One of the most challenging aspects of living with PTSD is feeling like you have no support. I still don’t really feel that my illness is supported, and I live openly with it.
I think that people generally have a hard time understanding things outside of their own experience. This isn’t really something you can understand from the outside, because it happens inside your skull. Your behaviors, your feelings, your experience – those aren’t things you can easily share, so they are things that make it difficult for someone to be able to support you in if they don’t know.
It’s almost harder if someone wants to be helpful, because they try to take your experience – or what they understand of it – and put into the context of their experience, which means that THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND. And they’re telling you they do, and you know they don’t, and you don’t want to deal with it because you have enough pain, so you do whatever you have to and agree to whatever they say just to make it stop. Most people can’t just listen. They can’t just let your story be your story. They can’t just figure out what you need. And you feel like you have no support, when you desperately need someone else to help carry the burden.
So take your experience back, and make it about you.
You need to know what you need before you can tell someone else, so spend some time understanding what you need. Is making dinner every night just too hard? Do you need solitude and silence for a couple of hours a day? Do you need to be told good night every night before you go to bed? Do you need someone else to get the oil changed in your car because that errand is too challenging and overwhelming for you? Do you need someone to remember that you hate broccoli and not make you try to like it or eat it? Do you need someone to figure out another way to exercise because what you were doing is now attached to the trauma you experienced? Do you need someone to act as a buffer between you and someone who is unkind to you?
Whatever it is that frees you from everyday stress related to the trauma you experienced, understanding that will help you to either know what you need to address and recognize so that you can deal with it in a way that is less horrible for you, or you need to hand it off to someone else to deal with.
When people don’t support you, it may be because they have no idea how. If you know what you need and can be specific about it, you can assign a way for them to support you that is authentic to your needs, and far less frustrating for you.
Thank you for wanting to help. What would really benefit me right now and a way that you could really serve me and make my life easier is if you could come with me to the two professional events I have this month. I’m not very comfortable with crowds, and there will be people there I don’t like to be around, but I need to put on a good face. I don’t need you to hover or to tell people I’m anxious, that’s not information I want to share.
Dealing with driving and parking makes me anxious, so would you be willing to drive? That will help me to be more calm. I would also like to leave about an hour into the event, so can I use you as an excuse to leave? If you could let me know after we’ve been there an hour that we need to leave for our next event (i.e. me going home to comfortable pajamas and my cat to watch a movie), that would be really helpful, and I’ll feel more comfortable leaving at a time that is better for me rather than staying past what I can comfortably manage.
It’s a clear ask, it’s specific, and it’s something that most good friends would be willing to do, if not happy to do for you. And it comes from you knowing what you need so that you can ask for the support you need.
It would be so great if people just understood. It would make our lives so much easier. But they don’t, and a lot of times we don’t. It can feel like a burden and one more thing we have to do on top of all of the other things living with PTSD requires, but there’s something powerful about knowing – and asking for – what you need that can be a great step toward healing.