The Hulk and PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.
The new Hulk series (formerly She Hulk) beautifully and sensitively addresses the experience of people living with PTSD. Rather than being in your face about it, the Hulk shows what everyday life is like with the disorder – from trying to simply remain calm to distracting oneself from harmful thoughts in any way one can.
Jennifer (formerly She Hulk, now simply the Hulk) and her experiences are played out in a subtle but understandable way over the course of *several* issues, beginning small, with Jen trying to distract herself by watching cooking shows and eating pastries
and even, touchingly, trying to drink tea when she wakes in the middle of the night from a panic attack.
As Jen tries to re-enter the workforce the effects of PTSD are seen more clearly; she hears a random mention of events surrounding her cousin's murder on TV and it "triggers" a episode typical of PTSD - panic attack, loss of self control, rage, sadness and so on.
It's interesting that Jen ties her PTSD symptoms to her ability to change into the Hulk - whereas before she was in control of her changes and in fact welcomed them, now she is terrified of them and is barely able to control when they occur. This is a near perfect explanation/expression of how PTSD feels to the everyday sufferer, cleverly couched in superhero terminology so as not to bash the reader over the head with the message.
Jen's first client furthers this, as she is a woman suffering from PTSD herself - a woman who can barely leave her house because she is so frightened all the time due to what happened to her. She is being threatened with eviction, which would destroy her sense of safety entirely. Jen is very kind and cautious with the woman, promising to help.
The reader then gets a peek inside the client's life, and it is a revealing one. She is alone, frightened, barricaded in her home and begging for protection, in this case from some unknown entity. Completely understandable and relatable, this scene provides readers with an idea of what it is like to live with PTSD.
As Jen digs deeper into the case, she discovers that most of the inhabitants of her client's apartment complex are dealing with similar issues, and have in fact banded together with this unknown force in a bid to protect themselves from the outer world. It's heartbreaking to see as these people could help one another as a community but instead have been overcome by some unknown entity --- the PTSD itself.
To see the PTSD actually personified as some sort of parasitic black goo that feeds upon the residents is just perfectly handled, as is the manifestation of the PTSD as an actual monster. Those suffering from the disorder know that this is exactly how it feels - as though it were something bigger than oneself that just rages out of control. It's terrifying to be at the mercy of your own mind when you can no longer trust it to respond the way you are used to.
The client's struggle with this overwhelming entity is the centerpiece of Jen's return to society after losing her cousin, a perfect example of what Jen herself is going through and struggling to avoid. To do battle with the creature is inevitable, but for Jen and other sufferers of PTSD it won't stop with the slaying of a "supernatural monster", but will continue to be something that is dealt with every day. It will be interesting to see how this journey will affect Jen's everday life, as it has already been hinted that were she to transform into the Hulk she would be unable to control it, just as she can't control the fact that she has PTSD. Hopefully she will learn ways to manage it and her anger, but something tells me that wouldn't make for as exciting of a book. Kudos to writer Mariko Tamaki's sensitive treatment of a very real illness, aptly illustrated by Nico Leon's artwork. I can't recommend this one enough.