A family member recently questioned if Roberto and I perhaps were using the fact that we’re both suffering from PTSD as a crutch. Apart from feeling hurt by this, it made me reflect once again on other people’s perceptions of us and others’ expectations of us.
Funnily enough I had thought both Roberto and myself haven’t been taking our diagnosis as seriously as perhaps we should be. Even though you can be completely aware of the impact a serious trauma can have on many (if not all) aspects of your being, seeing a diagnosis written down in black and white confirming that indeed you do have a mental health problem is yet another thing to cope with. I felt like I hadn’t only lost my daughter, but was now being put into a branded box in terms of how I coped with losing her. It’s very easy to put this extra ‘problem’ out of your mind.
Most of the time I don’t think about having PTSD and the times I do, I wonder if I’m in denial for the other times! Regularly my counsellor will remind me that what ever I’m struggling with at the moment could be to do with my PTSD. Isolating myself or avoiding things are just two that pop up fairly often. Each time she reminds me, my usual response is ‘Oh yes, I forgot that could be related to my PTSD’.
No one will ever truly understand how I or Roberto feel (everyone has their own unique perception of the world and their feelings after all) and probably part of that is because we only give out snippets of how it’s affected us and how it is affecting us. For me this is sometimes because I don’t want to (it hurts and I don’t want to relive it any more than I already do) and sometimes it’s because it feels impossible to explain.
Funnily enough again, the same family member has been seeing me as distant and cold. Whilst not excusing myself, separating myself from others has been my coping mechanism of choice that I learned from childhood and it wasn’t uncommon for people to sometimes perceive me as detached long before Sofia died. But it’s also common for PTSD sufferers to be distant, unloving and uninterested even though they often also need the security of feeling other people around them. It’s a Catch-22 situation; you might see the sufferer being able to talk about emotionals things in an unemotional way, maybe even in a lifeless and distant way and their behaviour may seem to be pushing you away, but most probably they need you to be there to support them.
I know trying to continue a relationship with a PTSD sufferer and give them support can be difficult (I’ve seen my own friends and family struggling). It can be incredibly frustrating, but showing a sufferer even the smallest bit of understanding that they’re experiencing very real distress will help them immensely.
It makes sense to think that talking about the trauma and getting things off your chest can help, but more often than not, and for different reasons, it can be incredibly upsetting and disturbing talking about what happened and reliving the nightmare. On top of this, I had the very real fear that many other sufferers have, of completely losing it (losing control, losing my mind and losing my grip on life) and was afraid if I opened up to people they’d see I was going insane. Thankfully I no longer feel this way.
Fear of how those close to me would see me, perhaps even judge me, is probably why I found and continue to find it easier to talk to people outside my close circle. There’s no other ‘baggage’ from the relationship coming along for the ride and I have no fear of causing them concern or hurt by the feelings I’m expressing. I’m free to say anything, I feel listened to and I know it’s unlikely I’ll be judged.
Recovering from PTSD is an ongoing daily task. The impact it has on your life can be incredibly frustrating. Over time it changes and this is important for people around you to understand – it changes but it will remain for a long time. Of course, it’s natural to want to see a sufferer get better as quickly as possible, but don’t assume just because they seem to be coping better that they are. And certainly don’t get frustrated when their recovery is slower than YOU want; don’t put your own expectations onto them. If you want to support someone with PTSD you need to be patient.