Parallels in Fandom: Partially Deceased Syndrome VS Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; What “In The Flesh” Has to Teach Us About the PTSD Stigma.

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Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) Photo courtesy of the BBC

“I am a Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferer and what I did in my untreated state was not my fault.” – Kieren Walker

In the post-apocalyptic world of the small (and recently canceled) BBC show In the Flesh, zombies have been renamed “Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers.” Through medication they have returned to their original state, memories intact. On paper, they have their old life back, placed back into their family homes, able to live the way they did before they rose from the grave. But in reality, things aren’t quite that simple. Living citizens are still angry over the deaths PDS sufferers caused in their untreated state, and in small towns like Roarton, being partially deceased could get you a bullet in the brain. Neighbors are terrified of PDS sufferers’ medication wearing off and that if it does, they’ll “go rabid” and return to being dangerous zombies. Most citizens want them out of their town and use the derogatory slur “rotters.” PDS sufferers are forced to wear makeup and eye contacts to hide the fact that they aren’t living anymore and the stigma is down right life threatening.

While In the Flesh is not the most popular show, characters like Kieren and Jem have a lot to teach us about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the stigma surrounding it. In just the first three minutes of the first episode, Kieren is shown having vivid, disturbing flash backs of the people he killed when he was in his untreated state. These flash backs continue throughout the show and Kieren becomes depressed over his inability to control them and the government’s lack of care.

Those who suffer from PTSD frequently have vivid flashbacks and nightmares of the trauma they’ve endured. Like Kieren, they can’t let go of the events that happened to them. PTSD sufferers often grapple with suicidal ideation, similar to how Kieren feels during the show. His sister points out that he “can’t kill himself twice” alluding to the way Kieren died in the first place. Feeling guilty for his actions, Kieren grapples similarly to those with PTSD.

Jem, Kieren’s younger sister, is a veteran who fought untreated PDS sufferers in the Human Volunteer Force (HVF) during the zombie outbreak or “the rising” as it’s referred to on the show. As the show continues, we find out that Jem is suffering from flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme feelings of guilt and anxiety. She shows all the symptoms of PTSD and with no tools to help her transition into civil society again, her anxiety just keeps getting worse. It doesn’t help that one of the people tied up in her guilt happens to be her brother, a PDS sufferer she couldn’t bring herself to kill during the rising.

Jem Walker (Harriet Cains) Photo courtesy of the BBC

Studies show that 1 out of every 9 women will develop PTSD in their lifetime. This makes them twice as likely as men. While Jem suffers because of her time in the HVF, this number is likely higher because 1 out of 6 women in the US will experience an attempted or completed rape at some point during their life. The stigma around PTSD is focused on veterans, but many people forget that rape victims make up a large portion of PTSD sufferers.

One fear that the living have about PDS sufferers is that if their medication wears off, they will return to their untreated state and become violent. The stigma around PTSD sufferers is very much the same. Especially with veterans, many people believe that PTSD sufferers are violent and will lash out at any moment. With the April shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, this stigma has only deepened. Suspected of having PTSD, Ivan Lopez injured 16 and killed 3 before killing himself. While Lopez was being evaluated for PTSD,  there was never a diagnosis. Despite there being no concrete evidence of Lopez having PTSD, many people believe he did and have therefore attached the diagnosis to violence.

Ivan Lopez, Photo courtesy of Fox News Latino

However, the opposite is true. PTSD sufferers are no more potential to violence than anyone else. Blogger and PTSD sufferer C.J. Grisham writes, “I get extremely nervous in crowded situations and become hypersensitive to my surroundings. Before entering any building, I make a quick survey of all people around me and seek out any and all exits. I sit with my back to a wall so I have a good view of people approaching me. I get startled and anxious at unexpected and loud noises. What I don’t get is violent. What I don’t do is threaten people.”

Clinical Psychologist and Military Researcher, Herrera-Yee says of PTSD sufferers that “you’re more likely to see it as someone who is withdrawn, anxious and numb, who’s lost interest in life. Some veterans explain it to me this way: ‘The last thing you want is to go out and lash out.’” Despite this, the stigma of violence still remains, much like the stigma surrounding PDS sufferers. Kieran is small, and soft-spoken. He spends much of his time inside, avoiding people because he is ashamed of what he did. He takes his medication daily and is probably the least likely to lash out or go rabid. In fact, when *SPOILER* forced to go rabid by being subjected to the pill “Blue Oblivion,” he attempts to tie himself to a grave to keep himself from hurting anyone. It isn’t the PDS sufferers who are most likely to lash out, but the living surrounding them who treat them like second class citizens and want them out of their town by any means necessary.

While having PTSD isn’t quite as obvious to the untrained eye as the living dead, the stigma is still very similar. No one is threatening to gun down anyone who has PTSD, but the same fear is still very much there. Similar to Kieren having to hide his condition with makeup and eye contacts, many PTSD sufferers feel they cannot talk about their disability for fear of judgement and many feel ashamed for having it in the first place.

PTSD is a serious issue with a terrible stigma surrounding it. People who don’t understand PTSD (or don’t care to) can be afraid of people who have it. It’s important to educate the public about this disease because with knowledge comes acceptance. By using In the Flesh as a teaching tool, we may be able to get rid of the misconceptions surrounding PTSD.Though the show has been canceled, its messages are still important. Like Kieren, many PTSD sufferers are very much harmless and deserve our love and respect. 

For more information on PTSD and its treatment, please visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/ for veteran focussed PTSD and http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml for general information about the disorder.

Cover photo and video courtesy of the BBC.

Published by

Charlotte Renken

Charlotte (Charli) Renken grew up in Denver, CO., and graduated in 2013 from Denver School of the Arts as a Creative Writing major. She now attends Santa Fe University of Art and Design as a Creative Writing major with an emphasis in journalism and screenwriting. In high school she studied publication as part of the award winning literary magazine Calling Upon Calliope. During her gap year she began writing freelance for the pop culture website Hush Comics and continues to write for it. She also writes for Jackalope, SFUAD's online magazine. She is unapologetically a nerd. From Cosplay to Muggle Quidditch to sifting through stacks and stacks of comic books, being a nerd is her favorite pastime.

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