Friday, June 1, 2012

The Post-Traumatic: shock, disorder, syndrome, brain injury? Yes. We’re watching evolution

PTSD is up for renaming after the – what war is it? But we know the post-traumatic experience is more than just in war. There are accidents, the domestic violence, disasters – and more.

Shakespeare paints this so clearly, Lady Macbeth wringing her hands and shrieking in midnight panic,
                Out, out damn spot!
but the remembrance of blood would not be washed away.

We perhaps think of this scene as one almost out of the depths of our human trek; it is not so. Read with me, if you will, the monthly tales in Archeology Today. Do not quickly flip the pages with the pictures of sites of human sacrifice; quietly contemplate accounts of Troy and Achilles dragging the body of Hector around the city walls of Troy, triumphantly taunt the widow’s tears; look at the reconstruction of the Roman Coliseum and imagine the jollity at the sports club bar after the entertainment had finalized – with the blood yet drying.  

As curiosity, is there a record earlier than what Homer sang about in the emotional overwhelming of Achilles at the death of his friend? Or a fuller and more hopeful one than Luke’s account of Saul of Tarsus?

We can track before only so far, “before” that is,
                Red in tooth and claw.
In the time of the hunter and gatherer, it is hard to imagine any recall that would plague the mind with dreaded recurrences. At the same time, as story tellers stood before a campfire, we are aware of acts we can only describe as cruel, even sadistic. Yet there is no telling and retelling that we would associated as a flashback of an event, a perpetuation of hatred, perhaps, but not of re- imagined immediacy of some horror.

We humans go away back, back to the swelling of the prefrontal lobe so prone to injury by shot and shell. Our ability to consciously remember is a very human one, even though linked as it is with the more recessed parts of our brains. It is associated with our awareness of the mortality of our fellows, and the anxious realization of our vulnerability.

Shell shock, Post-Traumatic Brain Injury – however named and however to be more adequately re-named – is, of all things the hurtful gift of our humanness. Some would think it “weak” to have flashbacks: but who would want to admit to be less than human? We kill and are killed, we strike and are struck; it is our uncaring and calloused response to this that is in question. Caring is so costly, yet rightly so precious. It is an evolutionary thing, this specialty of feeling human among humans. It is a fall forward into the humane.

Thank you, Luke, for leaving us a written record of a gallant man struggling out of his woundedness. We trace those foot steps and pray for the courage to walk the walk. It is the blanking out that is weak; to become whole as a person - not again - but to be and be beyond. 

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