Before giving advice to someone you care about…ask yourself if you’ve really listened to them.

Then ask yourself if you’re been listening to the right things.

Sometimes people are asking for help about a different subject than it sounds like. Ask questions. Important questions, not thoughtless ones. They don’t have to answer you and you should let them know that, but being able to work through it with this kind of guidance is an important life skill. If they do answer your questions and have this conversation…don’t judge them. Don’t give opinions yet. It’s not about you, not at this moment. Wait. Listen.

When you stop talking it’s amazing, even without experience in the subject, what you can hear. What you can learn.

When they need your help focus on being more of a support guideline than a teaching one. You’re there to ask questions that get to the heart of the issue that’s bothering them so they can feel better and live healthy and slowly make the changes they need to make. You know them, you know what’s important to them right? You know what makes them passionate and happy and you want them to get there right? Sometimes (more often for some of us than others) there’s so much upset going on all at once that it becomes a writhing mass of confusion and ache that is really damn difficult to understand. Try to imagine perceiving so much negative feedback from life that it’s hard to focus on just four or five or six problems anymore.

When someone’s so desperate for survival, so desperate to find the light again you’ve got to support them in getting there their way. There are cracks in them so personal that no one will ever be able to 100% relate to.

You want to help them? You need to support them instead of trying to shape them. Help them listen to themselves when they’ve lost their inner voice to the over powering nature of what they’re going through. To me this is what true love looks like. Someone who accepts me as I am and just holds my hand when I’m timid about moving forward. There is a time and a place for your experience and opinions to come into the picture, just don’t let the importance of what you think will help overpower their own faltering steps. It’s already hard enough to walk forward without having to navigate how everyone thinks it should be done.

I know you’re busy world, but I wanted to tell you this anyway…

I’ve been through a lot this year, but I feel like I’m slowly moving a long. Anxiety and wanting to isolate are still a battle. It’s so much easier, calmer, and more peaceful to just stay on my little island. I know it won’t always be this way, but there is a certain amount of guilt, a little shame at not being able to reach out or check in with everyone of you. My anxiety levels choke my voice most days. I get so anxious over posting little messages on Facebook/Tumblr/Reddit, like I’ll log in to find all hell has broken loose or something when there’s really no reason to expect that. None of you are going to grab your pitch forks and chase me down over something I say. Still…it’s so hard to actually speak up when I have an opinion. (It’s exhausting, I feel drained after even if it wasn’t even an argument.)

I’ve been focusing on going through treatment for my PTSD almost a full year now. A year ago I broke down and realized things were beyond my strength to fix. I met an amazing therapist. I spent a year studying myself, healing, trying to grow and find new ways to live with my disorder. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve learned so much about the people who love me. A year ago all I knew was that I couldn’t make it better, but I was so wrong:

Last year I began the long process of treating my illness and kept at it with dedication. I got married to the man I’m completely in love with in October. I got rid of old, unhealthy, ties. I strengthened relationships with people who mattered. I met an amazing writing partner (who as soon as we’ve known each other a few more months will totally be in the running for my BFF spot.) I wrote over 300,000 words trying to finish even one of the stories that help make up that figure. Compared to last year I know I’m happier than I was, I know I’m more optimistic. Last year was my rock bottom and I was so wrong about not being able to make it better. (Couldn’t do this without my amazing support system. The biggest nod to my husband Louie, who helps me work through things every day.) I took thousands of photos and hundreds of videos of everyone and everything around me. I experimented with my dreams and I tried to figure out who I am now, instead of some image of who I think I should be. Then I learned to love the person I found. I’m still learning to care for that person like I would anyone else. I’m sure I did lots of other things too, but it’s so difficult to remember what you’ve done that’s worthwhile. I tried to speak up more this year and I think it’s been good for me. But how do you place a value on any of that when people are asking you what you’re up to?

I managed to do those things while suffering regularly from night terrors, flashbacks, high anxiety and panic attacks. My longest period without sleep was from Monday-Friday a few months ago. I can’t count the number of 48 hour days I had because even though I was exhausted my mind was too stimulated by fear and memory that it would not shut down for sleep. I lost about 30 pounds this year from pacing in a hallway to relieve my anxiety levels. The longest stretch of time I lost to that without a break was six hours. There were times when my feet were covered in blisters and my skin was eventually stripped from the bottom of my heels and the ball of my foot and under my toes from the hours doing this through out the day, everyday. I did that with people thinking my problem is I’m too lazy, or I sleep too late, or I’m not trying hard enough to be happy and I’m just sensitive or over emotional. Or that there was nothing wrong with me at all.

I’ve learned that this kind of mental/emotional damage is so pernicious because it subtly effects so many behaviors that we don’t necessarily associate with the trauma itself. Because of that it’s really fucking hard to identify what the problem is and what will make you feel safer/better or promote healthier states of mind. The most bitter sweet lesson I’ve learned is that I can be happy again, but with that lesson I learned that this isn’tsomething I can just fix. PTSD won’t just go away because I have the perfect husband or I’m really excited about certain aspects of my life. No, I’ve learned to be happy about what I can be happy about while I’m still suffering with the affects of PTSD. This won’t go away. It’s something that can be triggered by things I will never have control over. I can only learn to live with it as a part of who I am.

And it’s because of that I’m sharing this. I want you to know and I want you to know how I measure my day so we can understand each other a little better.

I got properly diagnosed with PTSD at 19. It’s not something I’ve shared with a lot of people and I’m 26 now. This is not something that I’m going to be getting over any time soon though and it’s not something I want to be ashamed of. I have gone through treatment before and was living just fine until a year and a half ago when I went through a very triggering situation that kinda fucked my world up. Things will never be the same again. I will never be the same again. But I will get better, stronger, more relaxed, and more refined at coping. This might be a bit of a plot twist for some of you, but that’s okay. I’m still who you knew ten minutes before you read this. (Just maybe some of my quirks make a bit more sense now?)

TL;DR A (not so) secret revealed- I have PTSD, I’ve had it for around 15 years. I’m going through treatment. I’m still in a slump where every day is a fight. Things will get easier.

P.S. I want to give a shout out to all of you who struggle with mental illness or emotional disorders and keep quiet because of stigma, lack of support or worrying that you’ll be a burden to someone. We feel like we’re broken and failing all that damn time. Lots of people feel that way, but we feel it with a pureness and regularity that is truly disheartening, that drains away bits and pieces of us we need to function. I hope you are met with all the love and support that you need to find and maintain happiness and balance. The world isn’t perfect and it really can be terrible, but it is still never as dark as we see it. We’ve just got to keep searching for the brightly lit paths and hope for good company to cheer us on in the night. And don’t ever stop looking for the starlight inside of yourself. It’s there even if you can’t see it at the moment.

Sometimes living is speaking even when you don’t know if anyone is listening.

  • I felt like I had to say that first. If you read no further, remember the words and let them echo around in your heart. I will try to do the same.

Something happened the other day that jarred me out of an addled daze. Something that punched me in the gut with such force that I was left breathless, senseless…at a loss for how to respond with any intelligence or decorum.

I was talking to someone I love, someone who is family. Someone I have known for my entire life and until that moment trusted without question. Right then, that someone uttered a scant handful of words that let me know without out question that he did not know me. That he had an entirely different idea of who I was. And that the chasm between what he perceives and who I am was a vast and terrible thing.

And I was horrified because in that moment I realized with painfully sharp clarity that he would never see me. That he could never see me. There’s a fundamental difference in him that means he can’t acknowledge something fundamentally different in me. And if he can’t even acknowledge it, how can he ever even begin to really understand me.

I can’t even be the person I want to be around him. How sad is that? How doomed is that relationship? And I find myself distancing from him because it’s the only way we can have a good relationship. But as Captain Jack Sparrow once said there’s only two things that matter, what a man can do and what a man can’t do.

In this case he couldn’t accept that I had PTSD. It’s not just PTSD, it’s the whole concept of emotional trauma or mental illness that baffles him. It makes me sick to think of how he rationalizes my illness. He didn’t want to hear about the treatment I’m undergoing or looking into and basically said the science was all bullshit and I can just get over it on my own.

I just felt so deflated. Because let me tell you what I know in my heart right now, what has me tearing up in the corner while he watches a movie nearby with the others and none of them the wiser about my tumultuous feelings; I know that I can not get over it on my own. I simply don’t have a choice. That’s what PTSD does, it makes you relive the past sometimes.

It makes you feel that weakness, or that fear, or that intense feeling of alertness when you were in survival mode and doing everything in your power to keep from being prey. It makes you feel like you’re in a horror movie, even when your logical sense tells you everything is okay now and that you just have to wait it out. I will get over this ‘relapse’ in time, but it is a real injury, one that flares up from time to time and when that happens I need to do whatever the hell I have to in order to heal.

Some people will always need help. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping. I heard that on Game of Thrones and I just about started crying. I need help sometimes. Sometimes I panic. Sometimes the thick ass walls I’ve built just don’t exist because my body is in the past and the sorrow and cruelty and ugliness of everything makes tears just run down my face. That’s the worst of all for me because I was raised to not show unpleasant emotion. Losing control is the worst part for me. It’s the most embarrassing and the part where people have been the cruelest.  But I’m not always like that and even if I was I don’t think it would make me less of a person. I don’t think that it should mean that what I have to say is any less important or human or normal. Him not even being able to acknowledge that I have PTSD made me feel like I wasn’t even worth helping.

I won’t sensationalize my childhood. I have PTSD for a reason, I’ve had it since I was 11 and I didn’t get out of the shitty situation I was in until I was 19. Here is the most important bit of information you should know about me. I’ve achieved balance already. I’ve made peace with my past and who I am and I strive to live a life that pleases me. I have PTSD, but I’m not just some damaged girl. I triggered last year and have been in a relapse since, but nothing has changed other than the fact that I’m currently experiencing the symptoms of the trauma I’ve suffered.

I’m not ashamed of anything about me. It’s harder to say that when my eyes are swollen from crying and my face is apple red because I had an out of control meltdown after watching the news or reading reddit too often, but I don’t think that I’m seriously fucked up or anything. I’m technically ‘non-functioning’ and my therapist thinks I should get a service dog to help with the panic attacks and flashbacks, but with the exception of the PTSD hiccups, I’m a pretty normal for the “eccentric writer” category. 🙂

I’m not crazy. I just remember what it was like to be hit across the face for having the gall to be girl and angry. I remember what it was like to be dragged to the basement and told no one would hear me scream and that the metal belt would be used. I remember what it was like to lay there wanting to die. And I remember what it was like to have so many nightmares that one lost track of time and the horrible dreams became just as real as what I actually experienced. I remember what it was like to question whether or not my mother’s friends might rape me because the medication I was forced on knocked me unconscious for hours and hours a day.

I was no older than 15 when any of that happened. I don’t think about these things anymore. There are new things to think about, but in the middle of a relapse…I don’t have a choice in remembering. I don’t have a choice in what my body relives. It doesn’t play back like a movie. Your instincts just tell you that you’re in danger, you have to protect yourself, and certain things just aren’t safe.

It’s a new normal, one in which you can’t trust your instincts and in which you must always be on guard to keep from getting swept away. And I’m only human, I can’t always be on guard. I fuck up. I get emotional. I get scared and frustrated and upset.

It’s just a part of being me. And I am at peace with who I am. If someone else isn’t…that’s too bad.

For them.