Your traumatic stress disorder is in the post (trigger warning)

I’ve been watching a new twitter buddy pour her heart out over the last few days or so. Some real nasty stuff happened to her and she’s apparently feeling a need to get it all out there.

I’m not sure what made her start talking at this time in this way, but I get the motive. Some traumas are such that they visit us afresh throughout our lives.

After this weekend, I’m really starting to realise that the anxiety part of my experience comes from a post-traumatic stress disorder – which my wife immediately said “Bingo!” to, and looked relieved when I mentioned it. I didn’t really experience anxiety in its own terms until my mood disorder became managed. Prior to my thirtieth year I spent much of my time naturally (oh alright, and sometimes artificially) high as a kite or flat numb. I can tell you looking back that my anxiety affected my actions, but I certainly didn’t feel it the way I did post-diagnosis; I just assumed that was part and parcel of my bipolar. I’m starting to suspect that a predisposition towards bipolar cycles was exacerbated by the trauma – essentially fantasy and numbness became my ways of escape.

Over the last few years I’ve really been able to start dealing with this part of my illness, and it’s still the hardest part to talk about. I can tell you about being “nuts” and even turn it into a fun story; I am able to tell only trusted people when I’m feeling my trauma near the surface, and even then I can get five sentences out before a panic attack intervenes.

Well, I’m over doing that, but I’m also over being in stuck in hall-of-mirrors type looped thoughts, so I’ve come here to share. Welcome to my expurgation.

The hard part is – and the reason why I can’t even say five words to close friends without freaking sometimes – a large part of my trauma came out of a culture of verbal attack in my family. My native expectation is that people will use my words against me. If you want a reason for discourse analysis overdose, you have it right there. I can literally (when in a bad space) wear myself out analysing a conversation (or my increasingly fractured recall of it) until I don’t know what’s true and what’s not.

A culture of physical attack is the other precondition. My parents were semiregularly physically violent to my brother and I as well as each other – although with wooden coathangers, for example, semiregularly is more than enough. My brother’s choice to protect me from them and the world, however, was to very frequently subject me to attacks I – much smaller and never interested in fighting – had no defence against. His theory was that he needed to educate me about the world, and help me develop an ability to protect myself. Suffice to say, he overdid it, although he and I are in agreement as to the validity of his original intentions. We have spent decades unable to be in the same room, and I’m so grateful I get to see how he’s a different person in his love for my nephews, and in the brotherly bond we share.

He needed to have a talk about what has been happening between him and mum recently – she’s started getting all over him about his parenting. For some purposes he and I are the only people we have with whom we can talk about this stuff and not have to explain a lot of uncomfortable things. Unfortunately we needed to work through a gob of our personal stuff to get there – so he basically hassled and pushed me until I stood up for myself, and while he didn’t directly threaten me with violence he described a lot of his past fights to remind me of his capacity to harm. As my protective big brother he needed to check he’d done his work well. He did. He’s one of the few people who can genuinely faze me, and when he did so I let him know in no uncertain terms, and that I wasn’t going to put up with it.

Here’s the thing. He and I got through it. The trauma we created together was mutual, and protected us (because it was in our shared control) from the more incomprehensible situation of realising that, unlike us, our friends were growing up trusted their parents. That we were the different, and not in a good way, ones. We both wish we’d found other ways to survive – but we’ve both worked not to hand the destructiveness on. We needed to connect, so we revisited that trauma until we could connect as the adults we are now. We had a really good talk and agreed that people who had a zero for two track record in terms of producing offspring able to function socially without serious therapy and/or medications of various sorts had no right to go commenting on the parenting of others. Indeed, after examining the whole situation we came to the happy notion that while we loved her and cherished her, on this account mum could in fact “go to fuck”.*

Now, a few days later, I’m experiencing a boomerang effect. All of my trauma – and there’s decades, because I sought retraumatising situations after I escaped (literally) from home – have come out to visit; I knew when I blurted out my ‘stuff”‘ to a friend who really has her own ‘stuff’ to be worried about following a meeting today. I’m sharing here to keep ahead of the nightmares I have at these times. Constant nightmares when I’m is the mechanism that keeps me in insomnia. Having had an unprecedented run of weeks without, I’m damned if I’m going back. Facing and embracing the darkness is the only reliable method I’ve found, although music and meditation sure help.

Apart from those tools, my close friends, my wife and family – all of them I’m really thankful for this wonderful world where people like me (us) can share who we are.

I’ve been looking for new approaches to community recently, and I ran across a podcast by American comedian Paul Gilmartin called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. In this week’s episode, Lee Thorn talked about his PTSD with the host and his son Jesse, another great podcaster. It really, really helped.

*That act of public inappropriateness is dedicated to the baby in this inspiring blogpost.


About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): Personal including infoculture, book reviews: Music: band page: @seanfish

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