Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is so much like gastrointestinal constipation. Think it through.
When constipated, you are trying to force strenuously useless shit out of your body, expending so much effort, energy, frustration, discomfort, shame, pain, tearing . . . sounds pretty traumatic, yes? You’ve been sorely log-jammed at least once in your life, perhaps after eating twenty pounds of raw cookie dough after your boyfriend gave your the boot, so painful with heartbreak, now so painful with perching on the porcelain throne. Will the suffering never end?
Now consider post traumatic stress disorder. You’re equally trying to force useless shit out of your body, only this time it’s shit in your head and not your bum. Where did the trauma happen? How did it get jammed up in your head? What’s it going to take to get all that traumatic shit out of your head? Will the suffering never end?
There is one important component where this analogy diverges. With constipation, you know exactly when the shit is out of the body, and you get to flush it away and never have to deal with it again. Unless all twenty pounds of recycled cookie dough comes out in one pipe-cramming massive wad, and then it’s either use the garden rake handle and break that wad up into discrete flushable chunks or make that embarrassing phone call to the plumber who also happens to be your ex-boyfriend . . . where was I going with this?
Right. There is definitive evidence that the suffering is over with constipation. With PTSD, peers are not so lucky. With PTSD, my ample experience is learning how to live with the trauma, developing the tools and tactics so the shitty memories and resultant emotions don’t shut down my ability to function or manifest as knee-jerk behaviors detrimental to my life. But I can’t ever squeeze out the PTSD and flush it away. Sadly, it’s permanently jammed up in my head and body.
So what’s my PTSD rooted in? My ex-wife and the way she treated me. Treated. There’s a kind word of euphemistic nonsense. She abused me. Physically, verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually. She’s the angel I want to strangle with her own tarnished halo.
And has anything occurred in my life that triggered severe PTSD symptoms? Yep. A woman named Paula Burton physically and verbally attacked me at an MHRAC meeting, in public with no recourse or consequence to her, and I was a wreck for over a year. It wasn’t the only time she had verbally abused me in public. She did so outside of The Rock at Noonday, angry that I wanted to bring a peer mentor from Santa Fe to teach new mentors practical instruction on running a successful Peer To Peer class. Because of that verbal attack, I was unable to put my NAMI training to use. And she verbally attacked me at a NAMI meeting, in front of other board members, which was humiliating and so reminiscent of my ex-wife. My reaction? Not fight, not flight. I froze. This only ever happened when my ex-wife abused me. Just great. And unexpected. Such is PTSD for me.
There is another unfortunate trigger that went along with Paula’s attacks. The one at MHRAC occurred in front of Albuquerque Police Department, and Paula was not held accountable. This harkens back to the one time (in the late 1990s) I called APD because my wife (at the time) had beat me so I was bruised and cut. One of the responding officers pulled me aside and said, “Man the fuck up and don’t call us again.” So I didn’t. This is also part of my PTSD.
For my mental wellness, I resigned from MHRAC, effectively removing myself from any additional opportunity to be triggered the same way once again. which s a true shame. This is another article to explore on its own merit, where I can expound on what it means for me to be a “wreck for over a year” because of PTSD I didn’t know existed in such an ingrained way inside me.
Is this an overshare? Has my sharing my story made you uncomfortable? Or are you stuck on the image of a basketball-sized half-digested wad of Pillsbury Poop and thus has thrown you off the weight of how serious PTSD can be?
Look, the analogy is a light-hearted way for those who don’t contend with PTSD to understand what it’s like. Everyone has been constipated, and I’ve learned that directly comparing a mental health issue with a physical health issue is the best way to educate others on the peer experience. It’s an inexact comparative model, and by definition that is what an analogy is. The model works, though. So it’s one method I use in Stand Up To Stigma presentations. The more vivid the word art, the better . . . and the more illuminating for the audience . . . and the more self-empowering and re-empowering for me. Everyone wins.
Notice that the word “analogy” has the word “anal” in it. The universe isn’t lazy enough for coincidence.
Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.