by all. Sex no longer has appeal. Nor does chatting or socializing. Nor does shopping or anything else that might previously have been of interest. Nothing holds any interest, nothing other than the overwhelming desire for peace, peace. Everyone just go to hell and leave me in peace.
All this adds to the sense of futility and meaninglessness. It amplifies the “What’s the point?” mantra. It amplified my despairing cry within: “Leave me alone. Leave me well enough alone. I need peace.” But no-one listened, quite to the contrary. But more of that later.
Meaninglessness stems from the first three of the “ultimate concerns”: death, freedom and isolation. If we must die, if we build our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?
For PTSD sufferers who unexpectedly find Self on Earth after the event, the only place to be is alone. The only place to be is in isolation. We need complete solitude to try to solve this turmoil within.
The experts pretending to know what would improve the PTSD sufferer’s state of mind don’t have a clue. They may or may not know we need isolation. We only know that it is denied. They thus deny PTSD sufferers the only means to heal the Self. They deny us the isolation. They deny us the solitude. They knowingly or unknowingly shut us out of our own healing process.
Instead, the powers that be force PTSD sufferers to engage in their so-called healing modalities. They prescribe opiate pharmaceuticals of all types for healing. These only exacerbate PTSD symptoms and create suicidal tendencies. But we follow in good faith the garden path toward self-destruction, trusting "doctor knows best". Doing so, however, merely prolongs and even increases our suffering, often lasting to the end of the PTSD sufferer’s natural life.
It seems to dawn on only a few that there is something wrong with these PTSD treatment modalities. As you will see, I am one those few.
“Why should such existential concerns occur disproportionately among gifted persons?” Webb asks. “Partially, it is because substantial thought and reflection must occur to even consider such notions, rather than simply focusing on superficial day-to-day aspects of life.” Furthermore, he states, a gifted and talented person of higher intellectual ability is more likely to spontaneously have an existential depression. A major loss or the threat of a loss, highlighting the transient nature of life, might trigger it.
But Webb also suggests that sometimes an existential depression leads to a “positive disintegration experience”. In other words, Webb says that the PTSD-causing event could lead to two conditions. First, it could cause the spontaneous existential depression. Second, it could cause a positive disintegration experience afterwards.
Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1902-1980) a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist and physician, developed the theory of Positive Disintegration. It describes how a person grows as a result of accumulated experiences.
The Theory of Positive Disintegration is very different from other theories of personality development in one important way. Dąbrowski stressed the role of psychic discomfort in psychological development. He observed that psychological hardship triggered self-reflection. This introspection helped people mature psychologically (Dąbrowski 1972).
Dąbrowski’s model is hierarchical. A person passes through each stage in a linear fashion. With each stage, the mind becomes more accomplished, more satisfied and more moral.
"Disintegration" refers to the maturing of thoughts, which move one's personality to a more developed level. Dąbrowski had a lifelong dedication to the field of psychology. He set up a rehabilitation center in Zagorze, near Warsaw, Poland, for patients suffering mental disorders after difficult life events. What he learned through his lifelong research at this facility helped shape his concepts. He, too, may be describing PTSD experiencers’ event-aftermath.
However, he would be confusing the existential crisis with a mental disorder, the classic error of mental health professionals. But then, psychology is not a science. It is merely based on hypotheses dreamt up by academically trained and papered people.
Positive disintegration is said to propel humans to higher levels of development. It transforms them from self-serving beings into people conforming to self-awareness and direction. They transcend their primitive natures and strive to “walk the moral talk.”
We need certain prerequisites, certain personal attributes and characteristics, for this journey from egocentrism to altruism:
· a facilitative social environment
· the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD)
· PTSD, if the afflicted ever sees the light to recognize the fabulous possibilities hidden within the predicament
Facilitative conditions are those conditions and counsellor-attitudes that enhance the therapeutic relationship between the mental health provider and the patient. They are deemed to be conducive or non-conducive to successful outcomes in counselling and psychotherapy. The three primary facilitative conditions were first suggested by the American psychologist Carl R. Rogers (1902-1987). He was one of the founders of the humanistic approach, a client-centered approach to psychology as described in his 1951 publication Client-Centered Therapy. These conditions are:
· unconditional positive regard
According to Rogers, if counsellors express these core conditions, those being helped become less defensive and more open to themselves and their world. They tend to behave in more pro-social and constructive ways. Rogers believed these three conditions are both necessary and sufficient for positive counselling outcomes. Other theorists have argued that, although these conditions may be necessary, they are not sufficient. Current discussions identify the therapeutic relationship as also being essential to client progress. The facilitative conditions are key to establish a positive therapeutic relationship.
By the way, in 1946, Rogers co-authored "Counseling with Returned Servicemen" with John L. Wallen, (the creator of the behavioural model known as The Interpersonal Gap. They documented the use of the person-centered approach to counselling military personnel returning from the Second World War. He followed up his approach to education in Client-Centered Therapy by Freedom to Learn, devoted exclusively to the subject (1969). Freedom to Learn was revised twice. The new Learner-Centered Model is said to be similar in many ways to his classical person-centered approach to education. In PTSD, you have a choice. You can learn and live. Or you can vegetate and die, while allowing others to rule your mental and physical health in the interim.
The second prerequisite attribute is the Theory of Positive Disintegration. Dąbrowski explains TPD in his Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some implications for teachers of gifted students. It is cited by Author Sal Mendaglio (AGATE. Fall 2002 15(2) 14-22).
In Bernard Guenther's view, the Theory of Positive Disintegration is a novel approach to personality development. Mainstream psychology tries to adjust a person to society and its norms through anti-depressants and other mood-altering pharmaceutical drugs. The Theory of Positive Disintegration says that being maladjusted to society is an opportunity for personal growth and the integration of higher, non-egocentric values.
The various levels of Disintegration and Integration as defined by Dąbrowski can be compared to the Staircase of esoteric evolution and moral bankruptcy. For example, man feels disillusioned when his old, conditioned Self conflicts with the emerging true individuality, the soul/essence.
Dąbrowski saw the “average” man just like Gurdjieff and other teachers of esoteric self-work did. He saw them on Level I as a mechanical robot-like being who simply exists based on lower impulses and programs. Those impulses are dictated/conditioned by society and “official culture”. As such, most people live in a reactionary and mechanical state of external stimuli and influences under the illusion of free will. Guenther asserts says that neither true individuality nor true free can be formed on that level.
Certain people of all ages experience so-called overexcitability (OE), for example. These people have the potential to grow out of the lower levels and integrate their being into the higher ones. However, Dąbrowski points out that this process requires conscious work. It does not occur by osmosis or by itself. In other words, one must use the “shocks” of disillusionment to further one’s soul evolution. Else, one can't gain Self-Awareness and invite the alchemical fire, the spark existing within all human beings for transmutation. Without using that disillusionment, one will stay at the lower level where most of humanity exists. One will remain mechanical and reactionary based on conditioning and programming. The mass-media and the educational system from Kindergarten through university will keep one in a sleepwalking state, dreaming to be awake. (Bernhard Guenther, Original Source: Positive Disintegration; the spiritualintellect.com, 2017).
The third, in my opinion, is PTSD. Some of the afflicted are blessed to recognize the fabulous possibilities hidden within the predicament. They recognize the opportunity to transition from the egocentric to the altruistic way of living. That assumes that this truth catapults into reality through the PTSD-causing event. Without that possibility in our own psyche and innate personality from birth, it would most likely never take place in our life. Now the choice is to take that baton and run with it to the best of one’s ability, to grasp the possibility of this positive disintegration. We stagger along in the beginning. We pick up speed as we move on. Or we can choose to ignore it. We then live a miserable, fear-filled and oft times drug-dominated existence until the time of the also self-induced death. In my academically un-papered-in-the-field-of-psychology opinion, no other outcome is possible.
We have a clear choice. On the one hand, we can get with it and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We can examine Self inside-out. We can search in earnest for ways to manipulate and coax ourselves into action. We can choose to return to living life and figure out a way to enjoy it.
On the other hand, we can will the Self to die. We can commit suicide. We can cave in to those purporting to know how to handle PTSD sufferers. Those who will prescribe:
· prescription drugs
· whatever else they want us to swallow
Is taking their substances an option for one’s improvement and well-being? Do their cognitive behavioural treatment modalities feed the soul? Do their pharmaceutical remedies feel good to the spirit? Does listening to their doctrines make one feel more wholesome and well? Or do they, one’s intuition yells, lead to the further destruction of mind, brain, consciousness and body?
Does one follow their orders to swallow 18 different pills to fight PTSD because it is the easy way out? Or does one’s intuition yell to stop? Do sufferers know that they lead only to numbing down and eventually destroying the mind, brain, consciousness and body?
Does one follow their orders because of laziness or lack of willpower? Is it for a lack of discipline or determination? Is the idea of spending life on the couch watching television, drinking beer and watching baseball, as I did for a while, and doing nothing else in a drug-infused stupor, more appealing?
Or is the idea of being a victim of it all, including life itself, the catalyst to do nothing about the PTSD predicament. Is victimhood preferable to taking charge of one’s own life, one’s own healing?
Does the “Doctor knows Best” fable cause one to ignore the innermost Self, where the solution lies? Does the fable blind one to the need for isolation necessary to the PTSD healing process that those who hold sway over one’s life steadfastly refuse to grant? That isolation, that solitude so instrumental for a PTSD recuperation to take place. Only when surrounded by those who have had the PTSD experience is the solitude optional. Only they can understand. Only they can productively be sounding boards for each other. Whether in splendid solitude or not, however, we must travel the road to the inner Self and healing in splendid solitude.
Why, one may wonder, should PTSD or other existential concerns occur disproportionately among gifted human beings? Webb says that is partly because one must be capable of substantial thought and reflection. One needs these skills to consider notions like existential crises and depressions. Otherwise, one simply focuses on life’s superficial day-to-day aspects. Guess what that means? Some people are more susceptible to PSTD than others:
· brighter people
· all round-globally-oriented people
· people well-educated academically
· people well-educated through life experience
These people are more likely to develop PTSD after an earth-shattering event. Due to their intellectual ability, they will tend to analyse the PTSD-causing event and its possible consequences. In particular, they will analyse for an indeterminable amount of time in its aftermath.
There is safety in stupidity, ignorance and lack of creativity and imagination. Caring only about soccer, football, tennis, golf, everything to do with balls, CNN, MMA, NBC et al. hockey, WWW and politics does have its advantages.
Webb furthermore asserts that creating one’s own world structure and managing one's freedom of choice works better than cuddling for PSTD sufferers. He says that the intellectual issues and choices one makes are more effective in an emotional crisis than the reassurance of touch as a sensory solution. Cuddling up to someone to sooth sorrows and pain does not help with PTSD. Leave me well enough alone is far more likely. This explains the disinterest in sex among most PTSD voyagers. It is the very last thing on their minds.
Webb gives hope to gifted children who feel overwhelmed by the myriad choices of an unstructured world. He says they can find comfort in studying and exploring alternate ways in which other people have structured their lives.
Therefore, it is logical that gifted adults such as PTSD experiencers can do the same. They, too, are overwhelmed by the myriad of choices of an unstructured world. They, too, are still unsure what if anything to do with it. They, too, are unsure whether they want to live or die. So they, too, can benefit from studying and exploring alternate ways of living. They can look at how other people live and think, or have lived and thought, at any time in history and anywhere in the world. There’s nothing to lose by doing so. And if one ever wants to laugh again, there is everything to gain. It might help the PTSD sufferer recognize the one vital thing held from them:
“I am not the same as I was before the PTSD-causing event. I will never be the same as I was before. Therefore my life and my relationships with everyone in it will never again be the same as it was before. Nor will my views, attitudes, values, anything I lived and liked pre-PTSD event ever be the same as before. Everything has been destroyed. Everything must be structured anew. Everything has to be created and evolved from scratch, whether I like it or not. If I don’t, I may as well will myself to die. The choice is mine.”
But how? Some of our restructuring could perhaps come through reading about the lives and thoughts of others. Could it also give us a glimpse of the Self, an increase of our understanding of it, a glimmer of hope for recovery?
The approach itself is called bibliotherapy, a therapeutic approach that uses literature to support good mental health. Through reading about people who have chosen specific paths to greatness and fulfillment, gifted youngsters get relief. Bibliotherapy helps them see that choices are merely forks in the road of life. Each choice can lead them to their own sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Webb writes. Therefore, the PTSD afflicted, regardless of age, can use bibliotherapy, too.
To begin on this healing path of learning, however, the PTSD affected needs to apply a few simple tools:
These tools are vital in searching for ways to help the Self to create a life that holds meaning. This is the hardest part for PTSD journeyers, even though some ways to heal the self might present themselves as if by osmosis, out of the blue.
“We all need to build our own personal philosophy of beliefs and values, which will form meaningful frameworks for our lives and will need frequent revisiting and reconsideration,” says Webb. In other words we must clean out our mental household. But no-one explained anything about this to me when I entered 10 years of hell. And no-one was there to teach me that I, myself, was brilliantly equipped to heal my Self, nor how to go about it. No-one was there to assure me that I had that power.
According to Webb, existential issues have lead many gifted people to bury Self in "causes". These causes might be academic, political, social or even a cult. He says this happens when existential issues prompt periods of depression mixed with desperate attempts to "belong." Aiding young gifted people in such situations to recognize basic existential issues may help, but only if done in a kind and accepting way. Webb furthermore states that these youngsters, and thus the PTSD afflicted, need to understand that existential issues are not one-time issues. They need to be frequently revisited and reconsidered. As a matter of fact, it does demand one-day-at-a-time living and constant observation and correction of ones thoughts, as we shall see later.
In essence, Webb conveys that many people with existential depressions can be helped. That includes those with PTSD. One way to help them onto the path to recovery is by helping them to realize that they are not so alone. Another way is to encourage them to adopt the message of hope written by African-American poet, social activist, novelist and columnist from Joplin, Missouri, James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902 –1967):
Hold fast to your dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams.
For if dreams go,
Life is a barren field
Covered with snow.
This poem reflects how I felt when I decided to give life another try. I was bereft of dreams. Everything previously fulfilling in life was shattered and meaningless. I saw no beauty, no desire for anything and no fulfillment in anything. Life was a barren, snow covered field. I was unable and unwilling to take flight, unable to see a future worth living. Everything was desolate, futile, one big bore. I was trying hard to come to terms with how life had been until the event. I was trying to make peace with my pre-PTSD experiences among so many new emotions and pains:
· a sea of tears
· emotional numbness
· bone-crushing unhappiness
· debilitating tension headaches
The futility and senselessness of it all was overwhelming.