Positive outcomes of documenting life stories for people with PTSD
I have over twenty years’ experience in documenting and producing self-published books of stories and oral histories of people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The sources of my clients’ PTSD have included child abuse, sexual assault, war experiences, violence, and major accidents. Most clients with PTSD also suffer from grief, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, dyslexia and/or other illnesses or disorders.
The goals of my clients with PTSD who have asked me to help them by documenting and producing a book of their life stories or memoirs have included: (a) wanting to be able to get their own story clear in their head, so they can read it back, (b) wanting to share their story with family and friends, so they are understood, (c) wanting to share their story with other people with PTSD, to help them, and (d) wanting to share their story with the wider community to educate them about PTSD.
In my experience, all of my clients’ goals have been met, and there have also been other positive outcomes they had not foreseen.
Below are the main outcomes that people with PTSD have achieved, as a direct result of working with me to document and self-publish a book of their oral histories, memoirs or life story.
Feedback from clients with PTSD who have shared their stories
Feedback from my clients (storytellers) whose memoirs or life stories I have produced has been as follows.
Their loved ones understand them far better
The main reason most of my clients (storytellers) with PTSD want their stories documented and compiled into a book is so they can share it with their family and friends. Feedback from family and friends after reading the storyteller’s book has shown the storyteller’s goals have been achieved.
Family and friends who have read the book have said and shown the storyteller that:
- they were amazed to hear all that their loved one has been through
- they now understand why their loved one has reacted and behaved in ‘irrational’ or ‘unusual’ or ‘volatile’ ways, over the years
- they now understand what their loved one’s day to day reality is, living with PTSD. This understanding then brings more compassion, which they can now show to their loved one.
For many of my clients with PTSD, self-publishing their book has led to stronger and closer relationships with their loved ones (family and friends).
Their story has helped other people who have PTSD
Another reason that many storytellers with PTSD want their stories put into a book, is so they can share their story with people they don’t know, who also (a) have experienced trauma, or (b) have PTSD (diagnosed or undiagnosed), or (c) suffer from similar mental illnesses or conditions.
The storyteller believes that sharing their story with others who have suffered from similar experiences will help those people know they are not alone, and maybe help them learn how to cope and live with their traumatic memories, mental illnesses or conditions like PTSD.
Feedback from people who suffer from PTSD or who have lived through similar experiences, who have read the storyteller’s book, has shown the storyteller’s goals have been achieved. After reading the memoir, people have told the storyteller that:
- they now feel less alone
- they were able to laugh, cry, and it was a healing experience
- the storyteller’s experiences taught them different ways to cope with PTSD
- they were given the courage to seek help, so they could learn to live with PTSD better
- the storyteller’s journey of survival was inspiring, and that has given them courage.
Their book has educated people in the wider community
Some storytellers want to share their story of their experiences and PTSD so they can educate people whose life experiences have not included trauma, violence, abuse or mental illness. The storyteller wants to show people in the general community what life is like for a person living with PTSD so those people can better understand PTSD and other mental illnesses or disorders.
Because the more understanding there is of PTSD in the wider community, the more compassion there will be for people who suffer from PTSD. And with more understanding and compassion in the wider community for people with PTSD, the stigma of having PTSD will become less, which will benefit all people with PTSD.
For those books that have been made available by the storyteller to the general public, feedback has shown the storyteller’s goals have been achieved. Feedback from members of the public has been:
- they have gained a far greater understanding of PTSD, as well as the other mental illnesses and conditions discussed in the book
- as a result of more understanding, they now have more compassion for people who live with those disorders and illnesses
- (in response to one memoir): the nurses who read the story said they gained a far better understanding of not only PTSD but also schizophrenia and depression and would promote the book to their friends in the health industry
- (in response to one memoir): they gained an in-depth understanding not only of PTSD but also of what it is like to fight in a war, and the impacts of war
- (in response to a collection of women’s oral histories): they were devastated by the stories of war but inspired and uplifted by the courage of the storytellers and their stories of survival, and they (the readers) now supported that cause
- they feel inspired by the journey the storyteller has taken them on, and by the courage shown by the storyteller. They have thanked the storyteller for sharing their story.
They have found healing and comfort through sharing their story
In my experience, the reason a person with PTSD wants their story documented into a book has always been to help or educate others, not to help themselves. However, a direct outcome of all the storytellers with whom I have worked, is that they have found comfort and healing both through the process of working with me to document their story, and through the act of sharing their documented story – their book – with others.
Feedback from my clients with PTSD during the documenting process (where I consult with them, they tell their stories, and I type and ask them questions) has been as follows.
- Often, the storyteller has said to me, ‘Oh, I feel lighter,’ or, ‘I never told anyone that before. It feels good to get it off my chest.’
- Sometimes the storyteller has said, ‘Don’t put that part in the book; I don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. But I needed to talk about it.’
- Sometimes, while telling a story, the storyteller begins to cry, and I let them know they don’t have to talk about it, if they don’t want to, but if they wish to continue, I will continue documenting that story for them when they are ready. Other times, we agree to take a coffee break, before recommencing.
- Sometimes, as the scribe and documenter, I have needed to take an ’emotional break’ from the session, and the storyteller has always understood and been compassionate about the fact their story is emotionally draining for me. In fact, they have told me that the fact I obviously feel for them deeply while documenting the story, is very helpful and healing for them.
- Many times, during the storytelling/consulting process, the storyteller and I will be giggling or laughing together at an experience they have related.
Feedback from my clients with PTSD (once we have documented their story and self-published their book, and it has been read by others) has been:
- the storyteller themselves have read and re-read their story many times, for the joy of it, and also (for those who have memory problems as well as PTSD) to clarify their own story in their head
- the storyteller feels they have achieved something great; one of my clients, aged 80, has even told me, ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!’
- the storyteller feels the PTSD symptoms they have struggled with over the years are now better understood by their family and friends. This makes them feel much better about living with PTSD
- all the practical outcomes listed below.
Links to related articles
- How sharing their story can be helpful to people with PTSD
- Storytelling and life story writing, as a healing process
Note: I am always very careful to explain to my clients at the outset, before commencing any work, that (a) they are highly unlikely to make any money from their memoir or life story, and (b) the client is the self-published author and owner of their book, and if they want to sell their book, they (not me) are the ones responsible for marketing and sales. In practice, although the sales of a self-published book can go towards the costs of production, they do not cover that cost (i.e. most authors do not make a profit from their book).
Image: Thank you to WOCinTechChat for permission to use this image.
Proofread by Hannah Auld, On Time Typing, Editing and Proofreading.
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