When I say I feel your pain, it’s probably because your pain makes me feel my pain.
This is what we talk about when we talk about post traumatic stress. Obviously, this is pretty personal; most of my comics are pretty personal, but this one is deeper. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about what happened in panel 3 here. A lot of people already know about it already, and it might come up in some other form later on. I don’t have any problem telling you if you ask. I just don’t want to write about it in my art blog at this time. But it did happen, and I was diagnosed with PTSD afterward. This was 16 years ago, and while trauma fades, I’m not sure it ever gets erased. What’s it like? It’s sort of like this, what I’ve inelegantly drawn here.
Panel 1, of course, riffs off the famous scene from the classic 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. Bond does not die. He also does not show any outward signs of PTSD, although some might argue that the drinking and womanizing are symptoms.
Panel 2 is not my story, but it did happen to my friend, whose father came home broken from Viet Nam. She told me he would wake up in the middle of the night, mistake her and her brother for Viet Cong, and threaten them with a gun. So war traumatized him, and then he passed that trauma on to his kids.
Panel 3, as I said, is more or less something that happened to me in 1998, and I’m still fucked up about it, even though I’ve had therapy and go for long periods of time without thinking about it at all.
Panel 4 is basically the 9 of swords from the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Some people refer to this card as “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I think it’s a pretty universal image.
Panel 5: I wasn’t anywhere near New York on 9/11, and I didn’t really know anyone there, but this was the first time I learned that people with PTSD get to re-experience their PTSD if they hear about other people’s extreme trauma. Like a lot of Americans, I had a rough time of it that month; I had to have therapy and leave grad school for a week in the middle of the semester. I couldn’t bring myself to draw the plane hitting the WTC, so I just used a screen grab.
The guy in panel 6 did not die. He was in the coma for about a month, and he spent a year learning to walk and talk and eat again, and then he spent 5 or 6 years getting his head on, and now he lives independently, which is a pretty big deal, considering we spent 3 days not knowing if he was going to survive.
This is, by far, the most morbid thing I’ve posted in this blog. I hope I can be funny again next week, but I just don’t feel funny right now. The longer you live, the more likely you are to experience trauma, meaning the older you get, the more likely it is that you and the people around you are suffering these invisible personal catastrophes. My big one was maybe only 15 minutes of my life, but it gathered up all the small hurt from before and it amplified all the small hurt that came afterward. And my situation really is nothing, compared to some lives. It’s hard not to feel my own trauma when I hear about someone else’s, but I also can’t turn away. People want to tell me, and I want to honor their pain by listening.