I wrote a post by the same name last spring. Amazingly, I asked this question to my therapist again the other day, nearly a year later and my reaction was exactly the same when he answered, “Yes, you still have PTSD.”
The past year has been a whirlwind of powerful and positive changes in my life. My son got engaged and we were over the moon excited for the wedding. Until she broke his heart, thankfully before the wedding. After nursing his broken heart, he is again happy and thriving. My daughter, who has struggled so fiercely, is happy, in a good relationship, excelling at the University, and is realizing that she is the intelligent, insightful woman that we all see. I have come to a place where I have processed and accepted my past (most of the time). I have a huge toolbox of distress tolerance tools and have gotten the answers to the big questions that were hanging out there in my mind. I’m also very fortunate to do some marketing for two wonderful small business owners who understand my limitations and often require only 1/2 hour of work per week. These are wonderful, exciting, sometimes painful strides, and I make sure and acknowledge how the past few months have propelled my trajectory of healing.
So, why do I still have symptoms of PTSD? Why do I still have flashbacks, why am I still triggered by certain sounds, why can’t I make my brain concentrate for more than two hours at a time, without it shutting down and becoming so overwhelmed that I begin to decompensate? I mistakenly thought that just like when I had cancer, and five years later was declared cured and a survivor, that when I got to a certain point in therapy, I would be pronounced cured of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s how I approached therapy from the beginning. My therapist, nor anyone else put that thought in my mind, and I never really talked about it, I just thought, Oh, I’m sick, I will do this thing called therapy, incorporate all the tools I’m learning, and then I will be cured.
For me, however, that is not going to be the case. I have some long-lasting effects from the trauma I endured. From the reading that I’ve done the past few months, and the understanding I have about the extent of my trauma, I’m still going to have PTSD. I’m not intimating that this is a forever illness, I don’t know what the future will hold. But I have accepted that even when therapy stops (or if I need the occasional tune-up) I’m still going to suffer from symptoms. When I was talking to my son about this yesterday, he looked at me and said, “you wouldn’t expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and walk just because they are done with physical therapy, would you?” I replied, “of course not!” I wonder, is it the invisibility of my illness that makes me so uncomfortable, or is it that I have an illness that makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe both.
When my therapist and I had a talk last Friday, and he answered my question with, “Yep, you will still have PTSD when we are finished working together.” I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed that I was nearing the end of intensive therapy, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear you’re cured. The same words my oncologist said to me just a last year ago. My therapist took a lot of time and patiently, once again tried to help me accept that some wounds are extremely slow to heal, but will heal
I have to keep reminding myself that I am working hard to heal and it’s not anything I did or am doing to cause these symptoms. I’m not perpetuating them, I am living with them. When I lose sight of this I find myself getting very angry at my PTSD. Well, to be honest, I’m often angry at it, which detracts from the reasons I have it and can interrupt my healing process. When the anger and frustration well up, and starts to boil over, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life. I can acknowledge my progress, watch my children fly from the nest and make adult lives for themselves, and feel good about my ability to contribute to a life I want to have, and still, understand that I have this invisible illness of PTSD.
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph