Did Rod Serling have PTSD?

The Twilight Zone was a weird show whose inspiration came from the mind of a traumatized man. The case could be made for Rod Serling, TV writer, and war veteran, who suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder and turned his nightmares into one of the most successful TV shows in American history. Rod's brother would agree, as quoted in Rod Serling American Masters Documentary, "He had terrible nightmares. He didn't just have war experiences, they were branded into his hide and his soul and his mind. And produced some of the finest work as a result." 

Rod Serling The Sensitive Type

Rod Serling was a sensitive man and like most sensitive types, the horrors of war likely traumatized him. He wasn't adept at being a soldier in the first place. The horrors of war didn't make Serling a better solider either. Sergeant Frank Lewis, Death Squad's commander, believed Serling just didn't have the chops needed for combat (Wikipedia, Rod Serling). He was a sensitive guy who didn't belong on the battlefield. Unfortunately, that didn't stop him from joining the Death Squad, a demolition platoon known for its high casualty rate. While there, he witnessed fellow soldiers die almost every day.

Another clue to Serling's sensitive nature was his care for humanity. A lot of sensitive types have strong feelings for people in the world. Serling was a veritable activist who didn't mince words when it came to injustice and cruelty. Many Twilight Zone episodes reflected these views as well as idiosyncrasies and disappointments Serling agonized over as an American citizen. But, it would take more than nightmares and disappointments to write The Twilight Zone. That kind of creativity required paranoid fear. You can only get that anxiety through trauma. Serling was one such survivor doing and The Twilight Zone was his way to cope.

An early photo of Rod Serling, soldier. Wikipedia.
What is PTSD?

PTSD is mostly about anxiety, but many don't realize the kind of anxiety that comes with it. These fears go well beyond regular nervousness. Trauma survivors suffer intense delusions that are nothing short of crazy, paranoid thoughts that plague throughout most of the day. These thoughts usually stem from the fear of losing control.

"Control" has different meanings for most of us. Losing control can mean going crazy, the death of a loved one, going broke or getting sick. In each respective example, going crazy means losing control of one's mind; losing a loved on means losing control of their well-being; going broke is losing control over one's finances and getting sick is losing control over one's body.

Most of us have these fears daily, but PTSD survivors become manic over them. Also, this paranoia may relate to a specific situation from the past or it could become generalized to the point that normal fears become abnormally lucid. Rod Serling probably suffered with generalized paranoia in which he felt like he could lose control over ordinary life situations that most take for granted.

The Twilight Zone and PTSD

Take a look at some of The Twilight Zone episodes. Compare these story lines with what you'd expect from a traumatized man suffering with extreme anxiety. Monsters become real, like the kind that rip open a plane in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963). Addictions run rampant to the point where slot machines become homicidal like in The Fever (1960). Perhaps machines conspire against an old, angry man like A Thing for Machines (1960). In each episode, the characters are mentally ill, suffering with an extreme paranoia that destroys their lives. That's how the traumatized feel daily. For him, they're real possibilities tucked away in the corner of his mind. His saner self holds on for deal life while it constantly pushes outward.

That's not to say that Serling expected monsters to ruin his flights. But he may have been afraid of losing his mind to the point in actually believing that he could believe in them. A thing such as gambling would turn into an addiction figuratively portrayed as being stalked by a slot machine. Whatever fear he had, it was exaggerated tenfold. To be traumatized is to know what craziness feels like without actually being crazy. But it's close enough. Every day is a run for one's life and sanity.


Rod Serling may have suffered with PTSD. He was too sensitive for war and couldn't get over the stuff he saw there. The result was a masterpiece of fiction, although one could argue that his earlier works such as Patterns and Requiem for a Heavy Weight were perhaps the best television written since the new golden age that started about a decade ago. Regardless, audience will enjoy the Twilight Zone for many years to come. Its imagination and spirit will live on forever.

Do you want more information on The Zero Theorem and other blog posts? Visit the Story Arcs Facebook Page and press on "Like".


Rod Serling American Masters Documentary

Rod Serling Wikipedia

No comments:

Post a Comment