Childhood, PTSD, and Me?
But I saw something today that makes me wonder if, once again, she wasn't smarter than me, and to remind me that she is simply the most brilliant diagnostician I have ever had the privilege to meet, as good as the best I've ever even heard of. What I saw was a Reuters Health article by Anne Harding, "Nearly 7 in 10 kids exposed to trauma by age 16" (5/9/07). It, in turn, is a summary of an article by William Copeland of Duke University, et al, in the May Archives of General Psychiatry, "Traumatic Events and Posttraumatic Stress in Childhood." In summary: a long-term study of children up to age 16 found that 32% had experienced no severe traumas in their lives yet, 37% experienced one such event, and 31% experienced two or more traumatic events "such as having a loved one die violently, being sexually abused or being diagnosed with a serious illness" (Reuters article). Less than half a percent of the 16 year olds met the full diagnostic criteria for PTSD, but the more traumas they'd been exposed to, the more symptoms they showed. Copeland suggests that everybody has a breaking point, that PTSD is almost never (so far as he can tell) a response to a single traumatic event but a response to the last traumatic event, the one that comes after the one that wore down the last of your resilience.
By age 16, I had at least three, and probably four. (A year of hospitalization quite a bit of it touch-and-go at age 6, nearly losing my mother to medical malpractice around age 11, and attempted gang homicide at age 13. And I strongly suspect some kind of emotional trauma related to attachment issues before I even left the orphanage, not that I can prove anything.) I say this not because I'm asking for sympathy. My own response to this mostly runs to wry amusement; I actually think it's kind of funny how many disasters, and even brushes with death, I've had in my life. But it's quite possible that the management bullying at the company that would rather I didn't mention their name that triggered that explosive of self-destructive behavior didn't need to be very traumatic, because I'd already gone through a lifetime's worth of trauma and then some. Maybe the reason I don't self-identify as someone with PTSD, the reason I don't think that I'm plagued by intrusive thoughts of particular traumas, is that so many of my memories are of traumatic events that they've become part of my baseline for "normal."
I will say this about my thinking that a certain amount of trauma in life is normal. When I meet them, I can generally spot the people who made it all the way to age 16 with no traumatic events at all. And while there are exceptions, I despise most of them. People who've lived without pain in their life are so consistently insanely judgmental, and so blithely ignorant of what life is like for the rest of us, and so full of a sense of entitlement, and so incredibly ill equipped with coping skills or strategies, that even to an Aspie like me they stick out like a sore thumb from the vapid expressions on their lineless faces, and if not from that, from one of the first ten things they ever say beyond memorized social niceties, at least one of which will be unutterably stupid.