I Am More Than My Trauma. I Am More Than My PTSD.
The other day, my son asked me what the difference is between my brain getting overwhelmed while shopping and my brain getting overwhelmed while working. He wanted to know if while I was shopping, whether I recover after a couple of hours. He understands that if I push it while working, it can take me out of the game for a whole day. I appreciated him asking me because anything that takes the elephant out of the room is wonderful; but, I also understood that he asked me because I became so overwhelmed at the grocery store while we were shopping together that he was concerned my plans would be affected later that day. I’m grateful for his concern and his honest question because he understands how my life is impacted by my symptoms. I felt both seen and heard.
When I describe myself, I don’t use adjectives that describe my illness. I describe myself as a kind, compassionate person with a wicked (sometimes dark) sense of humor who tries to live an authentic life. I have strong friendships and solid family supports from my husband and children. That’s how I would define myself. My PTSD doesn’t define me, but it does impact me.
The effects of my trauma and the resulting PTSD has changed my life. It prevents me from being able to work, hopping in the car to run errands, enjoying busy or new restaurants and traveling without a companion. I have to consciously work with the triggers that cause flashbacks and other assorted symptoms. While that doesn’t define who I am, it does have an effect my life. If you ask me about it, I will tell you.
I’m in a position, as perhaps most people are who deal with a chronic or debilitating illness, where I must find a way to live with my symptoms and try to have an illness-free identity. It’s hard. I spent years minimizing my feelings, being angry at my PTSD, thinking that I’m weak; after all, I survived unimaginable circumstances, so why can’t I just get over this thing? That thinking wasn’t helping my trajectory of healing and it certainly didn’t honor my past, my feelings, or the fact that I did survive.
While I am not my PTSD, it certainly impacts my life. I am more than my past, more than my trauma, more than my illness. And the truth is that my terrible past includes significant trauma that resulted in an illness. I have found that when people hear, read and understand that there are some really awful people in the world, it often makes them uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable information, and it should be. We shouldn’t feel comfortable, complacent and unfazed when hearing about abuse. It’s something that can be stopped — abuse is something that is done by one person to another.
To understand what and who we are at our core, our intentions and how we want to connect with others should define us. We aren’t defined by our circumstance, illness or profession, but they often dictate how we have to live day to day. My illness has made it difficult to accept this in my life. But it has also changed what I’m passionate about. I no longer hide in the shadow of shame and stigma. I choose to speak and write about what it’s like to live with a mental illness — to live with PTSD. I want to be seen and heard for who I am as a person. I am not my PTSD, but I do live with a mental illness. Ask me about it, and I will be glad to tell you what it’s like; the same way I would tell you what it’s like to live with a physical illness.
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Getty image via Juliia Tochilina