My almost life-long companion and I are actually breaking up. I should be more specific. What I’m breaking up with is more exactly known as C-PTSD, a form of PTSD. I think we’re in the final stages of our separation. It’s been a long and drawn-out breakup because that’s how it goes with C-PTSD. Once you get to know it well, you practice breaking up with it every day. Some days require more sorting out and negotiation than others.
It’s been around a long time for me. My children have all become very familiar with it even though they didn’t know what they’re really seeing. Most people outside of our home never even knew it was around.
My kids think it’s “just mom” and had no way to know when it was a bad day for loud, sudden noises or that a game of “Let’s Hide and Scare Mom!” could send me off like a bottle-rocket and put my heartbeat in the red zone — and while my kids would get a laugh and a charge out of it, it wasn’t fun or funny for Mom. They didn’t have any way to understand that.
The people I meet in the business world have never been introduced to this pestering companion of mine. They had no reason to know that my C-PTSD nightmares could sweat me up like a Baptist preacher at a tent revival. I always showed up when I said I would and, even when I didn’t think I could, I would perform like a champ because most of the time I could bite down on the leather and manage my anxiety like a Green Beret. It was exhausting.
My family of origin cannot understand why I feel like a humming 220 live wire around them. They don’t seem to understand how or why I became the black sheep of the family — because they believe, and they are right, it was my own decision to distance myself from them and make life choices they don’t relate to or respect.
So, am I fully rid of this condition that feels like a stalker? I’m not sure anyone ever shakes it completely because it seems to hang around just to remind you about all the times it saved you from being killed or hurt in the most dangerous of times. It works hard to preserve evidence of just how bad it was, just how alone and helpless you felt (and probably were). It goes on trying to prove its worth by showing you the re-runs of the bad scenes — all in the name of trying to figure it out and make sense of what feels like senseless, incomprehensible trauma. It was only trying to keep you alive, after all. How could you want to break up, you know, after all you’ve been through together?
True, it did help me develop super-acute hearing that can detect a thump in the night, or a belt-buckle jangling like no one else I know. It is also true that I could depend on the C-PTSD to shoot me up with life saving adrenalin and pain-numbing endorphins when anyone or anything surprised or felt threatening to me. If I seemed too comfortable in my peaceful life or too collected and in-control of my emotions after facing any level of crisis (or dare I say even sometimes, joy and happiness), I could count on it to show up like a jack-in-the-box with surprise review videos that would play out in the form of flashbacks or nightmares.
It was a reliable resource for so many reminders and tried to act as a protector, but it was nowhere to be found during the nasty but natural stress-chemical hangovers I held myself accountable for.
The thing about PTSD and C-PTSD is that it is on what I call a “carnival spectrum” ranging from the hardcore nightmare of scary clowns in a dark, abandoned carnival to, when you’re getting better, occasional daytime ghost hunting. That’s how I knew when my PTDSD was in the “mostly managed” category. Every person in the trenches with PTSD is trying to recover, and they all need support.