Thursday, April 28, 2011

PTSD's a Bitch.... And I Embrace Her

You find yourself screaming at laundry detergent.  Filled with rage, you are prepared to throw the plastic container through the roof and your fist through a wall.

Someone leaves a voice-mail which is incomprehensible to you but totally clear to your spouse.  You listen again as your confusion turns to fury.  How dare he be so obtuse?  And then mad turns to tears then to sobs then to an emptiness in the middle of your soul as your body rocks from side to side and the sorrow comes pouring out.

Rudeness on the bus?  Torture the perpetrator.  Sun not shining?  What the hell is going on?  Wake up in the morning.... and there it is again.... that rage... directed at something specific,  but really not.

Somewhere inside you might have a clue that PTSD is why you are so mightily angry or sad or lost.  Friends and loved ones and professionals try to help. From the outside you hear him saying that he knows your sobs are PTSD, though they are real and painful, too.  Calmness meets your laundry tantrum and you're fine when you get back from WallyWorld 10 minutes later, the proper detergent in hand and "Well, PTSD does rear its  ugly head in mysterious ways, eh?!" and a smile on your lips.  After a week or so you can acknowledge that the misunderstood message was just a Mars/Venus thing and laugh at yourself.  But it always always always hurts.

Nobody likes to hurt.  Well, nobody who doesn't need lots and lots of therapy likes to hurt.  I certainly don't.  I tend to run the other direction, taking prophylactic medications as I flee.  For 10 years or so I've been scrupulously avoiding situations and people who make me squirm (read roller coasters and annoying relatives).  I'm too old to go into a situation where I am guaranteed to be unhappy.

But PTSD is different.  Avoiding it just makes it worse.  The over-reactions, the hurt that is spewed, the uncontrollable rage..... they are poised on the end of 3 bullets and a dead nine year old.  That's hard to type, hard to look at, hard to live with.  But it is real.  There's an empty place in my gut and a gulp of tears in my throat and I want it to go away and it won't because it can't.

I'm stuck and I'm enraged.  For a while I was tired, and then I went through a numb phase.  As my body healed and hurt less I found emotional space for the bitch to insert herself.  The notion of consecutive life sentences made me smile.  Who was I?  Where was I?

All I know for sure is that I'm not the only one.  We're an interesting crew, those of us who have sought succor with one another at dedications and ceremonies and proceedings and ball games.  Sentences are started at one end of the table and completed at the other.  Many of those sentences have to do with how we are doing.  None of us is really sure.

That's an uncomfortable place to be and running is not an option.  So, on the advice of a short and oddly attired while being remarkably effective therapist, I am learning to embrace the feelings that infuriate and crush and plague me.  I am angry and I shout out loud.  I cry and I give myself permission.  I notice the bitch riding on my shoulder, so I've added Christina-Taylor's HOPE bracelet to my wrist.  I didn't need the white 1-8-11 Remember bracelet to keep those memories fresh.  I had my scars and my pains for that.  But against the bitch, I need a little help from my friends.

I know that that is what will get me through to the other side, after all.  There is no one I know who is surrounded by more loving caring kind thoughtful ready to help people than I am.  I am enveloped in hugs by waitresses who insist on picking up my tab.

And I am furious that I can't move more fluidly through the dining room to the door.

She's a bitch, but she's my bitch and I'm embracing her as yet another part of the strange newness that is mine. 


  1. Let her stay a while. She will help you heal, and get all the poison out.

    I think my husband has gone through something similar as he attempts to heal from a stroke. I have to keep reminding myself that's what it is.

  2. Wish I was there to rant and cry with you. Hang in there--I bet this is part of recovering, which means it is progress! xoxoxo

  3. One of the things that truly amazes me about life is how it all goes along as it is and then boom, one moment, one instant and it all changes. We have to live as though that won't happen but always know it can. It's a great writer's device and a lousy aspect to life where we want control.

    I think where someone experiences something violent, which means crime or war, it is deeper and stronger for the impact it leaves. If the person lost someone they loved, it adds to it.

    It's good you are understanding what it is. As you said, it won't ever leave. You had a life changing moment. What it will do though is leave you a person who has a dimension to their life that others do not. It's nothing any of us would ask to get but it does add a depth, a patina to that person who has gone through such an experience and survived emotionally intact. It's nothing any of us would volunteer for but for those it happens anyway, then it's understanding what it is and seeing how they will have grace notes others never will as part of the price being paid.

  4. Atta Girl, AB! Embrace that bitch! Talk to her, listen to her, soothe her, let her soothe you. She'll help you get through, and then move along. It's how she works. Blessings!

  5. How smart and comforting your comments are. Yes, I have new wrinkles in my personality, Rain, and, dare I say it, perhaps in my character as well. All these years I thought the character was immutable (every try giving a little boy an anatomically correct baby doll when he is 2? "This is stupid" is as much as he ever played with it) and then I get shot and suddenly I have patience and I don't fret over that which is beyond my control (broken pool heaters, eg) and I am left to wonder how good can come from such evil.

    And then the bitch reasserts herself and POW! I am in the dark space.

    Thanks, Kim, for the encouragement. Yes, Laura, I wish you were here, too. Be as kind as you can, Kenju - the bitch is really tough to deal with.

    I love you, girls.

  6. AB, I'm sitting here crying myself. Last night I was drying my nine year-old's hair and CT popped into my thoughts. I had to keep myself from crying in front of my daughter.

    The PTSD bitch is not nice, but she reminds us we are human. I hate what you are going through. It's not fair and it's not fair that a child's radiance is missing. All you can do is help spread that radiance and try and keep the PTSD bitch at bay or at least to live with her.

    Sending warm, loving hugs!


  7. I read this post AFTER "Protecting"...that's the way they show up on the page when I need to catch up. But I wish I'd read this one first, as it was written.

    Sometimes, when my bitch shows up (as she seems to do frequently of late), the best I can do is try to apologize well as quickly as possible. And my goal is to shorten the interval between event and apology until the latter gets there before the former. I'm nowhere near my goal, but I'm dedicated to it.

    I love your short therapist. I agree with her, the bitch won't be denied because she's got a job to do.

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