Dickens and Job had PTSD: Who Knew?

Who knew Dickens suffered from PTSD?

Who knew Dickens suffered from PTSD?

Did you know that Charles Dickens suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

He writes about being “curiously weak… as if I were recovering from a long illness,” after surviving a train crash that killed 10 people and injured 49.  Dickens expressed his feelings in letters to others stating, “I begin to feel it more in my head. I sleep well and eat well; but I write half a dozen notes, and turn faint and sick… I am getting right, though still low in pulse and very nervous.”   After the train accident, Dickens avoided trains because he always got the feeling that the train was tipping over, saying he found the feeling to be “inexpressibly distressing.”

Despite PTSD being a fairly new word (it didn’t actually enter our vocabulary until 1980 when it became part of the DSM – III) symptoms of it have been documented for thousands of years.   Ancient texts, including the story of Job in the Bible—written in 420 B.C.—describe the hopelessness and extreme psychological anguish one gets when faced with life altering consequences involving physical and psychological trauma.  Job, in a very short time lost all of his possessions, his family and his health almost simultaneously.  This would be a crushing blow for anyone.  Yet Job lives as an example that in time we can, if not heal and recover,as I think he did, than at least function productively in society again.

When Charles Dickens remarked on his symptoms to others he didn’t have the knowledge we now have regarding its causes and recovery.  Still, many are unaware that PTSD takes time to heal.  It’s not easily solved with a pill and a few sessions of counseling.  In fact, some never recover completely.  Instead they need to find a new way to live, to coin a phrase my psychotherapist told me, ‘a new normal’.

In the same way we need to take time to repair a broken bone, we need to take time to repair our mental health.  I hate when people tell/told me to “Get over it.”  If it were that easy don’t you think I would be, over it I mean.  Get real people, PTSD is hard!  And as I said, it takes time.  For me it took several years.  I’m comfortable with life now, though I still can’t say I’m ‘over it.’  I’m living my ‘new normal’.  I have friends and family who love and understand me.  They are there for me no matter what.  And life is good.

You too can overcome.  Do what you must.  Get up.  Get help.  Take medicine and see therapists, psychotherapists or whatever you need to do in order to gain your feet again.

One more thing on this, I’ve learned that we, the survivors, need to find forgiveness.  Not for others, but for ourselves.  I think the story of Job is a good example to follow.  If we don’t let go of the bitterness, pain, and anguish it will eat at our souls.  And what good does that do? Does it hurt the abuser or change the traumatic event at all to hold onto the anger, etc?  No.  It only hurts us.  So let it go, for yourself.  You are worth it.

Lastly, we need to learn to control stress.  I know from experience that some triggers can leave us devastated for days.  A dear friend once told me after I confided in him that I had a severe trigger that left me curled on the floor crying (one caused by a television program), we need to “Look at it as an old injury, like a broken ankle. It heals, and is functional, but sometimes if you bang it the wrong way, it can flare up and hurt a lot.”  An apt description, PTSD is like that.

There may be setbacks.  These setbacks, like mine, may occur years after the incident.  They may occur like Dickens’ did every time he got on a train and his body remembered the feeling of it tipping over.  It may hurt for a while.  But in time we’ll move past that hurt.  And we’ll walk again.


Gonsiorek, John C. and Clifford Haughn Quincy.  “The Book of Job: Implications for construct validity of posttraumatic stress disorder diagnostic criteria” Mental Health, Religion and Culture. 2009.

Forrester, John.  The Life of Charles Dickens: Book Ninth: Author (1836-70)

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7 thoughts on “Dickens and Job had PTSD: Who Knew?

    • Funny John. Thank you for that bit of humor.

      Did you know that there’s a new name for “Shell Shock” or “PTSD” that has even more syllables?

      Complex Trauma and Disorders of Extreme Stress (DESNOS) Diagnosis.

  1. Great entry and interesting information about Charles Dickens and Job. It makes sense that Job may well have suffered from PTSD, but I didn’t know that fact about Dickens. At least you can remember that when you’re having a Dickens of a time in the struggle, you can take hope from Job- “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15 KJV – Not that I have a preference for the KJV, but I like the way the translation renders this verse.) May we always remember God’s sovereignty in all matters and His loving kindness in caring for us through all circumstances- and may we always be able to say with Job, “The Lord gave and The Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of The Lord.” (see Job 1:21-22).

    • Nathan,

      You may want to obtain my source of Job listed above from your local library. It’s an interesting read, to be sure. The summary of the study says it best so I’ll paste it for you: “This project involved asking a group of clinicians experienced in working with trauma to rate (among other things) how well descriptions from the Book of Job matched current DSM diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This research found high ratings of congruence between descriptions of Job’s reactions and symptoms of PTSD described in DSM-IV-TR.”

      And yes, Nathan, I will try to remember Job when I’m having a ‘Dickens of a Time.’ Cute.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Thanks for the information, Torie. That definitely sounds like an interesting read- if I get a chance, I’ll try to get to the library and check it out. (literally and figuratively. ;-))

  3. Torie, this is fascinating! I never thought about Job having PSTD, but now that you mention it, it makes sense. Thank you for shedding a new light on this misunderstood issue.

    • Thank you, Barbara. I’m glad you liked the post. And I think it’s important to both speak out and educate. Hopefully, my posts will continue to resonate with readers. I always say, “It’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for others.”

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