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I Have PTSD, but My Trauma Still Doesn’t Feel ‘Bad Enough’

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We all have times where the weight of the day’s chaos knocks us down. Some vent, while others cry. We reach out that shaky hand to whatever feels adequate at the time to try and help us through. And when the tears stop and the tissues are thrown away, we push forward to tackle the next obstacle in our way.

• What is PTSD?

Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to all. I wholeheartedly wish it did, and it pains me it doesn’t. Because I am one of the few who falls into the statistics. The taboo we turned our heads to. We were taught to push it down, bury it and push forward with an invisible piece of tape covering our mouths. Or, you get sent away, out of sight, with made-up excuses to friends and family as to your whereabouts.

Fuck it. Fuck it all. Especially fuck post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What many don’t realize is bad days cover us in a weighted blanket of misery, suffocating us. Demons grab us by our feet, and repeatedly try to drag us down. If the tears aren’t flowing, the screams echo in our heads. The slightest sound, touch, smell, even a tiny glimpse into a once happy memory, can trigger the worst. There is often no rhyme or reason. And, in my experience, there are certainly  no warning signs as to when it will strike.

I was diagnosed with PTSD after my daughter spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit. When the counselor told me my diagnosis, I laughed so hard I was crying. PTSD? Me? And I was embarrassed of my diagnosis, like I wasn’t “worthy” enough to have it. I never went to battle. Never experienced the atrocities of war. Sure, I watched people die in front of me in my career, but not like that. My counselor told me it wasn’t just meant for them, the heroes who protect us, that anyone can live with it. And I still laughed. Because in that moment, I became part of some sick, twisted club no one ever dreamt of joining.

Now, I walk around and hear a simple “beeping” noise like that of a heart monitor, and my own heart begins to race. Deep breaths. I hear others who get diagnosed with exactly what I had and I cringe inside. I didn’t fall in the “majority of this will heal by itself” category. No. I fell in the warnings on labels because it happened to the smallest percent of people. You can only imagine how the smell of unscented hand sanitizer has been for me during this past year…

And even though I have the “classic” signs and symptoms of PTSD, I still never like telling people. When others talk about the things they have been through, the shit they have seen, I sit back, completely embarrassed. No one wants to be told they have PTSD, and in some weird way to me, it should still be “saved” for those who experienced more than I ever did. Sure, I can sit there and know exactly what they are feeling physically, but I cannot lie and say I sympathize with them. Because their demons are on a whole other level I will never understand.

It’s frustrating. To sit there, and have the exact same disease as someone else, yet have no clue how to help. I know I can be there for them. Sit with them silently, because just knowing someone who cares is right there in arm’s reach somehow helps. It helps bring you back to reality and calm your heart. But I also know firsthand what it’s like to turn down help. Instead, you turn to something that’s familiar, knowing that thing will spark the flame of torture. The story is always the same, and the finale never changes. That makes it comforting; the fact there are no variables, so in its sick and twisted way, it comforts you. And then it destroys you by flooding you with everything you try to ignore and live with daily.

That’s what the majority of people will never see, nor ever come close to comprehending. There is no magical brand of tissue to wipe our tears away and push forward. It’s like you’re in the fifth minute of the third round of your fight, and that minute never ends.

I still don’t, and may never, agree with being told I have PTSD. I don’t want to say I’m in denial, it’s always been the fact others have gone through a million things worse than what I went through. It just doesn’t seem fair to say I have it. This constantly reminds me of one of the two major things the NICU staff would always emphasize. “Don’t compare apples to oranges.” And maybe that’s what I need to remind myself daily, that we all have demons that torment us in different ways.

Unsplash image by Ben Eaton

Originally published: April 8, 2021
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