The Unspeakable Mind: Stories of Trauma and Healing from the Frontlines of PTSD Science
“this book is highly recommended for a wide variety of readers, but especially to those who may have undergone trauma or the family members with whom they share their lives.”
How often is a person unable or unwilling to talk about the most important and often self-defining moment of their life? Very infrequently. When it comes to the aftermath of trauma however, this is common and almost universal. Many survivors develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and will find themselves unwilling or unable to do so, which is bewildering to friends and family.
Long associated with combat stress in military soldiers, PTSD is illustrated clearly by Shali Jain in The Unspeakable Mind to be much more broad-based. There are many causes of trauma in civilian life as well, including traffic accidents, assaults, sexual trauma, deprivation, and childhood abuse just to name a few. Given that a significant number of traumatized individuals will have residual symptoms, it is not surprising that the lifetime incidence of PTSD in America is over one in every 20 individuals, with 70% of them experiencing moderate or serious symptomatology.
The constellation of PTSD symptoms is often the same regardless of the cause and can be pivotal for the survivors. These can include severely disrupted sleep with nightmares, daytime flashbacks of the traumatic event, excessive anger, shame, social withdrawal, depression, and suicide.
This extremely well written book is easy to read and educational. The text is a positive resource for survivors of traumas as well as for friends, family and colleagues of individuals who have experienced trauma. The text helps unravel the source of many puzzling behaviors.
Recollections of traumatic events may be long suppressed only to emerge suddenly when triggered by a sight, sound, smell, or other connection to the event. Those with PTSD may avoid even small gatherings of people or may become unreasonably angry at minor events. Even when others can connect the behavior to the trauma, the survivor may steadfastly refuse to discuss the details of the event.
Sleep is markedly disrupted and shortened, often interrupted by terrifying nightmares where the individual may scream or wake up sweating and hyperventilating. At times, the PTSD survivor may be emotionally abusive and violent to spouses. Job performance may be spotty as the survivor has difficulty interacting with coworkers or supervisors. It is not uncommon for major life events such as retirement, later life illness, or loss of a spouse to suddenly reignite PTSD symptoms which have been under the surface for years or decades.
Jain discusses the current brain science behind PTSD that continues to be elucidated by ongoing research. The most appealing part of this book however are stories where the author describes patient encounters from her psychiatry practice. They are told in a compassionate and humanistic manner that makes the pain of this condition come alive for the reader. These interesting case reports describe successful treatment and the progress that can be made with psychotherapy and/or medication.
A realist, she also touches on treatment avoidance and “failure.” Jain engenders hope for remediation of symptoms without being overly optimistic that everyone will be open to treatment. She describes correctly that treatment is a relationship between a mental health professional and the trauma victim. Both sides of the equation must be participatory for treatment to be effective.
Overall, this book is highly recommended for a wide variety of readers, but especially to those who may have undergone trauma or the family members with whom they share their lives.