The Portrayal of PTSD in Young Adult Literature
A critical thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Masters of Fine Arts for Children & Adolescent Literature
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Professor Mary Logue
As a student, I have always studied the human condition. Before I was ever labeling myself a writer, I was an anthropologist or a student of the world, and before that, I was a student of literature. The difference between writer and student of literature other than the precociousness is that I read to learn and I learned about communication through body, mind and society. I learned about the difference between a good guy and an asshole. I learned that one needs to go deeper than the surface to discover who a person is.
As a student of anthropology and literature and the world, I have discovered that presenting only surface characters to a young audience takes away from what they can learn from the story they experience.
When deciding what to study as a writer of young adult literature, I decided to look at mental illness. My first inspiration was my youngest sister’s anger when a few women at a bachelorette party commented that a mutual friend was bipolar. Bipolar runs in our family and my little sister’s anger made me realized that I had become culturally accustomed to the misuse of mental illness to describe a woman who was only indecisive rather than suffering from a manic-depressive disorder.
Similar to Bipolar, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is also a part of my family history. My grandfather developed the symptoms of shell shock after World War II. My grandmother, a psychiatrist, was one of many doctors not familiar with PTSD. It had not become a diagnosed mental illness until after my grandfather ‘drank and smoked himself to death.’ My grandmother spent the rest of her career working with soldiers of Vietnam, concentration camp survivors and others who suffered from PTSD symptoms.
I chose PTSD because of this familiarity in my family history. My grandfather, for instance, never spoke about his experiences in World War II. It was an era when it was socially acceptable to start drinking in the afternoon and he smoked most of the day. His father was the co-owner of Strahl and Pitt Wax Company; which my grandfather inherited. After World War II he oversaw the family business. This structured job gave my grandfather’s life purpose beyond the memories of warfare. After work, however, he returned home and drank himself to sleep. This was not considered abnormal during the 1950s. He passed away at the age of forty-five due to complications in his heart.
My grandfather’s behavior was, in a way, contagious. His son, my uncle, joined the Special Forces and became a hero to many men who he trained to survive the challenges of war. When he was no longer in the service he turned to alcohol. Even with immense talent in writing and the natural teacher my uncle to others. My uncle also passed away as a result of his untreated PTSD.