(Warning: F-bombs up ahead.)
PTSD is a term I have beef with.
One of the reasons I don’t talk or write so widely about it, is the stigma.
I fear judgement, I fear what people will think, I fear losing myself to these worries when I know—and so many others know, too—that PTSD is a natural and completely sane reaction to terrifying and insane events. Events that leave ripples through our minds and our bodies that are too huge to handle or process there and then, or there wasn’t the space and the time and the opportunity.
Or events that happened when we didn’t have the insight, the emotional wisdom, the understanding of ourselves and our needs, to be able to support ourselves through the emotional release we needed.
So the ripples come out later.
They come when there is space for the trauma to be here, again. When there is safety and holding, in a way there wasn’t before—when the trauma happened
What I experience now is not a patch on what I used to, but it’s still hideous when it’s here intensely, like it has been the last few days.
But I also don’t write about it with my name attached (I wrote extensively about it on my personal blog, which I kept and keep, anonymous) because I don’t want it to be part of my story.
Yet on days like this, there’s no avoiding the fact that right now, the trauma is here with me. And when I try to avoid it, it only brings more pain.
When I try to look the other way, to focus on everything else except the hurricane that’s happening inside of me, I feel worse. The hurricane worsens, increases in intensity, and the seeming uprooting of my sanity feels even more vivid.
To lovingly sit there with my symptoms, and ask them what they’re needing or why they’re here or what they’re feeling, soothes rather than abandons. Noticing them and saying, “I see you, I’m here,” is what has gotten me through the last two days. And what increasingly continues to get me through this time.
I no longer abandon myself in my process as much as I used to. I no longer run from the roots and stability I have in me. I no longer try to find new ones outside of me or plant new ones on other territory—territory that looks shiny from the outside, but territory where I lose me. I lose the thing, the person, I need to guide me through this process.
I spent so long feeling terrified of what was happening inside of me.
The memories, the anxiety, the terror, the loss of ground. I still do run a bit because to stick with myself throughout days like this, and through intense waves of trauma surfacing, is incredibly hard. But the ability to not run, to not turn away, to be with myself, is strengthening the more time goes on.
On days like the ones that have just passed, all I can see when I’m not tucked up in my computer screen, writing, is the trauma. Yesterday, I went for a walk, I tried so hard to feel out in the present, but I couldn’t. I needed to be home, where stimulation was low, and where I knew I was safe. I needed to be where I didn’t need to look over my shoulder, even though I still do that a little, here.
For me the trauma is here because of an anniversary.
PTSD is worsened by anniversaries, of course. Dates that mark when the trauma happened, naturally can bring greater whirlwinds inside. This is what I’m experiencing now, and it’s really, really, hard.
So much story comes with the trauma, and in many ways, this—along with the physical sensations—is the hardest thing about times like this. My critic holds a book open almost constantly, reading me the imaginative and detailed narrative of how I’m fucked, of how fucked things are going to be, of how fucked-up I’m going to be…and am. The trauma blinds me to reality. It stops me seeing the truth of my experience.
It takes me to a place inside me that is shattered with destruction, scattered with debris. It takes me to where I was when the trauma happened—to the place inside me that is scarred and wounding, open and raw, and struggling to make sense of it all, to keep afloat, to continue to breathe, and to know she’s not alone.
Increasingly, there’s a compassion inside myself for myself. A gentleness and an understanding of what’s happening. A reducing need to figure it out, to work out the symptoms and to stop them or to try to fix them. Instead, there’s an ability to witness, compassionately and openly.
To give myself what I need, and to know that as much as this time is scary and intense and seemingly not okay, it actually is—I’m safe, and I’m okay, and for now it’s going to stay that way.
Whatever happened isn’t happening again, no matter how real it seems or feels.
And there’s no possible way it could.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Aaron Elckhorst / Pixoto