Jessica Stern

“DENIAL” is a Memoir of PTSD

Here is what I truly hope readers of my book, “Denial,” will understand: This is a memoir of PTSD, not a memoir of events. It took years for me to reach past shame to discover the dissociated states I describe. I tried to stick with those shame-inducing feelings long enough to capture them on the page. I wanted to take the reader with me on a quest – to experience the excitement of solving a cold case with the help of the police, as well as the dizzying dissociation that is a hallmark of trauma.

My goal was to shine a light on PTSD and to erode the stigma that I know so many victims of rape feel. We think of ourselves, in America, as evolved, at least in regard to sexual crimes. There are no honor killings of victims of rape, as there are in other countries. And yet, experts estimate that half of all sexual assaults in the United States are not reported to the police. Epidemiological studies (by Dr. Ron Kessler and others) show that the conditional risk of PTSD after a rape, for both men and women, is second only to torture. It is significantly higher than the risk of PTSD following a shooting, a stabbing, or exposure to combat. Shame may well have something to do with that. (Citations available upon request.) A person who gets depressed has very likely heard of depression. A person who develops phobias, or has a psychotic break, or acquires bipolar disorder, likewise, could learn about these disorders from novels or books written for non-experts. But PTSD is different. It was only after they read what I wrote about the altered states that I have experienced since I was raped that others have come forward to tell me that they experience these states too. I have heard from war correspondents, a 76-year old rape victim who still feels affected by a rape in her childhood, men who were raped as children, refugees. A psychologist who works on very high-risk cases confessed that she is much better at her work than she is at being a mother or a wife. She told me, “You know me.” My sister and my father also told me, for the first time, that they had experienced dissociation, too. All three of us experienced these altered states of consciousness alone, imagining them to be unique to each of us. None of us had ever heard that dissociation is a hallmark of PTSD. I hope that my book will help others with symptoms of PTSD feel less alone and less ashamed, and that my description of the symptoms will make it easier for other victims to seek out the help they need.

I hope you will read the book, and decide for yourself whether it helps elucidate, artfully or otherwise, a syndrome that has rarely been discussed “from the inside out,” by the sufferer.

Jessica Stern

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