PTSD doesn’t go away in the same way that an anxiety attack can go away with a Xanax. PTSD likes to hide under layers of “I’m fine” and “Look at how good I’m doing now”, but underneath the surface, and perhaps far below that shield, it waits for an opportunity to remind you to deal with your shit.
That can sometimes take the form of a breakdown. And sometimes the things we do to breakthrough, like therapy and EMDR, make us break down further until we can begin to build ourselves back up.
It can be overwhelming.
This last weekend was one of those overwhelming ones.
On Friday I got some news that triggered me, and had my brain hurdling back to the 23 year old version of myself. It sent me back to the young, grief stricken, anxiety ridden woman who felt like all her power had been taken from her, suddenly and without her consent. The flashback was intrusive, and engulfed me with the thoughts that I had had then.
This is your fault.
Why do you care?
You should be stronger.
No one understands. You don’t even understand.
What you feel is not okay.
You’re being so dramatic.
You have no right to feel these things.
Get over it. Get over it. GET OVER IT. WHY CAN’T YOU GET OVER IT?!
I want to die.
And you’re back to feeling like the path of least resistance is death.
These flashbacks catapult you into survival mode. No place is a safe place, and sometimes the most dangerous place is in your own head.
Saturday’s Therapy Session
On Saturday, I had a very intense therapy appointment.
“This is never going to get better. I’m not better,” I said as I threw up my hands, and shook my head. My eyebrow throbbed with the tension of leftover sobs, and the shame of feeling my feelings burned hot on my cheeks. “I want to give up.”
“Of course you do,” my therapist said, her voice calm, quiet and steady. She waited for me to continue my rant. I avoided her eyes as the thoughts poured out of my mouth faster than I could put them together.
“I’m so angry. I’m so angry at myself for not being stronger,” I nearly growled as I shoved my eyes into my open palms. “I’m so angry at him for taking advantage of me. I’m jealous that the world has moved on while a part of me stays stuck. I’m angry at people who think they understand or try to say the right thing– but they don’t. They don’t understand. No one does. I’m so fucking furious that this has taken up so much space in my brain for the last four years– that I’ve let it eat up this amount of my life and that I’m still fucking dealing with it. It’s not fair. And for fuck’s sake, I’m angry that I’m angry.” I grabbed a tissue and tried to steady my breath.
I could see her watching me from the corner of my eyes, waiting.
“How is it ever going to go away?” I started again. “I keep failing. A few weeks ago I was on top of the world. I thought I had it all figured out. You,” I paused and looked at her. “You told me it had seemed like I had been in therapy for years and was figuring it out– adjusting. I guess we were wrong.” I shrugged. “I mean, I KNOW that therapy isn’t linear but come on. This doesn’t feel worth it.”
My hysteria bubbled like a long awaited explosion anticipating its release. While simultaneously crying, I started to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
“I’m supposed to be strong. I have a fucking blog where people think I’m strong– and it’s a lie. I’m a fraud. I’m not strong. I’m not recovering from this. I’m weak and I’m never going to get through this. It’s going to haunt me forever.”
The tears boiled up and out, drenching my swollen face as I tried helplessly to dab at the wet. I shook my head furiously as if trying to shake the jumbled up thoughts and feelings out of my brain. The anger towards myself was visceral, lighting up the electric impulses all over my body.
My hands clenched and unclenched as the discomfort in feeling what I wanted so desperately not to feel overpowered me. I tilted my head back and looked at the ceiling, trying to focus on my breath, trying to string together a complete thought.
Hold it in.
Let it out.
Waves of tears, grunts of anger and exasperated sighs hit me like the rhythmic pounding in my head. Nothing made any goddamn sense. My thoughts were fucking themselves. My emotional side was at war with my logical side, and it felt like a losing battle.
“Let’s think on this,” my therapist said. “Do you really believe that? Do you feel like you haven’t made any progress?”
The 23 year old part of me wanted to shout at her, “OF COURSE I HAVEN’T! LOOK AT ME NOW! WHY WOULD I BE ACTING LIKE THIS IF I HAD MADE ANY REAL PROGRESS? DOES THIS LOOK LIKE PROGRESS?”
But the logical part of me knew better.
Progress and Perspective
No matter how deeply I felt in that moment, no matter how utterly angry and messed up I was feeling– I have made undeniable progress in the last couple of years– even in the last couple of months.
But if I’m being honest, knowing that in that moment in my therapy session didn’t make me feel any better. It added another layer of frustration– knowing that I know I’ve made progress, and knowing that the way I felt was fleeting yet feeling it anyway was frustrating as hell.
It was as if my authentic self was trapped behind bars as an emotional flashback was given reins for a moment to go fuck shit up while my reasonable, authentic, logical self figured out how to take back control.
But the truth is, I needed that weekend to let my emotional self escape for a bit– to feel, to let the emotions that I have been suppressing out. I needed to open the floodgates, mourn, and let it go.
And you know what?
As much as I hate to admit it, I feel so much better after allowing myself to feel. I feel lifted, and lighter, and relieved. I feel like it’s all smaller now, and the potential of my life in front of me feels so much bigger. I actually feel like I’m going to pull through again, but I don’t just feel it– I know it.
Now, I know, you know, I know.
This is just one small step in the whole process, It’s not magically going to be all roses from here on out– but I feel a massive shift. What that shift is and means for me in this recovery, has yet to be determined.
But this made me take a step back and realize how much I have progressed. And that’s important.
I don’t know if the Chloé from 2014 would even recognize the Chloé from 2018.
Four years ago, anxiety bound me every waking moment. My ability to make any decisions or find even the slightest affirmation in myself had dissipated. I remember on multiple occasions I’d find myself standing at a bus stop in China, literally unsure of where to go or what to do. I once spent 40 minutes pacing back and forth between a bus stop and taxi stop simply because I could not decide which one to take. I was afraid of every decision. I was convinced no one actually actually liked me. I was sure I had no options. I was empty and overwhelmed all at the same time.
Doubt and worry was the soundtrack of my life.
What are you doing with your life.
What are you doing with your life.
What are you doing with your life.
The thought stuck in my head like a song that wouldn’t go away.
This is Progress
I don’t feel that way anymore. Anxiety is only fleeting for me now. Obsessive thoughts last only moments instead of days, and I have a better handle of wrapping my arms around my thoughts and steering them in the right direction. Even with the emotional, for lack of better terms, breakdown I had this weekend– I have still made so much fucking progress.
And you know what else?
I’m really fucking proud of myself.
I am proud of myself for taking risks, and deciding to move to Chicago three years ago despite being afraid.
I am proud of myself for deciding to pursue, both in my career and in my personal life, what I want.
I am proud of myself for looking inward instead of looking outward and playing the victim.
I am proud of myself for taking a hard look at what’s important and what’s not, and what’s just other people’s noise.
I am proud of myself for not always knowing what to do but doing something anyway.
I am proud of myself for acknowledging when I’m the issue, and being dedicated to making changes.
I am proud of myself for recognizing my unhappiness and deciding to do something about it.
I may not be recovered from this yet, and on Saturday I may have felt like this would never get better— but I know it will. I am already on my way, and I am lucky to be surrounded by a support system that truly has my back. Which reminds me..
If You Love Someone With PTSD
For those of you who love someone with PTSD— know that you don’t understand, and that’s okay.
Don’t try to act like you do. You may understand the big picture or the idea of losing someone you love, or what it feels like to go through a traumatic event, or maybe you think you can imagine it.
But you don’t know what they’ve been through, and you don’t know what they’re going through or what they’re feeling.
No matter how baffling it is to you, no matter how illogical it seems to you, no matter how angry it makes you that you’re hearing about this for the millionth time– you are an outsider to what they experienced.
To explain the lack of logic in how they are feeling? That’s isolating and confirmation of what we fear most:
We are alone.
We might be crazy.
We are not allowed to feel like we do.
We are irrational for even having these feelings.
No one knows what anyone has been through, PTSD or not. Pretending like you know or understand, makes it worse, and invalidating what someone is feeling? That’s shit. It might be the worst thing you could do. If you love this person, and want them to stay in your life, all you can do is show love, patience, and support.
That might not feel like enough, but it is. I promise you, it is.