Usually when this happens, I wait to talk about it. I wait until the calm has come. Otherwise, I'm fairly certain the post will feel passive aggressive, at best. I am not a passive aggressive person. Those closest to me have known me to occasionally say something that is. Then they have known me to recognize it for what it is, quickly apologize, and then retreat until I'm able to act like a real human being again.
However, this time I need to talk. Should I sound whiny or self-absorbed or, yes, even passive aggressive, then so be it. I apologize in advance.
What does it feel like to have PTSD?
I've attempted to answer this question so many times, and always, I have failed miserably. This time I am answering the question while the symptoms rage and my ability to be rational is gone.
PTSD is something that lurks quietly beneath the surface during the calm times. In those moments, I feel the most like myself. I recognize my feelings and reactions. They feel logical and appropriate. But always, I am aware that I might hear or see or otherwise experience something that will awaken the PTSD symptoms. Always.
So I look for ways to circumvent that possibility. I avoid large, noisy crowds. On days when I feel particularly vulnerable, I avoid people, altogether. I don't watch movies that graphically depict violence, especially sexual violence, toward women. I don't go places where I might feel unsafe (translation: I stay home with the door locked and I don't answer my phone). On highly sensitive days, I don't touch people.
What this all means is that when the calm days are present, I spend most of my time trying to avoid things and waiting for the less than calm days. Which translates into a lot of stress. At some point, when my life will allow it, I will meet with Therapist and talk about ways to live my life again - to really live, not just await the next time I will feel the full impact of PTSD and spend each moment trying to appear normal while dealing with the mess it makes of me.
I am currently not in the calm days.
It was a small thing, really. I went to church. And two men came in and sat on the pew in front of me. They were mentally challenged/disabled/whatever the current politically correct word is.
I need to say this: I have spent my life in fear of those who are mentally disabled - especially mentally disabled men. Judge me, if you will. I am fearful of them, but I do not hate them. I recognize my fear is irrational and wrong and the each person is unique. I've even spent time with the mentally disabled, volunteering, or just visiting, in an attempt to allay my fear.
But this fear stems from a time very, very long ago. Eight-year-old Samantha was attending a men's church basketball game with her father. She needed to use the bathroom. So she skipped to the ladies room, used the facilities, and was washing up when she realized she had been followed by a man. He was watching her. She turned to him, remembering that he was mentally disabled, thinking that perhaps he had gone to the wrong bathroom by mistake, and he grabbed her.
Understand, at age 8, I was very small. I had not reached four feet in height and I weighed about 40 pounds. This was a grown man in his mid-30s. A very strong, grown man. He began roughly removing my clothing, and I was terrified. I screamed, fought, bit, scratched... it didn't matter. I remember finally getting away, grabbing my clothes, and running. I heard him say, as I reached the door, "Don't tell your dad. Don't you tell your dad." I turned my defiant, angry, scared-out-of-my-mind self to him and said firmly, "I WILL tell him. I'm telling him right now." And then I ran.
I have no idea how I dressed while running, but I arrived at my father's side, fully clothed. I stood quietly next to him. He must have noticed I was upset because he tore his attention away from the game to ask if I was okay. I don't remember what I said, but I conveyed what had just happened to me. I watched my father become angry. He picked me up, sat me on a chair more firmly, I think, than he intended, and told me not to move. Then he left.
So I sat. And my child brain told me that I must have done something terrible. And I wanted someone to hold me and tell me I would be okay. But no one did. I wanted to be told the man wouldn't touch me again. But no one did. I needed, badly, to be told that I had done nothing wrong. But no one did.
And that is the extent of my memory. My father tells me that he left because he found the man who had molested me and threatened to kill him. That doesn't really help me. My parents told me that they met with the bishop, that I came with them, that I told my story, and they discussed bringing charges against the man. No charges were brought.
And I am left with the memory of being attacked, molested, and when seeking comfort, instead being met with anger. While it was not directed at me, it is all I remember. Church bathrooms are still a place of fear for me, years later. And while I despise myself for this, I am still afraid of mentally disabled men, as a group.
So two days ago I went to church. And two disabled men sat in front of me. And that experience has triggered PTSD symptoms that rage in my gut. A war has begun. PTSD brings to the fore all the bizarre and unnatural impulses and feelings I have toward loved ones in my life. I spend time that could be used for work and rest and normal life interactions, reminding myself that such impulses and feelings are not appropriate nor logical. I watch everything I say, to make sure I'm not expressing something strange or ugly. I don't touch people.
I completely understand that what is happening is my body and brain reminding me that something horrible happened to me a long time ago and that it's not quite healed. I completely understand that if I feel something inappropriate toward another person, this is not an authentic feeling, nor is it coming from the person who is really me. I completely understand that, while I may have impulses or thoughts that are immoral or violent, this is not what I would do if I had experienced less violence in my own life.
The feelings and impulses feel foreign and wrong. They also feel appropriate to the situation. And because I understand where they come from, I allow them. Attempting to shelve or stop them simply causes an increase in intensity and a decreased ability to manage them. But as I allow those to happen, I also completely understand that, were anyone I love to know about them, they would be tremendously uncomfortable. I also believe our relationship would be irreparably damaged. No one really wishes intimacy with someone who, voluntarily or not, periodically feels things or wishes to act in ways that are reprehensible..
That, naturally, creates conflict. And a little bit of self-loathing. And a whole lot of frustration.
And so I wait. The wait is miserable. I get cranky and sad. But someday this will ease up, and I'll be back to the calm days that are also stressful because I know, at some point, I'll be back in the PTSD war with myself again.
What do I want right now? I want the war to end. I understand that most everyone experiences unwanted feelings and impulses, but I want to have impulses and feelings that are less bizarre and frightening - ones that don't make me feel I'm a psychopath. I want to believe that, even if the people in my life know that I think or feel these things, they would understand that's not who I really am, that I'm not violent or crazy, and that they can still love me even in the moments when I'm battling PTSD. I want, someday, to be free of the vicious cycle.
What do I need? Probably more than anything, I need someone to hold my hand and tell me it's okay. Weird.