Letters to Linda

I can open doors and invite her to walk through.

Sometimes you go through hell so that you can help others through it.

If all of the pain that I have lived with for the past few years can be used to help someone else who is in pain. It’s worth it to me. Not because I’m that self-sacrificing or any kind of imagined hero, but because it gives my pain a purpose, and it isn’t wasted. If someone benefits, whether that’s me or another, there’s purpose, and I find peace in that.

Having a platform to speak about my experience with PTSD (traumatic car wreck) in a way that I don’t feel compromises me the same as speaking about my other PTSD-causing experiences (traumatic abuse and sexual assault) gives me the freedom to say things that I find many trauma survivors don’t feel the freedom to say. When your trauma comes with shame, the last thing you want is for people to know. It’s why I don’t talk about being in an abusive relationship. I don’t want to re-live it, I don’t want to explain it and I don’t want to hear what most people have to say about it. Car wreck is different, it’s much more socially acceptable, elicits sympathy and the stupid comments don’t hurt as much (anymore).

Through a series of mistakes and judgmental attitudes (mostly on my part), I ended up at a coffee shop earlier this week sitting across from a woman ten years younger than I, who I will call Linda. After a brief conversation that you can read about in the post link, we got down to purpose. She asked me about my experience with PTSD, because she also has it. She was exposed to violence in a Mexican drug war and later to sexual abuse from a group she thought were her friends. In a story that felt so familiar, she didn’t realize for a long time that the violence was traumatic, or that the abuse was not ok, and that she wasn’t able to exercise choice. It left her empty, detached, obsessive and ashamed.

“Normal” things are triggers. She’s working so hard to hear a bachelor’s degree, but she has a hard time focusing and her grades suffer. Groups are uncomfortable for her at best. Her friends don’t understand and don’t try to. She’s ashamed of her response to “normal” things and hates that people perceive her as cold and disinterested. She’s dating a guy who loves her for who she is and is trying to learn how to support her, and she’s scared she’s going to sabotage the relationship because she doesn’t feel that she deserves to be loved. She doesn’t feel that she has access to mental health care, and she is swirling around in anxiety, not knowing what to do to break free.

That was, and to some extent still is, me. I’m further along in recovery, so I have a bit more clarity, but that is me. I don’t have to say I understand, because the energy I give off in response to what she says communicates how deeply I understand. And accept. And don’t judge. And I know how hard it is to ask for help. I know how hard it is to even understand what’s happening, or why all you want to do is lay in bed and watch tv. Why you torture yourself with negative thoughts and why self-harm is so attractive.

I’m not a mental health professional, I’m a client. And I can’t fix people, I gave that idea up already and my life improved drastically when I did. I can, however, share my experience with her in a way that meets her where she is. I can open doors and invite her to walk through. I can explain why she experiences some things in the way that she does, and I can give her the space and support to recover in her own way and her own time.

I think in this instance giving is the gift, and it’s one I want to share on my blog, so I’ll be posting the letters in the hope that they multiply the encouragement and acceptance for whoever will benefit from it. ❤

Thankful

Practicing gratitude does a lot for mental health.

I woke up in the middle of the night with searing pain in my tension spot. I have a place near my right shoulder in my trapezoid muscle that seizes up when I am really tense. It feels like the muscle is being ripped out. Fun times, right? I had just finished a REM cycle and had had a nap yesterday, so I ended up being awake for about an hour, which was plenty long enough to slap a Tiger Balm patch on it and consider just getting up already.

I went back to sleep.

I previously wrote about living with near constant physical and emotional pain. It can be hard to be thankful, but gratitude is so necessary to a good life. A friend asked me yesterday how I deal with it all. I do exactly what I was doing yesterday – serve other people and meet their needs. I mixed dressing (not stuffing cause it was in pans, not in birds), filled to-go boxes, made friends and delivered meals to elderly members of the community. I sat with a woman who cried because she is lonely, having lost her husband about this time last year. They were married for 74 years. I offered to come back to see her and bring some friends, and she accepted.

I got so much more out of that than I gave.

I met a woman who also has PTSD, who works with veterans because it helps her to be around people who get it. She, too, is a survivor of sexual assault, and she, too, knows the incredibly stupid things people say when you open up about an experience others don’t understand. That connection was such a blessing, and we plan to get to know each other better. She is surprised I am still here. I’m thankful someone recognizes the hell.

Client’s Brother (I really love ridiculous nicknames so that will be hard to change if this goes forward) asked me out, and we’ve been talking in the meantime. He invited me to lunch and a brewery on Sunday, and I countered with my commitment to make wall art to sell to support an orphanage. He offered to help with that instead and said the brewery could wait. I’ve been clear about having PTSD, that crafting is with some bonkers 20-ish church kids, he knows I have a stalker because stalker emailed me yesterday to wish me and my family a Happy Thanksgiving (ugh) and so far the date is still on. I’m not used to people just rolling with me. I’m also not used to standing on a position of join me or don’t, this is what I’m doing regardless, because this is what I want.

So many reasons to be thankful, not in spite of, but in the midst of.

Me Too

The women who have spoken about questioning their perception of their experience? Me too.

One day away from my second trauma anniversary of the week (both 4 years ago), my resting heart rate is back down to where I’d like it to be, I’m still losing weight a bit at a time, my hormones seem to be more balanced for the first time in about 5 months and I was able to say without hesitation yesterday, “We don’t blame victims.”

Praise God.

With the number of celebrities stepping forward to say that they have experienced sexual harassment and assault, including rape, with the national conversation opening up about longstanding acceptance, even expectation of this behavior, and the long silence of victims who were afraid to lose their jobs, their credibility or more…Me too.

My hope is that light will be shed on the issue as well as on the perpetrators of sexual violence. This is something that lives in darkness and secrecy, and dies in the light. I also hope that we support those who choose to speak about their experiences, and we support those who do not. I’m one that doesn’t care to talk about it, but I think it’s important to say “Me too”. I experienced years of harassment and assault – I was groped and grabbed and propositioned by men who acted like they had a right to me. Like so many other women I didn’t make a big deal out of it, smiled, stepped aside, and learned to avoid them. I’m thankful my experiences weren’t violent, but that’s another thing I hope people come to realize. Harassment and assault aren’t always violent. They aren’t always blatant or loud, they are very often manipulative, and they are designed to maximize blame and shame for the victim. The women who have spoken about questioning their perception of their experience? Me too. I get it. I’ve been there. I don’t have to be there any more, again, Praise God.

For those of us – women and men – who have felt like we had to stay in the shadows, not take the risk, not lose our jobs, not lose our credibility, not lose whatever else we have at stake…I hope the current conversations about non-consensual sexual interactions provide you the opportunity to heal, to feel recognized and heard whether you choose to speak or not. I hope you get to see that blame and shame are not for you, they are for the people who perpetrated this. And if you are ready to share, I hope you have a safe space to do it. For me, it’s enough to say “Me Too”.