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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thoughts about PTSD

Since returning home I've noticed very little disruption in my life from PTSD symptoms. They're there--I'm very aware of them--but they seem to lurk near the edges of my mind rather than surging forward to engulf me. Were I to speak with them, I believe I would say something like this:

I see you. I know you're there. But the truth is, I'm busy right now and I don't have time to allow you to distract me. And honestly, you're not doing anything new or remarkable. We both understand how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed, but I'm feeling stronger today than I've felt for over a year now. Also, no matter what you tell me about myself, there is evidence which negates those messages which I've stored in my memory and I intend to shield myself from you with those moments. I expect these memories will deflect any power you have over me for at least a couple of months, at which point I may need to refurbish my arsenal--but until that time, please make yourself comfortable in the background. I plan to keep you there indefinitely.

During my stay in the psyche ward a few years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD and told I would probably never be free of it, and that I could expect to remain in therapy the rest of my life. The therapy visits, eventually, would become nothing more than annual mental health checks, but it would be a good idea to never go a year without seeing my counselor. I had a conversation with Therapist about this last month:

me: I have one more question before I leave. I was told, when I was in the hospital, that I will never be free of PTSD and I'll need to continue therapy visits for the rest of my life. Do you believe that?
Therapist: No.
me: Why?
Therapist: A number of reasons, actually. I'm assuming the doctors and psychologists who gave you that prognosis were not members of the church, right?
me: One was. The rest were not. It was actually the church member who told me that.
Therapist: Well, I'm not trying to undermine his findings, but I've known you longer--he only saw you for three days--and I've watched how you work. You don't give up and you continue to look for solutions even when there seem to be none. And I've seen your connection with the Lord. I believe, when you've done all the personal work you feel you need to do, when you've learned everything you can, when you're ready to be helped, you'll figure out how to allow the Atonement to finish what you've started. I honestly believe the words you said to me three years ago.
me: I don't remember what I said.
Therapist: You told me you refused to live with PTSD all your life. 
me: Well, that was just a temper tantrum mixed with a whole lot of denial.
Therapist: Possibly. But more importantly, I think you believe it, as well. I don't think you had any idea how painful full-blown PTSD could become, I don't think you understood how exhausted you'd be, and I don't think you knew you'd lose hope occasionally and feel helpless. But I've watched you regroup each time and try new approaches and someday--very soon, I believe--you're going to find what you need to be rid of this. I don't know exactly how that translates. It could mean you just learn to live with it but don't really notice it, or it might mean it goes away completely. But I don't believe you'll need to be in therapy the rest of your life. You understand when you need it, and you know where to find me, so if the time comes that you need support, you'll be able to have it, but it won't be mandatory. You will choose it.
me: Does that mean I don't need to come see you for awhile after I go to Seattle?
Therapist: No. 
me: Why not?
Therapist: I want to see you as soon as you feel able to talk to me when you come back, but no later that two weeks after you get home.
me: Again, why?
Therapist: I have a feeling this week-long "vacation" will not be as restful as I'd like it to be, but I also think you're going to spend your break from work processing a whole bunch of emotional and psychological "stuff". I just think it will be a good idea for us to touch bases when you come home, if for no other reason than to update me as to how you're feeling.
me: Okay.
Therapist: What? No arguments?
me: I'm too tired to argue. Besides, you're probably right.
Therapist: Wow. You are tired. I think this vacation will be a very good thing for you.
me: I hope you're right. Right now it's still giving me panic attacks.
Therapist: Sam, I don't think they'll last. Just trust me--you need this time off. 

And because Therapist knows everything, he was right, of course, about needing the time off, and using the time to process emotional things. I'm hoping he's right in his predictions about PTSD in my future. I think he might be. For the first time in about a year I don't dread the symptoms, I feel able to cope with them, and even manage them. I'm gearing up for the moments when self-worth is questioned and I begin to feel I am too filthy to be touched or cuddled. And I wasn't kidding when I said I have saved up incredible moments to be used as ammunition against the symptoms which undermine my sense of who I am.

I will remember that Jason and Leslie allowed me to spend time with their kids, and stayed up late talking with me, and let me cook dinner for them. And Jason and I went running and I found a four-leaf clover which had incredible powers which I will not go into--but it was fortunate that we had it with us during our run. They made time for me and I believe they did that because they care about me and, as I wanted to spend time with them, they also wanted to spend as much in-person time with me as they could before I left.

I will remember that I had a "date" with a straight guy--a sweet friend who didn't act offended that I fell asleep during a movie and who didn't seem put out that our day together was marred by my inability to control flashbacks, which absolutely must have put a damper on what should have been a lovely time. It's possible he was just being polite, but I prefer to believe he cares about me, so it's all right if I'm under the weather occasionally.

I will remember that TB never seems concerned if I touch him and often holds me close. He's not worried that the proximity to me will contaminate him, and sometimes seems to go out of his way to make certain I receive healthy touch, especially when I'm overwhelmed by PTSD symptoms or flashbacks. It's possible that he hates touching me, but that makes no sense at all. I prefer to believe that we've been friends long enough that we like sitting together and giving hugs and sometimes, even if he doesn't like the fact that I'm feeling pain after a flashback, I believe he's glad he can be present to help me through it because that's what you do when you care about someone.

I will remember that Tabitha couldn't stop hugging me when I got home because she missed me so much, that Adam has cornered me for too many hours just to talk, because he loves to talk with me, and that Darrin missed me--everything about me--he missed hugging me, kissing me, laughing with me and talking with me, even arguing with me--and he missed making love with me and was very glad I missed all those things, too.

I will remember that AtP texted me and sent me chats to let me know he missed our daily contact with each other, and that a number of other friends sent me well-wishes before I left because they knew I was nervous about leaving work and my family.

And so, PTSD, the bottom line is that there are many people who care about me, who will help me through whatever you can dish out, and I am not alone. And not only do they tell me how they feel--they show me. You, I can doubt. You send me nothing but nastiness and pain. But I refuse to doubt my loved ones. There may be times when they aren't available--because they have lives, too. But whenever possible, they've gone out of their way to let me know I'm important to them, to lend support, and to show love. You're not real. They are.

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