Letters to Linda – PTSD Basics

Here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

Welcome to hell.

That feels like the real welcome. PTSD is hell. It’s worse if you don’t have information about it, support for your experience or can see a way out. It’s standard-issue to feel trapped and unable to escape. Not only can doors seem closed, they can seem to not exist at all. And that’s why it’s hell. It is really hard to have hope when you first come to understand that you have PTSD.

It doesn’t always show itself at first. It took me two years to get diagnosed, and until then I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just knew I either needed to get help or I was going to move to Canada. That’s not a joke, I was checking into travel when someone opened a door for me. And that is the beautiful thing about this experience, and something worth holding onto: people will open the doors that you couldn’t even see.

I hope these letters give you comfort and encouragement. I hope that my experience helps you reclaim yourself because you have more information, and you have someone who understands. So here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

  • You are not crazy. It feels like you are, yes, but what you have is a diagnosable condition from trauma. Your brain has an injury that needs to heal, and that does not make you crazy, it makes you absolutely deserving of love, support and healing.
  • Not all PTSD looks the same. If comparison is the root of envy, it is also the root of you being really unsure if you even have PTSD. Humans are unique and our neurologic response to trauma is unique. Just because you don’t have the symptoms on a list on the internet or because you don’t think your experience with trauma was “as bad as someone else” doesn’t mean that you are any more or less, it means that there is good reason for addressing your experience and needs, not someone else’s.
  • You can heal. In a lot of ways this can feel like a life sentence, and it is. There is so much damage from negative thoughts and behaviors that come from PTSD, especially if your trauma experience is not addressed for years after it happens. But there is always hope! It takes work, and it’s hard, but you can heal. It starts with believing that you can, and I certainly believe you can, because I’ve been there.
  • Give yourself some space to heal. If you had a broken arm, you would have gone to the doctor, had your arm repaired, be in a cast, possibly had surgery and have a timeline of several weeks to heal. Then you would get your cast off and still have time to rebuild strength in your arm and get it back to full use. If you didn’t get medical help very soon after your arm broke, your arm might heal in a way that made it hard to use, or very painful. Our brains aren’t very different! The big difference is that we often can’t see when our brains break, so they are much harder to get help for, and, unlike a broken arm, brain trauma can have a lot of shame with it, so it can be really hard to talk about and get help for. And that’s ok, because you didn’t know. Don’t beat yourself up, rather acknowledge that you didn’t know, and now that you do you can start the healing process.
  • There is not a timeline. This is not school or work. There are no deadlines or requirements, this is all at your pace. You get to decide what you’re comfortable with and what kind of progress you want to make. For me, it has take two years to get stable, to understand my trauma and my experience to the point that when I have severe anxiety or flashbacks or triggers I can deal with them in a healthy, healing way rather than a negative, harmful way. I still have a lot of work to do, and as I heal, I am finding more trauma I wasn’t aware of. Not fun! But I have accepted this is a process that does not have a timeline or expectations, it’s a journey at my own pace. The more effort I put into healing, the faster I heal, and the more I put off taking care of myself, the less progress I make. That also means I get to take breaks when I get tired of this whole thing or if I get busy with other things in life. When I have the motivation and space, I can really dig into re-wiring my brain.
  • Start with acknowledgement. PTSD can have so many lies. Anxiety is a lie, depression is a lie – there are so many things your brain will tell you that aren’t true. However, that experience is very real, and very valid. All it takes to start on the path to healing is to recognize what’s going on. If you are experiencing anxiety, acknowledge it. If you have a trigger experience, acknowledge it. If you are drained and exhausted, acknowledge it. If you can’t deal with groups today, acknowledge it. If you are in fight mode, acknowledge it. If you feel like you are stuck, acknowledge it. For me this was the hardest and easiest step to take. “I acknowledge that I have a lot of anxiety right now.” may seem silly or pointless, but recognizing what you feel and pausing to acknowledge it is actually a very powerful step forward. When you recognize negative experiences, you can address them. Start there.

Yeah, No, Still a Dick

The truth can be a challenging thing.

So I have a friend who I suspect may have undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder. My business partner is on the spectrum as was not diagnosed until adulthood, so I have some degree of familiarity with the behaviors and challenges of the disorder, which I don’t even like to call that because our brains are just such complex things and are all very different.

This, however, if you read my previous post, has come to my attention and consideration because my friend’t behavior is often odd, and occasionally borderline lunacy. She drove an hour to a town and back with a full car of people with her left leg hanging out the driver’s window, foot propped on the mirror, because, as she has told me, “It’s more comfortable that way.”

No, it is not, and you are a lunatic. How no one in the car made her stop is beyond me, but her behaviors are so over the top so often that no one else seems to know what to do with her. She also has yet to take responsibility for ANYTHING. If she were the youngest in this friend group, whatever, live and learn, but no, she is the second oldest behind me, and her nonsense has started to generate quite a bit of talk behind her back.

If I’m right, she could really benefit from learning about why emotional connections and relationships are challenging for her, and why, as she has told me, she’s never really had friends. As a defense she refuses to wear makeup, insists she doesn’t have a mirror in her house (false but one could believe she doesn’t use it to any advantage), she declared that the restaurant yesterday didn’t have a fork and ate her slice of pie with a knife, including licking said knife (plenty of forks and one arrived on her plate with her pie), she insisted on picking up and driving everyone she could there and back (I had other engagements and drove myself, thus maintaining my sanity), she brought a frozen pie into the restaurant for the girls who are gluten-free, who then declared they couldn’t eat anything off the menu then ate everyone’s leftover fries and failed to tip our very patient waitress, she spent seven minutes processing her pie selection out loud, and barely talked to me at church today because the guy she dumped sat next to me. She tends to sulk when she isn’t good at our pickup games (she’s not a very good athlete nor is she athletic and doesn’t embrace it), and no one cares or notices that she sits out and sulks because we’re all busy having a good time, which is the point. I notice though.

Do I tell her my suspicions?

That was just a small piece of what I pretty much deal with from her 7 days a week. It’s either in person or via text, and I just don’t get it, unless she has an undiagnosed condition and has never recognized that something may not be quite right – hence all of this. She tends to mirror people she perceives as being well-liked, but the execution is often terrible. I think a lot of her over the top behavior and verbal disdain toward social etiquette and norms is because she’s uncomfortable and unsure, and because she wants people to like her but doesn’t know how.

Do I tell her? Or do I just let it go? And if I do tell her, how the hell do I start that conversation?