Last night I found a post on Michele Rosenthal’s Facebook page, asking how we – “we” as in survivors of post-traumatic stress – coped with our symptoms in a workplace situation. As I remembered the times when I had been holding down conventional jobs in a typical white-collar/office-type situation, I quickly arrived at the conclusion that simply doing my best to hide them – i.e. the symptoms – had been the only solution I seemed to have found at the time. However, it also seems I had only put myself under the impression that I had been hiding my symptoms when in reality they must have come across in pronounced enough ways to find myself singled out and bullied in the process and eventually finding myself getting fired as a result. This happened not just on a rare occasion, but turned out to become somewhat of a pattern in my previous career(s). The primordial instincts in humans seem to produce some sort of “shunning” as something I can only speculate on as being some remnant expression of primitive health preserving behaviour. How so? It is known of indigenous populations some of which still haven’t made contact with the so-called “civilized” world that coming in touch with other populations bears the risk of getting heavily decimated or even wiped out for reasons of their systems not producing anti-bodies to until then unknown bacterial or viral intruders, thus effectively leading to an epidemic and ultimately extinction. Singling out anything and anyone coming across as different for whatever reason seems to be rooted in this primordial fear of extinction of the tribe. Like I said – it’s a speculation at this point – or if there is research on the subject, feel free to drop a link below and I’ll be happy to look into it more thoroughly.. (And on a side note: Here I am again: Finding myself rationalizing and trying to explain things away – a typical behaviour in the wake of previously endured trauma…. But I’m digressing as usual….)
So, after reading Michele’s post and the comments, I started to stroll down memory lane a bit and recapitulated my own coping tactics during the times I had been a regular member of the general work force (and b.t.w. a situation I yearn to go back to and where I’m fighting hard to escape the total isolation I now find myself in coupled with utter poverty from needing to depend on a meager disability pension and barely holding on to the miniscule infrastructure I have left in terms of technical gear, personal mobility, health care etc.). Since trying to oppress the symptoms or not letting them show stopped working for me in 2007 as they simply became too pronounced for me to get to suppress them any longer, I needed to arrange my productivity in new ways and tried to organize my life around the illness, meaning to say that I started to work from home, assuming there would be less frequent distractions and disruption of the thought process while working on a task since I’d effectively work all by myself. Initially, this turned out to be true and for a while I continued to work in a self employed manner. Then I had a new neighbour move in, who used to come home from work for lunch, get on his gaming console and get into a fit of rage for 2 hours straight by screaming at said console and kicking the floor with a vengeance that had me think the roof had fallen down. In other words: Not a good situation to be in when coping with symptoms of PTSD. Explaining myself and trying to get him to be more considerate never held for too long, so just a hair short of freaking out and twisting the fucker’s neck like the cap of a screw-capped bottle of beer, I needed to move.
Now and after having done my best to make the isolation bearable, I seem to be at the end of my tether with that. After all, PTSD or not, we’re social animals – and I had to learn the hard way that I’m not the hermit I thought I was or could become. Since there is not a lot of acceptance in society in terms of understanding the challenges a person suffering from PTSD is up against, I wonder, whether there’ll ever be anything better for me but trying to hide the physiological aspects of this brutal condition. I mean, you can always try and pretend to be cool when e.g. encountering a sudden sweating attack brought on by a panic attack. You can try to regulate your breath when sensing such a panic attack coming. I’m pretty sure, most of us will have learned to become very alert to our bodies’ responses in stressful situations and will have found one or the other way to side step or conceal those – embarrassing? – physiological symptoms. But will that hold in the face of a co-worker? Or let me put this differently: If they notice, will they understand – or rather take advantage of vulnerabilities of this nature?
Which brings me to something else: After having arranged my life around the illness, I started to spend at least an hour outdoors every day and no matter what the weather, by e.g. taking a fast and longer walk or getting on my bike and riding it for usually 2 hours minimum. When I’d come home from that, I would fix myself a meal and enjoy a movie while eating. (unfortunately, I also resorted to alcohol to go with all that for a while and in waves of more or less pronounced degrees of self-medicating.) Over time, it turned out that my choice of flicks would gravitate towards movies that dealt with overcoming trauma at some level of the larger story. I then found out that watching those movies would have a huge emotional impact on me. As I noticed that, I ventured deeper into this and gave myself permission to let bottled down feelings – of grief, as I found out – bubble up – and literally so. Ironically, the use of alcohol helped in such a way that my usual walling off myself would no longer hold. In other words: The meticulously built walls of dissociation would crumble quickly and all the pushed down feelings of loneliness, helplessness etc. would surface – and I would give myself permission to feel them and find their natural expression and thus – release. I am not trying to promote this as a way of giving therapy to yourself. On the other hand, I did and do find it interesting, how exposing myself to stories of other survivors – wether they were fictitious stories or not – did have a somewhat cleansing effect on me. At least, they helped to take some of the self-imposed pressure off, where I’m aware that the former is an outcome of a coping strategy I had to find and employ at times, when no other help was available (and still largely isn’t). Has anyone noticed anything similar?
I could easily go on about societal reprimand and plain institutionalized bullying from here, but… I’ll reserve that for some other time – if at all, as reitering societal abuse isn’t exactly helpful in terms of continuing on a path of recovery. But feel free to let me have your thoughts below, if so inclined.
P.S. I happened across a movie last night that is text book trauma narrative. Stars Samuel L. Jackson and is about a teacher who carries on teaching after having gotten near-fatally wounded by a student attacker in his former High School. What stands out to me is the isolation he – the main character, written by a real teacher, who probably experienced the same or a similar thing – finds himself trapped in. Even his new partner at the new school eventually puts a distance between herself and her lover. Heart breaking…. Trauma survivors get punished all the way. Trigger warning. Ooops. Too late.