PTSD: Not Just for Veterans

As an author, when I think of an individual with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) my brain jumps to characters like Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon) from NCIS or Dean Winchester (played by Jensen Ackles). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, “PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” (VA.gov, 2019). Military veterans, emergency personnel, and those who play demon hunters on television, more than anyone, qualify in my opinion as enduring multiple life-threatening experiences. But PTSD also occurs in children, teens, adults, and even parents of children with special needs.

Anyone can develop PTSD from long exposure to high-intensity situations, extended stress, lack of sleep, grief, fear, etc. I am a mother of three amazing special needs children (two boys and a girl) who struggle with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders—Combined (ADHD), cardiac issues, anxiety and self-harm and I suffer from PTSD. The onslaught of my children’s diagnoses, information, advice, doctors’ appointments, guilt, financial issues, and stress grew over the years like a slow-motion avalanche, burying me until I struggled to breathe. Two years ago, while still in the throes of this emotional barrage, my father died from a sudden heart attack. Our relationship had been filled with rough patches over the years and we didn’t talk much, but he was still my dad. The grief, stress, and trauma of flying to Seattle to help my bed-ridden mother deal with the aftermath of his death was the final trigger. I spiraled downward to the point that I was curled in a ball on my couch, covering my head, and yelling, “Don’t touch me” to anyone who came near.

It took another three months of night terrors, anxiety, panicking at loud noises, and freaking out over personal space issues before I admitted to myself that my life was out of control and I called my doctor. After talking over my traumatic life events and the physical, mental, and emotional reactions I had to them she diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since then I’ve learned what events can trigger my PTSD (i.e. large crowds, competing noises, etc.) and have developed coping strategies to reduce the number of episodes I have—mostly relating to self-care.

My PTSD doesn’t only impact me. My children and husband are impacted by it as well. Although all three of my children live on the Autism Spectrum, each of them is influenced by it in a different way. The techniques one of my sons uses to cope with his autism is a natural trigger for my other son. When that occurs, they make mixed-martial arts fighting look like thumb wrestling. They need me on top of my game when that happens. But the extreme chaos of noise, motion, and emotion trigger my PTSD. Every time an episode strikes, I relieve those moments just after my dad died. My mother screaming in the dark of night. Me falling off the couch, scrambling for protection beneath the coffee table. All my senses screaming that an intruder was killing my mother. And I was going to be next.

I have spent the last two years learning pre-emptive coping skills, such as:

  1. Helping my children understand PTSD, why I have it, and what the triggers are.
  2. Time outs – not for the kids, but for me. When I feel the tension rising and fear kicking in, I let them know that mommy needs a time out. They’ve learned that when I can get 10 minutes of alone time, they will get 10 minutes of focused time with me when I come out.
  3. Hiking as a family (nature has a great calming effect for all of us).
  4. Sensory Garden – We’ve transformed our back yard into a calming tool that triggers all the senses in a positive way. It is our safe zone when any of us are stressed.

Yes, I still have those moments when the constant chaos of living within a special needs family can be overwhelming, but I’m pleased to say that the number of times I’ve curled into a ball on the couch has dramatically decreased over time.

I don’t want to scare you away from writing a character with PTSD; my goal is the exact opposite. I’m hoping that by sharing my story, you will identify ways to expand not only what your characters can do and be, but how their PTSD impacts individuals around them. discover what can cause PTSD, how to identify the triggers, what treatments are available, and find sensitivity readers who can help open up your understanding to new dimensions you may not have considered.

I suggest starting your research with the following websites:

With your newly acquired knowledge and a solid foundation of research, it will help you be prepared as an author to write that story about men, women, children, animals, and even robots with PTSD. We need more people, especially authors, who are willing to open the world to a discussion, support, and empathy regarding mental illnesses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. She was born in Utah, but over the years migrated to California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and the greater Seattle area. In the end, she returned to Utah (though her heart still resides in Seattle).

Karen has worked as a photographer, a business analyst, and a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant (and stinkin’ cute) children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides, she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy, magical realism, as well as stories and essays on raising children on the Autism Spectrum. Karen lives, plots, writes, and hides in the suburbs of Northern Utah. 

I must increase

I am at a writing retreat. (Thanks, Dave!)

My first day here, I wrote from about 8 in the morning until 9 at night, with breaks for meals and occasional chit-chat. I produced about 2,500 words. That is perhaps 250 words an hour, or one lonely page.

Don’t get me wrong. I love those words. They’re good words. And I am super glad I have 2,500 words more than I did when I came to this retreat, but I need to produce a lot more than that. In fact, today I’d like to double that.

I’m not sure how to do that, but here is what I am going to try today.

1) Outline. I usually write more or less into the dark, but today I’m going to try to figure out at least some rough idea of where this is going.

2) Sprint. Do at least one timed 15 sprint each hour, with the stopwatch running. Try to hit 250 new words in that time.

3) Check in hourly. Report both on what I’ve been doing, and where the count stands.

4) HAVE FUN. Put in the most fun things I can imagine into the book, so that I will be excited to write.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And if you have some ideas for me, I’d love to hear them.

Okay, time to make the donuts.

–JDP

Real Characters

Like many of you, I read a lot. I love the new stuff and the classics. LOTR, Les Miserables, Moby Dick, all fantastic books. But there is no denying that they hold a different voice than novels of today. It’s not just words either. 

First Person POV like, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought…” has changed. Before it was like the telling of something that happened. But now, even though most First Person POVs are written in past tense, there is a closeness to them that makes it feel as if it is happening now. Present tense often has the effect of feeling like it is taking place in the near future.

First Person today or Close Third allow the reader to get inside the POV character’s head. This sets the medium apart from movies or television and I would propose that this is why the book is most often better than the movie.

For an author to do this effectively, the character needs to be alive with real thoughts and preferences and opinions. How else will they react to what comes their way? And isn’t this fantastic story telling? When the characters take hold and even argue with us the author.

I saw a documentary about the filming of Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. There is a scene where a samurai guy whips around his sword and taunts Jones. The documentary said that the original script called for an intricate fight scene where Jones eventually beats the Samurai. But Harrison Ford argued that his character had a gun and would simply shoot the Samurai dead. The story was rewritten.

Recently I have been writing a thriller involving a hitman, an FBI agent, a financial guru in witness protection, and I needed another character to round out the mix—a face of the evil corporate conglomerate. Fei. She is a middle-aged Chinese national and she runs a section of the corporation, laundering money made from sex trafficking and drugs.

I’m a discovery writer so often times I start with an idea and see where it goes with a distant idea in mind. I did not expect what Fei decided to do.

I needed her to ask the hitman to kill this guy, but Fei let me know that this was not an easy thing for her to do and that she’d developed feelings for this dude. I pushed it. She had her lover killed. Part of her was sad, and another felt power and control. She handled the death in a very interesting way. Two chapters later and Fei is now a serial killer. I did not expect that at all, but Fei, with her personality, her childhood issues, her lust and disgust for men, her struggling marriage with a husband who is reluctant to come out of the closet, all of these dynamics have formed and created Fei, a person, a character, someone that I would recognize if I bumped into her on the street (and then I’d run like hell in the opposite direction).

Real characters aren’t cliché. They aren’t faceless drones. They are a compilation of many people. They have wants and goals and dreams and they struggle and have weaknesses. And when they are real, we as readers recognize that and the story resonates with us.

I watch people. (Not in a creepy way). I observe their mannerisms. I listen to their word choices. I notice their posture and eye movements. These things make someone unique. And I ask them questions. I listen to how they respond. I strive to understand their ambitions and fears.

All of these mesh and mingle and come out in my writing.

I came up with Jared Sanderson about 7 years ago. He is very real to me. I could describe his physical features that are a mesh of three of my friends. But this little segment, which is his intro into the story, shows a bit of who he is as a character.

“Jared Sanderson gnawed on the side of his thumb as he waited for the attorney. He had forgotten to moisturize so his skin flaked and cracked at the sides of his fingers. By impulse, he chewed away the dead skin, especially when nervous.”

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Jace Killan

I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can check out my books here or at my website www.jacekillan.com.

The Times, They Are A’Changin’

This blog was originally set up as a means to help new writers get their voices heard. The members of the Fictorians are chosen through a process intended to ensure quality content and steady publication. In the past several months it has been increasingly difficult to maintain the schedule that we have set for ourselves. As a result we have had some members posting multiple times per month, and the time demands have simply become too much for us to maintain the same level of blog posting. Effective immediately, Fictorians is going on a temporary limited hiatus. As a group we are re-thinking the purpose of the blog, and the expected demands on Fictorians members. Please stay tuned for further announcements or information about these changes. It is our intent above all to maintain the highest possible quality of content. Comments welcome.