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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Therapist's Theories

Slowly, life is becoming "normal" again. It's been about two weeks without even a hint of PTSD. It's been awhile since this has happened. Even on the good days, there have been fleeting moments of panic or paranoia--but not recently. The good days are good days.

Therapist believes that I have two paths when it comes to PTSD. The first is what I've done for most of my life: I simply ignore or deny that I'm feeling anything at all. Doing so has kept the flashbacks to a minimum, although the nightmares have taken on a life of their own. It's much easier, however, to explain away bad dreams than it is to live through a incident of rape, however imaginary. However, in order to stay on this path, it was essential that I isolate myself, have no close relationships outside of Darrin, and keep all interactions with people businesslike or casual. This is not healthy and I will admit that in the years when I did this, there were moments when I was so lonely I felt immobile and overwhelmed. And while I was content for the most part, there was no depth or intensity to any joy I felt. Life was good, it felt happy, and it also felt completely two-dimensional.

The second path involves allowing people access to me. This causes me a great deal of stress and is what began to trigger panic attacks when my life became too busy to be manageable. I can read people fairly well as long as there is no connection to me, personally. I know when people are sad or lonely, when they're not feeling well, when they're dying to talk. Darrin used to call me "the Piano Bench Counselor" because it was not unusual for students to come to their lessons and end up unloading current problems as I listened. This usually involved a great deal of tears and a bit of embarrassment, but I think it was good for them to have a place to talk.

However, in regards to decoding how people feel about me, I'm at a complete loss. I love the communication I have with Ambrosia because she's very specific about things we do that she enjoys. She doesn't assume I just know how she feels, and if I do something she finds helpful or unusual, she tells me. Most of the time I have no idea I'm doing the thing she mentions, so when I hear her words I'm able to understand better how our friendship works--what things she finds supportive or enjoyable. For someone like me, such explicit communication is invaluable. It keeps me from feeling insecure or retreating--concerned about breaching boundaries or being unwanted or unwelcome.

Not everyone feels comfortable with that type of communication. Some people have no idea how to easily initiate it, and often my friends just assume I know things that I do not. Therapist has been working with me for about two years now, trying to help me learn how to tell people what my communication needs are and then following up, reminding them, and returning similar communication to them. I hate it. I don't want to have to talk about this at all. I want my interactions with my loved ones to be easy and natural.

Therapist reminds me that I can't have that natural ease--yet. He promises me that as PTSD becomes more and more manageable, I'll learn to quiet the remembered abuses, the inaccurate conclusions, the imagined unkindnesses. But I have to put in the time now in order to get to that point. I still don't want to. It makes me feel like I need special treatment. Therapist says I do. He reminds me that much of the pain behind PTSD is an inability to navigate and maintain close relationships. He insists that with practice I'll learn how to read the nonverbal cues and body language and I'll understand that no one really wishes me harm, but until that time I need people to say exactly how they feel, I need to hear positive reports of the way I enrich their lives, and I need to be reminded that I'm not invisible when I'm present nor forgotten when I'm not.

This is unpleasant.

Tolkien Boy believes I hate this because, while many things come easily to me, this particular part of life feels cumbersome and frustrating. I don't really care why, I just want to "get it", and I want that to happen right now. It's not going to.

There is a great deal of vulnerability in admitting feelings and discussing needs. I'm noticing this is not only true for me, but also for my friends who do not have PTSD. I understand why I feel this--I have deep fears abandonment and I'm combating words which undermined my sense of self-worth over many years. There is a belief that if I speak of the things I need I will be told those needs do not matter, that I have no value, and that I need to stop talking. I don't understand, however, why my friends feel this, as well. Perhaps they're afraid their words will be misconstrued--or maybe everyone has a tiny bit of abandonment fear, or a fear that their needs, too, will be disregarded once spoken.

It's interesting to me that each relationship in my life carries with it a unique sense of identity, each with its own areas of strengths and weaknesses. I've been confused that, in spite of the fact that we've talked nearly every day for more than four years, I have the most difficulty talking about my specific needs with Tolkien Boy. I find it much easier with other friends and yet, TB and I are close enough that this should not be a problem.

Darrin believes the difficulty lies in the fact that I often relax so much when I'm with TB that I don't really pay attention to what he says. I've been known to spend a day with my friend, and when Darrin asks what we talked about I can't remember. Or we'll talk on the phone or chat for a very long time and I find myself constantly losing my train of thought. Darrin says allowing myself to let go of stress when I'm with TB is a very good thing, but it also keeps me from listening closely to the things TB says, or noticing when he's letting me know his feelings or thoughts concerning me or our friendship. Darrin knows me very well. I'm pretty sure he's right.

So--during my last visit with Tolkien Boy I paid attention and I asked questions and I made certain to remember what we talked about. And while I didn't experience the complete relaxation of inner stress which I usually indulge in when I'm with him, I walked away from that visit feeling much more level. I heard TB tell me about parts of our friendship that bring him joy, as well as those that cause him aggravation; and I believe I was completely incoherent in everything I said, but I also believe I was able to communicate some things I've been wishing to say, as well.

And all this meandering through my mind has taken place in this blog post because Therapist believes if I keep doing that sort of thing with the people I love, eventually the stress I've been feeling within my relationships will ease and I'll have one fewer trigger for PTSD symptoms. Based on my recent lack of symptoms, I'm willing to believe him and test his theory, regardless of how uncomfortable it might be.

And now I am going to bed. It's time to sleep on this.

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