A PTSD Party

by Mel Waldman


We had a party to celebrate our triumph over trauma. Each of us had suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Most of the group members were strangers. A few seemed familiar. Vaguely recognized them from the labyrinth of my past. Just couldn’t place them. Even after questioning them at length.

Still, we had a connection. The strangers touched me, too. Of course, we all had a strong bond of suffering. And we were contained in the sprawling, wall-length mirror, scattered souls in a barren landscape.

Eighteen members had been invited to the party. Only 12 showed up. The poet/writer arrived first, followed by the artist, dancer, nightclub singer, songwriter, tennis player, magician, salesman, thief, private eye, hit man, and serial killer. The shrink, scientist, pre-med student, administrator, high school teacher, and college professor were absent.

“Where are the others?” the poet/writer asked.

“I didn’t kill them!” the hit man insisted.

“I’ll find them!” the private eye announced.

“Hope they weren’t abducted by aliens,” the magician said, wearing a mask of concern. “Bet they vanished during a past life regression!” the magician added.

“Maybe they had near-death experiences,” the artist speculated. “Had a few of those myself. Transformed my life. Did some fabulous water colors too.”

Momentarily, he stared into space. Then he pointed his left finger at an invisible spot in the distance. “They’re out there: starting fresh, living meaningful lives after coming back from the land of the dead.”

“You’ve got more words up your sleeve than the poet,” the magician interjected.

“Still, I’m the one with the magical metaphors!” the poet/writer reminded everyone.

“Don’t be sensitive, poet!” the magician said sardonically. “But leave out the word-‘magical’. Magic’s my domain!”

So it went. Eventually, the other group members who were present spoke, too, commenting on the missing. And when the serial killer spoke, he abruptly dismissed all the juicy and jejune theories.

“Stop! The truth is...” The serial killer drifted off.

The others waited.

When he returned, he asked: “Do I have your attention?”

“No!” the magician cried out. “Go back to La La Land.”

There was a long silence. A very long silence.

“I killed them!”

The words permeated the seething atmosphere. And the silence swallowed them again.

“Don’t brag about it!” the hit man warned. “I could have done a professional job for a very reasonable price.”

“Shut up!” the salesman cried out. “You’re getting into my territory!”

“Boundaries! Boundaries! Boundaries!” the thief said mockingly. “They’re up for grabs, too. I can steal anything, including time and space and...”

“Don’t stop!” the dancer commanded. “And let’s not dance around the truth!”

“Let’s not,” the tennis player said with pizzazz. “It’s better than the game of love.”

“It’s smoky and hot in here,” the singer said whimsically. “Ought to sing a love song.”

“I’ll compose it!” the songwriter volunteered.

“Stop!” the serial killer commanded. “Don’t you get it? I killed the others!”

“So what?” the magician shouted. “I can resurrect them!”

“Only after I find them!” the private eye added.

And so it went, without the beloved presence of the pompous and philosophical shrink, aka Dante, who, in multiple moments of coitus interruptus, would spout nonsense and psychobabble and stop the chaos.

“I’ll make our therapist appear!” the magician announced. And he waved an imaginary wand, and uttered: “Abracadabra and ishkababel too. Now!”

Suddenly, the shrink appeared out of nowhere. And announced: “I’m reborn! What took you so long, Magician?”

His eyes darted across the room, in search of the man. But he couldn’t find him.

“Where are you, Savior?”

Nothing. And then: “Thank you, wherever you are!” And then he looked unsuccessfully for the Serial Killer.

“You’re a dead man, S.K.!” he announced.

Silence.

“Well then, it’s time for Mirror Image Therapy (MIT). (Actually, a radical form of MIT, unapproved by the renowned Richard Frenkel, MD.)

(Dr. Richard Frenkel created Mirror Image Therapy. And often used it for sundry purposes including the following:

  1. to reduce psychotic symptoms
  2. to reduce depression
  3. to prevent suicide
  4. to reduce anxiety

Recently, he had used it for other purposes such as:

  1. to reduce symptoms of PTSD
  2. to reduce symptoms of dissociation
  3. to reduce symptoms of DID

The technique is simple and effective. Each patient looks into a pocket mirror and focuses on his or her mirror image. Usually, the patient goes into a trance within a very short period of time, sometimes seconds. It seems to be a form of self-hypnosis. But Dr. Frenkel calls it the “mirror trance.” In any case, the patient is asked to free associate to his mirror image. And a magical metamorphosis often occurs.

Like a drowning swimmer who suddenly reverses Fate and triumphs over nature, a cauldron of thoughts and feelings, trapped in a prison 20,000 leagues under the sea, is catapulted to the surface. And unconscious material emerges from the black hole below. A small miracle occurs when the pocket mirror is used.)

They sat around in a circle. Dante, the shrink, handed the poet/writer the hand mirror and instructed everyone: “When you are given the mirror, gaze into it and ask: ‘Is there a stranger in the mirror?’” (This was the beginning of a radical modification of MIT and departure from Dr. Frenkel’s methodology.)

“Is there a stranger in the mirror?” the members repeated separately, unable to speak in unison.

The poet/writer looked deep into the mirror. When he was finished, he handed it to the artist. And so it went, until everyone had participated in the ritual.

“Now, I will ask each of you, and myself, the same question. Speak clearly. Then we will calculate the number of members who say ‘yes’ and the number who say ‘no.’”

After the count, the shrink spoke with much pride. “The responses were unanimous. Everyone said ‘no’. These results are consistent with successful treatment for all. Congratulations!” The scientist emerged from nowhere and said: “The experiment is not over. There is a second form of Mirror Therapy.”

The shrink looked suspiciously at the scientist. Still the scientist continued. “When a group member is given the mirror and another member gazes into it too, ask: ‘Is there a stranger in the mirror?’” (This was a further radical modification of MIT and departure from Dr. Frenkel’s methodology.)

KEY CONCEPTS

POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) 309.89 DIAGNOSTIC STATISTICAL MANUAL IV (DSM IV) MIRROR IMAGE THERAPY

It is true that group members had seemed to triumph over PTSD. But is it really true? And what is PTSD?

  1. TWILIGHT ZONE EXPERIENCE/WITNESS OF TRAUMA:
    Person-Experienced or Witnessed Events-Beyond (Yeah, like the old show-ONE STEP BEYOND-from ancient times, a show you probably never saw or heard of)-Outside the typical Realm, of Human Experience/Distressing/Threatening to Life/Physical Integrity (What about your freakin’ soul?)

  2. FLASHBACKS FROM HELL:
    Traumatic Event (s)-Re-experienced-again and again (Round & Round we go, on the Tornado, Cyclone, and... Not Coney Island Heaven/Not Not Coney Island Hell) Nightmares from Hell-Recurrent/Invasive/No Exit/ Intrusive Re-experiencing (Sweet Phantasmagoria! Will someone stop this Roller Coaster Ride?)

  3. ESCAPE FROM... ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST... GOODBYE THOUGHTS & FEELINGS
    Persistent Avoidance/ Of trauma-related stimuli/ Emotional Numbing/ Social Detachment/ Psychogenic Amnesia (Maybe I’ll take the A Train and... Take a one-way ticket to...? Vacation in DEATH VALLEY HOSPITAL? Swallow a cocktail of Valium, Librium, Thorazine, Risperdal, and...? Well, is it time for SHOCK TREATMENT? LOBOTOMY? IS IT? COMA-TIME? Got to shut down! DOWN!)

  4. ALARM BELLS FROM HELL:
    High Volume/ High Amplitude/ Cacophony- HYPERAROUSAL & HYPERVIGILANCE- (Jet-propelled STARTLE RESPONSE, insomnia, RAGE, PHYSIOLOGICAL MAYHEM, VOLCANIC ERUPTION- HELLO, MT. VESUVIUS! of a brain scattered across a lethal landscape of unreality, dissociation, illusion, hallucinations, and... rushing down Niagara Falls to Dante’s Inferno, Hades, & DID, Aka MPD. (Is DID related to PTSD? And if it is, is it a close or distant cousin?)

Yes, it is true that the group members had seemed to triumph over PTSD. But is it really true?

No, not entirely. Certainly, each person seemed to triumph over PTSD with mirror therapy and when gazing into the mirror alone, without another member looking too. But when each group member gazed into the mirror when another member gazed into it too, the answer to the question-“Is there a stranger in the mirror?” was unanimously ‘yes.’

“So the problem still exists,” the scientist announced.

“Not necessarily,” the therapist replied. “Each member is comfortable with the image in the mirror. That’s what we hoped for. But when another member intrudes... I mean, when the other person looks into the mirror, there are two images and... Of course, the other is a stranger! We’re all strangers to one another, no matter how close we are.”

“That’s not the point!”

“Who is speaking?” the therapist asked.

“I am the 19th member of the group.”

“But there are only 18 members!” the therapist replied.

“I am the 19th member!”

“Where are you?” the scientist asked. “Can’t see you!”

“I am here! Feel your eyes moving as I speak.”

“But...”

“I’m in charge of this group!” the therapist insisted. “And there are only 18 members.”

“There are 19 members. And isn’t it interesting that we both have a tic on the right cheek?”

“So what?” the scientist asked. “I want scientific evidence. Otherwise, this is pure nonsense!”

“Whose lips are moving? Whose face is twitching? Whose eyes are rolling. How many bodies are sitting at this table?”

“The words of an uninvited stranger!” the scientist and therapist say in unison.

“Yes, today I am merely a stranger. A frightening stranger, indeed, pointing to the horrific truth.”

“What truth?” the scientist asks in a loud, raging voice.

“The truth we may never accept. And that’s okay. We are nineteen! We are one! We co-exist in the same house.”

“Nonsense!” the scientist cries out.

“Relax!” I command. “You’ll kill us all!”

“We can’t see you!” the scientist and therapist cry out in unison.

“When you’re ready, you’ll see me. At this point in time, it is enough that I see all of you.”

“Can you help us?” the therapist asks.

“I believe I’ll disappear for a while. You need to be separate for now.”

“Don’t leave, stranger!” the scientist orders. “Just when it’s getting interesting.”

“Goodbye!”

I leave. Perhaps, I will return from time to time. We live in a mansion. I go to my grand room. The others go to their separate rooms. Those who were absent today are already in their part of the mansion. One day we will be one. Or perhaps, never!


Copyright © 2007 by Mel Waldman

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