Mean Tweets and PTSD: Facts and Fakers
By Havoc 13
Americans love labels, and we can’t wait to show ours off. We look to distinguish ourselves by the physical labels attached to things ranging from the clothing we wear, to the cars we drive, to the beer we drink. Then there are the labels we give ourselves. “I’m conservative…” “I’m African-American…” “I’m a Packers’ Fan…” and the list goes on and on. It’s interesting in a society consumed with “not labeling” others we are so quick to label ourselves—and to make sure everyone else knows what our labels are.
Labels are important, because they tell us who we are, they tell others who we are, and they tell us who others are. In short, labels are closely tied to our individual identity. But in the hashtag-and-selfie-driven world we live in today, labels do more than just establish our identity: self-labeling generates attention and sympathy. Labels can also excuse our bad behavior, or even make us money. And I’ve come to understand that there are no “bad” labels, as long as the label makes the individual in question look like a victim.
Case in point: self-described atheist and feminist Melody Hensley made worldwide headlines recently after she claimed the PTSD she was diagnosed with was “on par” with that of war veterans. No drama there; veterans know that we don’t have a monopoly on PTSD, and as a group we are usually loathe to try to one-up someone else’s PTSD and the way it affects him or her. But what really got people fired up was how Hensley claimed she got PTSD: from reading mean tweets about herself that other people made on the Internet.
Think about that for a moment: Melody Hensley is pretty much saying something along the lines of “The Internet gave me post-traumatic stress disorder equivalent to that experienced by war veterans because someone posted something on the Internet that hurt my feelings.” Interesting. We’ll revisit that sentiment later. But first, if having mean things said about you is all it takes to develop PTSD, then consider this a trigger warning because a whole lot of people are about to get their feelings hurt… and it’s not going to just be Melody Hensley.
I’ll go ahead and just say what’s on a lot of peoples’ minds: right now there is no “better” label for someone seeking attention or money than that of a PTSD victim. Need attention? Claim PTSD! Need to shut someone down who is getting the better of you in a political argument? Claim PTSD! Need an excuse for your own bad behavior? Claim PTSD! It’s the cure-all label for what ails you. No one can criticize you after you say you have it, because you’re a victim. People are reluctant to punish you for your misconduct, because you’re a victim. Even better, the government will even pay you for it, because you’re a victim. You don’t even have to prove you have it, you just have to apply that label to yourself, and *poof* instant victim status, instant attention, and maybe even instant money.
PTSD is real. It is a real disorder with real consequences for those who suffer from it and the people who love them. Unfortunately, PTSD is also the perfect tool for frauds and fakers because it relies almost entirely on self-reporting, and its symptoms can be easily faked. Oftentimes doctors can’t even tell the real cases from the fraudulent ones, and a whole little “cottage industry” has cropped up to help people fake PTSD. There are perverse incentives associated with claiming PTSD, and very little chance of ever getting caught for a false claim. There are all kinds of sketchy PTSD claims these days, including ones that involve nothing more “traumatic” than watching aerial video footage… or getting your feelings hurt by things you read on the Internet.
This brings us back to Melody Hensley. Not only do we not know for sure that she really has PTSD right now, we don’t even know for sure that she was even really diagnosed with it. All we know right now is that she CLAIMS she was diagnosed with PTSD; she carefully avoided naming the doctor who diagnosed her, or to offer any other supporting evidence. Based entirely on her own self-labeling, hordes of people are rushing to give her sympathy, attention, and other support. Predictably, Hensley has weathered a backlash against her outlandish claims, receiving particularly withering criticism from the veterans’ community. To this, she responded by threatening to contact service members commanding officers, a tactic I find laughable given 1) most COs are likely to think she’s just as full of shit as the troops do, and 2) most of the “veterans” responding to her don’t have a commanding officer to begin with, since it’s even easier to fake being a veteran than it is to fake having PTSD.
Many people think that Melody Hensley is crazy for claiming that she got PTSD from mean Twitter posts, but I don’t think that at all. Whether or not she legitimately developed PTSD from something she read about herself on the Internet, I think she is shrewdly manipulating the wave of attention being thrown her way by attaching a sympathy-garnering label to herself and adroitly playing for sympathy by claiming to have a disorder that very few people actually know anything about. And the backlash that has been generated against her simply plays into her hands; all of the (largely justified) attacks against her merely make her “victim card” easier to play, and gives her even more attention and credibility in the communities in which she is seeking to make a name for herself.
Given the backlash directed against her from not only veterans but also from survivors of rape and other violent crimes, I suspect we’ll see an “evolution” of Melody Hensley’s story. Over time, the “Twitter gave me PTSD” story will probably drift into a narrative of some other underlying event, for which the mean tweets were merely the “trigger” instead of what actually gave her PTSD, in order for her “PTSD” to have been acquired in a more politically-acceptable manner. Time will tell.
In the meantime I have some advice for fellow vets who are outraged by Melody Hensley’s PTSD claims: don’t feed the trolls. Treat Hensely and others like her the way you would treat the Westboro Baptist Church or a crazy ex: ignore it when you can, confront it when you have to, but ALWAYS comport yourself in a manner that reflects credit on the service. Don’t do dumb shit that reflects badly on all of us.
Melody Hensley says “I will not be silenced.” No one wants to silence you Melody, we just don’t want to hear you saying stupid things at the expense of those whose PTSD couldn’t have been prevented by pushing the “off” button on their iPad.