I have PTSD and I am not crazy.
Fear is a liar.
Sometimes when I think back to my past I perseverate on the lies my fear told me. Being afraid had become so ingrained in my way of being I knew no other head space to occupy for a long time. My fear convinced me I possessed little value and no skills to strike out on my own. Fear told me marriages, even a broken ones, needed to be salvaged for the sake of children. Fear told me my history dictated the possibilities of my future. And I believed each lie.
I let fear live with me like an unwelcome roommate. Each month I renewed the lease on my personal tragedies by simply “avoiding” the conflict of setting boundaries. I permissively piled on potential hurts by not understanding the source of my anxiety. I didn’t know the meaning of projection then. I allowed myself to keep reliving trauma for over half my life-- I believed no other options existed. I stayed in a terrible marriage out of desperation and a faithful commitment to dysfunction.
Generational attitudes inflicted a deep belief my unhealthy situation was normal.
I learned to name the hidden hurts lurking in the shadows as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Initially I didn’t think this diagnosis belonged to me-- I never served overseas. But in hindsight I’m surprised I did not recognize it earlier; I have a lifetime of trauma on the history books. It’s also no surprise I chose a partner in life that also reinforced the lies fear told me.
Many people struggle to conceptualize PTSD outside of war veterans and horrific accident survivors. I can’t imagine exactly what they’ve been through either… I only know how to explain my intimate experience with the disorder. Even then, the complexity goes far outside the context of a single post.
PTSD fundamentally altered me. For years I lacked understanding why my brain played such cruel tricks on me and robbed me from a better quality of life. I struggled to place why someone upset and flaring nostrils turned me into a small child unable to show assertion. I stood there looking like an adult but a complete puddle of tantrums and tears on the inside. Often I isolated myself in closets, bathrooms, or my car. In an enclosed space I felt emotionally contained.
For example, when my ex-husband lost his temper and I needed to escape his anger I retreated to our closet. I hid next to piles of shoes and made a bed of fallen sweaters and jeans. I felt safe in the darkened space. A grown adult—hiding in the dark. I’m 35 and I still seek solace in tight spaces away from perceived threats.
Memories, smells, certain facial expressions can send me longing for an escape route. Conflict in my marriage was not a safe space--- I spent 15 years trying to gauge his moods and predict fits of rage. I learned each time a new hole in the wall showed up, every destroyed electronic device served as an opportunity to adapt, and I knew to always prioritize alcohol, cigars, and running shoes in our budget.
But as our marriage continued his anger could not be assuaged or anticipated. He expressed frustration through almost blackout fury. He disappeared from our house for days, moved upstairs and eventually out, and he drank with such frequency I felt like my paycheck each month went directly to the local bars. I did nothing about it. I sat on the couch and cried.
When I went go to the bars to catch my husband long enough to try and talk to him-- to beg him to raise our baby with me-- the staff warned him, “Your wife is here.” And they scattered. He looked at me with such disdain and yet I pined for him. I felt I somehow caused these moods. I prevented him from his dreams: he couldn’t have a girlfriend and a wife and a baby and the bachelor lifestyle. I blamed everything on myself. I embodied codependency and accepting projection.
Now I smell clods of grass and wet mud I immediately go back to when my ex-husband tried to run me over when I was 6 months pregnant. I cycled blaming myself for not loving him enough to just accept that our new way of life hurt. I earned that close call. How dare I think I earned the privilege to tell him all the anger needed to stop? Didn’t I understand? I deserved punishment.
I desperately wanted a closet to swallow me whole. I had no escape; a baby grew inside me. I needed to the institution of marriage to validate this shift in my life. No choices existed—fear fooled me.
His anger served as a catalyst for later PTSD triggers in my life. I tremble when someone expresses anger. I transform into a kid hiding in a closet. I literally cannot read the difference between someone being annoyed and enraged--- it’s all the same to me now. I used to cry after work meetings or mentally check out when staff started getting snarky with one another. I stopped going to lunch with colleagues and I stayed in my office or classroom to avoid interacting. The sight of someone flaring nostrils sends me back to his worst days.
Five years, a child, and a career shift later fear still rears its ugly head. The difference between then and now lies in I understand how PTSD changed me. Then, in the thick of the mess, my brain stood no chance processing the lies. I still stumble in the progression of it all but I no longer deny the damage done. It’s real and I am not going crazy.
I talk about having PTSD openly not to garner pity but to foster awareness. I know I am not alone in the quest to heal and reconstruct a happier, healthier truth. Those with PTSD need support and understanding. We need compassion. We need labels peeled away to allow us to thrive fairly without social constructs writing us off as unable, unwilling, and unstable. Those labels hurt us. And they aren’t true. You see, the lack of understanding something like PTSD, anxiety, or other mental illnesses generates fear in others. And that fear tells them blatant lies. And those lies transform to an unfair truth.
I implore others to address the fear to encourage real, authentic understanding. It creates a more loving space for healing.
My name is Jessica. I have PTSD. I am lovable, capable, and strong. Fear no longer gets to lie to me.