Sometimes when I am not feeling good, I will draw representations of what I am feeling on my notepad at work. I don’t recommend drawing a hangman with a dark cloud overhead and then accidentally leaving it out in the open for others to see whilst you are away to lunch. It’s not a comfortable scene being questioned about it later.
I used to have to tell everyone about my trauma and about what had happened to me. I had zero discernment. If you were an adult willing to listen, I would be quite inclined to summarise all of those years up in five minutes without realising I was shocking you. I was entrenched in the post-traumatic experience. I think I needed every breathing human being to acknowledge my pain and suffering.
I have come to realise over the years that not everyone needs to know my story. I do have another uncensored and slightly anonymous blog. That, along with regular psychotherapy, are now my outlets. I have come to realize that it’s my story; mine and no one else’s. I get to choose who to let in. I also realise now that a lot of people do not know how to handle such information. They might not react well and that could end up being damaging to me.
What It Used to Be Like
When I first started my job two and a half years ago, I was doing better than I had been doing in the previous years. But I was still very ill. In order to get through an eight hour day at work, I slept in the back seat of my car for an hour at lunch instead of eating. Living was exhausting. I was in a bad living situation because I couldn’t afford anything else at the time and I was still sleeping 12 hours a night during the week. On weekends I would stay in bed each day up to 23 hours at a time. That was my normal.
Two Decembers ago I was on a weekend road trip to Santa Barbara with a friend. I got a flat tire and had to pull over just off the freeway somewhere in Los Angeles. While my car insurance company was taking forever to get me roadside assistance, a man came out of nowhere and offered his assistance. At first, I was sceptical and declined. Then, after more time had passed, he came up and offered again. I accepted his help. In the 15 minutes that it took him to put on the spare tire from my boot (trunk), I had given him a summary of the six years of trauma which I had endured. To top things off, at the end I took five $20 bills out of my wallet and handed them to him. Now, he was living out of his car at the time and so I felt bad about that. But the point is that I felt so much shame for what I had just done, that I felt like I needed to pay him off just for listening to me. This wasn’t one of my best moments, I must admit.
Each day at my job I struggled in not telling my coworkers about my trauma and suicidal thoughts. I had told everyone else thus far in my life, but this was different. This was a professional environment, something which I hadn’t experienced for many years. My therapist was very supportive of me and over time the not telling became easier. I developed a friendship with one coworker to whom I eventually told my story, trusting the story would not go further than her closed doors.
I remember during my first graduate school interview I cried twice. They ask you very personal questions when you are applying to a marriage and family therapy program. At first, I had no perspective and actually thought that I had done well in the interview. It was only weeks later after I had received the rejection letter that I realised I should have treated it like a professional job interview.
On the third grad school interview, I nailed it and got accepted into a program. Only to discover many months later that this is not the right career path for me at this time in my life. The stress was monumental and the material we were studying was triggering. I had two mental health emergencies whence I was suicidal within the first semester alone.
I’ve Been There
I get what it’s like to have post-traumatic stress symptoms topped with a heavy layer of severe depression. I have been there. When I hear of someone who is experiencing emotional pain, I have a lot of empathy. If it’s a close friend I will go out of my way to help them. But that is only possible because I am stronger now. I have been to the bottom of that abyss and fought my way back to the world of the living.
If someone tells me they are feeling suicidal I’m pretty sure I know the right things to say in order to support them. I listen and validate their pain. I make no assumptions and ask them how I can be of help. I verify that they are safe.
I wish everyone knew to do these things. I wish that police officers had more training in mental health emergency situations. I will never forget the time I was thrown face first against the hood of a police car whilst they put handcuffs on me after I had called the suicide hotline. I ended up with scrapes and bruises from that incident and I felt as if I had been wronged. I used to joke about being familiar with the inside of ambulances and with the back seats of police cars. Thank God for my recovery and that I will never have to experience those things again first hand.
What It’s Like Now
When I am asked by a prospective dating partner about my past relationships, it’s still very difficult to not say too much. I try to stop at “he wasn’t a very nice person,” but sometimes I slip up and say more than that. But I am constantly getting better. With each day my strength increases. If you look at how I was doing last year compared to now, I have made huge strides forward.
Some of my recovery seems miraculous, however, it was nothing but hard work. I still have really bad days, like last Friday when I drew a stick figure hanging by its neck from a pole. But I now have more discernment and I am able to restrain myself from acting on my immediate impulses. I realize now that when I feel suicidal it’s because something happened which made me very angry. And then I have to figure out what that something was. Not everyone needs to know the details of my trauma and I think I will keep it that way for now.