One of the things that PTSD will do to you is make you think that since this life-changing event occurred, everything surrounding it must be significant.
Writing a book, on the other hand, is the opposite. A memoir, which is supposed to be structured like a novel that really happened, is about how the main character changes in response to the life-changing event. Thus, only events that support the changed person at the end can be in the book. In a memoir, the main character is you, so the process of cutting the stuff that doesn’t support the plot is especially difficult as you’re removing some of the most important days of your life.
What you don’t realize is that you’re afflicted with a condition known as Too Much Information, something that can bog down investigators when they’re trying to solve a crime. To give an example of what I mean, I’m going to include a short video at the end that the New York Times made about one aspect of the Kennedy assassination: The Umbrella Man.
To summarize, on the day that Kennedy was killed, it had been raining the night before, but the sky had cleared up by morning. The photographs of the crowds surrounding the motorcade route have no one wearing a raincoat or holding an umbrella. But, in the pictures that were taken by bystanders at the moment the gunshots rang out, there was one man holding an umbrella on the sidewalk near the president’s limousine. It must mean something, right?
I’m talking about the Kennedy assassination and PTSD because if there’s one day in our history when America got PTSD, that’s it. No event has created more conspiracy theories by people unable to tell the difference between a significant fact and an insignificant one. In 1976, 81 percent of Americans thought that Kennedy had been killed by a conspiracy. One conspiracy theory had The Umbrella Man as an assassin who had a gun concealed in the umbrella.
The Umbrella Man is worth particular attention because it was eventually resolved. The man holding the umbrella came forward and testified to Congress that he had been holding the umbrella as a visual protest of John Kennedy’s father, Joseph Kennedy. When he was ambassador to Britain in 1938-39, he had been cooperating with Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policies. The umbrella was there to be a symbol of Chamberlain’s umbrella, part of his trademark look.
It was there, so it must be significant, says the PTSD victim. In the case of the preemie memoir I’m writing, called Too Young to Save: Our Premature Baby, My Weakness and God’s Strength, I’ve been through a painful cutting process. Out goes the endocrinologist who made us think Gabriel had congenital adrenal hyperplasia, out goes the part about how reading Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” gave me comfort and context when we thought we were going to lose him, out goes the parts about trying to explain to co-workers how bizarre the NICU is, and out goes the amazing lady who saw me struggling with Gabriel’s g-tube on a really rainy day at a McDonald’s and spontaneously gave me a one-hundred dollar bill.
On the other hand, this process of focusing the plot does give me the opportunity to convey an emotional message to the reader through the narrative, a message of fatherhood and faith as I got my feet back under my body. Writing this book is an important part of recovery from PTSD – not just to say what happened, but to take command of the Too Much Information and tell a coherent story.