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Why I'd Call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 'a Disorder of Doubt'

If someone came up to me on the street and wanted me to give post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) another name, I would probably react with bafflement for a few reasons:

1. I am not often approached on the street.
2. I don’t actually like being approached on the street.
3. A random person approaching me on the street should not know such personally relevant information about me.
4. Even if they didn’t actually know this about me for a fact, the coincidence is too much for my paranoid mind to let go.

But let’s assume I went by Target and picked up the ability to react to such situations with intelligent and thoughtful discussion. (Target, incidentally, is a great place to pick up things you wish you could have.) And let’s assume that someone did ask me this question.

If I had to call it something else, I would call it “a disorder of doubt.”

I blink, and suddenly feel like nothing around me is real. Like I didn’t really move here. Like I’m going to suddenly wake up and find myself back where I used to be. Like the last few months of adjusting to a new address and a new climate and a new diagnosis were all just a strangely elaborate dream, a dream I’m going to have to wake up from at some point.

And then the incessant questions start: Is what I’m feeling real? Was what I used to feel before this real? Was there a time when I didn’t feel like this? Am I just imagining this feeling, or was I imagining something in the past? Did all the stuff that led up to this actually happen or was I just imagining it? Is any of this happening right now?

And then, even when it passes and I start to feel capable of rational thinking again, there’s a little doubt lingering in the background: This isn’t going to last. You know it’s going to come back. It will come back and you aren’t safe from it. You aren’t safe from anything, anywhere, not ever.

It feels like I’m made up of two different people. There’s the depressed half — the one who doesn’t want to go outside and is quite convinced getting better is a hopeless proposition. There’s the rational half — the one who still remembers at least a few things learned from therapy and makes desperate steps toward productivity no matter how painful. The two halves don’t get along very well, and when one is active, it’s because they’ve locked the other in a closet and hidden the key. Whether from therapy or from overexposure to my own brain, I’ve gotten good at noticing when I’m in one mood or the other, and no matter which one I’m stuck in, the other one feels like a distant memory that didn’t even happen to me. A lot of my memories feel like that, actually — like they didn’t happen to me but to someone else wearing my skin and my bland smile.

Having started delving into some of the science on it, though, I actually kind of like the idea that my brain was trying to keep me safe all that time by repressing the things that weren’t yet safe for me to deal with. Granted, I can’t help but be unhappy that it did eventually have to spring it all on me, and I take issue with its decision that I was finally safe enough to try and handle this, but I suppose I have to start somewhere.

At the time of writing, my onset of symptoms and subsequent diagnosis are very recent, and so, to put it lightly, I am not in a good place mentally right now. I have no idea how long it will take me to “get better” or if I even will. I feel like I’ll never be safe again, like I’m always hiding from something. I have no idea how to feel like a human again or how to process any of the thoughts I can’t get out of my head. I desperately want to shut my brain off and sleep for a very long time. And above all, I am constantly overwhelmed by doubt. Doubt in myself, doubt in my perception of the world around me, doubt in my memories. There are fleeting moments when I don’t know with certainty what’s real and what isn’t, playing over and and over again like a broken record, and that terrifies me.

Maybe that’s why I’m still stuck on blaming myself for what happened to me — as negative and self-destructive those feelings may be, I’ve certainly never doubted them.

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Photo by Joshua Newton, via Unsplash