What differentiates Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from all other mental disorders? The difference is in its origin or what’s known as the trigger. Other such disorders, in general, are dateless, they may erupt because of genetics or a dysfunctional upbringing, or response to substance abuse, but little is known about when they actually began. With PTSD, however, there must be an event, a specific event that can be identified as related to the ensuing psychological and emotional state of an individual. With PTSD, the accompanying symptoms are easily identifiable and are related to the event or trigger.
During the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings we heard Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, under oath, offering testimony that was portrayed by the majority of media outlets repeatedly and obsessively as unequivocal, compelling and heartbreaking. Dr. Ford spoke about an alleged event that in her own words was a traumatic event of life changing proportions. Yet in examining the content of what Dr. Ford expressed as indicative of the Trauma that she endured, mental health professionals would have difficulty in connecting Trauma to what Dr. Ford spoke about during her testimony.
Before the onset of the trigger and the ensuing Trauma, victims do not suffer from amnesia and are aware of their surroundings. They may very well have lapses of memory and memory retrieval after an alleged event, but not about what occurred before it.
Up until the alleged event, Dr. Ford should not have had any difficulty in providing details. However Dr. Ford claimed that due to the alleged event she could not remember or recall basic details prior to what she says was the most traumatic event in her life. Not where the “assault” took place — she was not sure whose house it was, or even what street it was on, or how she got there, who brought her to the house. She was not even sure of the year, let alone the day and month. This is very untypical of PTSD and raises important questions about what really happened and if the story conveyed was real or imaginary. During my professional years as a mental health officer in a military and war time setting, these types of “before the event” memory lapses were always a “red flag” indicative of malingering ( the fabricating of symptoms of mental or physical disorders for a variety of reasons).
Dr. Ford conceded she told no one what happened to her at the time, not even her best friend or mother. Her immediate family; mother, father and two siblings, did not provide any supporting information or indication that the alleged event caused at the time any observable change or behavior that would attest to Dr. Ford experiencing a traumatic event of life changing proportions. It seems as if Dr. Ford went on with her teenage life without any measurable reactions by those closest to her.
Again in my professional experience, family members are the first to be almost immediately aware that a family member is suffering from Trauma, it is almost a given and unavoidable. Dr. Ford’s ability to move on during those years as if nothing happened not only does not make sense, but raises questions of credibility. Clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals who have treated PTSD are aware of the relevance of family members being aware of an abrupt change in behavior and their involvement in reporting this change to relevant helping professionals. The absence of her own immediate family members reporting any type of change in Dr. Ford's behavior at the time is counter-indicative of Trauma as claimed by Dr. Ford.
Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit (such as planes), shopping centres. Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. The symptoms occur nearly every time the situation is encountered and last for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations.
Dr. Ford claimed during her testimony that she suffered from Claustrophobia and stated that her fear of flying and avoidance of flying was related to the alleged event that occured 36 years previously. During the cross examination, Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell was able to contradict Dr. Ford's claim when it became evident that Dr. Ford has flown throughout her life both short and long distances and had even flown to the East coast just prior to her appearance in the Senate hearing. Clearly Dr. Ford does not suffer from an anxiety disorder related to flying and the assertion that the alleged event contributed to this anxiety makes the assertion even that more absurd.
During her testimony, Dr. Ford claimed that she suffered from long-term mental health effects after being sexually assaulted, including anxiety, claustrophobia, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But how is latent and repressed trauma released and reactivated after so many years, what triggers it in the present?
In comparison, military PTSD can be reactivated, for example, by a former soldier participating in a family barbeque or with friends at a backyard barbeque, where the smell of searing meat on the grill reawakens memories of traumatic and difficult events in the battlefield of the stench of human flesh. During her testimony, Dr. Ford, a seasoned academic in the field of psychology, could have easily shared with listeners examples of how trauma has affected her life, yet her bizarre testimony often veered off into psychological jargon about brain chemistry, memory storage, and how trauma effects the brain.
When asked by committee members for her most vivid memory from the attack that allegedly occurred nearly 40 years ago, Ford responded, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two [men], and their having fun at my expense,” referring to the part of the brain mainly associated with memory. When discussing her trauma, Ford replied, “The etiology of anxiety and PTSD is multifactorial."
Dr. Ford responded as if she was speaking of someone else or about the science of trauma and not about her own personal experience, possibly because she does not have a personal experience that she can convey or share - the small idiosyncratic memories that always come out when trauma patients share their difficult experience. In Dr. Ford's testimony we heard of the hippocampus and laughter of two men who both deny being present at the alleged event.
During the testimony given by Dr. Ford, there were countless instances of the lack of coherent Trauma-related examples that would give an indication of PTSD as a result of a traumatic and life changing event. Instead we were party to a performance by Dr. Ford who spoke with a Betty Boop voice that fluctuated back and forth, leaving us wondering how much was real and how much was imaginary - or even how much was made up along the way.
The writer, a 25-year veteran of the I.D.F., served as a field mental health officer and Commander of the Central Psychiatric Military Clinic for Reserve Soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty, he provides consultancy services to NGO’s implementing Psycho trauma and Psychoeducation programs to communities in the North and South of Israel and is a former strategic advisor to the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org