[TW: PTSD, Abuse, Mental Illness, Trigger Month]
There’s a reason Bill and I were married in October. It gave me something to look forward to and to celebrate. A joy to embrace going forward in the future. A happy space in the middle of traumatic memories to hug. October is an incredibly difficult month for me with PTSD flare-ups, flashbacks, and the rest of it all.
PTSD can be a strange phenomenon. Somehow, even when I consciously don’t remember, the month of October still riles my self-preservation and pushes my mood into unexpected areas. My fight or flight response is in high gear leading up to this month, and during, as well. This year, I didn’t consciously remember and anticipate/prepare for the rollercoaster experience — but the mood shift, anxiety, stress found me anyways. It took a startling flashback to clue me in.
I’m starting to remember more and more of the years living with Monster. In a backhanded way, that’s my brain being more and more ready to process and work it out. Such an ugly era of my life. My doctor said if I didn’t already have PTSD, I’d have it now due to the abuse and experiences I survived.
I’ve worked incredibly hard to create a network of support with people I deeply trust (and trust is not easy), work on my wellness, take classes at NAMI, and other places, to learn how to better manage my illness and have a better quality of life. I’ve connected with peers, and as y’all know, later jumped into advocacy and activism.
(OK, technically my middle finger launched me down this path to start, but that’s a story for another day or can be found in the NPR archives somewhere still perhaps 😉. )
I can’t say this part of PTSD gets any easier, but it has gotten more familiar for me. I recognize the patterns, and I know I’ve walked out of his hell before and so I can do it again. I’ve got an incredible partner who loves and supports me through it all — even when I’m curled up in a ball in the closet, non-speaking and highly agitated trying to find peace in the quiet, dark with all vibrations (sensory exposure) muted. I’ve literally walked through hell, a few times now.
When I’m well, I do the work to help keep me well. When I’m well, the plan or actions needed to support me when I’m ill are created with the people who are my safety net. These people keep me safe, and they help me stay buffered from folks who might not be so great for me at this point in my wellness. I’ve never, ever worked so hard anything as I have to stay as stable and healthy as possible these past years. I’ve used the systems available here. I’ve done it when I was so ill I couldn’t speak and be understood. I’ve spent time in psychiatric wards, psychiatrists and psychologists offices. I’ve gone through peer-support programs to learn how to live with a mental illness, and to be in a community that understands this lived experience.
I work hard every day to manage and remain as healthy as I can. What I’ve learned at NAMI is there are different stages of recovery. I’ve also learned from personal experience, that if someone doesn’t want to put in the work – but would rather wallow in a self-created pity party and use their illness as the excuse for their treating others badly – there’s nothing I can do to support them. I’m not that person, and I’m not strong enough to manage more than my own illness if someone doesn’t want to manage theirs … and this is different completely than when we’re unable to manage them. Please know that. I’m speaking to when we’re capable of making informed and healthy choices.
Some folks are happy to unpack their bags and wallow while seeking an audience to give them attention, and I guess the illusion of support? I don’t know. I struggle to understand this part. Perhaps mine is the mind of a survivor, and not one of a perpetual victim. I don’t know.
There different stages of recovery and it has taken me many years to get to this point. I’ve worked incredibly hard, and continue to work incredibly hard, to manage this. What I can’t do is let someone who repeatedly won’t do the work (when they’re capable) harm my wellness, stability and health with their behaviors and actions. I’ve worked far too hard for this life to let this happen anymore. I have too many loved ones that need me at my best as often as I can be at my best.
I do my utmost best to be a support for others and meet them where they’re at in this journey of life. I do my best to connect them to resources, groups and other places and spaces that might be of support too. There’s no easy answers out here – just a dash of hope and a lot of hard work through systems of care that often just aren’t equipped to care for us – even when so many of these folks working in these systems truly want to help us. Unfortunately, their hands are tied too.
What I can’t do is continue to try and support folks who aren’t going to put the work in themselves, when capable, to better their quality of life and future. For my own health, I won’t continue to try support someone who continuously expect me, and others, to forgive their purposeful actions and aggressions that they blame on their mental illness or burnout — and have a million excuses as to why they can’t take on the responsibility of managing their health, and never intend on actually doing the work themselves to get better.
I really get riled up when I’m seeing someone use their MI or burnout as an excuse to get a free pass on behaving badly or when caught in an untruth. When I’m able, I do the work, and when you’re able I damn well expect you to do the work too. Don’t devalue my lived experience with insincerity and lip service. Don’t devalue my personhood with pretence. … And don’t expect me to do the work for you.
With the support of my loved ones, I’m drawing some firm boundaries, new ones, for my own wellness and health.
I’ve got enough on my plate already.