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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Understanding the Crazy in Me

I once knew a person who dealt with bi-polar disorder. He would take his medication religiously for awhile, then go off it. He said it was because he felt better and didn't think he needed it anymore. Then one day he told me that while that reason was valid, there was also a part of him that wanted the intensity of feeling that came with the manic part of the disorder. The euphoria and energy felt joyful and wonderful. He missed it when long periods of time passed without it. While he understood that inducing such a state by not taking his medication was unwise, he said there were times when he felt a huge loss as his feelings and demeanor remained stable.

I mention this because, for the first time in months, PTSD symptoms have been waning. They're not completely gone and I still battle periods of stress and panic, but I can feel myself leveling out, becoming less extreme in my feelings and reactions. This is an overall state of being and is not yet constant. There are still moments when I'm irrational and oversensitive, but those are lessening as the symptoms become more benign--more of a lurking in the background feeling, rather than being in my face all the time.

And I understand a bit of what my friend was trying to tell me. While, for the most part, PTSD symptoms are overwhelming and frustrating, they also allow me a corridor into deep feelings I have difficulty tapping otherwise. I feel moments of greater intimacy, or a large depth of love, or intense yearning for connection. It doesn't make sense to me. My brain tells me the opposite should be true--that I am so distracted by the negative impulses and emotions stirred by the PTSD symptoms that my capacity for love and intimacy would logically be diminished.

Logical or not, though, as the symptoms subside I find myself feeling less inclined to seek out conversation and company on a regular basis. I am content immersing myself in my life, my work, my own thoughts. I need less reassurance and desire for intimacy and connection are less important than spending time outside or practicing the piano. And for the first time in my memory, I find myself missing the intensity of love feelings that seem to be a byproduct of PTSD.

I miss the heart-melting joy that used to come when someone said, "I love you." I wonder why I don't feel pain when I understand that I'm not needed as I used to be, or someone I was close to is now content with online conversations or telephone calls. That recognition, when PTSD was rearing its ugly head, would incite deep feelings which indicated I was alive and involved with people. I wanted that. I desired to care. And I did care--too much. But it was still an indication that I could feel deeply.

Anyone who talks with me when PTSD symptoms are strong, will tell me, "But Sam, you're frustrated by all the feelings. They make you feel helpless and stressed and afraid. I'm not sure you know what you're talking about."

And they would be right.  I don't. I sound like one who is never satisfied. I want PTSD to wane--but I want to keep feeling--how can I want both?

The truth is that in the past decade I have discovered that there is beauty in nonsexual intimacy and closeness. It fills a huge void that has been aching inside me for most of my life. There is comfort in connection and bonding. It makes me feel human and loved in ways that I did not believe were possible. And there is something incredibly satisfying and joyful in knowing there are people who love me in spite of me--and I love them back.

I can have all those things without PTSD devouring my soul, but on a smaller scale, and without the intense flashes of joy and longing that come when symptoms ramp up my emotions beyond my ability to manage them. And while I know the lack is healthier, I still miss thinking randomly of someone and wanting to see them, hug them, feel the essence of who they are, and know that they are the only person present for me--just for a moment.

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