The other day, my son asked me, what the difference is between my brain getting overwhelmed when shopping and my brain getting overwhelmed while working. He wanted to know if when shopping I recover after a couple hours. He understands that if I push it while working, it can take me out of the game for a whole day. I appreciated he asking me, because anything that takes the elephant out of the room, is wonderful. But, I also understood that he asked me because I became so overwhelmed at the grocery store when we were shopping together, that he was concerned that my plans would be affected later that day. I’m grateful for his concern and his honest question because he understands how my life is impacted by my symptoms.
When I describe myself I don’t use adjectives that bring in my past, that I’m a survivor of trauma or that I’m dealing with this unrelenting illness. I describe myself as a kind, compassionate, person with a wicked (sometimes dark) sense of humor who tries to live an authentic life. I have strong friendships and solid family support from my husband and children. That’s how I would define myself. My PTSD doesn’t define me, but it does impact me.
The effects of my trauma and the resulting PTSD has changed my life. It prevents me from working more than two hours a day, hopping in the car to run errands, enjoying restaurants, travel, and I have to consciously work with the triggers that cause flashbacks, and other assorted symptoms. While that doesn’t define who I am, it does have an effect my life.
I’m in a position, as perhaps most people who deal with a chronic or debilitating illness to find a way to live with my symptoms and try to have an illness free identity. It’s hard. I spent years minimizing my feelings, being angry at my PTSD, thinking that I’m weak; after all, I survived unimaginable circumstances, why can’t I get my shit together and just get over this thing. That thinking wasn’t helping my trajectory of healing and it certainly didn’t honor my past, my feelings, or the fact that I did survive.
While PTSD doesn’t define me, it certainly impacts my life. I am more than my past, more than my trauma, more than my illness. And my terrible past includes significant trauma resulting in an illness. Sometimes, when people hear about it, read about, and understand that there are some really awful people in the world, it makes them uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable information, and it should be. We shouldn’t feel comfortable, complacent and unfazed when hearing about abuse. It’s something that can be stopped, abuse is something that is done by one person to another. This illness has changed what I choose to be passionate about, speak about, write about.
To understand what and who we are at our core, our intentions, and how we want to connect to others can define us. We aren’t defined by our circumstances, illness, or professions, but they often dictate how we have to live day-to-day. It’s been a struggle to accept this in my life. I imagine it’s something I will have to wrestle with as long as I have PTSD. Perhaps, even if I didn’t have an illness, I would be checking myself, making sure I have a larger view, a compassionate perspective, and hope…always hope.
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph