From November 4rth to the 13th was the Third Annual ”Be Fearless” Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder Awareness event , or the “Fearless Festival,” at Fearless Nation in the Oak Beach sim. There were a number of music DJ events, plus a number of art exhibits on display.
Thanks to a friend, I got in touch with the head of the Fearless Nation group, Anya Ibor. In real life, she is an M.A. in Forensic Psychology. “Fearless Nation PTSD Support has been in SL since June 2009,” she told me. When I asked her what normally happened here between special events like the Fearless Festival, “Well, we have a Remembrance Place where people can go to quietly remember and pay tribute.” The place is normally closed to the public, but open for the Festival, “Remembrance and mourning are an important part of PTSD recovery.”
“And we have group meetings to discuss PTSD matters,” Anya went on, “We were holding 5 a week, now just one. But we'll be back up to 5 per week, maybe more after the event. We also offer addiction recovery meetings--not 12-steps, mind you--but real recovery techniques and peer support. ... The environments here, the events, all based in scientific research in trauma recovery. From the top researchers in the field: VS Ramachandran, Van Der Kolk, etc. We really believe in the individual's own recovery--there is no magic bullet or 'one-size-fits-all' cure. ... Everyone is a different chemistry set. But each must work hard to recover. No one can do it for you.”
Anya did one to make one thing clear about what her treatments were not, “However--we DO NOT have exposure therapy here--it was developed for phobias--not trauma--i.e. ’recreating Iraq war zone and running vets through it.’ No. Not on these sims.” The DJ playing music was nearby listening, and asked what the point of it was. Anya responded, “Yes ... But for some reason it's a huge fad in the psych biz now, using exposure therapy, it merely re-traumatizes the person. Phobias and Trauma are completely different. ... I even question exposure treatment for phobias.” She joked “The only thing that cured me of my fear of spiders was spending 2 years in AZ in a house infested with scorpions. Then I moved back East and I hate spiders again ... strange really.”
I asked Anya what were her most interesting moments here. She answered, “Well, the most interesting experiences have been, from a Psychology standpoint, the amount of information I can gather merely through looking at one's avatar and their texting.” Someone asked her how could she read an avatar. Her answer, “The way people put their avatars together. ... The words they use--and how fast or slow they respond. Tells me quite a bit even if they are ‘anonymous.’ ... it helps me help them. If I understand and watch closely I can determine the responses I make when they speak in group or in private. And I can tell when someone is in IM or if they are simply hesitating.” She was asked if men and women responded differently to treatment. She answered, "No ... The healing process is different for the individual, regardless of gender."
But not all were truly welcome here, “And also--sadly--the handful of people I have had to ban from the sims because they might have PTSD, but they also have some comorbid conditions like shizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. They are much too disruptive to be with the group.” Her idea of a success story, “I would say the people who came into our sims, really worked the program and then returned to real-life: to work, to family, rather than escaping here. It mean that Virtual works for trauma.”
And if someone suspected someone they knew had PTSD, “First, learn about it, and then speak to the one with PTSD. We offer a great deal of consumer protection information, so that family and friends can help the PTSDer. Also try to engage the person with PTSD to learn about it, and get the right diagnostic tests. We provide a list of them. Education first, makes one feel more in control of the condition. Then the work begins. The work includes symptom and affect control, reconnection with others (starting here in SL) remembrance and mourning, bodywork and nutrition. and more.”
It was soon time to depart, Anya reminding me the sims set up for the artists, featuring artists such as Bryn Oh, Scottius Polke, Trill Zapaterro, and others, would be there until th end of the month.
“Please IM me any time, and you are welcome here always.”