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Goodbye, 25. Hello, C-PTSD.

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

The restaurant is already closed, and we’re those people. You know, the people who tend to camp out at a restaurant way after they shut down, causing servers to get out later than they’d like. Usually, I’m super cognizant of leaving in a timely manner, but it’s my birthday. I deserve to drag this moment out.

• What is PTSD?

Beyond tipsy and pleasantly drunk, I’m surrounded by the people who held it down for me during the hardest year of my life. My family-scape changed forever by the vice grip of death and dementia – it isn’t lost on me how precious this day is. I made it. We’re here to celebrate life.

We sit around the table, everyone singing happy birthday. I look up through the haze of three too many mimosas, swaying back and forth to the disharmonious voices of the people I love most when one intrusive whisper of a thought makes my heart sink to my stomach. My smile falters. 

“They’re all going to die one day.”

I’m no longer at my birthday dinner twerking to the Stevie Wonder rendition of the birthday song.  I’m fast forwarded to the future funerals of my best friends. 

Their family hugs me and thanks me for being a good friend, and I tell them I’ll never be as good of a friend as they were to me. How it’s because of them I saw my 26th birthday and every one after. 

I’m wearing their favorite color, as black at a funeral is so overdone and they’d be so disappointed in me if I didn’t show out the last time I’d be able to do so in their honor. 

What will I say about them? Will I tell the story where we almost died going to see Rocky Horror Picture Show (multiple times on various occasions), or how they watched me fall down an escalator when leaving John F. Kennedy Airport that one time? 

Will I be able to look at their cold bodies and say goodbye? Will that set me back to the suicidal grief ridden place I just escaped? How many more times can I see the people I love die and be left behind with all the broken pieces from the mosaic that was our lives together.

Then, my chest constricts remembering the final moments I’ve already experienced. Holding my dog as her heart slowly stopped. My grandfather actually remembering me and who I was to him the last time he’d ever see me in person, standing in the doorway of our house watching me drive back to Orlando. I promised him I’d come back soon and now I’d never get the chance. I lied to him, and I can’t say I’m sorry.

All the colorless days, weeks and months that passed where I had to do all the firsts swirled around me. My first time witnessing a bad thunderstorm and not having to turn on all the lights and put on a special playlist so my dog wouldn’t shake out of her skin. My first Christmas without my grandpa wrapping gifts in the most oddly ornate ways where you’d never guess what the present was.

I’ll have to do that all again, unless I die first. Then I’d never have to see another person I love cross to the other side of the veil.

I blink, and the birthday song finishes. A candle sits in front of me and seven pairs of eyes stare at me expectantly, not knowing how far I had traveled in what was probably three seconds tops.

“Make a wish,” one of them says giddy in their seat. I smile back, genuinely happy to experience this moment with them, but now remembering how fleeting life is. 

Complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD)  fucking sucks. There are these moments where everything is great. You’re no longer drowning or even treading water. You’re surfing amongst the waves and basking in the sun and then out of nowhere you’re sinking again, if only for a moment. That doesn’t change the fact that when you come back up for air, you’re drenched all over again and now you have to take time to disrobe, and be forced to sit in your own naked vulnerability while everything dries around you.

My 26th birthday was one that I’ll never forget, and it will go down as one of the happiest days of my life. Spending most of 25 performing life versus actually wanting to live it, it was weird and new to feel pure blissful happiness, but it still couldn’t last without being stained by my C-PTSD. 

My friends feared me not making it to my 26th birthday, but me? I fear that the longer I live, the more deaths I’ll have to experience and then one day it’ll be me alone, without the reasons I stuck around to begin with.

I make my wish, blow out my candle, and go on to dancing in rose gardens and drinking more champagne pretending that nothing happened to begin with.

Image provided by contributor.

Originally published: December 24, 2021
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