PTSD, The Eighth Doctor, and Me
When I first got into the Doctor Who fandom in March of 2015, it was all because I had finally found "my Doctor"--Eight's perfect combination of sweetness, charm, compassion, sass, sarcasm, and practicality drew me to him immediately, and everything I learned about him afterward just fed into my newfound obsession (yes, I can be honest with myself here, LOL).
One of the most endearing parts of Eight's character, however, was the fragility I sensed in him from the very beginning. I called him "adorable" and "precious" because of it, and even wrote self-insert fiction in which my author avatar nurtured Eight after the trauma in Zagreus (no dirty ideas, thank you xD), but I didn't quite understand why I was reacting in such a way.
That is, I didn't understand it until I understood myself a little better.
By the time I was heading to Atlanta, GA in late May 2016 for the TimeGate convention, I was 31 years old, still largely unemployed, living at home, deeply into the Eighth Doctor fandom...and I considered myself a fairly happy person. I had had many terrible things happen to me in my childhood and adolescence, but I thought that most of those events were so far in the past that they shouldn't affect me anymore. And since I had "grown up," I thought maybe I just didn't get to feel happy in a childlike way anymore.
This changed when I was able to meet Paul McGann, one of my favorite human beings (not just because he portrays the Eighth Doctor, but for being just awesome in general). He was so kind to me, and in his presence I felt a type of soaring joy that I hadn't felt since childhood. I realized that up until then I had been living in an emotional hurricane, and that this powerfully happy, positive event had cleared the "sky" in my mind.
After I came home from the (awesome) convention, things went pretty well for about a month, but the clouds had already begun to sneak back in. Soon, as my mother's health sharply declined, culminating in her devastating fall on June 27th, 2016, the hurricane in my mind surged back to full strength. I struggled through the rest of the summer months, until finally I got fed up with living without positive feelings like I had been able to experience in May; I knew something was actually wrong with me now, because I had learned I was still capable of experiencing unbounded happiness.
The Fateful Day
Finally, in late August of 2016, I sought therapy, taking the recommendation of a close friend to call over to a mental health care clinic in my hometown to set up an appointment. The appointment for diagnosis was officially set for September 8th, and on that day, I came in, pretty much expecting a diagnosis of depression and anxiety since I had been experiencing so much of those symptoms.
But curiously, the therapist I saw began to ask me about insomnia, and feelings of being hyper-aware of my environment. She also asked me about whether I experienced irrational rage over small things, and whether I avoided situations and places that reminded me of bad experiences. My answers to all of these were "yes," and I could tell by this point she was going down a checklist on the clipboard in her hand. I figured it was the depression checklist, especially since she mentioned insomnia, and didn't think much of it.
After about an hour of me spilling out what felt like my life story, however, she sat back in her chair a bit, looking decided. "Well, based on what I'm hearing from you and what you've described, I think we can go with a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder--and we have a great therapy program for that here."
My first reaction was shock. "PTSD?" I asked. "But--but I'm not a veteran, I've never been in combat...?" My only knowledge of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was in the context of military veterans...how could I have PTSD when I'd never seen anything so traumatic as war?
But the therapist shook her head and smiled, saying, "You know, you don't have to have served our country to have been abused."
MIND. UTTERLY. BLOWN.
It made sense, now; the bullying and other emotional traumas of my growing-up years had truly hurt me worse than I had ever imagined. Far from being "in my past," I was living all those old wounds fresh every day, as if they had just happened.
No wonder I felt so stunted and stalled out; I had been trying to run on broken legs my whole life. Depression and anxiety HAD been present, sure, but they also existed in a larger constellation of symptoms, such as hypervigilance, irrational rage/fear, and avoidant behaviors that all characterize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Eight = A Fictional PTSD Sufferer
On the drive home from that momentous first appointment, I realized something: all the symptoms of PTSD are found in the Eighth Doctor's character over time. As he endures the loss of his companions and the near-loss of his own self, his natural kindness and openness are hidden under layers of emotional scar tissue...just like my natural extroversion became twisted into the quasi-introversion I had displayed in adulthood. I was quite literally terrified to be myself, for fear I would be hurt again. And Eight, throughout the audios especially, is terrified to love and care for anyone quite so much again, because he is afraid to once again fail them and lose them. So I had been drawn to Eight because he was like me, having suffered great trauma and having become numb/jaded toward life as a result.
Yet, strangely, even though I loved and appreciated Eight as a character, I still viciously hated myself. That was in large part due to the abuse I had suffered at the hands of both children and adults; I blamed myself for being "bad" enough for others to want to abuse, not realizing that the fault did not lie with me at all, but with others who had the choice to abuse or not, and chose poorly. I became self-critical, self-effacing, and perfectionistic as a result, struggling to keep all weakness hidden, struggling to be "enough" for my friends and family so that they would never leave or choose to abuse me.
These feelings have an almost perfect mirror in Eight's character development, but I didn't see it at first, because I saw nothing to hate in "Precious Baby Eight" like I saw in myself. Because I was outside the fictional situation, I could see that he had done nothing to deserve what had happened to him, except to take on too much responsibility for the well-being of others. I could see him as being good enough to love still...and so, my affection for his character is in part a backward expression of love toward the childlike part of myself I have hidden for so long.
An Important Footnote
When I learned of my condition, I did worry that after I was healed, I would not like Eight as a character so much. But I believe that even after my therapy is complete, Eight will still be "my Doctor" and one of my favorite characters precisely because of his excellent construction. He is so human, so fragile yet strong, so tragic and comic, so powerful a characterization of the human condition; even as my therapy progresses, I find myself still drawn to him as a wonderful character.