Fear vs Panic

I want to clear up another one of the seemingly infinite misconceptions relating to mental illness. Some months ago I was working at a place  -I won’t say where- when my boss saw me in the throes of a panic attack and told me to “quit being so dramatic.” because “we all get scared sometimes” . I’m rather proud of the fact that I resorted to neither interpersonal violence nor the kind of extreme and often bestiality-themed profanity for which I am known in my less serene moments. Instead I rolled my eyes, bit the inside of my cheek and walked away silently wondering how someone so utterly unburdened by any semblance of a functioning intellect had come to be in charge of the two highest visibility stores in the chain.

But that incident got me thinking, an activity I personally doubt my former boss ever engaged in for more than a total of a few minutes in her entire life. And I realized that, for all her insensitivity and apparent willful unwillingness to understand my condition maybe it wasn’t entirely her fault. After all you should never ascribe to malignancy what is more likely the product of simple ignorance. Hence this week’s topic.

Fear is a natural human response to certain stimuli. An inattentive driver on the road as you cross the street or seek to change lanes. A mugger. A fire. Any clown, anywhere, ever. When you get scared your pulse quickens, your breathing speeds up, you become more aware of your surroundings. Your reflexes bump up a notch because your adrenal system is now online. You may sweat because your body is subconsciously trying to make you more slippery and thereby harder to grab hold of. Basically your body is ramping up to either fight back better or run the fuck away. Maybe both. A great many of us are alive today because some ancestor decided to knock the stupid out of a potential threat and then leg it rather than stick around to find out the hard way which of them was better in a scrap. The experience may be somewhat unpleasant but it’s not especially debilitating.

A panic attack is something else entirely. Yes, many of the same physiological process occur in both a fear episode and a panic attack and to the uninformed it may look like a person having one is merely scared of something. This is rather like saying that a flat chunk of ice floating down the river in winter is the same as ship-killing iceberg.

In simplest terms when you have a panic attack you experience all of the things that you experience when you get more generically scared. The problem is that our bodies usually have process in place to moderate the extremity of various processes to keep from destroying itself. In a panic attack these mechanisms get turned off.

Your body does not get enough adrenaline to help you escape the clown or dodge the car. It gets all the adrenaline .  Your pulse does not increase. It hammers in your body so hard it feels like thunder in your ears, like you’re being shaken apart from the inside. Ever get scared and feel like you wanna poop or pee a little? In a panic attack the affect of so much combat hormones at once can give you an almost uncontrollable urge to have the runs or piss yourself.

Your breathing does not increase slightly to better oxygenate your muscles. It either buries the needle to the point where you hyperventilate or it seizes up entirely, like a computer with too many windows open at once. Your brain sends so much “work really hard or we’re DEAD!”  command traffic to your lungs that they just overload and you can’t breathe at all.

There are other ways in which a panic attack can be debilitating. Your body can get overloaded and you can pass out. You can vomit or get the shakes. You might find yourself wanting to cry uncontrollably because you are simply overwhelmed . The human system can only take so much stress before it becomes too much and serious temporary or permanent  malfunctions occur. I have personally experienced all of the things mentioned in the first three sentences of this paragraph. It is scary and, when it happens in public, deeply humiliating.

Understand that I’m not saying I’m embarrassed about having PTSD. I’m not. I survived a Hell that  kills many people and it’s left me some scars. But I’m still here and I’m still fighting. I’m no more ashamed of having PTSD than a breast cancer survivor should be of their experiences.

But when your body fails you it’s embarrassing. We like to think of ourselves as strong, competent, capable people. Blacking out at work or in the checkout lane at Target draws stares and possibly snide remarks. Spontaneously vomiting is gross, messy and draws the aforementioned stares and comments. I’ve had people mutter under their breath about how I must be drunk because well just look at him. This despite the fact that I rarely drink, never do so on the job and, in the twenty-six or so years I’ve been consuming alcohol have been puke-drunk exactly twice.

When these things happen you stop being a person in the eyes of those around you and become a broken bit of wreckage.  It strips away your dignity and feeds the voices whispering that you’re a cripple. It is, in short, a painful, scary, entirely dehumanizing experience.

It may look like  what normal people think of as being scared but only in the same way that a jet fighter at full burn looks looks like a puddle-jumping, prop-driven Piper Cub .They both have wings. They both move through the air. They are both technically examples of aeronautical technology. But that’s where the resemblance stops. One is survivable barring something truly catastrophic happening. The other can fucking kill you.

As I mentioned earlier, the human body is not meant to run full-blast for very long. Having all the stops switched off repeatedly can have serious long-term consequences to your health. You can begin suffering gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can break down from the stress. The strain on your heart takes its toll, especially as you get older.

I’m 44 years old and in pretty decent shape. I work out several days a week, watch what I eat and have a physically active job. And I’m pretty sure I’ve already had a couple minor heart attacks either in conjunction with or shortly after panic episodes. Like I said, the body can only take so much stress for so long before critical malfunctions occur.

So I hope that clears up the difference between merely afraid and a full-blown anxiety episode. I’m not gonna yell at you. I’m just going to request that the next time you see someone having a moment like that don’t be so quick to dismiss it or compare it to that time you tripped going down the stairs. Please have some understanding and some compassion and understand that what you are witnessing is a potentially life-threatening medical crisis. Offer to help . If it is accepted follow our requests as much as is reasonable. We know what we need because we’ve been dealing with this probably for a long time now. If we say we’d rather manage on our own, respect that and go about your business without judgement or commentary.

That’s all for this week. Please be sure to check out my video blog and support me on Patreon. See you next week everybody.

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Support vs Enabling

A few days ago my beloved lady wife mentioned that she had been asked by someone if she didn’t feel that she was enabling me by being as supportive of me as she is. She responded that she didn’t think so and gave her reasons why. That prompted this post because it’s a valid question and an important subject .

Telling the difference between support and enabling can be very tricky. You want to be there for your partner or relative or friend when they are having problems. You want to be compassionate because they are suffering and often not fully in control of themselves. So it’s easy to blur the line between having their back and taking their shit.

Basically the line between the two is defined by behaviors that are harmful or destructive to themselves or others. If the person in your life with PTSD or some other mental illness needs to vent and you offer to listen to them -even if it’s about the same shit they were going off on just the day before- that’s support. Sometimes we just need a friendly ear to let us blow off some steam. If they start emotionally abusing you or anyone else and you let them get away with it, that’s enabling.

Support is vital to coping with mental illness. You can get by without help from others but it’s infinitely harder and many of us lose the fight specifically because we’re all alone in it. At the same time enabling us is just as harmful and needs to be studiously avoided.

When we engage in harmful behaviors, be they destructive actions like breaking things or punching walls or substance abuse such as drug addiction or alcoholism at those moments the disease is winning. And frankly we’re allowing it to win. This is different from those moments where the disease is winning in the sense that we are actively symptomatic despite our best efforts not to be. By not holding us accountable at those times you are effectively providing positive reinforcement for them. You are saying that it’s ok to kick the dog or emotionally abuse you or drink the rent money because hey, we’ve got a mental illness and that makes it ok.

No. No it fucking doesn’t! Yes, we’re sick. Yes, we deserve your compassion. Yes we will have moments when we need your patience and understanding because we’re acting in ways that are scary and hard to understand. None of that absolves us of the responsibility to handle our shit and not behave in ways that bring non-consensual harm to others. And I say that as a man who burned his first marriage of twenty years to the fucking ground  with such behaviors.

Folks, I’ve been dealing with PTSD since I was twelve years old. Maybe younger. Probably younger. And I’ll admit there’s times when the disease grabs you by the face and drags you along on a destructive spree through some aspect or other of your life. Fighting those moments is hard . Finding an alternate expression of those urges is hard . But it doesn’t get any easier to do if we don’t get corrected when we act out inappropriately.

Understand that I am not blaming others for what we do. It’s not your fault we trashed the kitchen or got arrested on a drunk and disorderly  because you didn’t check us the last time we smashed a plate or treated moonshine consumption like a competitive sport. That’s on us pure and simple. We punched out the microwave. We downed a fifth of Jameson and took a shit in the backseat of a convertible that didn’t belong to us. We did that, not you.

But why should we expend the energy to not be a douchebag if we get treated with the same patience and compassion whether we handle ourselves or act out? I said it once and I’ll say it again. This shit is hard. It takes immense expenditure of energy to control ourselves when the disease is in the ascendant phase. And we have less reason to expend that energy if we aren’t going to suffer any negative consequences for failing to do so.

So what does support look like? Support looks like a friendly ear. A gentle hand offering to be held when we’re in the throes of a panic attack or a flashback. An extra set of eyes watching our backs when we’re out in public. It looks like having our backs when someone talks shit and tells us just suck it up buttercup or makes some other equally ignorant  remark. In short it looks like  providing us with that extra bit of strength we need to make it through the bad patch. Even if we don’t really need it knowing it’s there to avail ourselves of can help us find the resources to gut it out on our own. Robia my love, I saw you face the entire time I wrote this paragraph, plain as if you were on the couch instead of at work.

Support also looks like holding us accountable when we cross the line. We have to live in the world. We have to work and have relationships and own stuff that isn’t all smashed to shit. And oh boy do landlords lack a sense of humor when it comes to the willful destruction of their building. By telling us “I love you and I’ve got your back but that behavior is unacceptable.” you are helping us build the mental muscles we need to control ourselves enough that yes, we may have active symptoms but we’re not going scorched Earth on our lives. When you say to us “That’s too far and I’m not having it.” you are actually saying “I believe you’re capable of better than that. I believe you are stronger than this horrible disease you have if only you’re willing to allow yourself to be.”

Unless you have PTSD or some other serious mental illness you can’t know the self loathing and doubts we experience. You can’t imagine how weak and failed as human beings we often believe ourselves to be. Society tells us that mental illness is a weakness. A weakness of person and a weakness of character. I have been told to my fucking face that I wouldn’t have this disease if I weren’t a great big, self-pitying pussy.

Society says to us “You’re an invalid. A cripple. We don’t expect anything of you because all you are is a disease, a dysifunctional collection of aberhant behaviors that are the product of a weak mind and a questionable character.Crawl off into your cripple hole and die so we don’t have to be burdened by you.”.

You say  “You’re a person and you will fucking well act like one. You will have your panic attacks. You will have your rages and your flashbacks and all the other Hell and misery that this condition rains down upon you. And I will be by your side every step of the way. But you will not abuse me. You will not destroy things. You will not drink yourself into insensibility or take drugs to excess. You will find other ways to cope because are not a cripple. You are sick but you are more than your symptoms and you will do better because you are capable of better. You will do all this and you will  stuff it in the fucking faces of every naysaying asshole until they gag on it!”

By doing that, by gently, compassionately holding us accountable you reinforce the much-needed belief that we are more than our illness and that we are stronger than it. By helping us find non-destructive coping tools and reminding us to utilize them you arm us against the condition . It’s hard at first. It takes an exhausting amount of effort. But in time effort becomes pattern, pattern becomes habit, habit becomes the new normal. We may still have our symptoms. We probably always will. PTSD cannot be cured, only treated. But by not allowing us the freedom to just act out destructively without consequence you are helping us pave the road to a better quality of life. You make it possible for us to say, after an Episode “Ok, that sucked hobo taint. But I didn’t hurt myself and I didn’t hurt anybody else. And that’s a win and damnit I’m proud of myself for it.”. And in this fight every win, however small is cause for celebration.

Have a great day everybody. See you next week.

 

New Video Is Up

There’s a new post on my youtube channel Being The Marshmallow. It addresses the recent Tennessee law which makes it legal for mental health care providers -psychologists, psychiatrists etc- to discriminate against patients on the basis of their LGBQT status.

 

The Fucking Insomnia Fairy

Today I wanna talk about sleep. Mainly because I didn’t really do any of it last night. So the topic is kinda fresh on my mind, foggy and dysfunctional that it is. Sleep disruption is one of the common symptoms of PTSD. And indeed many mental illnesses. It’s also one of those things, much like a panic attack, that people without mental illness tend to misapply to their own circumstances. And yes, that is a persistent thorn in my ass, as evidenced by last week’s post.

Sleep deprivation manifest in a couple of ways. The first is insomnia as personified by our good friend The Insomnia Fairy. People like to use variations on “Oh God, am I tired. I had insomnia last night” to describe having a late night. Thats…not it and as someone who suffers from actual sleep disruptions it’s kinda aggravating. And by  kinda  I mean it makes me want to hit them. In the face. With heavy office furniture. That has been tied to heavier mining equipment.

Here’s how actual insomnia works. You get tired. You want to sleep. It’s time to sleep. You have earned the right to sleep. You try to sleep. And your stupid fucking brain won’t let you because your stupid fucking neuroses and stupider fucking irrational anxieties about everything under the sun and nothing at all in particular won’t shit-snacking let you!

Let’s take an example from last night. I meant to get to bed at 11pm. I have my alarm set for 7am because I have stuff to do today. I’d been up about eighteen hours by then and had a fairly active day running errands and whatnot. By rights I should have been able to sleep. Instead 11pm comes and goes and my body refuses to shut down. Midnight comes. And goes. Same-same. Finally, around 1230 I force myself to go to bed. I even take two sleeping pills. I get into bed in the dark next to my beautiful wife and dumb little dog, close my eyes. And lay awake until two-the-shit-snacks-on-a-fuck-me-cracker-am staring at the inside of my eyelids . On nineteen hours wakefulness and double the recommended dosage of the sleep aid I was on.

That, ladies and gentlemen is insomnia. Not deciding to stay up on the phone or social media til the wee small and then paying for it the next day. You want to sleep. You should be sleeping . But you physically can’t because your brain is racing around your skull like a hamster on Red Bull.Your body is exhausted. Your mind is exhausted and you just can’t shut off.

There are some ways you can help combat insomnia. Make sure that your bedroom is as dark as possible. Our bodies produce chemicals that wake us up if the light levels are too high. You can get a good piece of blackout cloth from Joannes or another local fabric store to use in lightproofing the room. Don’t do any stimulants after a certain hour of the night. Say nine hours before you want to be awake the next day. Don’t eat or exercise in that timeframe either.

Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Don’t bring your phone or laptop or tablet in there with you because it’s one more distraction from what you’re there to really do-SLEEP. I won’t advise you to take anything because I’m not a doctor. The only things I’ll say on the subject of chemical sleep aids is that I’ve gotten good results from valerian root extract and my wife has gotten equally good ones from melatonin supplements. This should in NO WAY be construed as an endorsement or a prescription. Do your own research, talk to an actual doctor and figure out for yourself what works best for you.

I also advise very strongly against drinking yourself to sleep. That’s a game of diminishing returns and a fast track to alcoholism. What happens there is you go from having it help you to needing it to get any sleep at all. You wind up needing more and more and more to get the job done and if you try to quit, the insomnia and nightmares that result are HORRENDOUS. So don’t drink yourself to sleep ok? Don’t do it.

Instead, try deep breathing exercises. Take a breath, hold it for a five count, release, repeat. A white noise generator like a fan or one of the ones they make for babies are also helpful. The overall object should be to create a safe, quiet, restful space in which sleep is easier to come by.

None of these are gauranteed fixes but they should help. Sleep is essential to good physical and emotional health and the body starts to break down after too many days without enough of it. You can get physically sick, your metabolism can slow down which will contribute to weight gain and, on an emotional side it’s harder to combat stress when you’re sleep deprived.

I suppose there’s a certain irony in someone who hasn’t had 30 hours of sleep in the last five days talking about this subject but I hope these tips help.

See you next time

 

 

Transference

I originally had intended today’s post to be about insomnia because boy howdy did I ever get a shitload of that last night instead of actual sleep but  plans change. Instead, this week I’m going to talk about an interesting phenomenon that not just mentally ill people but pretty much everybody experiences, transference or displaced emotions.

Negative emotions are just part of the human condition. No way around it. You got life, you get negative experiences and you wind up with emotional states you don’t always enjoy very much. Unless you’re some deeply twisted psychological masochist who gets off on being angry or sad which is probably a whole string of posts and maybe a career-making paper for some clever shrink.

Sometimes you can do something about those emotions. Let’s say you come home and find the dog has gotten into the garbage and spread it, and a largish quantity of “Hi, I’m a dog and I just ate several pounds of rotting domestic refuse and don’t know how to use the toilet” by-product all over your home. Odds are you’re gonna be pretty angry. But it’s anger from stimuli you can do something about. You can put the dog in his kennel, pick up the trash and mop up the other stuff. Stimuli, emotion, effective response. Pretty simple.

But suppose you’re angry because it’s tax time and you got several thousand dollars of bad news from your tax preparer. And you come home and the dog is barking his head off because he’s a dog and dogs tend to view it as their job to alert you to any and all possible threats. Even ones that aren’t really threats like the neighbor slamming their car door three houses down or another dog walking by on the sidewalk outside.

Odds are you’re pretty pissed about the whole tax thing. Maybe I need to get out more but I’ve never met anyone who was happy about writing a check for five grand when all they got in return is a great big box of not going to jail for tax evasion. Can’t really do anything about why you’re angry. Well, you can but most of what you can do falls somewhere between white collar felony and act of domestic terrorism. So yeah, you’re pretty much boned for non-prison/massive gunshot-related trauma options.

So you have to just soak that anger and contrary to popular belief most people who aren’t cyborgs can’t just clear their mood with a shake of the old emotional etch-a-sketch. That shit takes a few hours or a few days to move through your system and in the meantime you’re still getting bombarded with other stimuli. Like the dog. Who won’t shut the fuck up . Because he’s a dog and barking is one of his defining characteristics.

You can do something about the dog. Problem is you have to do the right something and in your current mood that may be tricky. Emotions are energy. And just like any other form of energy their natural inclination is to express themselves via the path of least resistance.

So maybe you’re upset with the IRS at about an eight on a one to ten. That’s probably reasonable. But you can’t do anything about it. So you carry it around while it works it’s way through your system. Then you come home. You just want some quiet and a drink. Maybe a lot of drinks because shit man, five grand. And the dog won’t shut up.

That’s normally good for a two, maybe a three. It’s annoying but you know it’s not that big a deal and if you distract him or tell him to chill out he’ll probably ease up. Only problem is, that energy from the tax thing is still rolling around and it has now found an outlet. So instead you find yourself contemplating responses that will get you turned into a “This is what the world’s biggest asshole looks like” meme. Not because of what the dog is doing but because you have gone and put the emotional energy from the tax thing onto  what the dog is doing. You can’t do anything about the taxes but hoo-boy can you ever do something about the dog. That is transference. You take anger or sadness or whatever that you can’t apply to a solution to Problem A and you incorrectly apply it to Problem B.

Sometimes that can be healthy. Like suppose you have a fireplace and a wood pile. You can take the energy from Problem A -the tax thing-  and apply it to Problem B -a pressing need for a bunch of split wood to have a cozy fire with. Sometimes it’s unhealthy. Like when you take that same energy and apply it to a solution that centers heavily around treating the dog like a soccer ball. The one is a healthy outlet. The other is just being a dick and nobody wants that.

So there’s a couple things you want to do whenever you get angry or sad or otherwise feel a negative emotion. The first thing is to figure out why you’re feeling  the way you’re feeling. Maybe you can do that, maybe you can’t. Sometimes we just have irrational emotional states. Kinda a defining trait of being emotionally unwell.

The next thing to do is figure out if everything you’re feeling is because of whatever it was that just sparked off your mood and if not how much is. That can be hard. Believe me, I know. I’ve spent decades dealing with this stuff and I’ve only been able to manage it with any consistency in like, the last, I dunno, five or six years maybe. But you have to do the work needed to get into a habit of successfully doing so.

In the first place putting emotional energy on stuff it doesn’t belong to is unhealthy . You’re not managing your emotions at that point and you’re not really a person. Not a thinking, tool-using sentient being. You’re a reactive animal just lashing out at their environment without consideration to whether or not the target of their actions is the right one. Kinda like a two year old who is actually pissed because they’re tired but is having a fit because they lost the receipt that Mom let them hold from the grocery store.

In the second place it can be destructive. It can cause you to lash out at people and things that don’t deserve to be targeted. Most people, if they fuck up and aren’t complete jerks will eat a bit negativity as long as it’s legitimately about something they did wrong. Those same people are going to be a lot less patient about just being your little friggin voodoo doll. Refusing to do the work required to ensure that you are directing the right quantity of feedback at the right target can cost you friendships, romantic relationships and jobs by the score. Trust me. I speak from experience on all three here.

The process takes time. It takes work . You have to be willing to do the work and be patient with yourself . There are few things harder than being rational and analytical when you’re in a keyed-up emotional state. But the alternative is to piss people off, burn down your friendships and if you have any self awareness and/or respect wind up feeling like no small amount of a jerk when you’re in a less agitated place.

So how do you do it? The first thing to do is to calm yourself. . Not easy, I know. Remember; thirty-odd years at this and I still don’t always succeed. Breathing helps. Take a deep breath. Hold it for about a five count. Let it out. Hold it out for five. Repeat three to five times. Controlling your breath helps control your heart rate and your adrenal levels and both anger and sadness have an adrenal component. It also helps oxygenate the brain and your cranial grayware works WAY better with more 02 than less.

Once you’re less upset take a look at everything that happened recently. How long ago did it happen. Was any of it stuff you wanted to do something about but realistically couldn’t and therefore were having a harder time moving past? Humans genetically select for problem solving. We just naturally feel more at peace when we can Do Something about whatever is upsetting us because it wasn’t so long ago that an inability to Do Something about what had us upset probably meant an increased chance of getting messily dead. If we can apply ourselves to any kind of a fix we have an easier time letting it go even if it really sucked. If we can’t, the reverse applies.

Once you’ve done that ask yourself if it’s possible any of what you think you’re feeling right now is actually carry over from the other thing. Don’t automatically assume that it is because that is being dismissive of your own emotions and that’s unhealthy too. Just try to work out how you felt about the same exact situation you’re in when it happened without the other stuff happening too. Odds are you’ll remember feeling differently those times you didn’t have whatever else it was looming over you. At that point you can, with a bit of effort, compartmentalize what’s going on and apply the right amount of energy to the specific problem.

The important thing is not to lash out at anyone or get physically destructive. Don’t take your day out on your friends or your co-workers or your pets. They don’t deserve it. If you really need to blow off steam do so in a healthy way. Hit the gym, do some pushups. Find some strenuous chores to do. Whatever. Just find an outlet that doesn’t cause you to hurt anyone around you. Not physically and not emotionally. And if you have to, give yourself permission to actually say “You know what, I’m pretty sure that what I’m feeling is being fueled by some other stuff .” . Literally, say it. Language is tied to emotions but it isn’t driven by them. It’s more a tool for their expression. If you’re talking you’re giving more processing power to the rational parts of your brain and less to the smashy/hurty apelike parts.

Work with yourself. Practice figuring out how much of what you’re feeling is due to the thing that just happened under less intense circumstances. That way when you’re in an elevated emotional state the mechanisms and the coping skills with be in place and will be habitual. You just have to apply more emotional muscle to it.Above all, be patient with yourself. Hold yourself accountable when you slip up but don’t beat yourself over the head. Literally or physically. Just own that you screwed up and commit to doing better next time.

I wish I had some witty remark to sign off with but I don’t. I’m running on five hours of sleep and five grand of bad news from the IRS. Brain is not braining as brain as brain brains. Suffice to say that there was a time when my default setting was exactly what I told you guys not to do earlier in this post. I busted my ass for years at identifying how much of my mood from minute to minute was really about what was going on or the result of carrying some earlier stuff around. Like say getting too little sleep and too much financial bad news. And while I am a long way from perfect at it even now, anyone who knows me will tell you there’s been improvement.

Short version; if I can do it I have confidence that you can too. I just spent ninety minutes of my life writing this post when I had a mob of other shit to do and frankly was in no mood at all to write any of it. I wouldn’t do that if I honestly believed it was wasted effort. Work the program. Be patient with yourself. Have the guts to ask your friends for help if you need to. There’s no shame in that and in fact it takes a lot of courage. And then, take it one occurrence at  a time. Effort will become success, success will become habit, habit will become the new normal.

Have a good one everybody. See you next time.

Out

 

 

 

No You don’t Get It

There’s a misconception among the neurotypical community about mental illness that needs to be addressed. Actually there’s a bunch of em. But today I want to address one in particular. Mental illness is an invisible ailment, one seen only in the quirks and tics and sometimes outbursts of those afflicted. It isn’t like cancer where you lose your hair, can’t keep anything down and generally look and feel like walking death because the treatment is almost as bad as the disease. It isn’t like a broken limb with it’s attendant case or cut or burn with the stitches, bandages ,debridement treatments and scars that are part of those afflictions. Mental illness happens in the emotions and the biochemistry and as such there isn’t much in the way of tangible manifestation of, for lack of a better expression, the injury.

Because what we’re dealing with is purely an emotional issue, or at least an issue that expresses itself through the emotions people who don’t have it think they’re on the same wavelength as us because they have emotionally rough days too. No. You’re not. Not even fucking close and kindly don’t insult us by pretending you are.

Everyone has emotional bad times. It’s part of the human condition and there’s no avoiding it. The difference is that for an NT, they are less intense, less frequent and generally have some logical reason behind them. For the mentally ill they are pervasive, often lasting days or weeks at a stretch. They hit with the force of a freight train driven by someone actively hunting you over a personal grudge involving their mom and a bottle of roofies. And they very seldom have a rational basis.

An NT gets scared. Maybe they have a close call crossing the street or their dinner catches fire. Maybe they have a bad interaction with their boss and they get worried about the security of their position.

A mentally ill person has an anxiety attack. They freak out literally over nothing. A story I share in my book, “What’s Your Superpower?” talks about how I once had a panic attack because my foster mom texted me telling me she couldn’t attend my birthday party but we’d talk when she dropped off presents and cake. Presents and cake and I spent 45 minutes -most of it up on a ladder- unable to breathe and pretty sure I was going to vomit and/or pass out. Completely irrational but completely real. And while I knew intellectually I probably wasn’t gonna die it sure as shit felt like I was at the time.

I try to see the best in people. Given the savagery of my childhood you’d think I wouldn’t . But I do. Consequently I like to imagine that people who tell the mentally ill they know just how we feel when they themselves are not mentally ill are doing so in an attempt to empathize and make us feel less alone in our struggle. Thank you. And please stop it, right now.

When you tell a mentally ill person that you understand our struggle what you’re really doing is trivializing it. You get scared and move on with your day.  We’re convinced we’re gonna fucking die and the effort of getting our feet back under us is exhausting. You think that because our problem is emotional in nature and you have emotions that seem similar what we both go through is the same and that is, at best, an oversimiplification.

This problem runs across the whole spectrum. Fear, anger, sadness, you name it. If there’s a negative emotional state, a person with PTSD is likely to feel it at a level that is several orders of magnitude greater than what their NT friends and relative are. It’s overwhelming. It swamps us under. We can’t breathe or sleep or see straight. It’s often all we can do to stop from lashing out, either physically or emotionally.

Imagine the most whatever you’ve ever been. The most sad. The most afraid. The most angry. Remember how all-encompassing it was. How it felt like there literally never had been and never would be anything but that emotion. Remember how you felt like you were drowning or couldn’t rest until you’d murdered the shit out of whatever it was that had you feeling the way you did. Remember the effort it took to pull yourself back from that place and the shame you likely felt if, in the course of doing so you were cruel or destructive.

Does the time you were sad at the sight of something touching you saw online compare to the death of your favorite loved one? Does the irritation of your barrista screwing up your coffee order compare to the rage when you found out a friend had been raped ? What about scared? Remember that time you didn’t hear someone coming up behind you only to turn around and hey presto, there they were? Is that the same as the time you woke up to find the house on fire or when that drunk ran you off the road and your airbags deployed? The answer to all of these is of course not and a person would be a fool to think they did.

Now imagine those same experiences repeated multiple times a day, every day for months and years on end. Don’t you think you’d get a bit worn down? And wouldn’t you find yourself ever so slightly short on patience with those who compared their screwed up coffee order to your raped friend?  Well that’s our life folks. Day after endless, struggle-filled day, sometimes for years at a time. Me, I’m into my third decade with this shit. It’s gotten easier but that’s because human beings can get used to anything that doesn’t kill us. But it’s still a trial and it still doesn’t help to have my idiot boss compare her restless night with week of screaming night terrors.

So please, don’t imagine that you’re going through what we are. You’re not. Don’t imagine that your “Hey Fred I didn’t see you there” is the same as our “The HOUSE is ON FIRE! RUN!” .

If you want to help it’s simple. Practice these words. “I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through but I’m here if you need me.” . That’s it. Just that. Nothing huge. Nothing complex. “You’re not alone, even if I don’t get it.” . Be a friend. Be a companion. A friendly ear and the occasional strong shoulder for us to lean on. You don’t have to feel what we’re feeling to share the road with us. You just have to be there. Liking us. Loving us if that’s how you feel. Helping us to our feet when we stumble, having our backs when the ignorant and hostile give us grief and above all, not judging us.

You may imagine that that isn’t really help because it’s so simple and obvious and that help with a complex problem like mental illness but itself be complex to truly be effective but that isn’t true. Sometimes the simple solutions are the best ones. Look at a button. Once upon a time, the problem of how to close an article of clothing to keep it from falling off or keep the wind and the wet out must have seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Then somebody got the idea of the button. A hole, an overlap, a bit of whatever attached to the overlapped part that can fir through the hole. And now here we are, millennia later with buttons so ubiquitous most of us don’t give them a second’s thought. Until we lose one, at which point we realize just how important the are. It’s the same thing. You don’t have to be our clothing factory with all its complex machinery and intricate moving parts. Just be the button. You’ll be appreciated for your presence and missed in your absence, probably more than you ever realize.

Have a great day everyone. See you next week.

 

 

Patreon/Shameless Self-Promotion

Good morning everyone. This post isn’t one of my usual rambles about some aspect of PTSD and how to manage your life with it. Instead I’m here to mention that as of yesterday, I have a Patreon account set up. For those of you who don’t know, Patreon is a crowdfunding engine for people like myself who create content. Youtube videos, web comics, and yes, blogs about various things . Like mental illness and how to live with it without hurting either yourself or the legion of ignorant people who think you can just sit on a happy face (no that’s not a typo, I’m just incapable of putting 5oo words together without a “really Bob?” moment 🙂 ) and shake it off gravel from your palms after tripping and falling. I started out writing this blog with one simple intention; use my knack for language and decades of experience dealing with mental illness to provide my brother and sister sufferers with a voice. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking out about their condition and it is vital we put a human face to this poorly understood and still widely stigmatized health issue.

My goal is to raise $750 a month in pledges so that I can continue to focus on this blog and my other writing full-time. Basically, 150 people at the price of a large coffee a month to make my rent and share of household expenses. I’m doing this to get by, not get rich. If you can help out by kicking in a few bucks, please follow the link below and make a pledge. Either way, thanks for reading. I hope my posts are able to help you and those close to you .And remember; whether you’re mentally ill or not you’re tougher than life’s challenges. Be strong. Be well. Have a brilliant day.

Cheers!

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3018928&u=3018928&ty=h

Life with PTSD. Coping. Surviving. Saying "fuck" a lot.