Sprawling memoir of an adventurous journalist’s experiences with PTSD.
National Magazine Award–nominated writer McClelland (For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question: A Story from Burma's Never-Ending War, 2010) considered herself accustomed to tough environments. However, on the ground in Haiti to cover the chaotic reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake, she witnessed acts of sexual violence (left largely unspecified) that instilled in her a severe case of PTSD, manifesting in jolting physical symptoms: “[f]lashbacks of the screaming incident I witnessed in Haiti burst into my head and I lay there, soft and failed, choking on instant hard sobs.” Yet on the same trip, she had begun an improbable romance with Nico, a youthful French soldier. When she was back in the United States, they kept in touch via Skype, but McClelland’s PTSD symptoms and attendant depression became more debilitating. When she first published writing about her experience, she was condemned for solipsism, yet she also heard from many fellow sufferers, ranging from women who’d encountered domestic violence to a growing community of PTSD-afflicted combat veterans and their families: “They were the collateral damage that didn’t end with veterans, that everyone pretended didn’t exist….” As McClelland tried to hang on to her relationship with Nico, she realized that her experiences were representative of a large, undiagnosed demographic of suffering. She discovered that an extensive, therapy-based treatment regimen (involving the examination of every trauma in her past, including the explosive dissolution of her parents’ relationship) allowed her to move forward gradually, into accepting Nico’s impulsive marriage proposal. The author takes a maximalist approach, focusing exhaustively on her own experiences and grim sensations (as well as those of the people she encounters), so the narrative feels progressively less focused while remaining compassionate and perceptive regarding this elusive malady.
McClelland’s candor and empathy are admirable, but this would have benefited from more editorial shaping.