The Inside Battle is the story of thirteen-year-old Rebel Mercer. His dad is finally home after serving in the military, and Rebel longs for his approval. But something isn’t right. His dad has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and lately he has been spending time communicating with a racist, anti-government militia group called the “Flag Bearers.” Soon, his dad takes Rebel to their remote training grounds and becomes engulfed in the group and its activities, which are becoming more and more dangerous. Ultimately, Rebel has to decide what is more important: his father’s approval or speaking up for what is right.
Real militias, like the fictional one in Rebel’s story, typically recruit members who are former military and law enforcement personnel due to their discipline, loyalty, and weapons skills. As I was researching militias in the United States, it became apparent that some members suffered from PTSD. This really struck a chord in me since my grandfather suffered from PTSD following his long service in the military. And like Rebel’s dad, my grandfather didn’t talk about it.
And like Rebel’s dad, my grandfather didn’t talk about it.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a person is exposed to an event that is life threatening or extremely dangerous. Symptoms of PTSD can include insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, and general anxiety that make returning to civilian life difficult. People who experience PTSD may have problems with employment, substance abuse, and regulating impulsive behavior and/or relationships. In The Inside Battle, Rebel’s dad experiences each of these symptoms.
In addition to the strain on veterans, PTSD can place added stress on families, including children. This is certainly the case for Rebel. Often, children can hold in the confusion, anxiety, and anger they feel as a result of the pressures that come with a suffering parent. Rebel does not know how to manage his own anger and, as a result, he lashes out, which leads to his expulsion from school. Both Rebel and his dad suffer in silence and then explode. They repeat this pattern, perpetuating not only self-destructive behavior, but also one that affects others.
Therefore, it was important to me to explore the theme of “finding your voice” in The Inside Battle. This is two-fold in the book: (1) speaking up against racism and (2) talking about mental health. The second largely stems from the fact that my family never spoke about my grandfather’s PTSD until after he died, which sadly is not all that surprising.
As a nation, we freely discuss the sacrifices our soldiers make to ensure our country’s freedoms, but we often fail to include the mental health sacrifices alongside the physical ones. Tragically, I have read and listened to so many interviews with veterans who wished they had a visible, physical injury instead of PTSD, so people would understand that they have been hurt, too.
As a nation, we freely discuss the sacrifices our soldiers make to ensure our country’s freedoms, but we often fail to include the mental health sacrifices alongside the physical ones.
Despite the large numbers of people who suffer from PTSD, the stigma in seeking mental health services remains, particularly for veterans. Soldiers are trained that fear is not tolerated in combat, so when they return home and experience it like Rebel’s dad, they can often feel embarrassed and defective, or they can view themselves as a “coward.”
But when we address and treat the health needs of the large number of veterans who experience PTSD, we are not only helping the veterans but also lessening the effects of PTSD on families and children. I am hopeful The Inside Battle will help shed light on a formerly stigmatized issue for readers, both normalizing conversations surrounding mental health and demonstrating the benefits of treatment for both children and adults.
Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying social issues. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than sixteen years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. Her debut novel, The Prophet Calls, was a 2018 Writers’ League of Texas Award Finalist and her next novel, The Inside Battle, publishes March 3, 2020.