Book by: Mac McClellard
Review by: Christina Moussa
Florida International University
At one point or another, most people have faced moments of despair when they wish to hide beneath the covers and disconnect from the world. Yet these feelings of despondency are heightened for anyone who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After the catastrophic events of September 11th, 2001, countless movies and television shows began to depict PTSD as a mental health condition that hinders a person from living a normal life free of constant nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety after a traumatic event. What these media outlets fail to depict however, is that army veterans are not the only ones that deal with some form of PTSD. A marriage proposal, a mental breakdown, or memories of a dark past from which she cannot escape, are just some of the things that Mac McClellard writes about in Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story. The author opens the door for readers to delve into the female psyche and learn more about a disorder that plagues millions of people whether they choose to accept it or not.
As a journalist who travels the world in search of a good story, McClellard discusses how her time in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake led her to bear witness to the sexual assault of many women on the streets of a country grappling with tragedy and loss. She notes that women who are raped in Haiti are blamed instead of the perpetrator. Such a disoriented way of looking at things is what has caused sexual assault to be so prevalent in today’s society. The author brings up several instances in which she felt as though she was going to be attacked throughout her time spent in a foreign country researching the after effects of a catastrophic event. Through a series of sexual entanglements with a man she has no interest in, McClellard suggests that she rather enter a sadist relationship than into a tangled web of romance with the man she loves.
Through her experiences in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, the author describes the psychological damage that PTSD can have on a person. She draws attention to the work of clinical psychiatrist Judith Lewis- Herman, noting how “post-traumatic stress disorder is simply a nervous system’s inability to return to its normal baseline after the trauma is over” (p. 47). Yet, one could argue that although McClellard is still healing from some emotional scars left behind from her time in Haiti, she, unlike the subjects of her research, is able to escape and seek help for her trauma. For the women she so profusely speaks about who continuously experience sexual assault in a country where they have no voice, this is a current issue and one that they are not able to escape from. Furthermore, it seems as though she only touches upon some of the facts and on the trauma that women who have been raped have to endure.
McClellard’s memoir can be useful to anyone working with students, particularly those that deal with veterans who have returned from war and wish to speak to someone about their experiences. At times, academic advisors may face staring confessions from students who are dealing with depression due to an occurrence that torments them on a daily basis. Consequently, McClellard’s novel is a useful tool for any advisor who may be plagued with the never-ending question of how to best assist a student who is dealing with anxiety or loss.
Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story. (2015). Book by Mac McClellard. Review by Christina Moussa. New York, NY: FlatIron Books. 308 pp., $27.99 (Hardback). ISBN 978-1-250-05289-6.