Walking through Chinatown, I saw an Asian man wearing an army green shirt with an “Army Veteran” patch. I asked him where he was stationed.
“The Philippines,” he replied. “Are you a veteran?”
“No, but I have PTSD from 9-11,” I said.
“Good for you!” he exclaimed.
Nobody had ever said that to me before regarding PTSD.
Four months ago I would have been put off by that statement. Though, four months ago I wouldn’t have spoken to a stranger. Instead it put a smile on my face. Having PTSD is good for me. Experiencing its effects has humbled me and helped me understand other people, especially those who struggle intellectually and emotionally. I used to have little patience for people who wanted to talk about their feelings. Now I understand on a deeper level how emotions play a part in our existence.
Like grieving the loss of a loved one, coming to grips with the PTSD diagnosis involves acceptance. Except in my case, it involves having to accept it every time I learn yet another way it affects me.
Living with PTSD is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, though not particularly emotional. If emotions are involved, they usually include frustration or depression, but those feelings are less and less a part of the ride. Ups and downs in my situation are about how well my brain functions. A bad day, for example, is when memories are all out of order. It might also be when arithmetic is hard to do. These situations are generally accompanied by mental fogginess. Those with fibromyalgia might relate to it as “fibro fog”. Actually, the fogginess is there almost always, a sensation of not being 100% present, almost as in a dream or about to fall asleep.
Fogginess is perhaps the first condition I’ve learned to accept as a new normal. It doesn’t mean I can’t perform mental activities. On really foggy days, I’ve been able to solve difficult Sudoku puzzles relatively fast. But my mind does tire quickly. Sometimes I will do multiple Sudoku puzzles in a row to tire my brain enough to fall asleep quickly.
A compromised memory is perhaps the second condition I’ve learned to accept. I just apologize a lot when loss of memory or forgetting the sequence of things bothers others. I write things down as much as possible, or as much as I remember to. And I try to take notes while having conversations on the phone.
The third thing I’ve been learning to accept, but perhaps haven’t quite resolved, is the length of time it is taking to heal. One woman with “Complex PTSD”, which developed with abuse throughout her childhood, said her symptoms were at their worst a year after diagnosis and were still debilitating two years after, which was when we met. I don’t want to be on this rollercoaster for two years.
Another condition I have a hard time accepting is the effects of cortisol on the body over a long period of time. It basically has reduced my emotional range. My new normal range goes from depressed to sad with short periods of happiness and occasional irritability. No excitement and no feelings of fear. However, I do feel more excitement and fear while speeding on my motorcycle on the road. It’s one of the reasons why many PTSD sufferers ride motorcycles. Danger makes one feel more alive. (I wonder if those who commit suicide enjoy that rush while pulling the trigger. What a terrible end to a temporary problem.)
The most important aspect of acceptance is the freedom that comes with it – a sense of peace after surrendering to that of which I have little control. Otherwise, I would be angry all the time. Chronic anger would make everyone else around me uncomfortable. Who wants to chase away friends and loved ones? I suppose part of learning to accept is learning to cope. Who can accept nightmares?
While I learn to accept everything about my PTSD, I have Saturdays to enjoy helping children with developmental disabilities build neural pathways while riding horses. I have dangerous motorcycle rides. I have the hope of helping others with PTSD. I have the love of friends. I have what I need to be grateful. All of this makes life worth living. I suppose having PTSD is good for me.