Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results. – Anonymous
Last week was slightly dramatic here on the blog. In fact, last Monday I would have told you that I was never writing again, at least not in a place where people could be cruel, condescending, and judgmental. Yet here I am.
I received a lot of advice last week, most of which was given with the best of intentions. Many times, I heard, “Maybe you should stop writing about your personal life.” Well what’s the point in that? If I wanted to write an encyclopedia, I would. But instead I created this space to share my thoughts and feelings and that’s what I intend to keep doing. And if my posts were personal before, I don’t even know how to classify what I’m about to say today. Buckle your internet belts, people, because it’s going to be a long ride.
I never ever talk about this. Ever. But I’m going to now because I feel it’s relevant.
As a kid, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I’m not going to go into details because it’s none of your business, but suffice it to say that something really terrible happened to me. As an adult, I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD because, unlike some lucky people, I have never been able to move past the symptoms and achieve “recovery.”
I’ll never forget the day I told my parents I was hearing voices. Now, before you think I’m nuts, I was actually experiencing flashbacks related to the event that caused my PTSD. But at the time, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what was happening, so we were in the car and I started having a flashback. I said, “I keep hearing voices.” My parents looked at each other, glanced at me in the rearview mirror, and continued their conversation like I never said anything. Years later, my mom told me that was one of the scariest moments of her life.
So in case you didn’t know, PTSD sucks. The most random things can trigger a flashback – a smell in the air, the tone of someone’s voice, a particular facial expression or even a song on the radio. It’s kind of like those old cartoons where a hypnotist snaps his fingers and the character immediately goes into a trance. While I recognize the flashbacks for what they are now and can usually control them, when I was younger I had no idea what was going on. I would lose small chunks of time and not be able to remember what I did or said, which is scary as hell.
Then there are the nightmares. Yes, I am nearly 30 years old and I still have horrific nightmares that are so bad, I do everything I can to avoid sleeping. I prefer to sleep in two shifts of 2-4 hours; that way I never really achieve the deep sleep that leads to dreams. I wake up every morning absolutely soaked with sweat and gasping for air. Fun times.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but after my symptoms appeared, it became the only outlet that seemed to help me. I would fill pages and pages with doodles, poems, stories, and journal entries. When I wrote, I felt like I was in control. I could tune out the flashbacks and process the jumbled up mess in my head. I could choose the outcome of a story I wrote, versus my own situation where I wasn’t given a choice. Writing gave me a sense of power, a somewhat positive way to cope with what happened to me.
Last Week’s Drama
Last Monday I wrote a post about empathy. Because of my diagnosis, which very few people know about (before today I guess), I’m acutely aware that one never knows what another person has been through or is going through. And for that reason, I find it impossible not to have concern for others or help them whenever I can. That’s what the post was about, for those who didn’t get to read it.
When I woke up on Monday morning, I had three email notifications of comments on that post. (I have to moderate my comments because so many people on the internet are idiots.) Two of them were from random trolls who just wanted to tear me down. That I can handle – if people want to disagree, that’s fine, but if they can’t do it like adults, their comments go to spam. The last of the three comments, though, made me forget all about the first two.
The commenter was someone who knows me in real life. I know that much. And the reason I know that is because this person referenced the traumatic event from my past that caused me to have PTSD – in detail. “You should have just killed yourself a long time ago,” the person wrote. “You don’t deserve to be alive.”
I don’t know how to explain what went through my mind at that moment. A thousand things. Maybe a million things. It was one of those times when I simply had more thoughts than I could process. So I deleted the comments, deleted the post, and decided I was done blogging. Maybe done with the internet altogether. It just wasn’t worth it.
A Little More Background
Recovering from a traumatic experience is no easy task. “Scarred for life” is a phrase for a reason. And that event in my past, combined with its aftermath and several experiences since, has affected every single part of my life.
Once you have been traumatized, you are more likely to be retraumatized by other events in the future. (There’s a good article about this here.) That’s probably the worst part about PTSD – certain things really bother or upset me, even when they may not be a big deal to other people. It makes me feel weak and stupid, like I don’t have enough control to handle things that should be easy to deal with. And when I have random flashbacks, especially in public, I just want to crawl in a hole and disappear.
Several years after my initial diagnosis, I started making choices with one objective in mind: ESCAPE. I developed unhealthy relationships, romantic and otherwise, because they enabled me to distract myself from my symptoms. I experimented with drugs, though I quickly learned that wasn’t the kind of escape I wanted. I became sexually active way too young because I was so desperate to find something that would make me feel normal. I still wrote, but not with the same sense of urgency I’d experienced before – writing was no longer enough to help me forget.
My regular readers know how that “get me out of here” mindset worked out for me. I got pregnant with my son when I was still in high school. Not on purpose (I’m not that stupid) but because I was uneducated about birth control and too busy looking for a way out of my own head. I married my son’s father at 19 and we proceeded to spend our way into bankruptcy by the time I was 23. I spent and spent and spent money that I didn’t have because obsessing over the perfect shoes or jeans was much more fun than obsessing over my past. And when I caught my husband having an affair, also when I was 23, I got to experience retraumatization at its most destructive. By age 26, I was divorced, broke, and consumed by the fact that I’d managed to screw up in so many ways.
PTSD hasn’t ruined everything, though it has made a valiant effort. Through all the stupidity in my decision-making, I managed to finish college and graduate school. I raised my son myself and put him first – always, always first – despite the fact that I was still a teenager when he was born. I spent 7 years in a career as a therapist, trying to provide the same help to others that I have received off and on throughout the years since I was diagnosed. And now I get to work from home, one of the truly joyous parts of my life, designing websites and helping people establish a place on the internet where they can share their own stories.
So This is Why I Write
As you can tell, my life is not exciting or inspirational. It’s actually pretty depressing at times. But it’s a story with elements that way too many people can relate to, judging by the emails and comments I receive (from non-trolls, anyway). When I resumed writing in early 2011 on this blog, it was because I felt the need, once again, to purge some of my demons. Oddly, a keyboard and monitor can be just as therapeutic as a pen and paper.
Trauma can happen to anyone from any background. But trauma doesn’t have to be a war or an explosion or some enormous catastrophe. It can also be a culmination of a lot of small events built up over time. And the ripple effect of trauma can result in a crazy, out-of-control life where you just throw up your hands one day and scream, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO ME? THIS IS NOT THE LIFE I WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE!”
That won’t be the case for the majority of people who stumble across my blog. And that’s okay. There’s no requirement that you must have a screwed up past to read and discuss here. Just know that it’s where I’m coming from, so some of my posts will definitely reflect that.
I write because I have things to say. I write because I hope someone will read my ramblings and feels less alone, or maybe make a decision to change the direction of his or her life. I write because I don’t want people to waste precious years on a self-destructive path of insanity like I did. I write because my stupid choices are just as much a part of me as all the positive things I’ve done.
When I think back to those first few months after my original PTSD diagnosis, I think of how amazing it would have been if the internet had existed then. The idea that I could have found other people with similar experiences, read their blogs and learned from their mistakes and triumphs, is almost magical to me because I believe it would have changed the course of my life. Maybe I would have understood my symptoms more. Maybe I would have felt empowered to fight harder or found inspiration to keep going on the days I huddled in my bed and cried.
I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. I can’t speak on behalf of single parents or trauma victims or former teenage moms or anyone else. I can only speak from my own experience – the one area where I am an expert. But my experience might be just what someone needs to do things differently or consider another point of view.
The Bottom Line
To those of you who read here and have been supportive of what I do, thank you. It’s not easy to open up like this, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it might have value for others. And many of you have affirmed my decision to share my life; some of you have even shared parts of yours in return. And it means the world to me.
To those of you who come here looking for a chance to insult or attack me, I feel sorry for you. Sorry that your lives are so empty that you would find joy in trying to hurt my feelings. And for what? To feel powerful for a few seconds? To put a notch in your keyboard because you anonymously triumphed over a mentally ill single mom on the internet? Wow, kudos to you. What an accomplishment. If you don’t want to read what I write here, please do me a favor and click away – it’s not necessary to attack or berate me on your way out.
I didn’t write this post to make people feel sorry for me. I wrote it because *I* need to be reminded why I’m doing this, why I’m subjecting myself to the internet assholes who seem magnetically drawn to my site. There are days (like last Monday) when I really don’t want to write at all. But more often, I realize that I write because it’s just what I’m meant to do.
If you do enjoy reading, I hope you’ll take time to participate and share periodically. It reminds me why I’m here.