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hdoooy_96 wrote in little_details
*deep breathe* Okay. This one might sound a little weird so bear with me, please.

So, this story I'm planning to write is set in a superhero universe, where the characters have superpowers like flight, telepathy, pyrokinesis and so on. No, it wont be set in the DC or Marvel universe. I'm taking characters from a debatably-normal universe and giving them powers.


A little backstory:

The focus character, a boy at the age of 8 ( or 10. still haven't decided. ) went on a fishing trip with his father and grandfather ( his mother died years prior ). The boat was attacked by sharks, his father and grandfather died, and he was left at the boat for 6 to 8 hours before he was rescued. Needless to say, he was left with a case of PTSD and Anxiety Disorder. He is then taken from one orphanage to another, not receiving the help needed for someone of his condition, ( or rather, refusing to acknowledge said condition ) until he reaches the age of 13, when he manifests superpowers. This is the tricky part. His power is to turn into half-shark. With the sight, smell, electroreception and sonar senses of a shark, along with fangs and scales and a constant reminder of his traumatic experience.

So here's my question: What are the most realistic reactions, long term coping mechanisms and psychological injuries for someone in this situation? I've done all the research I can with the resources I have on PTSD, and all I found where ways to recover. no explanation of how wrong it could go when left untreated. I don't have any personal experience in this field, and I don't want to offend anyone with PTSD or undermine their struggle by getting anything wrong.

So... Help? This is the first time I ask a question here, sorry if it's a little jumbled up or all over the place!

Hey there. Part of the "mechanics" of PTSD is that traumatic memories are stored in the amygdala, the lizard brain, bypassing every reason center we have, and the longer those memories are stuck in there, undealt with, buried, forced away, the more potent they become. If he's repressed those memories, when they surface, it's going to be like the trauma just happened (Lizard brain can't tell time) so all the grief and fear and panic are right there.

Coping mechanism? DIsassociate. Detach from the emotions/memories that are happening in hopes that they'll just go away. This could mean lost time, loss of affect, inability to engage properly. So big chunks of his memory could be just...not there.

He could repress and think, "Hey, you know, that was a bad thing that happen, and I get upset or anxious sometimes, but I got off easy." And then changing into his new form could UNREPRESS those feelings. For instance, say, something triggery happens, and he doesn't process it as triggery, just goes on about his business, but feeling a little raw and tender inside , and then when get gets somewhere he perceives as safe, BOOM HELLO MEMORIES, and he would feel as wrecked as if it just happened. Still knowing that it wasn't happening, but the fear and grief level would be right there, as he has a flashback.

Have you looked up "symptoms of untreated PTSD?"

This looks like a start....

"So big chunks of his memory could be just...not there. "

I will ditto this. I have absolutely no memory of the traumatic episode I witnessed as a child. I was told where I was and what I saw by the person it happened to, but other than a memory of the place (where I lived for several years), there's just nothing. There's not even a hint of a real memory. It's been 25 years. I've lived with chronic depression, emotional instability, social anxiety and "irrational" aversions to situations other people happily fall into. I was in therapy, but somehow we missed the root of my issues, so it never really got treated, per se. The person it happened to has actually been treated more successfully than I have... And yeah, I totally feel like "I got off easy." It remains to be seen what will happen next.

Thank you so much for your input! I never heard about the Lizard Brain before. I just looked it up. What I found was rather....interesting, to say the least.

Huh. that sounds like a good way to handle the triggers. I could work with that.

Though I am rather confused by what you mean when you say "lost time, loss of affect, inability to engage properly." I tried to look them up but found nothing.

I am abashed to say I never thought try that. I'll get to the link right away. Thanks again! :)

Well, lost time; a triggering event can cause you to disassociate and you go on about your business for hours, weeks, months an have no memory of it, "waking up" sometime later to find yourself doing something and you have no idea what the steps were that got you there. And often, people don't notice that you're not all in there, except that your reactions might be a bit flat, a bit off. In my case, very passive. It's like you go very deep inside yourself for protective purposes. The lizard brain controls fight or flight, right? What if you can't do either? You create a way to flee inside yourself.

In ability to engage properly. I find it very hard to trust people past a certain superficial level, and when nervous, extract or excuse my way out of social situations.

I might be able to help a little with this. I've had Complex PTSD (PTSD that stems from multiple events,) since I was nine. Although my triggers have a lot more to do with the behavior of people around me than any one single situation, so it's very hard to manage them, what I've found most effective is just actually getting out of the situation - at which point you can focus on calming yourself, or hide under a table armed with a fork until it's over if that fails. However, being thirteen, it's probably going to be pretty bad for your character, because people don't really have much control over their lives at thirteen, and well-meaning but uninformed adults will probably be dragging him into situations that might be triggering in a misguided attempt to have him "get over it," which isn't going to help at all. Neither is the fact that most adults aren't going to take his concerns seriously - especially if, like me, he tries to hide what's wrong under being a good kid who never gets into trouble.

The thing about PTSD is it makes you tired and numb and there's really no way to get things done, or even to get out of the situation when you're dealing with panic attacks and nightmares all the time. Personally, nightmares are almost never a reliving of events, more of an... extrapolation, I guess? I have no idea if that has something to do with the age that it all happened or the fact that I wasn't dealing with one clear and present danger, but rather years and years of repeated death threats, so you might want to consider how you present that aspect of your story.

Things that can come from PTSD: Depression, irritability, social withdrawal, reckless behavior, to name just a few things. None of these are particularly helpful to the situation.

Speaking personally, as someone whose PTSD was diagnosed over a decade after it began, my teenage years, especially the early ones, sucked. I didn't know what was wrong with me, and for many years I was pretty sure I was depressed, but so terrified of that possibility that I didn't do anything about it. I rationalized that I couldn't be depressed because I was terrified of dying. I was pretty sure I wouldn't live to graduate high school, at the same time I knew that I couldn't be safe until I'd graduated from school and was free to leave everyone from there behind. It probably affected my ability to prepare for the future - after all, you can't decide what you want to be when you grow up if you're sure that you're going to be murdered before you're old enough to vote. It still terrifies me, and I've had over a decade to start getting worked up about abstract things like being alone in the house or panicking whenever someone asks me if I'm looking for jobs.

Also, I wanted to put this on here: thanks for taking this seriously and wanting to avoid bad representation. Too many beginning authors think that they can just throw in a vague reference to bad dreams and get away with it.

Hugs (or whatever gesture of reassurance is within your comfort zone), and thank you for coming forward.

(OP: Does your character's altered nature have any effect on his sapience and/or impulse control? In other words, to what if any extent are his fight, flight, and predatory reactions those of a shark?)

Edited at 2014-04-28 11:10 pm (UTC)

First of all, I should be the one thanking you, for taking the time to respond to this entry at all, as I imagine it can't be very comfortable.

You bring up a valuable point with well-intentioned but uninformed adults. This particular character though, attempts to hide his concerns behind an abrasive attitude and an aggressive wall. Talking back to his teachers, getting into fights, bullying his peers, etc.

Oh no, I can't let myself getaway with anything while writing this story! especially while representing sensitive topics like psychological conflicts and such. Thanks again, I will take your words into account while planning this out. Let's hope I don't suck at it too much.

It probably goes without saying, but just in case you aren't aware of it- you might look up 'shark boy and lava girl' Your premise is, of course, completely different, but since you are doing teen superhero, you might want to steer extra clear of any overt similarities :-)

I also applaud your wish to present PTSD in a realist manner.

eta: I've seen this movie's various parts several times since my kids loved it- it's actually good in that 'I can't NOT watch' kind of way when you're trying to do something else instead :-)))

Edited at 2014-04-29 01:39 am (UTC)

Lol, yea, I remember watching that movie when I was a kid. Pretty neat. This fic is actually inspired by my love for both superhero comics and this show I'm going to write about, so I should probably worry more about similarities with the DC/Marvel comics than this movie :P

Just to mention, sharks rarely (possibly never) attack boats, but it's certainly possible that the boat capsized, the two adults got the kid back in the boat and then were attacked by sharks. Depending on what country this is, the kid will most likely be in foster homes or small group homes, not an orphanage.

My PTSD comes from bullying and emotional abuse so some parts of mine would be different. Note, I am not a professional.

Best essay I've seen on the nature of PTSD in general:

I agree with the above anon about dreams. They aren't a retelling. They're an extremely vivid return to the general scenario as my brain sees how things could have gone wrong or just the emotion of helplessness, terror, rage, and vulnerability. A few nights ago I had a dream of someone sitting on my chest, pinning me to the floor, and whispering in my ear, "Everyone knows. No one cares." and laughing at me for thinking anyone might help me.

Something I haven't seen brought up so far is that people with PTSD have higher rates of getting sick and tend to get more sicker than people without PTSD. When a cough went around my school in 7th grade I had pneumonia for two weeks. Constant stress makes it harder for the immune system to respond.

Some of the symptoms would depend on his response to what was happening at the time. Which emotions he felt and at which intensity would affect how his PTSD manifests. I never felt like physically fighting back would do any good and my PTSD freakouts never involve hitting or fighting back. I respond to being grabbed by depersonalizing because I learned that going as neutral as possible made the traumatizing behaviors stop faster. In 6-8 hours he would learn to associate whatever he was doing with surviving whether that was holding still, yelling, or fighting back. PTSD is in part learning a survival strategy that doesn't translate well outside the traumatizing situation. Whatever certain TV shows say *cough* Sherlock *cough* sometimes people with PTSD attempt to return to the trauma to try to control it or because they feel they're better equipped to live in that situation than in day-to-day life. So your sharkboy might realistically prefer high adrenaline situations that remind him of the boat if he's that type. He could try to reject his powers or embrace them but either way it'd be to an extreme degree.

Bouncing from orphanage to orphanage would carry some trauma of its own. He's not just untreated, he's been untreated with no support system. So there's a big difference between his life before the traumatic event and his life after. That would add an amount of dislocation and could allow there to be more trauma after from experiences with adults going through the motions or, as noted above, attempting to fix the kid without knowing how. He probably doesn't trust anyone not to die on him and may not trust people to care anymore depending on how the orphanages dealt with him. He might not talk because he doesn't want to make trouble or because he's stopped believing talking to anyone will do any good. He might try to suppress emotions because they're difficult for him to process, he doesn't want to deal with the consequences of people noticing he's in distress, he doesn't want to make trouble, or all of the above at the same time.

He'd also pause his emotional development at the age he was traumatized. With help he might develop more but so long as he's untreated, some aspects of him will remain a little boy. Mood swings would be likely. Not just flashbacks but times his emotions change trajectory for no outwardly discernible reason. Sometimes even he won't know why. It would not be surprising if he tries or has tried to self-medicate.

Other things to look up: selective muteness, chronic stress, and disassociation.

Hope this helps. Thanks for asking.

Thank you so much for your response. This will help me immensely. The essay in the link is also very helpful.

I had no idea people with PTSD have higher chances of getting sick. Thanks for the heads up, I'll definitely include that. I feel I have better understanding of what PTSD is now. I'm so glad I got up the courage to ask. I had no idea my knowledge of PTSD was quit so superficial before.

Also, aside from your question, sharks don't have scales. They have rough sandpapery skin.

I honestly don't have the spoons to dredge up my own PTSD, as I ran into something earlier that has pretty thoroughly triggered and sent me into flashbacks and cold shaking, but if you have not seen it, Rachel Manija Brown's essays on PTSD are quite helpful (and also helped me to realize that what I was dealing with was, actually, PTSD):