Living with Complex PTSD in a Pandemic

I don’t know if I’ve been having more self-doubts than I normally do or if I am simply more aware of the “negative” thoughts I have than I would be were life not impacted by the pandemic. In either case, in the past week, I’ve noticed myself questioning my interpersonal capacity and feeling glum about my limited social life more often than I typically would. I’m both alone and lonely, an unpleasant combination.

The pain and rage I feel from being invalidated or rejected by others is so exquisite that I have spent years cultivating a buffer of self-reliance and self-care through which I can shoulder as much of the emotional burden of being a human on my own as I possibly can. I have a paradoxical capacity to appear vulnerable and open while not actually feeling the emotions that are supposed to go with the intimacy I am able to create; this ends badly when I cut off relationships abruptly when my bullshit capacity is reached while the other person had no idea of the grave threat I viewed them as posing to me. I show up as warm and empathetic without an underlying loyalty or commitment to maintaining the trust I engender, which makes me view myself as manipulative. This has led me to scale back how far I go in engaging with others because I don’t want to hurt them. Their ability to rend my heart has diminished over time as I expect very little good from anyone.

I applied for and was granted ADA accommodations at my job related to having PTSD earlier this year. Something in that experience helped me come to terms with the fact that, although I always hold out hope for healing, I am probably going to be someone with life-long damage and deficiencies due to the childhood trauma I endured. I am disabled and no amount of “trying hard” is going to magically create relationships in which people get my disability and relate to me in a way that works with rather than against my needs. I could be and in fact have been met on a deep level by others, but it takes skill, patience and an unyielding dedication that the vast majority of people I’ve encountered are nowhere near capable of providing to me. People cause me more harm than healing and that isn’t all my fault or all my doing.

Writing out these truths and lessons helps me a little to make peace with the inner judgment and criticism I’ve been feeling. I’m worthy of grace and worthy of effort. I know I lack grace and effort in how I respond to others; I cannot abide relationships that trigger me but I can at least own the reasons why I may need to end them. I did that with a long-standing friendship that had become toxic last year and I feel much more at peace with its devolution than I otherwise would. “It’s not you, it’s me” is ugly, but sometimes ugliness is truth.

It’s been almost six weeks since I had any sort of “normal” in-person human interaction, aside from half-shouted conversations with neighbors at a distance, and I’m not collapsing underneath the isolation and the loneliness because it is not that different from my life before lockdown. I may be disabled by my trauma and my PTSD, but I will make as much of my life as I can. I suspect some people live in terror of my everyday–“what would it be if there was no one there for me”–and yet the adaptability and the persistence of life, of being as a human, of the will to be here, in this moment, fascinates and motivates me to endure.

At the Edge, With Helplessness and Hopelessness (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

It is not a good day for my capacity to feel optimistic and bright. My attempt to get accommodations at my job is beginning to look like I am going to be retaliated against or, at the minimum, discounted. I could not sleep last night and now have no appetite. In the face of this situation, I need to take some time to access my inner world.

I feel helpless and hopeless. I gotten to this place many times before in my life, but have often failed to label what I was feeling in the moment. I would get stuck on the external threat, perseverating on how to mitigate it, and would ignore all of my internal processes. After several hours of frantically searching the web exploring my next steps, I saw into my inner world and noticed how much each part of me was scattering in every direction at once. I could not calm or come back to myself at all until I acknowledged the state I was in. I’m feeling trapped, alone without anyone to help me bear the burden and worried that even more devastation lies–unpredictably and uncontrollably–ahead.

I fear that I’m at the edge of the crevasse I’ve done everything in my power to avoid, the place where I lose my job, my home, my healthcare and anything else that provides a semblance of normal life. I’ve never asked for accommodations because I feared doing so would lead to this outcome. Logically I know I’m many, many steps from this dire fate, but the landscape feels tilted towards my inevitable demise. That is what helplessness and hopelessness look like to me–drifting from “functional human” into an animalistic state where moment-to-moment physical survival is my only focus. Openly acknowledging the effects of my trauma feels like a direct portal into reliving it writ large.

The few responses available to me when I feel helpless and hopeless center primarily on either engaging in a fight for control or on surrendering in acceptance of my fate. The “be louder” side won last night as I spent hour after hour complying a list of questions and additional documentation for my employer. I won’t get any clarity for a few days at the minimum, and my energy is flagging quickly, collapsing into “come what may.”

The ledge I perceive to be closing quickly has never left me ever since I came to terms with my childhood trauma and ended contact with my parents. I knew living my truth meant I could lose at winning or fail at succeeding at life; I knew I had to take that risk over denying what they’d done to me in hopes of having a “backup” plan. I’ve sworn up and down I’d die on the streets before I’d let them back in my life and I mean it as much today as I did the first day I said it.

Rage starts overtaking me when I sit too long in this place. They (my parents) irreparably broke my mind and the thin lines of glue with which I’ve managed to cobble together a person are yielding to the pressures of my life. I’ve come to a razor’s edge but I’ve never been hospitalized or taken off any significant amount of time because of my disability. I’ve walked and ran and scampered to stay back from the ledge and I’m so, so tired of fighting for a foothold. I feel like I literally asked my job for one g-d extra rope to help me stay secured, and all that’s happened is I’ve slipped further towards the breach. I’m sure if I fall in, people will suddenly, magically gain an ability to see my struggles, all while totally and utterly failing to account for the shoves downward they gave me and the shrugs they offered when I extended my hand in desperation.

Let me, come hell or high water, not be a bystander to someone else’s helpless and hopeless moments, even if all I can do is point them towards available resources. That’s all my suffering ever teaches me, how to not add to other peoples’ struggles. I have no greater insight into when to fight and when to yield, or how to avoid my personal pit. How do you handle feeling helpless and hopeless? What feels like your personal “worse case scenario” in life, and how do you cope with its existence? What are some resources you use to keep from going over the edge into despair?

Lessons Learned (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Today’s card invited me to consider what I have learned from a mistake I’ve made. What sprung to my mind, based on current issues I’m facing, is that I’ve lived “as-if” at times in my life to my own detriment. Specifically, I’ve muddled my way through life as if I do not have a disability, when in fact I do.

I am in the process of applying for accommodations at my job due to my PTSD. I do not know if they will be granted or not, but I recognize in coming to the point where I need to request them that I have finally accepted that I am significantly affected by my mental health condition. I am not doing “fine.”

For over a decade, I’ve lived in a shadowland of feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally but also terrified that the shaky progress I’d made towards autonomy would instantly collapse if I asked for mercy for any reason. I’ve been driven further into the fog by experience after experience where I’ve conveyed my limitations in personal relationships, only to have them be completely ignored or used to harm me. I’ve little faith that institutional mechanisms will prove more reliable, but I have to at least try to seek them.

I feel weak and pathetic for not being able to muster the resolve to defeat my demons, as if where I’m at in terms of functioning is a choice I get to make. It’s as if I’ve run non-stop for almost 15 years and yet continue to question why my knees are bone-on-bone. As though I’d chose this life if presented alternatives without PTSD.

My mistake has been not only in living without accepting my limitations, it has also been in believing my situation to be feast or famine. I kid you not, my conception of my world is one where I work as a professional and make a solid income or one where I’m homeless, with no room for possibility in between. Prior to the last few weeks, I honestly never considered attempting to get accommodations, as I figured my only alternative, if I could not manage anymore, was to quit my job. I question which other areas of my life I hold in the same untenable perfect-ruined dichotomy.

Are there any areas of your life where you live “as-if” and struggle to accept the true nature of your situation? What would it look like to face reality? Are there any gradients available between “all is well” and “it’s gone to hell” in the issue with which you are dealing?