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IanMorrison
11-05-2009, 11:26 AM
I've got a character who just got thrown into a violent and traumatic situation without warning that involved the deaths of several people and an attempt on her own life, followed by her killing the (fairly monstrous) attacker. This is followed by several minutes trying to hide in fear of another attacker arriving, followed by being rescued by the local militia. She's normally a cool headed and intelligent individual (serving as a doctor), but she has no live combat experience and I need her to be in extremely rough shape mentally after all is said and done. In particular, I need her to be irrational enough to lash out and seriously injure her rescuers when they attempt to disarm her.

What kind of thought process would be involved here? Would it imply anything about her character to react in this way? Would she stay in this state of mind all night, or would she snap out of it fairly quickly? And what might some of the after effects be? Would PTSD be a likely result?

In other words, how can I play this to make it believable?

DrZoidberg
11-05-2009, 12:04 PM
http://www.charminghealth.com/applicability/after-shock.htm

I found this. I hope it helps.

Cassiopeia
11-05-2009, 12:12 PM
If it's very soon afterward, I would attribute it to the fight or flight response and not PTSD. People do react differently.

For instance in three of the experiences in which I was a victim of violent crime, I remained so calm that to think about it now, kinda weirds me out. But it's how I respond to extreme stress at the time. I do suffer from PTSD but for me I shut down.

kaitie
11-05-2009, 12:44 PM
I agree that a lot of it has to do with personal response to a traumatic situation. I see absolutely no reason why a person can't be so caught up in the fear that someone is going to harm them in a situation like this that they actually try to fight back against the rescuer. It makes sense to me. Not everyone would do that, but it doesn't seem abnormal, either. She sounds in shock to me.

PTSD is a disorder that would become apparent later on and would mostly consist of flashbacks, nightmares, that sort of thing, to the extent that it interferes with daily life. That last part is the kicker. Nightmares and flashbacks after trauma are relatively normal. If you have these to the extent that you begin to avoid certain situations out of fear, or they interfere with your ability to work or are causing major problems in your family, then it is possible to receive a diagnosis.

Stress and anxiety after trauma is relatively normal, but most people would grow out of this over time. Whether or not PTSD is a likely result is dependent on the kind of person she is. I personally wouldn't use it, particularly without a very clear understanding of what it was like. Many of the casual stereotypes aren't really accurate (which is actually true of most psychological diagnoses out there).

Look at the character, who she is, and how it affects her, and most of all why. Does it shake her world view? Is it the sheer horror of what she sees? Is it because she, someone who makes a living saving lives, was unable to save the victims? Answer those questions first, and you'll start to understand how it affects her.

Hope this helps. :)

Oh, wanted to add that as for how long she would remain in the shock state, that depends. Acute shock typically wears off relatively quickly, and definitely within a couple of days. If she is someone who is typically pretty level-headed and handles stress well, she might be okay once she knows she is no longer in the danger zone. I would guess that she would snap out of it relatively fast. Then again, that might be a bit of a bias of mine. Most of the time in books when someone is traumatized in a very extreme way (ie stops talking, catatonic, etc.) it ends up a bit melodramatic. Even things that really happen in real life can come off hokey if taken too far. So I'd say go ahead and traumatize her, give her some nice psychological issues afterward (I also get peeved when people are happy-go-lucky after something like this), but try to keep a balance.

You can always post a bit after you've written it in the SYW section and see what people think as well. :)

IanMorrison
11-05-2009, 08:46 PM
This is really helpful, thanks guys!

At least some of the symptoms mentioned on Zoidberg's link for PTSD are things I was planning to use, but more extreme than what I was planning. From the sounds of it PTSD would be too much of a distraction for the character and I couldn't do it justice anyways, so I think I'll keep the symptoms muted. They're things that the character is going to need to deal with to some extent or another, but I don't want them stealing the show. Is this a reasonable approach, or is it not possible to just "tone down" PTSD symptoms until the effect on daily life is minimal?

I don't really want this event to be the overriding focus of the character, as I'm more interested in the social implications of seriously injuring one of the rescuers, who in this case is a major community leader who is not of a forgiving mindset.

Kaitie, you mention that it sounds like she's in shock. I'm assuming you're talking about acute stress reaction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_stress_reaction). Is there anything I should take in account with that in mind?

DrZoidberg
11-05-2009, 09:26 PM
I can give you two anecdotes of shock that ended the same way.

I was kicked in the head during a thai-boxing match. I did not see it coming, quick as a cobra, hard as an anvil. I crashed to the floor, but immediately sprung up on my feet. I felt fine, I was ready to kick ass. Everybody around me stopped and stared and asked how I was doing. Tears were apparently streaming down my cheeks, but I didn't know. I felt great, better than ever. After a couple of minutes it all came crashing down and my consciousness caught up with my tear-ducts. I had to go into the locker room and cry like a little girl. It was like the worlds worst depression condensed into ten minutes. I babbled incoherently about... I don't know. It was probably just rubbish.

The same thing happened after a traffic accident. I was cycling along the traffic minding my own business, going fast as I always do, when a car turned ever so slightly toward me. It was one of those American cars where the wheels are set pretty far back so the front stuck over the curb cutting me off. I slammed right into it, and somersaulted over the hood, landed on the other side, amazingly enough, on my feet. Ran around the car, picked my bike off the ground took off again, and just like last time found, to my great surprise found tears streaming down my cheeks. I stopped and then it caught up with me.

I've been in worse accidents, but those didn't end in shock.

backslashbaby
11-05-2009, 09:58 PM
This is really helpful, thanks guys!

At least some of the symptoms mentioned on Zoidberg's link for PTSD are things I was planning to use, but more extreme than what I was planning. From the sounds of it PTSD would be too much of a distraction for the character and I couldn't do it justice anyways, so I think I'll keep the symptoms muted. They're things that the character is going to need to deal with to some extent or another, but I don't want them stealing the show. Is this a reasonable approach, or is it not possible to just "tone down" PTSD symptoms until the effect on daily life is minimal?

I don't really want this event to be the overriding focus of the character, as I'm more interested in the social implications of seriously injuring one of the rescuers, who in this case is a major community leader who is not of a forgiving mindset.

Kaitie, you mention that it sounds like she's in shock. I'm assuming you're talking about acute stress reaction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_stress_reaction). Is there anything I should take in account with that in mind?

If it helps any, I had PTSD for several years after a couple of traumatic events in the span of just over a year. The symptoms seemed mild for the first year or so, and I wasn't aware that I had a problem. Except that I was self-destructive (eating disorders mostly). Later, the flashbacks started and it became clear that I had blocked out the bigger event. Then I got in therapy, etc. So for a long while there, it wasn't my focus and the symptoms seemed mild, if that makes any sense.

I'm sure PTSD is probably a continuum to some degree. After the 1st incident, things weighed on me, I'd say. I'd believe a 'PTSD lite' if done convincingly.

Mike Martyn
11-05-2009, 10:15 PM
Can you give her a moderate concussion? People can be very aggressive afterwards.

IanMorrison
11-06-2009, 12:37 AM
A concussion is very much within the realm of possibility, yes! I'm not looking for aggression as much as paranoia/panic, however. :)

jclarkdawe
11-06-2009, 02:34 AM
As a firefighter/EMT, I've dealt with this way too often. It's a flight/fight syndrome and has nothing to do with PTSD. It can last from a couple of seconds to a few hours, depending on how long it takes the person to become exhausted or relax, whichever comes first.

You can find videos of people being arrested by uniformed police officers who have appropriately identified themselves with blue lights flashing screaming for the police. Completely unable to realize who the police are. All they want to do is run, and if they can't run, fight. And they are fighting for their lives. Anything and everything goes.

I was nailed one time by a sweet little girl about sixteen. She's trapped in the car, and I'm crawling in to calm her and she gave me a beautiful shiner. I was in full bunker gear and had been talking to her, but I got too close.

I don't think it has anything to do with character and doesn't mean a thing afterward. It's a panic response to a situation. Kids will climb into the toy chests to escape fires. Animals will go off of cliffs in this situation.

It's all instinct and probably could happen to any of us. It can range from a calm thought that you need to get out of a situation before you're overwhelmed to flailing at anything that comes near you.

You don't really snap out of this so much as calm down. If you want to try to replicate the feeling, find someone who is willing to do a really, really good job of scaring you. You'll get the feeling as your pulse goes down, your breathing returns to normal, and your muscles relax and you no longer have a desire to run.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Nivarion
11-06-2009, 10:52 AM
I know a guy who just finished a tour in Iraq. This is similar but, but not quite the same.

He fired a rocket at something from the top of a building. After the blast he nearly ran off of the building (It was something like ten stories.) and then attacked his platoon leader when he pulled him back.

People do stupid stuff when they have the flight or fight reaction going. They can forget everything about where they are and what's responsible.

I've heard of cops arriving at the scene of defensive shootings where the person with the gun is still pulling the trigger at the body of the attacker. Even though all of their ammo has been gone for some time.

I was watching cops the other day, and they had an officer get knocked over by a thug who took his gun. He drew the secondary pistol he kept and unloaded into him. In the interview he said that he had only shot once.

I'm going to hit post before I continue to ramble.

Cassiopeia
11-06-2009, 12:15 PM
As a firefighter/EMT, I've dealt with this way too often. It's a flight/fight syndrome and has nothing to do with PTSD. It can last from a couple of seconds to a few hours, depending on how long it takes the person to become exhausted or relax, whichever comes first.



Jim Clark-DaweYes, thank you.

IanMorrison
11-06-2009, 05:56 PM
Thanks for the replies, guys! If I'm understanding correctly, I can get the behaviour I want strictly from the flight-or-fight response. Anything I add with shock or mental trauma is additional and has more to do with the aftermath than the event itself.

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-10-2009, 07:00 PM
What kind of thought process would be involved here? None. She's running on her "reptile brain", her self-defense circuits and adrenaline are running the show.

Would it imply anything about her character to react in this way? No. It's a situational thing, not something she can call up at will.

Would she stay in this state of mind all night, or would she snap out of it fairly quickly? Depends on what the plot needs. Flipping in and out of it is quite likely. Re-playing it in her mind, or talking it over and over to the rescuers is likely. Smart rescuers listen and let it get talked about.

And what might some of the after effects be? Vivid dreams about the situation, flashbacks when she sees or hears something that resembles the situation. These will get less frequent.

15 years after one incident, I still get an occasional flashback about a horrific car crash ... if I'm at the right kind of intersection with the right lighting and see the right kind of car, I "see" that vehicle disintegrate and come flying at me like the original one did.

Would PTSD be a likely result? It's only PTSD if it interferes with your life. I accept the after-effects as normal mental activity, and by not worrying about them I have fewer of them.