Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Just in case you were wondering how it feels to have PTSD (yes, I know you weren't wondering, and that's okay)

People are problematic. Under the best of circumstances, with the best of intentions, people are still problematic. We need them--we want them--but they highlight our insecurities and vulnerabilities in dramatically uncomfortable ways. I spent a large part of my therapy time and my therapy blog discussing how difficult it was for me to navigate people and relationships.

One reason those who live with PTSD have difficulty with relationships is that the disorder amplifies whatever one is feeling. This can be wonderful when connecting with another person. The depth of love feels amazing. The bonding seems permanent. And when reality returns and I remember that what I was feeling was completely off the scale in comparison to what the other person was feeling (thank you so much, PTSD), I feel betrayed and angry--not at the other person, but at myself. At PTSD. At the entire world.

I am loyal. I am dependable. And this is completely attributable to PTSD. I'm not going to forget a date, a phone call, or a meeting because I am connected with people in the wrong way. It's normal for people to forget. Those with PTSD, however, do not understand that. The result of this warps my thinking: If they really cared, they wouldn't forget. They would make time for me. I make time for them. I don't forget. Why don't they care?

I've had to step back and realize that my reality is wrong. Forgetting has nothing to do with caring. It has to do with living. I've had to understand that my brain works differently from one not shaped by trauma. Mine focuses with depth and clarity on things that other brains label as less important. My understanding of the workings of human relationships is basically wrong. The black/white reasoning I apply does not translate well into the day-to-day interactions of real people.

I spent years feeling hurt and forgotten by people because I did not understand what PTSD was doing to me. Normal human behavior was confusing and painful for me to process. Finally, I simply stopped forming relationships outside of the one I had with Aaron. It was too hard. I just did not understand how things worked in casual or close friendships. I still socialized. I was warm and friendly and funny. But I refused to allow myself to bond with people, nor did I allow them access to the reality of who I really was. This can be lonely.

I remember ignoring the loneliness for many years. I was busy. I had children and jobs and hobbies. And I read. I practiced the piano. I taught students. I immersed myself in fitness and details of my own solitary life. And I felt content. Except one day when my children were with my parents, Aaron was at work, and I had a day to myself dedicated to spring cleaning, the loneliness caught up with me, I fell to knees and allowed myself to whisper the words,"I'm lonely." I stayed there for about 10 minutes, refusing to cry, repressing the intense emotions--and then I got up and ferociously cleaned my house.

A decade ago, when I began therapy, I identified relationships as a place I needed work. And I worked on that as ferociously as I cleaned my house that day. I looked at every scary part of me. I identified the powerful effect that PTSD had on my social actions, emotions, and thought patterns. I learned about normal human social behavior and used that knowledge as I tried to navigate the process of allowing myself to have relationships with other people.

I would like to say that I'm better today. I think I'm better at knowing when I'm wrong, or understanding that there are just things that people do without malice or forethought--things that can feel unintentionally hurtful to me. For awhile, in my most important/close relationships, I tried telling the other person what was happening inside of me. Initially, this was welcomed. After a few years, it just became hackneyed. Why, if I understood what was happening, couldn't I change? Why did the same emotional misunderstandings occur repeatedly? Why hadn't I done something about this?

All very good questions. I, myself, would like to know the answers. All I know is that right now, I can't seem to change anything. The best I can do is say, "I understand that I'm built wrong. I understand that my feelings are aberrant. I understand that it's not easy to have a relationship with someone like me. I understand."

It feels unfair sometimes. I try to have a good attitude. And I really do try to work on managing what PTSD throws at me. I try to balance what is real for me with what is normal for others. I'm trying. But there are definitely times when I wish someone could say to me, "I understand that it's difficult. I appreciate what you're doing. And it's okay--I can wait for you to get it right someday."

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