Dear Amy: Your response to “Suspicious” seemed fairly responsible and complete, but she said she had PTSD after a cheating incident 20 years ago.
I assure you, adultery does not bring on post-traumatic stress disorder!
Upset: “Suspicious” said she believed she “had a form of PTSD” after this cheating episode. PTSD is extremely serious, but the term seems to have entered the lexicon as a shorthand to describe extreme distress. I didn’t take her wording literally. (c) Ask Amy
I originally blogged about “Suspicious” here. To recap, the letter writer seemed traumatized by her husband’s adultery when she was nineteen. Ask Amy gave some unduly harsh advice, calling her accusations against her husband “baseless”. And then Ask Amy diagnosed her with a condition (obsessive rumination disorder) that, as Ashley Leia pointed out to me, doesn’t exist. (I thought it sounded unfamiliar! It made me picture cows chewing their cud and mooing. Maybe Ask Amy regularly communes with cows?)
So now we have a letter writer who believes that the original letter writer doesn’t have PTSD. That’s belittling. Reading the original letter, she’s obviously messed up in the head by what happened. (The only other possibility is that her husband has been gaslighting her for years.) Regardless of whether the letter writer would be diagnosed with PTSD or something else entirely, saying, “adultery wouldn’t cause PTSD,” is demeaning.
There’s a fine line, because someone can, in theory, pretend to be traumatized by something that wasn’t traumatic. I’d call that fake trauma. You’re trying to get sympathy, and you can’t come up with anything that’s legitimately traumatic, so you give a sob story about something ridiculously minor.
But I can tell by reading the original letter that the letter writer is very much affected and hurt by what her husband did when she was nineteen. Her symptoms go way beyond faking it or playing the victim.
And now, Ask Amy’s doubling down on her already bad advice by saying, “Well, I don’t think she really has PTSD, but I humored her casual use of the term.” That’s nice, Ask Amy. Real nice. I’m telling you, I can tell bullshit from truth, and the original letter writer is totally messed up in the head over what happened.
PTSD is extremely serious, but the term seems to have entered the lexicon as a shorthand to describe extreme distress.
So, what the letter writer’s been experiencing for twenty years isn’t extremely serious? Hello? She can’t shake her obsessive thoughts that her husband is being unfaithful. FOR TWENTY YEARS. How much more do we need her to suffer?
PTSD isn’t all about battlefield disasters; and similarly, mental illness isn’t all about being tied up in a straightjacket while drooling and muttering incoherently. How many people out there buy into that sort of thing? Mental illness (broadly speaking, but also encompassing PTSD) can appear in the form of an everyday person. Typically, when I leave the house, I leave my straightjacket at home and I clean all the spittle off my chin. But that could just be me. [Eyeroll.]
I didn’t take her wording literally.
That’s obvious, because Ask Amy was very patronizing to the letter writer.
As for whether adultery could cause PTSD or not, I’d recommend this one book or movie (I’ve read the book but haven’t seen the movie): The Silver Linings Playbook. I think that makes my case that adultery can cause PTSD.
It’s possible that the letter writer doesn’t have PTSD. From the sounds of it, what happened when she was nineteen sent her into a tailspin. I’ve been there, where something happened that was really mind-altering, and not in a good way. I wouldn’t call it PTSD (in my case) because I don’t have flashbacks of these incidents, nor do the incidents haunt me. But just because it’s not PTSD doesn’t mean we need to mock someone for still being upset by something. Is that our attitude? “It’s not PTSD, so get over it.”
It’s a tough issue, because like I said, there’s a fine line between playing the victim versus actually wanting to get over something. In the letter writer’s case, I can tell she wants to get over it by reading her letter.
I remember a while back Sonya helped me finally, at long last, get over Nate (aka Mr. Wrong). At one point in the very emotional process, she asked if I really wanted to get over him, and I was like, “YES! Oh my gosh, yes, I really want to!!”
There you go. She must’ve feared I was just enjoying the drama for drama’s sake, but whenever I need more drama in my life, all I really have to do is visit my mother. No, I was hellbent on getting over Nate, but I was really hurting and didn’t know how to do it. But all’s well that ends well, and God bless Sonya. She got me there!! I’m so over him now, even to the point of regretting having treated him so terribly. [Shaking my head.] (Poor guy never stood a chance.)
Getting back to the letter writer. If twenty years have gone by (as in the letter writer’s case) and the event is still causing issues in her personal life (which it is), then I don’t care whether or not she has PTSD. She needs help one way or the other, and that’s the important thing. What Ask Amy did by telling her off was unhelpful, uncompassionate, and sort of cringey for me to read. I’m not sure what’s wrong with Ask Amy, but she has some bad attitudes about different issues.