forum how to write PTSD properly?
Started by @andromeda language

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@andromeda language

i have this character who has ongoing PTSD and i need to get a good understanding of how to properly write it. i did some research but my writing for the character still goes flat in the end. if anyone could give me some pointers, that'd be greatly appreciated. thanks a bunch!


I have the same problem and same question! My character is pretty tough, and his PTSD isn't critical at all. But I want to do justice to such a real thing, even if my character doesn't suffer super bad from it.

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It develops after experiencing and witnessing a life-threatening event (such as a natural disaster, vehicular collision, combat it assault, etc.) The DSM5 or standard manual of diagnosis includes hearing that a life-threatening event happened to a family member or being repeatedly exposed to details of the event, which I think I've heard about as "secondary trauma" or "caregiver trauma".

The main symptom is "clinically significant distress, impairment in the individual's social interactions, inability to work, and other areas of functioning", and this distress can show in low moods and negative cognition, increased alertness (anxiety and paranoia, not "I'm in a productivity zone" alertness), avoidance and lack of tolerance for any reminders, and re-experiencing the trauma whether or not there is an external reminder (but usually of course a "flashback" episode happens when there is a reminder.)

The thing is, mostly these are symptoms that people outside of the sufferer notice that it gets in the way (social interactions and inability to work)—but if you want to write it, even from the point of view of somebody who observes the PTSD character, it can help to relate more to what your character is actually feeling or experiencing.

And that can interact with their personality. Some people seem to devote the entire rest of their life to re-living their tragedy, and so they technically don't get "triggered" because re-experiencing the trauma is practically their default state (but then that extended or interminable bereavement gets a different separate entry in the DSM-5, and so technically is not considered PTSD.) Other types of people understand in their mind that it's in the past and there's nothing more to be done but try to get on with life—yet they still get nightmares and/or, in waking life, episodes of catatonia because they're re-experiencing the traumatic event in their mind, and then I'm addition to the distress they become angry and irritated that their own reactions are out of their control. Still others tend to react to the experience by changing their philosophy on life: Instead of like the second type denying that they're now very alert and suspicious and trying to feel and act "normal, like before", this type of person who would embrace it and justify acting on being extra alert and suspicious like "life is cruel and this world is a terrible place, I'm empowered by my trauma defenses and I regret nothing about lashing out against people who maybe didn't deserve it".

The same pattern of struggling to modulate stress is there, but each person will deal with it differently. Some PTSD sufferers might get nightmares, others don't. Some go catatonic in their immersive flashbacks, others act it out, and still others only get emotional flashbacks. Sometimes the reminder is consistent, a predictable trigger—other times, the same thing wasn't triggering the first fifty times after the traumatic event but the fifty-first, fifty-first-fifth, and sixty-seventh time is triggering and not any of the same instances in between or afterwards.

It mostly depends on how your character experiences and deals with it according to their personality or predisposition.