Guilt Ridden

I just finished reading the graphic novel, “Maus,” By :Art Spiegelman. This novel tells the story of Art’s father, Vladek and how he survived the holocaust, and Auschwitz specifically. Through countless interview type conversations with his father, Art is able to tell the whole story from when Vladek was a young man to his death. After trying to cope with Vladek’s death, Art goes to visit his psychiatrist who starts to discuss with Art why he might be feeling so upset. After realizing that he can only remember arguing with his father, rather than looking up to him, Art’s psychiatrist, Pavel, suggests this:

“Maybe your father needed to show that he was always right — that he could always SURVIVE– because he felt GUILTY about surviving.”

This comment made me start to think about myself and recent situations with our country. This feeling of guilt after losing a loved one, or friend is a fairly common issue and actually quite serious. I came across an article from the New York Times that explained this issue very well for me. In the article, “After a Death, the Pain that Doesn’t Go Away“, a Dr. Shear, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, explains just how serious this can be and has been for numerous people around the country. The name for this extreme form of grieving can be called, complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder. Being affected with this disorder can cause a person’s life to be put on hold, for many years even. Some might not be able to leave the house, go to work, or even celebrate birthdays, in the belief that because their late loved one cannot celebrate their birthday, why should they? This disorder has become so prevalent in our society over the past few years that it’s one of the few disorders being considered to be added to the DSM-V, the American Psychiatric Association’s handbook for diagnosing mental disorders, come 2012. This is crazy to me because in doing so, this would be a disorder that someone can be evaluated for and required to be given services through the state in which they leave. Just like someone could be diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, someone could be diagnosed with, and given treatment for Prolonged Grief Disorder.
In trying to figure out a way to connect this to current issues, I thought about how many people could be affected by this in terms of 9/11 or the Iraq war going on right now. Those people who called in to work on September 11th and weren’t killed in the attack. To think about what must go through their heads when thinking about this. The constant question of Why? Why not me? Why was I spared?
I also started to think of a personal connection to this disorder. After losing my Mom when I was 16, there was a constant question of Why? Why did this happen to me? Why couldn’t have been one of my friend’s mom’s who to me, wasn’t as good of a mom as mine. All of these questions, constantly running through my head. I could have easily fallen into this path of grieving so enormously that I didn’t go to school, I didn’t socialize with me friends, and didn’t want to do anything that would remind me of my mom. But for me, this just wasn’t an option. I was lucky to have amazingly supportive friends, and a wonderful family that pulled me through and helped keep me strong. I believe that having that amazing support system is why I made it through as well as I did. From my experience with grief, I definitely agree that Prolonged Grief Disorder is a real disorder that can be helped with treatment, if anything just support. If someone loses a loved one and has no one to talk to, or no one forcing them to talk about the loss and deal with it, then there is no guarantee that this person is going to make it through. Vladek shows clear signs of Prolonged Grief Disorder, probably not only affected by surviving Auschwitz but from the suicide of his wife as well. It is my belief that if this was a recognized disorder back in the 1940’s that survivors of WWII and the concentration camps would have had a higher rate or recovery. This disorder needs to be added to the DSM-V so that people can start getting the help that they need.

Full Article

By: Art Spiegelman


7 Responses to “Guilt Ridden”

  1. ortquiju Says:

    Something that really stood out to me in the reading of Maus was that the survivors lost not just everything, but everyone. On page 114 of Maus II Vladek is going through pictures and it seems like basically everyone he talks about died because of the Holocaust. Your account has really helped me understand why Vladek is the way he is. Young Vladek and old Vladek seem to be two different people and in a way they are. You said that you were able to overcome your situation because of a strong support system. That makes me realize that those who did survive the Holocaust were left to sort out their traumas, often completely on their own. Vladek and Anja lost their entire family and only had each other, which makes me speculate that they both probably suffered from Prolonged Grief Disorder, perhaps this is what caused Anja to commit suicide. For many, even if they didn’t actually lose their lives, they lost what their lives used to be. And for Vladek that seems to be the case. He is complete neurotic about saving, he is in a loveless marriage and he his grieving has been continual for decades.

  2. waldronl Says:

    I agree with your thoughts on Maus and on grief. It seems like whenever we go through something as traumatic as the death of a loved one we have so many questions that go through our minds. It is so hard to control all the different emotions that we feel too. It is difficult enough to lose one person you love, it couldn’t even imagine how someone, such as Vladek and many others, felt losing their entire family in the holocaust.
    Someone that I know has all 3 of her children fighting in the war right now and it’s very hard on her to have all of them away from home and in a dangerous situation.

  3. wesnile5200 Says:

    This disorder seems like it could be a major contributor to the overall decline in mental health in the United States and around the globe. I have not personally dealt with prolonged grief disorder, but I have seen the effects of similar trauma on people close to me. Something small that would normally not cause any grief can cause them to go into a state of dispair and sorrow that is almost impossible to get them out of. Thankfully I have always been there to help pull them up, but for most with this disorder, no one is there to help. I agree that this is a real problem, and with the condition of the world and its economy, it is only going to get worse. As for the case of Vladek, it seemed like he definately has some form of this disorder, or some other very similar disorder. Throughout the story there were many instances where he was incapable of completing simple tasks when he was alone, but he had a support ring to help him through, no matter how much they disliked it. I hope this disorder is added soon, so that many more can have the chance to be helped.

  4. niemanr Says:

    I really like how you not only make a connection between the text, but also a personal connection to yourself. Showing a parallel between the material in class and you life makes your blog have so much more depth. Losing a loved one is one of the worst experiences. It produces a sadness that seems impossible to alleviate. It is really sad that Prolonged Grief Disorder is not considered a mental disorder, because without treatment people suffering from it will be contained in misery. It seems so unfair that a person must battle a disorder so distressful, especially spurring from losing someone important to them. As far as Maus goes, Art finally comes to terms with the guilt he feels – this is undoubtedly made worse the complex relationship he has with his father, Vladek. Before reading your most recent post I had no knowledge of such an illness, but I did know just how impacting a loss can be. I can literally only imagine what it would be like to lose someone so close to me; you are immensely strong. It is unfortunate, though, that there is not sufficient attention, resources, and simply treatment given to such an important area of metal health.

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