Category Archives: PTSD

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

Building new coping skills in the therapy room isn’t easy. For me, it’s an exercise in looking at my reactions and examining how I can approach things differently. Let’s just say that I grew up in a way that kept me on constant defense. I was so busy trying to protect myself that I spent most of my time mentally curled in a ball, my head covered, hoping I could save some little part of myself from being torn away while the rest of me was being torn apart.

When you don’t know or haven’t been shown how to properly process stimuli, the odds of responding rationally are slim. You go to what you know; getting in fighting stance, running away, or curling up in a ball, just waiting for it to be over. To try to navigate through it any other way is foreign. It’s like getting shoved out onto a frozen pond while wearing leather soled slippers and trying to walk back to shore, just something you know is not going to end well. But that’s where you suck it up, surrender and go into the treatment room and re-train the brain to cope properly with it.

From my perspective (which I’m finding out is more and more unique by the day), I’ve learned that most people live life at eye-level. They see what is immediately around them: front, back, right, left. But rarely do I see people who embrace living life in three distinct dimensions. In other words, they don’t look up or think of what is below them.  It almost seems like they’re missing an entire dimension of life.

Remember, my world is logic based, so this is my “natural” way of looking at things. 

Consider this:

If your heart were at the point of origin where the x, y, and z axes intersect, where do you really live? Thanks to gravity, we can’t fly so, “up” really isn’t a natural option. From my viewpoint, we really only actively live life in the space between the X and Y axes.  It’s almost like there’s no Z at all.

To me, the only people who really live in three dimensions are divers and pilots because they have apparatus that allow them to break the mold and allow an active Z-space existence, but still even with those exceptions, the time spent living a true three-dimensional life is limited.

So, let’s go back to being curled up in a ball, surrounded. From that viewpoint, life ceases to be at eye level, it’s ground level, nose-to-nose with the family pet. “Up” definitely becomes a non-option as it’s reinforced that you are where you belong – down or being crushed down by everything around you. Without any other input or stimuli over a span of years, the normalization of the down state becomes the lens that the world is viewed through.

The down state is what I refer to as “being given gravel sandwiches,” and it’s a unique perspective to have while going through PTSD therapy because it is a firm recognition of the down state and gives it a visual reference. It’s basically sitting underneath the banquet table of life, living off of emotional table scraps. It sucks and is no way to truly live. It’s survival mode, nothing more.

As I’ve been progressing through the process of re-training my brain and learning new coping skills, I’m finally able to live life at eye-level and I have to say, I love the view.  However, that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly thinking of living life three dimensionally.

We all know the magnificent revelation I had when I learned what “don’t take it personally” really meant and it really baked my noodle. Now I’m on to a different phrase, “rise above it” and my most hated of phrases, “get over it.”

(Please, for the love of God, stop telling people with PTSD to “get over it”; unless you have our illness, you have no f’ing clue what you’re talking about. Until you get educated on the illness — heaven forbid you try to walk a mile in our shoes — try being a little more understanding.)

Moving on, as I’ve stated, UP (thanks to gravity) really isn’t a natural option unless I’m in a wetsuit, gearing up for a dive, then of course I’m in a naturally three dimensional medium. Notice the literal logic. (Remember, I don’t “get” jokes because I’m very literal). So, you guessed it, “rising above something” was always answered with a very literal “how?” Laugh, it’s okay.

You don’t know how lucky you have it if you take knowing things like “don’t take it personally” and “rise above it” for granted. My universe is rooted in logic so all of those wonderful coping skills you take for granted are things I have to work really hard to get. Ya know, I can project trend three to five years ahead of the curve, I can see the connectedness of all things, I have talents that people would kill for and among all of the puzzles I can solve and all of the amazing things I can do, being human and human interaction are BY FAR the hardest things for me to handle.

Recently, I’ve felt like I’ve been completely surrounded by ignorance, bigotry, pride, greed, and just all-around ugliness. In my universe, to reject the idea of learning another language or refusing to learn about a different culture just offends me. To reject philosophy and the great thinkers, or to dismiss the sciences, or refusing to help people, or worse, being forced to live in an uncultured world is complete anathema to me because I don’t know of a moment in my existence that I didn’t value learning something new. I don’t know of a moment in my life that I didn’t appreciate art or music or debate. How many more facts can people twist until no truth remains? How did we come to live in a world where stupidity is a celebrated trait? No matter what I seem to do, I feel crushed by the ignorance that seems to permeate everything like an inescapable, choking sickness. Like Neo surrounded by Smiths in Reloaded’s Burly Brawl, I’m left trying my level best to take things one at a time and not feel completely overwhelmed, but it’s hard.


While you might have known that the best way to get out of a situation like that would be to “rise above it”, I most certainly didn’t, and I have wasted countless hours on trying to solve, change minds, anything and everything to keep everything at eye-level under control, coping with all of it.

It wasn’t until I was lying in bed last night doing my pre-bedtime meditation that I found an answer. With my anxiety through the roof after being triggered earlier in the day on top of trying to keep focused and steady all day, I was exhausted. When I began to meditate, I was just trying to get calm and still, but then my brain threw me a curve ball, visualizing being surrounded on all sides, then daring me to find an escape route. In the moment, it seemed the only way escape was possible was to go UP. Now, as I’ve stated, while UP really isn’t feasible in the literal world, I will be damned if it isn’t in the mind. So, I basically gave myself the ability to rise and get above what was troubling me.  And DUH! I could look down and see everything, the connections, the trends, the why’s and the how’s all spread out beneath me. My brain did it all on its own and I couldn’t explain to you how I got there, all I know is that my mind presented a solution to me that I hadn’t previously considered.

It was a powerful moment, giving myself the ability to fly. To take my consciousness out of the fight at eye-level and look at it from above, rising above it and giving me the ability to examine it, or better yet, leave it behind. It made me feel better, more in control of my emotional state and I finally had an easy time going to sleep. I think I might have even smiled as I drifted away.

So, if you’re battling PTSD or your world gets overwhelming, you might try learning to fly. It helped me learn how to “rise above things” and no matter what, I now have a unique new coping skill based on a very old expression that I defined in my own way. While it’s not the assistance of a PTSD dog (that I want so badly), I found a way through.

Everyone’s PTSD is different. How each of us find ways to conquer our illness is up to us. The most important thing is that we stay in the fight, step by step finding our way into the light.

It’s been a while since I’ve done Song of the Day, so let’s go with “O” by Coldplay.





The Death of a Make-Up Bag

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my bathroom in the midst of my morning ablutions when I looked down and noticed my make-up bag.  Now, my make-up bag is similar to any other woman’s make-up bag…it’s filled with lotion, concealer, foundation, powder, eye shadow, blusher, brushes of all shapes and sizes and of course a few liner pencils, a sharpener and what my face is most famous for: my cake of black eyeliner with which I create my signature cat-eye look (that has kept people from asking my age and swearing I’m in my 30’s). But as I looked at that old bag, I realized that it had become time for a new one.

As with anything we carry, eventually our baggage is going to begin to show signs of wear, and my make-up bag was no exception. Years of unintentionally spilled loose powder had colored its once-white interior in a flesh colored hue, eye shadow brushes in-between cleanings had added highlight and shadow on top of the powder stains. While the exterior of the silver Clinique bag showed little signs of wear, the inside had (to say the least) taken quite a beating.  It survived the end of my marriage, my college education, a new relationship, then the death of that relationship, several moves and countless trips to the therapist for after-session touch-ups. There are few places I have been that my old make-up bag hasn’t tagged along for the ride.  And all the while, its exterior never showed signs of wear while the inside most certainly did. It got washed, dried, cleaned out and cleaned up so many times, but alas, some stains just wouldn’t come out.

After years of service, that old bag had finally given out. The silver vinyl exterior finally began to crumble, separate from the fabric and tear apart. The insides were stained and to the point of being unsalvageable. And there I stood, looking at it, denying that it was time for it to be replaced. “Oh, it’ll last one more week.” “Next paycheck, I’ve got to go to the mall for new blusher, so I’ll grab one then,” then “Crap, can’t afford the new blusher, it’ll wait until next paycheck,” and the excuses just kept coming until finally a business trip forced me into the obvious…my old bag wasn’t going to be able to make the trip. While it had held more girly crap than I can ever imagine during its lifetime, that old bag looked at me as if to say, “Sorry boss, I’m afraid this is the end of the line,” as a huge patch of silver vinyl cracked, tore away and drooped sadly off the side.

It was then that something occurred to me, kind of like a lightning bolt out of the blue. I looked at myself in the mirror and said,

“I’ve got to learn how to keep dying.”

Now, before you flip out, the phrase “I’ve got to learn how to keep dying” is a metaphor for the fact that we have to let old parts of ourselves die to embrace the new parts of ourselves.

I got the phrase from Finding Joe:


And with that in mind, there I was in the mirror, reminding myself to keep dying.

I was out of excuses to keep such a stranglehold on the past I have survived.

I realized that, in a way, that torn up old make-up bag was a metaphor for myself. Me trying desperately to carry things I shouldn’t be carrying. Me battered, tattered and doing my level best to put up a good front to hide the inside which had seen too many traumas, too many mistakes and too many hurtful things. Me dying to let go of all of the things that had caked themselves to my insides until I was unrecognizable, even to myself.

So, like Campbell says, we have to learn how to keep dying in order to keep evolving. No death, no life. That metaphorical death – of letting old things go – is just one more way to be reborn, to evolve and to change.

It’s like Doc Kat said to me so many times,

“Change isn’t only possible, it’s probable.”

It was only after I had reminded myself to “die” and let go, did I reach under the sink and bring out a new Clinique make-up bag that had been a gift-with-purchase that I had forgotten about completely. With a bright orange zipper and cheerful pink and yellow flowers, there was a “changing of the guard” so to speak, heralded by the migration of my MAC compact, brushes, liners, blusher tin and the remainder of the contents of the old bag, into the new one. What made the transition even more poignant was that I made a conscious decision to let go of even more, ridding myself of a few items that should have taken a hike a while ago, like the emergency Cover Girl concealer I was carrying for those times the circles under my eyes were so black I looked like Jenny in Forrest Gump right before she stepped onto the railing of the balcony but thought twice about jumping.

After I finished the transfer, I looked at the torn up, empty bag, I said, “Thank you for everything you’ve carried for me,” and placed it into my bathroom trash can to go out the next trash day. I then picked up my new make-up bag, placed it on my bathroom shelf, smiled at my reflection, turned out the lights and headed to the kitchen for breakfast.

Like the song by REM goes, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Yeah, that happens after you end the world as you know it –  to move on to a new one that you create for yourself. Like Campbell says:

We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The Antidote to Numbness.

Today, let’s just say it out, I’ve been feeling awful. My session yesterday had me wake up this morning and feel like I had just taken a quadruple shot of novocaine straight to the chest. Numb. Absolutely wretched. Like some jackass came in and just sucked all the hope out of my body and left me for dead. But PTSD therapy is like that.  What did we say?

I adore my brain's personal trainer.

That said, in the overall, therapy has been going well. No, scratch that, it’s been going just freaking awesome. My therapist says that I’m one of the hardest working clients she has. I never miss an appointment, I’m never late for my appointments, I do my homework, I apply it to my life instantaneously and I refuse to stop, give in or give up until I’m healthy again.

I walk into her office and say, “THIS is what’s bothering me, and I don’t want it to bother me anymore” and we rip off the band-aid, pour alcohol directly into the wound, break out the wire brush and clean out all the crap that’s holding me back. You really don’t get how much I want to feel better. I have things to do, a world to conquer, and I will be damned if I let a set of triggers caused by a bunch of ignorant assholes to get in my way. I’m just done with allowing them, AND MYSELF, to be the biggest obstacles in my own path.

I’m aggressive with my treatment because I want to get better. I’ve squandered too many years on allowing myself to be treated badly and outright treating myself badly because I thought that I didn’t deserve love, that I didn’t deserve good things to happen to me, that I was a discard, that I wasn’t worth the skin that was holding my bones in place. I lived for over 40 years apologizing for breathing because I (wrongly) assumed that everything was my fault because I was so used to being the scapegoat and the target for maliciousness by people with some serious issues.

Well, guess what? That’s a bunch of bullshit. That’s someone else’s shoulder yoke and heavy buckets, their emotional baggage and THEIR issues that I was just oh so happy to run up, pick up and bolt it to my skeleton so I never dropped it. And then I proceeded to carry it. Like a moron, I carried it for YEARS!!! Baggage that wasn’t mine to carry…that didn’t even have anything to do with me, and there I was carrying it.

Ugh. *facepalm*

What a damn waste of time. That’s the thing about being an emotional baggage bellhop, the bags aren’t yours to carry and the tips suck. The person you’re carrying it for isn’t going to say thank you, and newsflash, they don’t even CARE if you’re carrying it! They don’t even KNOW! But there you are, dragging it along like some schmuck that doesn’t know any better! When the ton of bricks hit me that it didn’t matter if I was standing in the vicinity or not, people are going to say what they’re going to say, they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and it doesn’t make a flying fart in space of a difference who’s there, they are going to spew their bullshit anyway. This unique tidbit brought to you by the phrase “Don’t take it personally” because that’s the working definition. Hello. 43 years to learn what that phrase meant. *facepalm*

In college, Doc Cat clued me in that I was carrying stuff I didn’t need to carry. Remember how I struggled with that? Well, guess what, thanks to Ferris and my Aunt Lee, I got on the phone, found a therapist and promptly took KP’s advice and promptly went to work putting the serious hammer to nail to build my bridge to stomp on and get the fuck over it ALL. I got to the point where I said, “Enough already. If I’m supposedly SO brilliant, as smart and talented as everyone says I am, then you know what? I can take this on and win.”

So I got into the therapy room and I went to work. And I’ve working my ass off for two hours every Thursday for the last six months. And a lot of the time, yeah, it’s hard. Some days I get to slack off and laugh. But there have been a LOT of days where I cry inconsolably. But you know what? I’m committed to the process and that’s the WORK. You want easy? Screw you, get back in the corner and wallow in your self-pity. Settle for living with the pain. Be lazy and do NOTHING about it. You wanna feel better? Then DO THE WORK. Believe in something, the very best something that you would never in a million years believe could happen to you. See yourself the way you’ve always wanted to: strong, vibrant, desirable and most of all, loved. Loved for every quirk, idiosyncrasy, genius moment, goofy yet charming chortle and clumsy fall.

I knew walking in and committing to treatment that it was going to be hard, that change only happens when you want it so badly that you can taste it in every breath, that you don’t want the constant anxiety anymore, that you’re tired of getting triggered by some jackass not worthy of your time, much less for you to waste more time dwelling on said jackass.

I didn’t go into the therapy room to start this journey thinking it was going to be easy all the time. Had I assumed it was going to be easy, I’d still be some strung-out doodah letting some guy treat me like dirt. Or allow some jealous herd of cows to pass judgement on me because I just happen to be extremely smart and pretty to boot. By the way ladies, it’s not a crime if boys like me. I’m actually pretty fucking special, so I’m sorry if you have a problem with that, but that’s YOUR problem, not mine. Carry your own fucking luggage for a change because it’s not my fault you have self-esteem issues because boys don’t look at you the way they look at me.

No, that’s not who I am anymore, thank you very much, and I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone make me feel like I’m not worthy of being loved, adored and goddamned *worshipped* for the really awesome person I am ever again. Hey, like my therapist says, “You have to love yourself first and best, only then can someone love you the way you want to be loved.”

So, as I was sitting here at my desk, feeling awful and numb and just wretched, I was listening to the Under the Tuscan Sun Soundtrack and I remembered what Diane Lane’s character said in the middle of the renovations to her villa in Tuscany. There is only so much work you can do on your house, your soul and your PTSD before you just have to GET OUT.

I happen to live in one of the most exciting cities on the planet. It’s Vegas for fuck’s sake! So you know what I’m going to do tonight? I’m going to finish working, I’m going to go to the gym, then I’m going to go home, get ready, and then I’m just going to get out and see the city. Take a walk, go visit the conservatory at the Bellagio, I DON’T GIVE A SHIT where I end up going! I’m going out!

Thank you Christophe Beck! Without hearing “Roma” go off in my headset, I’d still be sitting here feeling horrible.

Now, I have a plan. Thank. The. Maker.

And if a hot guy asks me out, I’m saying YES.

Here, be inspired.

Guardian Down.

A lot of you know why I write with such passion about PTSD: I don’t ever want anyone to go through what I did. It’s the reason I refused to have children. I couldn’t justify exposing a perfectly innocent child to the cruelties of the world.

I will fight against child abuse, neglect and bullying until the last breath goes out of my body. No one should have to live with what I do: nightmares of cruel children doing their best to drive me to suicide.

I rarely write about my childhood in a positive light because, to be honest, there wasn’t much light to be found. Even though I would search high and low for a moment of respite, it didn’t happen often. I got maybe about three hours a day where I wasn’t getting knocked into the dirt and expected to get back up and wear a smile to hide the agonizing pain I was constantly in.

That’s what always amazes me. People come to me now and say, “I remember your beautiful smile.” As the great Robin Williams once said, “The brightest smiles hide the worst pain.”

By the time I hit high school, I was lucky enough to garner the assistance of who I now call “My guardians.” Rebel elements themselves that didn’t fit into the status quo, but found solace in each other enough to garner the safety in numbers needed to ensure survival in that kind of hostile environment. I don’t kid when I say I grew up with some pretty treacherous animals while carefully traversing poison-filled school hallways. Like one of my friends recently put it, “I remember this incredibly sweet girl that never seemed to get a fair shake.” During that time, I was forced to accept that “a fair shake” was just something that I was never going to find in life, so I did my best to keep my head down, endure the daily mental beatings and spiritual eviscerations, always hoping one day that life would get better.

What I didn’t expect is that this band of brothers would come to my aid, protecting me when they could, and for a brief, sweet year, they treated me with respect and gave me my very first taste of acceptance. It was heavenly and for that brief time, I felt better. That is until they graduated and left me alone once again to fend for myself against individuals I can only describe as putrid souls without a shred of decency or mercy.

One of my guardians, the strongest of all of them, stuck around and still watched over me and became a powerful influence on my life from that time on. Because everyone gets a pseudonym here, I am going to bestow onto him the highest honor I can, and that’s to name him after my favorite book character EVER. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s biggest badass in her Dark Hunter series: Acheron, or “Ash” for short, after the river of woe that runs through Hades.

Now for those of you who read Sherrilyn Kenyon, you know that Ash is just all that and a plate of cookies. Dark hair, swirling silver eyes and “a predator’s lope” that (thanks to his Aunt Epithymia) made everyone who came near him want to touch him. Okay, he melts underwear at 30 paces but gives off such a dangerous vibe that you know not to mess with him. But if you know the character, you know he’s Mr. Severe PTSD because of a lifetime of atrocities that make him unable to even get remotely close to anyone. That’s why I adore the character so much, because I fully understand what years of unending cruelty will do to the soul.

My real-life version of Ash is right on par with the book description. Okay, let’s break it down: his IQ is 30 points higher than mine. That fact alone should tell you to just bow down because a 169 is something you must bow down to. To me, that’s a godlike intellect that I respect without hesitation. I live in 30 point envy because holy gods, he is just off-the-charts brilliant. As we know, the one thing I prize over all else is intellect, and Ash has got it for miles. Talking to him is like paradise on Earth because we move from topic to topic flawlessly, fluidly, and I am able to sample the sweetness of an equal, kindred intellect like sweet wine flowing across my tongue. His presence is so entirely heady that it steals my breath. It always has.

I remember watching him walk into a room when we were kids and feeling my knees absolutely buckle under me because to me he was (and still is) THE most gorgeous man I have ever seen, and trust me, I’ve dated my share of hotties in my day. Ash puts them all to shame without even an effort. As a kid, I remember turning around to see his topaz eyes staring into mine and me instantly melting because, just, just, just WOW. His essence, mind, body and soul, was just overwhelming. 25 years later? Still, just one look and I go from jaw-gape to MELT. “Aunt Epithymia” did her job, that’s all I can say. His unparalleled beauty aside, I remember that he and I would play word association games to challenge each other’s vocabulary: a war of bigger and bigger words would go flying back and forth until I would finally give up because he never failed to beat me every time, but we would always walk away laughing. He NEVER once made me feel dumb or inadequate or anything else except special. If there was a singular moment of joy from my childhood, Ash was it. And we never went on a single date. Ever. But at least I can admit now that from the very first moment I saw him while walking across an asphalt practice field, it was love at first sight, and it would endure, unspoken and unrequited, for decades.

Now, I know you’re going to ask why I’m suddenly going on a dote-fest and out of nowhere telling you about Ash:

Last weekend, I got a text from Ash wishing me happy birthday. It was the first time I had spoken to him in over a year. So, what do you think I did? Like a jerk, I started yelling at him with “Where the hell have you been?” “What the hell is going on?” “You jerk!” “I’ve been worried sick!” Oh, I just absolutely went green rage monster on him, that was until he knocked me over with a ton of bricks. Upon the screen of my phone popped a picture of a wrist with a bright pink scar across it. One look and I knew: Ash has my illness. If that’s not enough to knock the wind out of you, I don’t know what will. The guy who watched over me, protected me, loved me from afar, who always adored me no matter what anyone said or did, has PTSD.

My therapist has been challenging me for weeks to find some way for me to look at myself through the eyes of others so I can understand my importance as a person. But there’s a bigger reason I’m writing about this now. While I now understand what my therapist wanted me to see, this is my way of doing the same for Ash. He needs to see how I see him and how much I believe that he is worthy of being loved. Technically, it is called the inability to receive love and it’s just part and parcel of the illness, borne of inadequate nurturing during development. I have it too. It sucks. Basically you have to learn to raise yourself because some people aren’t equipped with nurturing skills. Oddly enough, when Ash and I interact with the rest of the world? We trust no one. But when we sit down together and talk, all of our trust and intimacy issues vanish and it becomes the most naturally honest and open communication I have ever known. I think that says something pretty friggin’ huge because we light each other up like fireworks and we make each other feel so much better, which is extremely healing and good for our therapy process.

But when that picture flashed onto the screen of my phone and I found out about his illness, my heart shattered into a thousand little bitty pieces. I sat down and began to cry uncontrollably. Of all the people in the universe, why God why would you do that to someone so perfect? I mean when he smiles, he shines like the sun! When he speaks, brilliance flows from him like water! His heart is golden, his soul more precious than anything I could ever describe, and he’s in pain all the time like I am. Why? Damn it, I can understand how and why it happened to me, I get it, I accept it, I’m fine with it, I go into the therapy room and deal with it. But why him? WHY???????? I would endure what I went through a million times over again to save him from this, but here we are and I can’t help but want throats for what was done to him. Damn it! Bring it here! Beat on me! I can take it! But you leave Ash alone!!!!

Come to find out, the pathology of our illness is IDENTICAL. We both suffer from severe childhood onset PTSD. In the 25 years we have been apart, our collective suicide attempts total 13. Four for him, nine for me. Remember, PTSD affects 5.3 million Americans a year and I am convinced that the damage done to Gen X by our selfish, abusive, twisted, absentee Baby Boomer parents is going to reach epidemic proportions by the end of the decade because PTSD and suicide are inextricably linked. Trust me, this much non-stop pain will drive you to some severe lengths to make it stop. It starts at addiction and usually ends up in suicide. The only thing you can really do is get a really good therapist, grab your bootstraps and get into the ring to re-fight all of your battles that gave you the illness in the first place in order to FINALLY learn the proper coping skills you should have in childhood. Only then are we able to finally put the trauma to bed.

In most cases for Gen X’ers with childhood onset PTSD, we were forced to learn to raise ourselves because our parents just didn’t exist. Can’t blame them, it was the 80’s, it was a big party. Millions of parents across the U.S. said, “Screw the kids, they can take care of themselves.”  Well played Boomers, thanks for defining “cruel”, “selfish” and “negligent” for us.

I go into the therapy room this afternoon knowing that one of my beloved guardians is down and I am powerless to help him except to encourage him and support him while he fights for his life. I can’t transfuse the hope that resides in my veins into his, the illness doesn’t work that way. But at least he’s in treatment. While I’m just a machine in the therapy room mercilessly crushing my traumas and progressing by leaps and bounds, he’s just begun. But I will be damned if he does this alone.

Today’s song of the day is from the guys who gave us the Eternal Sophomore theme song, “Marching On”… Just for you Ash, OneRepublic’s “Feel Again.”


Me and my nose…

Lately, to relax my brain and let everything in the world go, I’ve been having fun with Pinterest.  I mean, when everyone is flat broke, nothing looks appealing and my illnesses are kicking my butt, I had to find something, right?  I’ve been especially triggered lately and no amount of comfort anyone can give can get me over my sense of alienation, abandonment and rejection.  It’s really taken a turn for the worse and I don’t particularly like it.

On grand occasion over the last 30 years, my left ear and left side of my head have exploded in sharp, dagger-like pain. When it has happened, I usually just write it off and wait for it to go away and it usually does.  But for the last several months I have been dealing with an earache from hell. It has felt like an ice pick has been shoved into my eardrum and my neck along with the whole left side of my skull feeling like they’re in a vice.  Overall, I have been wondering why my sinuses have been giving me the dickens on the left side of my face for years…well, a visit to the student health center illuminated it for me.

I have a deviated septum.  According to my doctor, from a cosmetic standpoint I’m perfectly symmetrical on the surface.  However, underneath the surface it’s a completely different story. It seems as mine tilts completely to the right, leaving my right side wide open and my left barely functioning.  He looked at me and said, “That’s not natural and doesn’t come from just a bonk on the nose, you must’ve taken a Mack Truck sized punch.” My jaw clenched shut and I just shrugged.  Nothing would come out. I don’t talk about those things.
He went onto explain that because of the severity of my deviated septum, the Eustachian tube on my left side has a lot of pressure built up in it and it was making my eardrum swell outwards, hence the pain and headaches.  I always wondered why my left ear squeaked when I would equalize when I went diving at the aquarium to clean the exhibits…no small wonder.  Well, he gave me some Flonase with strict instructions to do both sides of my nose once a day to relieve the pressure and hopefully get me fairly straightened out.
After I walked out of the Health and Wellness Center on campus and headed out to my car, anxiety overwhelmed me and tears just started falling.  I know exactly who is responsible for my deviated septum.  I don’t like thinking about the day and I don’t want to remember it at all, but C-PTSD doesn’t let you.  As you can guess, it has triggered a whole new round of intrusive memories, feelings of alienation and kicked my avoidance behaviors through the roof.  The slightest noise and I flinch.  If an arm moves in my direction I tense up, flinch and duck. Rounds and rounds of “you may be pretty on the outside but you’re ugly on the inside”, “you’re worthless” and other insults fly at me through intrusive memories and worse, when I go to sleep at night I can see the hand that came with such power at my face that I literally sit up in the bed crying because I’m so terrified.  I get short of breath and my body is covered in sweat.  It’s a miserable way to live. I love how someone defined “Borderline” personality disorder the other day, they said,“Essentially, BPD is what happens to a person when you spend years mentally and physically torturing them from early childhood. The torture consists at least in withholding all physical and verbal expressions of love, and often it there is the active component of telling the child that he is hated and worthless. Broken promises, emotional neglect and verbal abuse.” They likened it to ‘having unhealed third degree burns on the emotional system.’ That description is so dead-on to the mark, I can’t even begin to relay how.
Ace has taken command for right now.  He’s been really patient with me and holding me a lot. It’s been a steady diet of Xanax and talking to get me to relax enough to sleep but it’s been very hard because every time I close my eyes I can see the event over and over and over and feel the impact of each blow.  I know I’m supposed to be tough and just let it go, but this one is tougher because it’s 30 years of latent memories that I’m battling. It’s like jumping onto PTSD airlines and being stuck in the middle of a hurricane, turbulence galore with nothing but hypersensitive shocks.  So, I’m up again late, trying to get my heart to stop pounding in my chest and my tears to stop falling while I learn how to cope.  If you’d like to see my handiwork that has been tonight’s fun on Pinterest where I’ve been trying to pin my pain away, be my guest.

Trust Issues

As we all know, all too well by now, that I don’t trust easily. That I trust anyone is close to a miracle. After multiple trips to the pyre and PTSD symptoms on top of it, getting me to trust is like trying to hold the sun in your hands, an impossibility.

We all have our little issues I guess. From what I hear, even people without PTSD have trouble trusting. Others have had so many bad things happen to them that well, trust just isn’t high on their priority lists.

But, I’ll tell you a secret. I got this guy… (and that is such a subtle 9 1/2 Weeks reference) See, he’s one of those guys who is so frustrating at times that I want to pull my hair out. Other times he’s Mr. Romance, so much so that it makes it hard to believe that he’s real. That he could be a hero in a Sherrilyn Kenyon novel is no small stretch. However, when you have someone that frustrating and that wonderful all in one body, that’s where we get into tough territory.

You see, the classic Kenyonesque hero is incredibly heroic but at the same time extremely emotionally damaged. Go get one of her books, pick any one of her heroes and they’re all basically the same. They each have a very hard, traumatic past which precludes them from really being emotionally touchy-feely on the outside. Underneath though, oh wow, those guys have romance “on lock” and they are faithful as my darling DalPal Lucky. That’s why I love her characters so much. They are just riddled to high heaven with trust issues and broken hearts, but it takes the heroine in every novel, from “Bride” who is every bit of a size 16 in the book “Night Play” to the little 5’2″, 100 pound pipsqueak “Dangereuse” in “Sins of the Night” to help those guys find what they were missing in the middle of their chests, essentially dispelling their trust issues so they can live happily ever after.

Ok, so back to my guy…I don’t even need to tell you do I? I’m sure you can guess by now that I’ve got my very own dyed-in-the-wool Kenyonesque hero. But with all heroes we have to make sure not to place them on too high of pedestals because it makes it impossible for them to recover should they fall. Oh let’s just say it out, if place your guy up too high, you risk forcing him to land with a very loud, resounding “thud.” The whole trick with guys that wonderful is not to put them in a no-win scenario. Place them up too high, and that is exactly what you’re doing.

Well, since our last trip to “Jay” the therapist, Ace and I have been doing wonderfully. I’ve been battling my flight reflex, he’s been biting his tongue and we’ve both tried our level best to not trigger each other. But if you know anything about PTSD, you know that triggers are going to happen even if you do your damnedest to avoid them.

It seems all semester long, before going to see Jay and after going to see Jay, I’ve really been putting in the work. I’ve been worrying about our triggers, our this, our that, everything else but what I should have been keeping an eye on, namely school and this cluttered excuse of an apartment of mine.

Here’s where the loud, resounding “thud” comes in.

Remember, the addict brain knows only one thing, what it is screaming that it wants, nothing else comes into play. Well, the other night, I got triggered hard. It seems as in my attempt to be “committed” I overextended myself to the point I realized I had been neglecting myself and my personal needs. My addict brain had become addicted to being around Ace. I didn’t care about anything else, he was the center of the universe. So, when I finally realized that my addict brain had tripped me up again, I got into a fight with him. I had placed him so high up on the pedestal of importance that when I expressed my need to take care of me, I unintentionally forced him to land with a resounding “thud”. Poor guy. I feel really bad for him – he’s got to deal with me and I’m not easy in the least – especially when I’m triggered.

I had originally planned to spend four days out at Ace’s, hanging around the pool and working on my suntan while I studied for my Media Law final. When I saw myself getting distracted and my books not being cracked through day one, I realized I needed to get back to my little cave and really focus. Even though I had everything I would need at my fingertips over at Ace’s, my flight reflex kicked in HARD. But you have to realize something, I have been fighting and winning against my flight reflex for close on to a month. When you fight it for that extended period of time, when my PTSD is bad enough to begin with, that’s almost an eternity. Sorry to say, I cracked. I couldn’t fight any longer and the more I fought, the more constricted I felt which made my flight reflex even stronger. I was triggered beyond being reasonable.

Now remember, I’m used to betrayal, violence and overwhelming “epic suck” in my relationships. To go a solid month without a fight, just wrapped up in bliss was enough to make me so suspicious that the other shoe was about to drop, well guess what, I dropped it for myself, leaving poor Ace in the cold, not fully explaining that I had realized that I needed to hunker down on my books for finals without outside interference.

Well, that ended in a fight. Excuse me while I lean forward and have my forehead hit my desk with a resounding “thud”. When Ace and I fight it’s not pretty, and it is, as I said in Love, War and PTSD, roughly the equivalent to a nuclear explosion, charring us both. We never know whether or not we’re going to stay together after each one. Well, long story short, I had placed him up so high that I felt that I was being neglected, that I wasn’t as important as he was.  Basically, I gave him no alternative but to land with a resounding thud when my triggers became more than even he could handle. And as you know, when I get triggered, it triggers him. So not good on so many levels. Believe me, I hate my illness right around now. Oh I so want the bullies I grew up with to pay my therapy bills…

As we all remember all too well, when things went south with my ex, we know where he went, straight to the BHFB (that’s the Basset-Hound-Faced-Bitch to those of you who are new). To boot, he would lie to me as to where he was, so after that being the umpteenth relationship that had been like that (remind me sometime, I’ll tell you the story of my 28th birthday, that one will make you cry and very grateful for Spago’s Creme Bruleé), so of course my suspicions and my gut instinct said that trust was out the window, that I couldn’t believe a single thing that came from any man or anyone for that matter.

So, when Ace and I go south like we unfortunately do (hey, it’s part and parcel of a triggered couple), after two days I thought he was through with me for good. I thought for sure that he’d be out with his buddies doing ‘the gods only know what’. So, I did the most stalkery thing because I wanted validation that I was being screwed over again. I’m so ashamed, but it ends funny… I got into my car thinking “oh, he’s not going to be home… he’s so going to be out with his buddies… oh, when I get over there, his truck is going to be gone and when I text him he’s going to tell me he’s at home… I bet he’s going to have no issues lying to me…” and so on.

Well, as I pulled up to his house, in the driveway was his diesel-driven steed. My jaw hit the floorboard of my Prius. He was at home! He wasn’t out doing the gods only know what! He hadn’t lied, he hadn’t done anything at all! Actually, he was re-arranging the furniture in his room so I’d like it better!

What I found could have knocked me over with a feather! But before I could fall over in shock, I had to remind myself to ask the simple question,”Why would I be shocked to begin with?!” Of course you already know the answer, this really doesn’t have anything to do with him. It all has to do with my emotional baggage and all of the horrible things that other people have done in the past. I just feel so bad. You all know how I hate it when each of us is forced to do battle with things that we didn’t cause or do. For me to make Ace go through that, I’m having an overwhelming amount of guilt. Serves me right for my stalkery weakness, I got exactly what I deserved, a smack in the head that said,”Why the hell did you doubt him for an instant? You know that’s not right. He’s never let you down. He didn’t deserve for your resolve to falter.”

You see, I’ve been trying really hard to overcome my trust issues and give Ace the fighting chance he deserves.  I’ve also learned that if I let go of my expectations and plans, and simply trust him, things turn out better than I could ever dream. So over the course of the last month, I gave myself a little mantra: “Trust Ace and everything will work out fine.” However, PTSD sometimes doesn’t like to listen to reason, it doesn’t hear  you when you’re trying to tell it to shut up and just let things roll along. What’s worse is that sometimes you don’t even know that your illness is what is causing all of the bad things that are happening around you! Intrusive memory likes to remind us to be ready for pain and bring our past traumas right in front of us so that we’re not battling what’s happening in the present, instead we’re fighting a battle from the past that has nothing to do with the here and now.

I really don’t like my illness right now and I don’t think I really have to like it at all. Right now, it’s messing with my relationship and I don’t appreciate that very much!  But, like any issue we deal with, it’s all about baby steps and it’s all about running as fast as my feet can carry me into Jay’s office next Tuesday.  Oh, I’m so overdue!  I completed step one, which was to commit.  In the immortal words of Agnes Gooch in Auntie Mame “I lived.  Now I’ve got to find out what to do now!”

Well at least if I get forgiven for my latest trip into Posttraumatic Stress, I’ll be able to say I have a guy who is strikingly similar to Vane, the hero of the Kenyon novel “Night Play”: He likes a girl with a bit of meat on her bones.  And I quote from page 267 of the paperback when Vane tells Bride she’s beautiful the way she is,”Meat is for the man, bone is for the dog.” I’m just grateful Ace is that same way, he loves me just as is and says he’ll leave me if I get too skinny.

For the song of the day, a little something I heard in my weak “stalkery” moment – Gavin DeGraw “Not Over You.”

Love, War and PTSD

Take just a minute to look up at the header on the page. It says, “Stories of hope, love and recovery, all mixed with a healthy dose of humor.” Here’s the funny part: Over the last (almost) four years, we have gone through that list literally and I didn’t even mean to, it was just a tagline I came up with to give my blog a bit of zip and pizzazz that I thought accurately summed up what I had written to that point in 2010.

I never thought for a moment we’d do the list in that exact order, but sure enough, we have.  We first went through the struggle to find hope; then we stumbled, floundered and unwittingly fell face down into love; now by some miracle we’re on to recovery; and to my utter disbelief we did the whole list with laughs along the way. The only part that distresses me is that a lot of people, the second they look at the word “recovery” immediately think of substance abuse, not about marital demise or other illnesses we’ve been dealing with along the way. Well, we’re turning the page and getting more into the Sophomore’s version of the “recovery” aspects of life.

Before we get started though, I just have to say that right around now I’m really, really grateful for having the blues over that blue t-shirt, without it I wouldn’t be sitting here as happy as I am right now.  The Ace has trumped the Sophomore and oh am I glad. Houston: We’ve finally landed, authenticity and heart beat the Palms 9.

I’ve said countless times that it’s great to be in a relationship with someone who shares your illness.  I personally love it.  I’ve come to the point that I’ve realized how empty my life was until I found someone who truly understands and knows in his heart what is going on in my very broken brain. The bonus is that I’m slowly but surely getting there when it comes to my partner in crime. I think it’s the greatest thing on two feet to be with someone who knows EXACTLY what you’re going through and will go down swinging for you because they know what’s going on.  It’s like having a mind reader in-residence.

I’m beginning to think that Ace and I are a great example when it comes to PTSD and relationships. Actually after searching for hours, you’ll find that Ace’s and my story is one that I don’t believe has been seen in print before. I searched endlessly for books, articles, even the smallest story about a couple where both partners live with PTSD and I didn’t find a single one, so guess what, we’re breaking new ground.  If you find anything like mine and Ace’s story anywhere out there, please drop me a line in the comments section and I’ll make sure to get a link up about it.

Currently the only things available for couples with PTSD is very one sided, with only one partner having the illness, but not both. I only found “assisting your partner who has PTSD” nothing at all about a couple going through the trials of being together with the illness icing on top. Let’s face it, being in a relationship is already hard enough, adding PTSD into the mix from both sides, that’s something else entirely; it’s a story that every PTSD afflicted couple will identify with. So, “Love, War, and PTSD” is something new that I hope you will enjoy, that I hope will make you think and hopefully will help you understand our illness a little bit better.

Please don’t let the lurid pandering of the media only reporting horror stories about PTSD color your understanding of the illness. It’s a serious issue to deal with, but we can also look at it with a fresh pair of eyes that allows us to not just label something and follow the lemmings off the cliff in mistaken beliefs, but allow ourselves a moment of understanding so that those of us with PTSD are better understood and embraced by the world. If Ace and I can live individually with our own PTSD then help each other heal, I think that is a story worth telling, if not shouting from the rooftops so the rest of the world can look on and understand that with PTSD comes not only heartbreaking stories, but heartwarming ones as well.

 Before I began writing this post, I went through and did some research.  A few observations are:

  • Gen X has a high rate of PTSD because of the overwhelming number of individuals in that generation that were physically, mentally and sexually abused as children.
  • C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) isn’t widely talked about.
  • There are a huge number of couples where both partners are afflicted with PTSD but we rarely hear about them.
  • PTSD is villainized in the media when there are truly good, hope-filled stories to be heard about individuals who not only live with the illness but are doing well with therapy that works for them.
At this point, if you’re a regular reader, you know that there is a pattern forming here. I’ve got C-PTSD and Ace has PTSD. Two very traumatized individuals in one relationship and it’s given the “you, me and us” paradigm a whole new meaning. That’s why the last 10 months of posts have gone up, down, angry, depressed and every emotion in-between.
However, this is where it starts to get really good. Why?  Because Ace took me with him to see his therapist over at the VA. Now, the whole goal of me going with him is that I’m there to assist in his PTSD therapy, but at the same time, guess who it helps as well? Yep. Me. So guess what? I’m going to be documenting how we’re doing, opening up a whole new chapter in the life of the Eternal Sophomore.
I had a good, long cry the other night because it seems as I’m not alone anymore. Now if you had been through everything I have from the bullying, abuse, violence and abandonment-filled past that strips away any chance for anyone to get a shred of trust from me, to finally be able to hold someone’s hand and NOT feel alone – it’s a very “holy crap” moment.  Scary? Yes. Different? Yes. Wonderful? Beyond all of my imagining.
When you have PTSD like Ace and I do, you have to look at the criteria for our illnesses. Go ahead, click the link I gave, it’s a whole new world for those who don’t suffer from it, so take time and give it a read.
So to review, this is our handy little list.  Both he and I have it and we’ve also got the added gravy of attachment issues.
  1. Stressor
  2. Intrusive Recollection
  3. Avoidant/Numbing [Behaviors]
  4. Hyper-Arousal/Hyper-Vigilance
  5. Duration
  6. Functional Significance
Now with Ace, his is mainly combat related, but it would be a lie of omission not to relay that he has some of my issues as well.  His therapist needs a pseudonym, so I’m just going to call him “Jay”.  He is a sweet guy and it only took him 60 seconds to take a look at how we act together to nail it, looking at us and saying, “A PTSD couple.  Nice.” Put bluntly, when we sat down with Jay, he spoke to me for a while and said, “Wow Ace, you do know how to pick ’em.  She’s your exact mirror image. This relationship is a match made in heaven. But it’s also a match made in hell. She triggers you, you trigger her, and when you guys are pushing each other’s buttons, it’s going to go south really fast.” But then he pulled out the big guns. Ace and I both have acceptance issues. We also have neglect and abandonment issues too. Talk about mirror images?  His issues arise from paternal acceptance while mine are from maternal acceptance.  Oy veh.  You want to talk about two people who’s lives thus far have been almost identical?  That’s me and Ace. Oh don’t even get twisted, he has his own version of the BHFB as well with his cheating wife.  Yeah kids, we’ve got a match made in pure PTSD-filled heaven.
Then Jay really took me down a peg or two when he brought out a large easel sheet that he and Ace had been working on together  in the weeks previous. There on the page in black and white was my Ace of Hearts, all of his issues and things I know all about, but then Jay went and pulled a fast one on me, he looked me dead in the eyes and asked, “Sheri, how much of this do you think involves you?” I sat dumbfounded thinking, No way, that’s all him, and replied, “I’m not sure.” Jay looked at me and said, “All of it is about you. That’s how much he cares and thinks about you.” I felt like I was in Doc Cat’s Personal Growth class all over again. Feeling like there was a stake holding me in the chair, my tear ducts decided it was time to irrigate my face because tears involuntarily started to fall.
I guess you would have to understand where I am coming from when I was told that. You have to remember, I have been severely neglected most of my life; in childhood, during my marriage, all of my life has some sort of neglect and abandonment tied to it. A lot of my friends will probably vouch for the fact that I thrive on approval to the point of needing it like some other people need food.  Pathological need for approval and acceptance?  Without a doubt. However, my avoidant tendencies come out and while I strongly disapprove of lemming-like following, I hide the fact that I do want acceptance and approval from my partner because I think it’s normal to want that, but I put up an “I don’t need you” front as a way of protecting myself. But here’s the problem: I have never once in my life felt truly wanted until Jay looked at me and explained to me that Ace’s avoidant behavior was because he wanted me in his life, wanted me around him and that I was (and this is the huge, huge deal) important to him, the problem is that his avoidant tendencies make it so he can’t talk about it.  Ok stop. I’ve never been important like that to anyone, at least in no relationship I’ve ever known. Jay made me understand that Ace truly wants me around but has problems expressing it. I was floored, I teared up and had no idea what to do with it.  Accepted? Needed? Me? No way!

Remember how I wrote a while back that Ace doesn’t “say”, he “does”? Meaning that he’ll never say he loves or adores anything, but he’ll do everything in the world to show it? To him, talk is cheap and often is a lie; in Ace’s world actions speak louder than words. The problem is with me, I need to hear it because that’s what I deem important…hell, look at me, I’m a writer! I live my life hammering on my red-hot anvil-like keyboard, smithing out carefully crafted words and phrases – he’s Mr. 140 characters or less… see where things like to get muddled up?

At that point I sat there just absolutely blown away, it was at that point that I realized I have never been so very loved. But here’s the kicker, Ace wasn’t saying it, he was doing it. When that realization hits you and you’ve never felt that before, oh yeah, it’s going to feel like a major gut-check. I couldn’t breathe and I most certainly couldn’t speak. (Even writing about it makes me tear up.)

Remember, acceptance and approval issues stem from trust. Ace and I both have trust issues that make the Herculean Labors look like child’s play. For the last 10 months both Ace’s and my acceptance and approval issues (and ultimately trust issues) have wreaked havoc on our relationship (hence Jay’s referring to it as the relationship from hell), but what is so bizarre about it is that while my avoidance issues manifest in a strong flight reflex, Ace’s avoidance issues manifest themselves in being unable to verbally express his emotions.  It’s a bizarre mix that for some reason works.  I think it works because both of us have heart, fortitude and tenacity for miles.  When you’ve been through all that we have, it only goes to reason that the expression “weaker have perished” comes to mind.  Ace and I are made of some pretty stern stuff (and we’re both bull-headed to boot).

As you’ve been reading over the last 10 months, Ace and I both are filled with avoidant behaviors. One marriage apiece down, both of us are commitment phobic because of the betrayal he and I both have seen and because of that, you can cut the tension between us with a knife at times. But there is one overwhelming fact of it all: over the last 10 months we’ve both found out that trying to breathe in and out without the other nearby is close to impossible.

For me, breathing in and out without him sucks because our communication as a couple is phenomenal. A lot of couples shy away from working on their relationship because people mistakenly think it’s supposed to be easy all the time. Well, it’s not. Relationships require love, understanding, emotional maintenance and a whole lot of work. If someone sold you a bill of goods saying your relationship should be easy all the time for the rest of your life, return it to them and yell “LIAR!” in their face. Trust me, look at any fairy tale you read growing up and look at how much trouble the Princess and her Prince Charming had to go through to get to that happy ending you love so much! “Relationships are supposed to be easy,” riiiiiight, you just keep on thinking that way and while you’re at it, wave at the sandman for me as he whisks you back into your dream world.

You want to talk about two people unafraid to put the “work” in on our relationship? That’s me and Ace all the way and I’m proud to say we’ve been like that from the beginning. (After all, those of us with our illness can find each other in a heartbeat.) We know our symptoms and we’re slowly working through knowing each other’s triggers (Ace is doing much better at it than I am), it’s every day sitting down and making sure that when we unwittingly hit a trigger, we back down or do something to repair the damage.  Don’t get me wrong, we trigger each other, we fight, we go up, down, sideways, backwards, temper tantrums, anger issues, rejection issues, stepped on and mangled toes, and somehow at the end of the day we’ve found that we’ve ridden them out because even though I tried my best to avoid it, my tenacity and fortitude has found it’s match.

We’ve been through me fighting to accept our relationship with me crying, kicking, screaming and throwing him out the door, but as a testament to his overwhelming strength, Ace wasn’t about to give up on me, and we both joke that our relationship has aged in dog years because of it. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute and imagine for one second what that is like for me; after being neglected, abused and abandoned, a man stood in front of me and wouldn’t give up and wouldn’t let me go, even when my issues would be at their worst, he stood in the eye of the storm and held strong.

That right there should put your stomach in the vicinity of your shoes. It did mine.

After a while because of his unrelenting pursuit of me and our relationship I just gave in to the whole idea because I finally figured out there was no way in hell he was going to let me get away.  I termed it as contracting a fatal illness. I caught him and ya know, that’s just the way it is so I figured I should just suck it up and learn how to live with it.

You have to understand, I’m so very proud of my man and I’m proud to be honored by him calling me his girl. Ace is beautiful in every way a person can be beautiful. The blonde hair mixed with dashes of silver, the scruffy chin, the earth-rumbling deep bass of his voice (girls, if you heard him talk, you would swoon), his smile and oh! those blue eyes of his…let’s just say that just one of his mischievous looks and that million dollar smile of his will make my knees buckle in a heartbeat. He’s just all that AND he has played Myst, and yes my peeps, he gets it and has a fair (very unknowing) portion of cavern blood in his veins! I got an epic win when I met Ace, but with all those good, highly nutritious values of his comes PTSD. Some girls would weep at that, but not me, it makes him that much more adorable to me because “he’s one of my people”. He’s got it, I’ve got it, it’s just a fact of life like the fact he and I both love Dr. Pepper, warm days and ice cream, that the kitchen is a place to be highly organized, have fun, cook and feed each other wonderful things.

Our illnesses, a lot like any other character flaw you might find, both for him and me, likes to sometimes mess us up. Hyper-vigilance can screw up a daily schedule in a heartbeat if one or both partners get scope-locked on something or worse we get so hyper-vigilant we derail ourselves from what we were trying to get accomplished in the first place. Or worse, both of us like to take on too many responsibilities because we can’t bear to tell people that we can’t do something for them, so we get caught by the toe over doing our best impression of Atlas trying in vain to carry the world on our shoulders. Think about it, we’ve been denied emotional support and assistance for a good majority of our lives, so for us there is no other option, you get down in the mud and you help, no matter the cost to yourself. Trust me, the word “selfless” is a very, very real term in our relationship. Selfish people don’t do well around either of us at all. Selfish people are no more than fodder for drop-kicking around us.

Then on the other hand, you have me and my strong flight reflex.  As you know, every human being has a “fight or flight” response built-in. It’s a survival instinct. For me, my childhood was filled with constant humiliations; the kids I grew up with would literally hurt me because they loved seeing me react to it. “Oh we just love the look on your face when we did that to you” was a lot of what I heard back then. Couple that with living alone with a maternal influence that never had a good role model to work from along with an abuse-laden childhood of her own and you’ve got a little girl in a world of hurt. My instincts were always to hide or run from conflict or a situation that would result in a very painful, humiliating dressing down or extremely verbally-abusive punishment. “If they can’t see me, they can’t hurt me” was a lot of my rationale back then.

Until Ace came along, no one understood what that felt like even if I would try to explain it, but after a beautiful summer with long hours spent over ice cream, margaritas and a whole lot of daisies, I realized he really did understand what I had been through and it scared me to death. I felt exposed and vulnerable, which as you know, ridicule is not something I handle well, so having any weakness exposed immediately makes me block or run for cover, leaving him with the equivalent of the Roadrunner to his bewildered and confused Wile E. Coyote: a puff of smoke and a vapor trail of where a girl used to be. But then without me knowing it, my flight reflex made him feel rejected and abandoned which triggered him. See where our little vicious cycle started? It’s like Jay said, “He triggers you, you trigger him and it all comes down like a house of cards.” This is the essence of being in a PTSD relationship.

But, here’s the kicker… there are a lot of servicemen coming home to their spouses and not having the benefit of the other partner having the same illness, so it’s hard for them to understand. Let’s blow it out a little bit bigger and look at the households filled with Gen-X’ers who don’t know they have PTSD or C-PTSD going through the same situations with a partner or spouse who has no idea what they are dealing with. That’s the point here kids, we’ve got to recognize what’s happening around us. When we’re aware, that’s half the battle won right there.

And yet with all of my issues triggering his issues and my need to disappear, Ace persisted (which still makes me look for the boxes marked “Acme” in his house) chasing after his Roadrunner-esque partner.

His presence alone with all that he knew taunted and dared me to trust in him. But, of course, I have PTSD, so when I see anything that frightens me or reminds me in the least of my trauma (go back and look at the list again) my survival instincts kick in and my flight reflex kicks in in a major way, putting Ace in the middle of a fight he couldn’t win, effectively forcing him to carry baggage he had no business carrying and wondering why I was running away from him as fast as my size eights could carry me.  

But as I said before, Ace isn’t about “say”, he’s about “do”. I watched as he kept doing amazing thing after amazing thing, then he’d politely step on himself and trigger me, which then triggered him, equaling a nuclear-sized explosion, charring both of us and resulting in having to put each other in “time out”, so by the time we hit Jay’s office, the dog was looking at the both of us as if to say, “Knock it off you two or someone’s going to be missing their rear end. I might be older than the hills but let me tell you, I can still bite with the best of them.” Yep, by the time we started to expect a monthly blow-up, we walked into Jay’s office.

When Jay sat and talked to us, it wasn’t long before he said, “Look you two, you’re both very traumatized individuals, you have every right to feel the way you are feeling, but enough of this back and forth blow-up business.  If you two want this to work, you’ve got to commit, and I don’t mean half-ass here, I mean ‘all the way’ commit. You two have to learn how to trust each other, if you don’t, then you two are just going to keep up this vicious cycle you two have working and guess what, no one is going to end up happy. You either commit or you get out.”

As you can imagine, after Jay laid the hammer down and explained exactly why Ace couldn’t express his feelings (which by the way are the exact same reasons I run from things) he excused me from the session to dry my eyes and he and Ace could do their one-on-one. I walked out of the Jay’s office and man oh man, did I feel like I had been through the wringer. As I walked out into the sunlight, I couldn’t breathe. I finally had answers to the bajillion questions that Ace wouldn’t answer, that I had time after time felt frustrated that he would duck, dodge, weave around or just plain ignore my requests for information (or validation). I had needed to feel accepted and clearly understand how he felt about me, but his issues prevented that from happening. When Jay explained that all of my needs were being fulfilled but Ace couldn’t talk about it because of his issues, I sat in shock. For the first time I honestly felt accepted, but let’s add the deal-sealer, I stood there just in awe over the fact that he truly did love me, come hell or high water. I stood there and just wept, and I mean involuntary tears just streaming from my eyes over the absolute shock of it. I’m still digesting the whole idea that someone actually wants me around. That’s so foreign of a concept to me that my mind is still reeling from it. I’ve never felt wanted, ever, and here’s this amazing yet troubled man who just thinks I’m the kitten’s whiskers. I’m still trying to choke it down and get used to it, but it’s different, that’s for sure.

You see, Ace is just as beat up as I am. His dad was really (and I mean really) hard on him. I won’t even lie, there are days when Ace and I are having trouble (because of our triggers) that I don’t like my mother or his father very much at all. It takes all of what I’ve got and then some not to become volcanically angry that Ace and I had been through so much inside the supposed “safety” of our childhood homes before we went out into the world just to get stomped into the ground some more. However, like any acceptance-needing child, we both look to our offending parent, searching for the acceptance we long for; then when we don’t get it, we try to forgive them, then try to understand them to the point that we can get past being angry at them for not accepting us or believing in us. Ace is super forgiving with his father, just like I’m more than forgiving with my mother. My problem is that I want to understand fully how I got to where I’m at, and I have gained all of the necessary information, but as I always say, “An audience won’t hear your message until they’re ready to understand it.” So I keep my chin up and pray that one day that my mother accepting me for who I am isn’t the end-all, be-all of human existence, that accepting myself is truly the answer; but I won’t lie, it’s hard to do when you don’t feel it from the one person in the universe that would make all the difference in the world, knowing that even if she’d tell me, I still wouldn’t believe her because the whole concept of trust went out the window long ago.

But then I realized something – Ace and I individually had decided, before we even met, that the cycles and the things we’ve been through had to stop with us. We’re not about to perpetrate the same injustices on someone else as we had done to us. Yeah, it takes a lot not to rip someone’s head off or scream back every time our triggers get stomped on by the outside, knowing perfectly well our triggers didn’t have to be there in the first place. But alas, those triggers might love to persist but that doesn’t mean I’m not going down swinging to make it right so I can live a happy life.

But then Ace has his combat issues on top of that with (check the list) “Intrusive Recollection”. As I said earlier, Ace doesn’t talk about the things that hurt him. He doesn’t really talk about anything emotionally involved because it triggers him huge. From what he has told me though, he’s seen things from combat that no human should ever see, but as a soldier, that’s a part of life in the military. On the day I had the Rice Krispies meltdown in the kitchen, he was having his own little meltdown on the road. He’s been to Afghanistan, (I almost feel like saying “What soldier these days hasn’t?”) and well, as he was driving in from Arizona he got caught in a dust storm.  Between the obscured visibility from all the sand flying around, then seeing the mountains, well, Ace got transported back to Afghanistan in that moment. He had to pull his truck over, get out and walk around because he literally felt like he was right back in the combat zone. His brow covered itself in sweat and he sat shaking from it. When I heard about that later, I was so grateful that he walked in to find me laughing and giggling, giving him the sense of normalcy that is so very important to him.

Normalcy is actually very important to both of us. We need to feel very safe and normal for us to get through the day in one piece. I’ve got my own “Intrusive Recollection” problems as well, and wow, to talk about those is a whole other kettle of fish and this will be the second post I’ll avoid talking about it. (Yeah, yeah, I know…avoidance…) However, I’ll go this far…there are lots of days where I can still hear the taunts and sneers of the bullies that tormented me, the evil smirk on the boy Anti-Christ’s face that signaled his satisfaction and great joy that he had once again tormented and humiliated me in front of all of those children. There are still television shows and music I can’t listen to from the 80’s that will do the same thing to me that the dust storm on the road from Arizona did to Ace. Let me tell you, it’s not an easy thing to go through because you can literally see, hear and smell that exact traumatic moment, down to the last detail. I can even remember colors and patterns on clothing. It’s not pleasant and it literally makes me nauseous. There have even been a few times where I’ve thrown up because I can’t take the sensory overload of re-living a traumatic moment like that. “Intrusive recollection” can and will bring you to your knees if you let it, other times you can’t help it, you’re just screwed until you can get to feeling normal again.

The most important thing that Ace and I work on every single day is to make sure that when we have moments of intrusive recollection that we automatically take that moment and turn it into something positive, effectively re-writing our responses to the particular stimuli that triggered the intrusive memory, but I won’t lie, it’s hard, hard work to get through it. When Ace is with me and I’m going through it, I look into his ice-blue eyes, take a big, deep breath and recite my mantra in my head, “How old are you? 40. Where are you? Las Vegas. Are you safe? Yes. Can they hurt you any more? No.” Then I coach myself through breathing in and out thinking, “That’s it sweet girl, just breathe. Just slow down, look around and figure out where you are.  You can do it, I know you can. Don’t cry. Chin up. Come on, you can do it!” Then I hold on to Ace’s hand and he never fails to wrap me up in his arms so I can get a nice sized bear hug from him and feel protected. After a few minutes I start to feel better as my world of here and now comes rushing back into existence, transporting me back to the present. I’m just so glad to know I’m not alone when it happens and that I can and will do the same for Ace when it happens to him.

Part of Ace’s problems lie in “deprogramming”. I can’t speak for any other soldier I know, but I do know that Ace’s PTSD becomes evident because he’s having trouble adjusting back to the regular world that you and I know and take for granted. Remember, when he (or any soldier for that matter) gets trained, they go through some pretty horrific stuff. The only example I have experience with (that Ace has been willing to talk about) is the whole “combat nap” paradigm. You see, those guys have to be ready at a moment’s notice to defend themselves because they never know what’s going to come around the next corner, much less over the next hill, so they’re trained to be extra-vigilant. Remember, what’s coming around that next corner or over the next hill has a chance of literally trying to kill them, so their senses are super sharp and they’re hyper-vigilant almost 24 hours a day. Check the symptoms list again, that’s the Hyper-Arousal/Hyper-Vigilance thing.

The sad part about hyper-vigilance is that once those fellas are programmed that way, it’s really hard to come back from. When you’ve been trained to be hyper-vigilant on purpose because you’re going into a combat zone, I’m convinced that it really messes up how those fellas sleep for the rest of their lives. When I’m hyper-vigilant, forget all about sleep, it’s not happening, but Ace, that poor, sweet, darling man…I’m always amazed if he gets more than two or three hours at a stretch of sleep. Every time he falls asleep, I give a huge sigh of relief, look at him and think to myself, “He sleeps” and I’m grateful for it, hoping and praying that for once he sleeps a full eight hours, but alas, I never get my wish, he’s usually up every three or four hours, he’ll cruise around the house, make sure all the doors are locked then crawl back into bed. It breaks my heart every time his sleep is interrupted.

But let’s ice the cake. When I was doing my paper for my media ethics class entitled, “The Media, The Military and PTSD”, we talked about why fellas like Ace are so tuned up all the time. He said, “PTSD sufferers struggle harder with lesser tolerance because they’re at an elevated level of functioning. Where everyone else gets their eight hours of sleep per night, we don’t. We’re constantly on guard because that is how we are trained.” He continued, “Everyone else gets to relax, so when they wake up in the morning, they are at a low level of stress. On a scale of ten, they wake up at a ‘three’, when we wake up, we’re already at ‘seven’, I’ve never once seen the media report anything like that, and they wonder why we’re so keyed up.”

The one thing I’ve learned in the last 10 months is that while all I need is silence to sleep well, Ace can’t really sleep well unless he can hear crickets chirping or some other ambient interruptable noise. I need to explain the whole “interruptable noise” thing. Ace explained it like this,”When you’re asleep outside you know that the crickets, frogs and other animals will be scared off if someone is walking around nearby; it also enables you to hear a noise when it disrupts the sounds the animals make.” Meaning that he can sleep knowing that the crickets and frogs are singing, it tells him that he’s safe. Then there’s Lucky. If Lucky barks it’s a sheer miracle (you know how I love that dog), but if he’s asleep in the room with Ace and he barks, guess what, he just told Ace something isn’t right and Ace pops out of bed like a pop tart flying out of a toaster. But Ace’s favorite thing to go to sleep to is the sound of frogs. He’s a frog fanatic and I don’t blame him, we’ve spent hours going over pictures of Poison Arrow frogs because he and I both love them and want a wall sized terrarium filled with them so we’re both lulled to sleep by the singing of frogs.

But let’s talk about hyper-vigilance in my world before we delve back into Ace’s. I think mine might be easier to understand and a little bit more relatable. I gave you the Wikipedia definition there, so take a moment to familiarize yourself with it. Odds are, you’ve experienced a mild form of hyper-vigilance, but it’s really different when you suffer from PTSD.

Let’s look at me for a minute. Let’s talk about the bullying once again. Imagine, just for a moment, that you are surrounded by constant threats. Kids pushing you, kids threatening you, kids belittling you, then having authority figures threaten and belittle you as well. It’s all forms of attacks on your person. So after a while, your body goes into survival mode and you’re trying anything in your power to protect yourself just to simply survive. While you’re going through it, there is no “safe” place, no safe harbor, just endless torment. Now, prolong that sensation over days, weeks, months then years. All of a sudden it’s not just about survival, it becomes something you do automatically and when even the slightest feeling of attack or persecution hits you…BANG…you’ve just been triggered and you go into the state of just protecting yourself.  Nothing anyone can say can get you down out of that, you have to ride it out and find some way to make yourself feel safe. Hence, that’s where my strong flight reflex comes in. If I feel attacked, I’m going to immediately want to go home and hole up with my 34-year-old teddy bear because that’s what I’ve done for the last 34 years to feel safe and in control. Yep, I live like that every day. Not pleasant, is it? On the other hand, Ace’s reflex is that he gets frustrated and angry, and I mean really angry. Then he clams up. He expresses no emotion but this roiling anger over the fact he can’t change the situation he’s in.

Now, let’s go back to Ace again. Not only does he have the same type of history I do, but then let’s add on bullets flying through the air at him in a combat zone. If you’re like me, you are thinking that that man needs major hugs and a protective blanket of love wrapped around him permanently. However, it doesn’t work like that. Ace isn’t a touchy-feely guy when it comes to him interacting with the world and when that trigger goes off for him, oy veh, I want to run for cover, but it’s like Jay said, “You’ve got to commit.” So I do everything to hold my flight reflex in check and remind him that it’s not as bad as he thinks it is, just like when my trigger kicks in and he has to do the same for me. The one great differentiating factor between the two of us is that his anger issues are very surface. Last night I had to quote the movie Twister when he had been triggered and his anger was raging, I giggled (which always makes him feel better) and said, “Someone should warn them about your temper.” At that point, I kind of feel helpless, but I can only imagine how helpless he feels when I get like that too.

Anger is a staple in our world.  It is. Look at today. It’s tax season and nothing will set Ace on edge like dealing with things like doing his taxes. He’s got some issues there and they’re not for me to touch (yet) but I sat and watched as he became so angry over just about everything, and I looked at him and said, “Hey, it’s not as bad as you think it is.” When the papers went flying across the table and I was watching him lose it, I remembered Jay and said out loud, “You can be as angry as you want to be, but I’m committed! Now we’re going to get through this, just like we get through everything else. If I don’t get to fly, you can do me the favor of not getting so upset. I’m smiling…so how about giving me one in return.” After that he cooled off a bit, he hugged me and said, “You shouldn’t have seen me get upset. I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have been here for that.” I just rolled my eyes. For all the bull he’s taken from me, a small blow-up like that is nothing I can’t handle. I at least owe him that.

I realized long ago, knowing that he had been through anger-management therapy, that Ace was going to get mad now and again. It comes with the caveat that he can sometimes get that irrational kind of angry which I know is not directed at me unless we’re having a knock-down, drag-out argument (we’ve only had two in ten months which I deem as ‘not bad’).

Most of the time, Ace just gets angry because he knows there are better ways to do things. His big thing that makes him the most angry is hypocrisy and bureaucratic red tape. Oh yeah, those two things will set him off quicker than a fuseless firecracker. One bit of heat and boom! He’s off like a rocket, so I know not to touch those things. When he gets mad, I think about the times that I see red and the triggers associated with it. Half the battle is knowing the trigger then the cool-off point, also known as things that get his mind on other more pleasant things.  Usually, I just give a little giggle.  See, I’m covert like that, I figured out that nothing gives him more joy or lights him up faster than when I’m giggling and smiling. He loves my laugh. I have no idea why, but he does. The minute I get onto something that makes me laugh he forgets all about being angry. Trust me, the distraction tactic works because when I’m upset like that, if you plug me into a video game I forget all about what upset me. The minute you can figure out what defuses a trigger, the better off you are. But then again, I know where he’s coming from because if I see Ace laughing and smiling, I immediately cool off.

You see, living through love, war and PTSD isn’t easy, but the returns on the emotional investment are huge. I have a partner who not only understands me, but I have a unique peek into my man that most other women will never be able to get into theirs. But then again, I don’t have one of those football watching, aloof guys either. I have to give Ace kudos, he’s very much present in the relationship and thanks to Jay I can see him in better and different lights that help me read Ace’s body language, the expressions on his face and know when I can step in and help out.

Individuals with PTSD are very special people. They’ve been through things that you don’t ever want to experience and their spirits have been forged in the hottest of fires. We have been exposed to prolonged trauma and when you think of it that way, it begs to have some bit of lenience because we’ve seen more hurt and pain than most other people who grew up in a very “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Leave it to Beaver” household or lived their lives without a hint of danger, taking normalcy for granted. We’ve been beaten, we’ve been torn up and torn down, yet we survive. Sometimes I like to think of my PTSD as a badge of honor, it means that you can come at me with your best, most malicious shot and I’ll probably laugh at you thinking, “Is that all you’ve got?  Really? Amateur! Keep trying, one day you might get it.” LOL. And people wonder why I get upset when I see people do malicious things. The need to slap them into next week and tell them,”The de-wormer is in the pet aisle” is overwhelming. People. They never fail to make me laugh. The ones that make me laugh hardest are the insecure ones that only strike out at others because they feel inferior; when the truth really is that it’s all in their perception, that there is really nothing wrong with them besides their Napoleon Complex or their own issues that they need to go work on without making everyone else their emotional baggage bellhop.

PTSD is an illness, we can’t get around that, but some days I wish it will be eventually re-named as People That Survived (other people’s) Drama. We’re tough stuff and we deserve every bit of the acceptance and love that every human being on the planet deserves.

If you know someone with PTSD, please give them a hug for me and remind them that they’re not alone. The biggest and best thing you can remember is that your PTSD afflicted friend has been through situations that would make other people crumble. That they are getting up, getting out and being a part of the world is nothing short of a miracle. There are a lot of people who PTSD just takes down for the count, who’s illness has taken them to places they would have never gone unless they were so traumatized they couldn’t handle it any other way (that’s why you see such a huge number of addicts in the PTSD population). It’s the ones who have hit the bottom and are fighting to come back strong that are the ones who deserve your love, your patience and most of all, your respect.

One other thing, PTSD does not make us bad, lowest-caste citizens. We are just as productive as anyone else, we just have special needs and special considerations to take into account. Those of us with PTSD are no different than you are, we’ve just seen and been through traumatic events that you may not ever see in your lifetime. That we’re standing is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, our ability to adapt and survive. That I can write and tell you about it is nothing short of pure bravery because I want the world to understand that PTSD doesn’t mean “outcast”, it means “survivor.”

I have C-PTSD and I’m proud to be me. I’m even more proud of Ace. He’s seen combat along with everything else and I couldn’t be happier than to have a man in my life like him.  He has my illness too and I think he’s adorable.

For the song of the day, I’m going to go with one from 1990, Big Audio Dynamite’s “Bottom Line”…

When you reach the bottom line, the only thing to do is climb, pick yourself up off the floor, don’t know what you’re waiting for…