November 4, 2013

PTSD: How it Feels & How We Heal. ~ Betsy Greer

I’ve done more crying in the past year than any other year.

I cry when I’m watching television, when a not even very interesting ad comes on, featuring a really dumb animated staple, or when I’m choosing which soup to buy at the grocery store. Without warning, tears begin streaming down my face.

In fact, I cried not too long ago to Top 40 Pop Radio while in an airport shuttle van with two strangers. One minute I was fine, and then one catchy hook later I was a blubbering mess.

I texted a friend and asked, “Wtf is wrong with me!”—but really, I knew I was crying because I felt the lyrics, like, felt them.

I felt emotion.

Most of us know what it feels like to feel; the touch of someone’s hand, the soft down of a fluffy puppy, the warm solace of a cup of coffee. I mean, I’d feel all those things, but it would be like there was still some sort of barrier between us. It was never quite authentic and to the bone. There was always something not quite right.

Funny how when we can’t feel, we drown out the confusion, the hurt, and the anger with various substances—subsequently, making it worse.

We lie to ourselves, saying that we really can feel when under these substances; eventually that fake sense of feeling becomes what we think is real, and life gets turned upside down.

Fake becomes real, because fake is better than nothing.

At least that’s what we tell ourselves, repeatedly consuming this as truth instead of seeing it’s like using a mop to soak up a flood.

The real goodness, the real feeling, isn’t being unearthed—it’s simply chased after without progress. Like a dog chasing it’s tail, you spin and spin yet go nowhere.

In order to get to the real feeling, you have to face the truth, and for me the truth was that I had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While this hurt, it also made all the craziness make sense.

It meant fully opening to the fact that this is why all my romantic relationships were miserable—each fraught with anxiety, disaster and panic.

It was why sometimes getting close to someone made me run away with reason or excuse, because my mind fed me danger signals when everything was, in fact, perfectly safe.

It meant owning up to that there were times when I would find myself shaking in fear for no reason; clueless as to what was triggering me.

It meant seeing my panic attacks for what they were, instead of laughing them off as something (anything) else.

It meant admitting that there were times when I disassociated from everything and retreated to a place deep inside, casting everyone out.

It meant truly looking at myself in the mirror for the first time.

It meant releasing my grip on (and dream of) the mythic and fictional “normal”.

So I began devouring books and online forums as well as a heap of information online about PTSD. And I let myself grieve. I let myself seethe and rage. I let myself feel insidious embarrassment of having this weird, horrible sounding thing that made me feel separate from the entire world—bringing hyper-vigilance, depression, anxiety, anger, and crappiest of all, numbness.

It was as though I were trapped in cotton wool, unable to see an exit and having a panic attack trying to find one. And this is all before I got to the inappropriate crying, the eight million apologies, and the occasional random meltdowns.

I was beginning to see why either no one wrote about this stuff, or everyone that did was firmly rooted in a long-term relationship; (i.e. it’s not attractive).

I also knew that to stay silent was to leave others with PTSD all alone, so speaking up seemed well worth the risk; so I did, even though I was at serious risk of never getting a date again.

Speaking up about my disconnect felt odd at first, but then I began to; (weirdly and luckily—because, how many people know what it’s like to fully crack their hearts open; to fully connect with not just other humans, but also everything you come in contact with from coffee to Q-tips?).

Now if I love another I do not worry about whether they will say it back, because I am so ecstatic to feel such joy.

Now I fully listen because I’m so happy to feel their presence; and I will fully cry with them when they’re hurting because I can feel the pain.

Now I truly know what it’s like to feel something, and I am in love with all I can feel now.

These days I welcome the tears that come down my face and don’t worry about the sunglasses. I embrace them because each one means I’m feeling more. And they have become welcome visitors because I know that with each tear my heart continues to break open; slowly becoming full with a love I’d never thought possible.


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Assistant Ed: Kathryn Ashworth / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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