Michele Rosenthal: How do We Cope with Loneliness in PTSD Recovery? (Trigger Warning!)

Michele Rosenthal addresses the issue of loneliness with recovering PTSDer’s:

Timeline Photos – Michele Rosenthal.

Before I go on: The below text will trigger you. Proceed at your own discretion. I am not promising a rose garden…

Here we go: I keep quoting her (Michele Rosenthal), because she knows what she’s talking about. Today, after having lived with the outcomes of complex PTSD for 50 years, I require a person to have had personal experience with the issue in order to get to talk to me about that. I’ve had to encounter too many wannabe therapists and people with helper’s syndrome to still have enough patience with them – I don’t! Although someone living with PTSD may be categorized a victim, I emancipate myself and demand of people to meet me at eyes level today when it comes to the process of recovery from the events in our biographies that “blessed” us with this heinous condition. But I’m digressing.

Loneliness. I had to bring myself to the understanding that the loneliness I feel about this is real. There still isn’t too good an understanding about PTSD and the incredibly limiting, debilitating effects it has on an individual in the general public. It’s also become my pet-peeve that it’s still categorized as a “mental” illness. I don’t think this is accurate as the limitations are physical in nature. Emotional strife as a side effect may be a given, true. But I think at the bottom of this brutal condition sits a nervous system that was tossed out of equilibrium for good due to completely overwhelming experiences. And the moment that did it never goes away, not really. It always comes back to torture your body, rob you of a good night’s sleep, give you the shakes for no apparent reason (not apparent to others as they don’t understand triggers and flashbacks). The majority of people get to have this chat with a good friend when they encounter problems at work, trouble in their relationships, financial woes or whatever. As a survivor of PTSD – you don’t have the benefit of getting to vent or simply talk all that often other than in your therapist’s office or in a group setting. And the latter – to me – have become breeding grounds for depression. How am I supposed to feel better when I get together with an entire group of people all struggling with incredibly sad issues in their lives and sharing their feelings about them? Yes, I understand – eventually it’s my turn to share my feelings. But is a sorrow shared really a sorrow halved? I don’t think so any longer. I think it’s a sorrow doubled – if for nothing else than simply for the fact that the focus is on all the negative. Usually. I might overgeneralize, but my experiences were largely of this nature in this regard.

When the chips are down, I need to face the cruel fact that I am badly and irreversibly damaged: On the physical, emotional and spiritual level – the latter, if you are open to that idea at all. I know I wasn’t for a long time as it felt like taking the second, third or n-th step before the first. In other words: Not exactly helping. Or making things worse (“You’ve decided on this journey prior to being born.” “Fine. Can’t you just listen and show some compassion? If not, can’t you just say you aren’t interested in hearing my story?” Fuck.) In very real ways – my reality is of a very different nature as most other people’s reality. I have been living in a parallel universe of sorts. And still do. It’s a prison I can’t seem to break free from. My past always catches up on me.

I am well aware that I should do the Buddha thing in so far as I understand that others who lack the experience can’t understand. But damn! That requires me to be the bigger man than them, doesn’t it? What if I can’t be that man? What if I’m still stuck in that place where a part of me knows I was deprived of very vital things in life, the essentials, actually, those aspects of a person’s life that noone ever should have to go without?

Instead, anger – or rather: fury – drives me by and large. And why not feel anger? I think it’s a very natural response to getting robbed of something dear to you. Isn’t that the response of any healthy person? To be angry at whomever takes something significant from them? (At least, after the initial shock wears off).

But it gets “better”: I seriously tried hard to rise above my past, my issues, my … story. “Extrapolated” what it takes to be a good person simply from watching those around me of whom I got the feeling they are pretty happy campers. You might say, I taught myself how to not be damaged – at least act as if I wasn’t. You know what? You become everybody’s doormat for being kind. Everyone’s doormat and people feel entitled to make you into their night listener. For a while, this way of overcompensating seemed to work for me. I say, “seemed” to work, because at the end of the day and when the particular conversation was over – I still had to admit to myself that I felt fucking lonely like hell! The battered child in me sat in darkness again, wondering if anyone would ever care about – me? Does that sound self-absorbed? No. It is. Because that’s what healthy children are entitled to: Being all self-absorbed and having someone to tend to their needs – 24/7 and unconditionally!

I am afraid, I’ll always have periods of feeling this way, this lonely, particularly so when I’m alone or – with a person of whom I flatter myself into thinking they might become a significant other in my life. Just recently, I had a few new encounters of that nature. I should have known better and should have learnt by now: Opening up, becoming vulnerable – gets you hurt. And that’s the end of that story. You get hurt. Period.

The last thing I ever needed in my life was more injury. Right now, my coping strategies aren’t the best to put it mildly. I guess, they rather qualify as self-harming: Binge eating, booze, overindulging on the few little things that give me a shred of pleasure. The only way I can participate in life again – the life as defined by the majority and I take it: those, who were fortunate enough not to have something happen to them that pulled the rug out from under them – is by doing what I did in earlier years in my life: Pretend I was o.k. and act accordingly. The positive experiences coming from that will carry me on for a while – so long as things stay on the surface. The minute shit gets real – shit is about to hit the fan. Always has, always will. Fuck me.

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6 thoughts on “Michele Rosenthal: How do We Cope with Loneliness in PTSD Recovery? (Trigger Warning!)

    • Unfortunately so, Lily. I think I’m beginning to realize that most “professional” settings are basically places where we act as lab rats in a way (pardon the wording). From many experiences of being let down, I am under the impression that most therapists don’t really know what to do with any of us. It looks as if we all had to figure it out ourselves – each on their own, in a way. Yes, I know – none of us is really alone in this. We’re the “other club”. I am not sure that this makes me feel all that much better about myself. After all – there are standards in place in this world. They are made by people, who at least feel healthy about themselves (we could argue long and hard, whether they actually are, especially those in power). And time and again, I’m being confronted with – and often reprimanded over – the fact that I simply can’t abide by those standards in place. I have been doing so as best as I could for as long as I was able to…. It’s scary when you have to fly blind….

  1. Honestly, I tend to get more depressed in groups. You can’t really help anyone on there and no one can help you. (Excuse me, I am not usually this negative..having a really tough time right now.)

    • Synchronicity going on. I’m probably in the worst place ever, as well. So I understand. However, what I said above – in the blog post as well as in my reply to your comment – comes from a place of empirical evidence. Maybe groups work for some people, maybe there are times, when group settings make sense. For me, however, they have never worked all that well and I never left feeling uplifted, rather on the contrary. Real experiences of being appreciated in one or the other way and have the other person express that and show you – those are the moments that have some healing potential. Which brings us back to those standards in place. I guess, I’m saying: Our societies don’t have good ways of dealing with illness, any illness, be it an emotional or physical one. It’s a scary place and overall “journey”… (that sounds almost too nice for the hellish nature that sometimes comes with the program). Sorry… I should uplift you….

      • no worries…i posted a really sad post yesterday and got an incredible amount of support. this community really “gets it”. I always like people to be themselves.

      • Thank you, Lily! Yes, I agree: This community gets it and is supportive (and a big “yes” on authenticity at any time from me, too!). Thank you for coming here and sharing!

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