I couldn’t have imagined a week ago how I would be feeling right now.
The days of feeling this out of control were long behind me, right? The history was just that: history—the past, behind me, and not currently in effect.
But I was wrong about that.
I was wrong for the most inconceivable reason. COVID-19 and the order to “Shelter in Place”.
I’m in Chicago, and governor of Illinois has determined that, in order to limit the spread of the virus that is threatening our lives, the state is now to remain locked down. We are not allowed out except for obtaining food, medicine, and essential services. We must work from home or not work at all, unless we are the people providing the food and medicine. We can take walks, but must maintain six feet of distance between ourselves and others.
This isn’t a lot different than what we were doing yesterday, really. It isn’t a lot different than what we were doing yesterday if we were responsible citizens doing our best to limit the spread of pandemic, anyway. I’ve already been locked in my apartment for days on end, seeing only my daughter and one other person. I did sign for a package—which is the most social interaction I have had and I immediately sanitized my hands after touching that little screen with my finger. (Why are we requiring signatures on that thing under these conditions??)
I understand that part of the problem is that there are a lot of not responsible citizens who are not doing their best to limit the spread of pandemic. That is the reason that orders like sheltering in place are becoming necessary. But orders like this, for some of us … for me … are incredibly triggering.
I was doing relatively well being home with mild symptoms and trying not to be around anyone. But I was bingeing on NCIS and The Outsider, and napping a ton, and trying to read for class a little when I felt well enough. That was when it was mostly a choice.
Now I am being told that I am not allowed to leave. I am being told that I am captive in my home.
And the word captive sounds extreme and not exactly true in this case, but it is true to my psyche. It is true inside my spirit, even if it isn’t logically true.
Having experienced both long-term sexual abuse as a child and domestic violence as a young woman, I have been in situations where I could not leave a situation that I wanted to leave. I have felt trapped. I have been stuck, held, isolated, locked in, and captive for most of my life. There were even a couple of instances in my history where I was literally held captive. I was locked in a home, without my consent and with no escape. I had to fight my way out by threatening the life of my captor. That is a thing that I never like to remember that I am capable of—choosing to save my life by potentially ending that of another—but one that is true for all of us, if we are completely honest. It brings up the worst feelings for me, however.
Earlier today I described in a text to a friend the rising nausea and rush of blood to my face as I read that Governor Pritzker would be issuing the shelter in place order to begin tomorrow. That fear and desperation and loss of control and sickness that comes with being forced to do what you would not do if you had the options that people with freedom have rose up in me once more.
I don’t fully understand what it is to have choices. I’ve never made a decision that lived outside of this duress that started with the captive state of an abused child. I’ve never had the complete freedom that so many of my friends and neighbors and colleagues over the years have enjoyed. I’ve always lived under the weight of captivity.
In recent years, I’ve tried to understand what it means to live under the cloud of having your consent and your ability to choose freely taken from you. I’ve tried to understand it so that I could find some way through it. I don’t say that I lost my freedom of choice to bemoan my sad situation and seek pity, but to express that I needed to find a different path. That meant seeking freedom by finding a way to transform what others chose for me into something that I can accept and utilize to create what is beautiful and good. I’ve worked in therapy and yoga and psychiatry and physical therapy and food psychology and most recently I am embarking on a journey with a sexuality therapist in order to create something beautiful and good from the captivity and nonconsensual life that came at me from my childhood. And I have felt like progress was being made, and that I was coming into myself and finding my footing and becoming in new and wonderful ways the person I desire to be.
And then the order to shelter in place made me feel like I was locked away with no power or control over my situation.
A man spoke and I was controlled.
I don’t know if others are feeling this way. I suspect that some of you are.
It isn’t easy to avoid this trigger—feeling isolated, controlled, without power, unable to consent. I think that even those who haven’t had a history filled with terrible consequences of captivity are likely feeling these things. But for those of us who have this history, it is really challenging to be okay right now.
It is really challenging to not run screaming from my apartment even though there is nobody keeping me locked inside. It is really challenging not to play over the events of my life that felt like this feels and to dwell on the moments of powerlessness. It is really challenging to focus and function in any significant way, because the threat of thinking and feeling is too real—it might cause me to spiral out of control—so deadening and distracting my mind is a better option. And it is really challenging to feel as though I will have the freedom and choice and power and autonomy back at the end of this like everyone else will.
For lots of people, once the restrictions lift, they go back to life as usual. I don’t know if that is true for me.
Once this is triggered, can it be untriggered? Do I go back to life and school and family and fun without falling back into depression and anxiety and feeling out of control? Do I give in to the current desire to smoke or participate in risky behavior because I am feeling out of control, and if I do, can I rein that in again once the threat of the virus is over? Does all the work I have done over the past six years become undone because of this stressor and these triggers and this struggle right now? And what compensation can the GOP possibly offer me for that loss?
There is so much … too much … for some of us to cope with in the midst of this crisis.
Things that others cannot even imagine are becoming real issues for those of us who have been through challenging histories, and who have deep wounds.
But I do believe that we can keep on working toward making what we did not choose into something that is beautiful and good. Even this crisis and this pandemic and this global economy and this current triggering situation has some silver lining. I may not see it now, but it can be found.
Maybe it is something that we need to find collectively, by encouraging one another and expressing the light that we see and the beauty that we see around us. Maybe it is something that we need to find personally by making that one choice that we feel we can—doing that one thing we have some agency in or over—today to make the world better. Maybe it is both of those things and more.
I know that writing this has helped me to find some peace and feel some agency. To be able to describe what I am feeling, and to let you all know that it is okay if you are feeling it too, because it is real and valid and reasonable and acceptable to have this moment and your past collide in complicated ways. Solving these problems won’t likely happen with immediacy, but we can work together to create change, to support one another, and to listen with grace and understanding to the ways that people are affected right now.
There is so much going on. So much.
And it is so chaotic and so complex.
But we have survived some really terrible and traumatic times, my loves, and we are going to survive once more. We are going to find the light and the love and the good and make something beautiful from this chaos. I’m sure that we can. We have power and choices and agency to do it. We will make it through this.
Sometimes My C-PTSD Makes Me Feel Incredibly Stupid & Alone
I’ve done the same thing over again. I’ve started a relationship with a person who
had some red flags waving rather obviously.
I saw them … flapping in the wind.
I don’t know if I chose to ignore them, or if I thought that
I had the power to change them, and to heal the broken parts in that other
person. Either way, I am left today
feeling incredibly stupid. And I am left
I tell people all the time that you don’t date
potential. You date realized, actual
partners who already display the traits that you desire in one whom you would
give your heart to and share your life with.
But then I date the people who have all the challenges hanging out there
in front of them, and the good advice that I give to others I ignore.
Sometimes I think that I don’t believe that I deserve a partner
who treats me well. Sometimes I think I
am just too messed up from a history colored by trauma after trauma to know how
to choose a decent partner. And then
there are times that I think I deliberately choose people who will harm me,
because I am so familiar with pain and abuse and anger and frustration and
violence and cyclical ups and downs full of emotional #Whiplash that I would
rather have that familiar thing than a healthy thing.
Because what is healthy feels so foreign to me that I don’t know
how to be in it, and the unknown scares me more than the damaging familiar.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is distinct from the “regular”
version that most are familiar with because of the addition of the complex
symptoms that I and others like me suffer: difficulty regulating emotions and
behavior, dissociation or amnesia around traumatic events, disturbance in
self-perception, fluctuating perception of the perpetrator of the abuse,
impaired ability to form relationships with others, loss of meaning, and experiencing
physical symptoms of traumatic stress.
Bouts of crying or rage, broken relationships, the loss of
years of memories, hatred of self, a disturbingly complicated love/hate
relationship with my first abuser, not understanding why I am on the Earth to
begin with and developing debilitating stress-related illness are all added to
the already challenging symptoms that come with having post-traumatic stress. And the original symptoms are enough. Trust me.
These extra bits are attributed to prolonged, repeated
trauma. And my life is overflowing with
prolonged, repeated traumas to choose from.
Some researchers even posit that people like me, who have lived through
one long trauma like this choose to relive it in our relationships for the rest
of our lives.
I’m not particularly fond of those researchers. I’d like to believe that I would not choose
trauma over love and care and kindness and grace and intimacy and trust and all
those good things that I should want instead of trauma. And I imagine that is what other people
I don’t really know, fully, what other people
I don’t know what a “healthy” relationship is. I’ve never had one. (And if the aforementioned researchers get their
way, I never will.)
How do you function in relationship with others when you
literally have a symptom of “impaired ability to form relationships with others”?
How do you not always toss your own advice out the window
and simply be in a relationship with someone whom you know will likely hurt you
in some way? And I don’t mean that they
will beat you violently or something that horrific—though that is a possibility
at times. But I’ve been in relationships
with the most emotionally unavailable people over the past 10 years that it is
bordering on an offense I should be committed to an institution for … it is
basically participating in some terrible form of #Selfharm. I’ve been with alcoholics, and men who are cheating
on me. One gave me herpes. One would have me over for sex and then give
me cab fare home. He basically treated
me like a really inexpensive prostitute.
And I just kept letting him do that for a year. When I finally slept with someone else, and
then asked him to forgive the offense, he broke up with me and never spoke to
me again. Not one word.
But he did give me cab fare.
It didn’t matter because I was basically in a state of shock
mixed with self-flagellation and wandered the streets weeping for about 40
minutes before I stumbled across the train and took that instead.
I actually felt like I was to blame for all of this. Like I was the worst person. Even though he had treated me like crap for a
year. He never loved me. He used me like a conveniently placed napkin
when there was mustard upon his chin.
Oh, lovely—something I can use and toss aside!
I’ve been punishing myself for broken endings to crap
relationships for years now. But they
were never going to work because these are insecure men who need to gain
insight, get their lives together, learn to respect women—and themselves, for
that matter–and be partners worthy of relationship. None of them have been.
I’ve not been with someone worthy of partnership for many,
many years. Before my husband, for
certain. And I was married … 22 years
ago? It has been long enough that the
math seems challenging and I am estimating based on the age of my
The thing is, I am an extremely intelligent, self-aware,
intuitive woman. I have two master’s
degrees. People frequently seek out my
advice on matters of the heart and relationships, because I give great advice
about these things. And I am an amazing
friend, who has great connections with many people—lasting bonds that are
transforming and beautiful. So, I
shouldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be incapable of choosing a
suitable, mature, secure, caring partner!
It is infuriating to know that time after time I choose
partners who are not suitable, mature, secure, and caring. And it isn’t that they are just a little off
of center from my desired destination.
They aren’t even on the map!
A couple weeks ago, I went out with my brother for drinks
and we ran into the man I was dating up until last night. When that man went to the restroom, my
brother said, “We both know that guy there isn’t your soulmate.”
At the time I found it a bit offensive, though I didn’t let
on that I was offended. Now I know that
he was just trying to show me love and tell me the truth. That man was not the partner I need. He isn’t even close! And while I so wish that I could say that I
saw the light and ended it, I didn’t.
That man stormed out last night, and then blocked my calls this
morning. That’s right. I know he is all wrong for me and I am still
trying to get him back. Or I was until I
started writing this piece and listening to my playlist that includes Kesha and
Krewella and is firing up all the feminist ideals that I hold and reminding me
that I deserve love and respect and kindness and to feel alive on the
But I shouldn’t need to be dumped by a less than ideal
partner and then let my Spotify account somehow help me find the value I need
to stop chasing after that partner. I
should know my value at the start.
So, I feel stupid and alone.
And it is because of my disease—my mental illness—that makes things seem
right when they are wrong and wrong when they are right.
It is torture, really.
And I’m not entirely sure how to change it.
I suppose talking to my psychotherapist about it tomorrow is
a great start. Being honest about how
lonely I am feeling and telling my friends I need more care and contact is also
a good step, I’m sure. And keeping Kesha
and Krewella on repeat while I go about my business the next few days, or
weeks, might be a help as well. But I
still don’t know how to fix that long-term damage done to my psyche. It takes such work to heal from what was done
to me so very many years ago.
It is frustrating.
And all I can do—all each one of us who suffers C-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can do—is to keep
on working toward what we hope will someday be a “normal” and “healthy”
situation that helps us more than it harms us.
I feel stupid and alone.
But I am not.
I know there are millions more of you out there, fighting
this same fight.
And we fight so hard.
We are warriors. It takes
unbelievable, inconceivable, strength to fight this fight.
And we are warriors.
So, next time something happens in your own life, and you
feel like you’ve effed up and made the dumbest mistakes … again, remember this
Remember me and my stupid moment. And how it moved me toward finding you and
reminded me that we are warriors together.
And pick up the pieces, beautiful warrior.
The Breaks That Bond Us
Recently, I’ve been on a quest to find my tribe.
For a while, I thought I knew who I belonged with–like there was a type or a mold that made sense for me to fit within, and I could encounter those people and insert myself into their circle and be comfortable there.
For a while, that actually worked. But it only worked as long as I feigned fitting into the mold and being that particular type. Every moment I stepped outside their expectations of who or what I “should” be, I was chastised or ostracized in some way, and I had to fall back into line to regain their approval.
It didn’t last long–this molding myself to fit the expectations of others. That was a thing that I had tried and failed to do for a lifetime, and which caused me great pain, shame, and frustration. Not long into thinking I could behave as one of this tribe, the pain and shame and frustration came rushing back. It was horrible. I hadn’t felt that out of control and angry and unhinged since I was a sophomore in college–the first time I was in college, before those feelings made me drop out and put my education on a proverbial shelf for years.
Those feelings of pain and shame and frustration brought me far beyond dropping out of college. They brought me #Addiction, abusive relationships, assaults on my person and the people around me, arraignments before judges, and all sorts of other things that kept drawing me deeper down a rabbit hole that wasn’t nearly as fun as the one Alice fell into. I’d love to fall down that hole. But no acid trip ever brought me such bright hallucinations of the illogical. I just got a whole lot more pain, shame, and frustration.
So, when I felt that hole opening up in my life, I went straight to my therapist and far from that group of people who made me feel so “not good” and “not right” that I would get trapped in the feelings that had harmed me for most of my life. For a couple of weeks, I isolated myself. I curled up in my little Sanctuary, which is my apartment, and I nursed my wounds and ordered a bunch of books about identity and how to find it. That only took me a short way from the feelings though. I knew that I needed to go farther. I needed to leave the inner sanctum and go out.
When you suffer from #Anxiety, #Depression, post-traumatic stress, and stress related disease like #Fibromyalgia, it is extremely challenging to leave Sanctuary and go out. Especially after being in a situation where you felt betrayed and harmed by others quite recently. It is doubly difficult when you are also fearful that the pain and shame and frustration could jump out again at any moment. Once you lose control, it isn’t so easy to box things up and keep a lid on them immediately after. You often feel on edge, ready to jump up and go, and like you are using all of your energy to keep yourself held together in a way that will keep you from being arrested or thrown into an asylum. Any wrong word or deed or look or feeling might set you off and you would explode like an atom bomb. And having just lost a community, you cannot do that again!
Walking away from one group of people meant walking toward another, so I literally went in the opposite direction–like north instead of south–and went to visit a bar where I would occasionally sing on karaoke night. But I intentionally visited more often, and on other nights and times, so that I met new people. It was a space that already felt a bit familiar, but it still expanded my horizons.
The first person I met there said to me, “I know you.” But I didn’t recognize her at all. Then she told me where she knew me from, in a hushed voice so that no one else would hear. She knew me from a moment where I exploded. Rage was coming out all over and I didn’t know where to put it, so I had gone out to the dumpster behind my building and found an old piece of furniture that was thrown out. I broke it and smashed it and bashed the pieces to splinters against the concrete of the alley. During this episode, the guy who rents the back garage and two other people came out to see what the heck was happening out there. She was one of those two other people. She saw me apologizing to him and saying that I hadn’t damaged anything or anyone’s property, but some trash, but that I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I didn’t know what to do with my anger and my terror and I just had to do something. He said something about his mother always saying it was better to hit something than someone and it was fine. I started to cry and apologized again and walked away. She saw me during all of that.
And she wasn’t afraid of me.
We talked for about two hours that night she introduced herself in the bar, and a week later when I suddenly needed to go out of town, I somehow trusted her to care for my house and my dog while I was away. We talk nearly every day and spend time together two or three times a week. I have never doubted that she can love me at my worst, because she saw me at my worst the very first time she saw me, and she understood fully what I was feeling and dealing with. She has felt the exact same thing.
Another person I met at that bar I met on one of those days that I don’t usually go out, but I was pushing myself to find that tribe–those friends who can understand and love me despite the brokenness of my history and the challenges of my current mental and physical illnesses. The first night we met was just civil discourse, and a few drinks bought for me, and a few shy but adorable smiles from each of us to the other. The next time we saw one another, he nearly fought another person for being rude to me. The frustration exploded out of him suddenly–his body tensing and his pool cue hitting the ground with an echo that was deafening. It was chivalrous and an instinct that I admired. To most everyone else it might have been scary. But I understood it. It wasn’t that moment that made the rage come out, but a long history of things came flooding out in that moment. I felt them. I knew them. I connected with them.
I went to stand near him, keeping him apart from the object of his anger in the moment, while others ushered the offending drunk asshole from the bar. And then, when the moment was over, he walked away from me and went to the little alcove area near the bathrooms at the rear of the building. I could see him pacing there for a bit. A few minutes later I went that direction, and he said he was okay but to give him a moment, so I went back to my seat at the bar. He returned a few minutes later. I thanked him for standing up for me. He first argued that he didn’t do it for me, but then backpedaled and said that he did it for me in part. So I thanked him again and he politely and with kindness said, “You’re welcome, Christy.”
The next time I saw him he mentioned anxiety and PTSD. I said I have the same. We spent time together that night just talking and agreeing that we need to be friends. We had some beautiful moments, which I won’t recount here, because they were intense and private moments, but I will say that they could not have happened had we not met under the circumstances we did. We could not have bonded in these ways if we had not recognized one another’s broken spaces, and chosen to not run from that brokenness, but hold it tight and care for one another in the midst of it all.
It can often feel, when you have a history full of pain and shame and frustration and rage and depression and anxiety and abuse and whatever else, like you can’t connect with others–like they won’t understand you. But I am here to tell you that sometimes what breaks us is exactly what bonds us. Sometimes, when you put yourself out there, you meet the ones who know what it is to feel those same things. Those people would never judge you and try to change you and force you into a mold.
Those people were meant for you. They are your true tribe.
I’m still on a journey to find my tribe. Because I know there are more of us here, in this little space, and in this broad world, who need people like me to see them and love them. There are more of us who are broken and need to bond with the rest. We are meant to be together, and to tell one another that it is okay to fall apart, and that we have the power and the support to put ourselves back together again, every time. We are meant to tell one another that breaking the trash is better than punching people. We are meant to tell one another “thank you” for letting your angst be a tool to protect me, rather than a devolving mess that hurts someone else. We are meant to put our hands on the wounds of the other and to say, “I feel it too. It’s okay to feel it. And it’s okay to let it go.” We are meant to love one another and to support one another when the rest of the world can’t seem to understand the level of distress or seem to bear the sight of the damage. We are meant to be bonded in our broken states.
So, find your tribe. Be the tribe. Let understanding and love flow. Tell someone you share their struggle. Tell someone you don’t judge them. Open up space for brokenness. Open up space for healing. Don’t make boxes and molds. Don’t use “shoulds”. Create bonds. It will help all of us be better, stronger, and healthier–together.