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Why You Shouldn't Tell Someone With PTSD Their Fear Is 'Illogical'

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“Do you really think that someone is going to attack you in broad daylight with your friends and family around you?” someone will ask.

• What is PTSD?

“Yes. I do,” I’ll respond.

And then it never fails; something along the lines of this comes out of their mouth: “That’s completely illogical! We wouldn’t let anything happen to you! Why would you still think they’re coming after you?!”

And then this is where I delve into the depths of my mental illness and try to explain it to them. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When I dive into the explanation, I almost always know there is a secret blackhole in the water that I’ll get sucked into and can’t swim my way out of because we always come back to “that’s illogical!”

The easiest way to explain what happens inside my head, is by explaining it in this general idea:

There is a PTSD Katie, and a regular Katie. PTSD Katie freaks out whenever she leaves the house, convinced in the back of her mind that she’s in consistent danger. She’s fearful of going into places on her own, and only goes into limited places by herself currently. PTSD Katie is doing much better than she was this time last year, however, that doesn’t stop her from taking a can of pepper spray with her into every building. Yes, even church. PTSD Katie cannot seem to forget what happened; it lives with her every single day and it is one of the factors she considers when she has to make a decision of some kind.                  T

Then there is regular Katie. This Katie is completely aware that she is safe; she knows that what happened to her was a one-in-a-thousand chance and she just happened to be the victim on that day. She knows she shouldn’t be afraid to go into church without her pepper spray. She’s aware that finding a seat in the corner of a restaurant with her back facing the wall is a complicated reaction to what she experienced. This Katie is siding with everyone who is saying, “it’s illogical!” because she knows. If anyone knows that what PTSD Katie does is illogical, it’s this Katie.

Think of it like the angel on one side of your shoulder and the devil on the other. The angel side is regular Katie, whispering common sense and reasons why I shouldn’t listen to the other side, reminding me I am safe because I have people around me who love me and I live in an area in which I know nearly every backroad. The angel side is saying, “Sit anywhere! You’re fine!” She’s saying, “don’t be scared, silly, it’s just Target!” She’s the one reminding me, “it’s just the PTSD talking, and it’s trying to drown me out. Don’t let it.”

The devil side is the PTSD side, screaming at the top of her lungs, “You’re unsafe! Find a corner to sit in! Someone will jump out to hurt you at that large building! You’re being followed, and the moment you let your guard down is the moment the slippery snake will attack!” She’s saying, “don’t trust the man who is standing just one centimeter inside your personal bubble. He’s going to hurt you;” or “if you stay out in the open for too long you’re making yourself a bigger target. Stay out for just a little while at a time, and then go back home and lock every window and door behind you so that you know that no one will be able to penetrate the walls of your home.” She’s directing me to be illogical, therefore, making some of my actions look, seem and be illogical.

Sometimes the angel wins; lately, thankfully, the angel has been out-screaming the devil.  Lately, I’ve been able to quiet the devil inside and live a somewhat close to “normal” life.  But, other times? Other times that devil wins, and I’m sitting in the middle of my house with my legs tucked around my arms, swaying back in forth and concentrating on my breathing.  Sometimes, the angel side takes a quick step away and the devil drops a bomb. And then I’m back to finding my way to being regular Katie, the angel part, and being OK again.

When people say, “that’s illogical,” I seriously just want to scream: “I know! Don’t you think I know that! I can’t help it sometimes!

Because those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression or anything similar, sometimes can’t help what their reaction is to this, that and the other are going to be. Sometimes we are perfectly fine one minute and then a lost cause the next. You think we don’t know that?!  We’re the ones who go through it! We experience it. We live with it. 

So please, if you could, stop saying that we’re being illogical. Stop telling us we’re not thinking things through logically; stop telling us what we already know. We deal with saying it to ourselves every single day. We do not need you to tell us too.

If you can do that for us, that would be really great. We’d be very grateful.


Getty image by AntonioGuillem

Originally published: February 21, 2020
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