On PTSD: An Update

I love that as a society, we’re more open and honest about sharing the mental illnesses that are impacting our lives. There’s a certain strangeness, though, that I also wonder about.

I love that as a society, we’re more open and honest about sharing the mental illnesses that are impacting our lives. There’s a certain strangeness, though, that I also wonder about. If part one is identifying, and part two is stating it out loud, what is part three? My hope is that it’s “Here’s what I’m doing to try to get better.”

I wish getting better at anything took little time at all. I wish I could dream of an improvement, and make it happen overnight. But that isn’t how behavior works; especially when many of our behaviors are complex. They’re rooted in DNA, patterns we learn from parents, school socialization, tv sitcoms, trauma, and an amalgam of various things.

My entire life I thought I was weird for my behaviors. I had labels of where my clothing went in my dresser. My class schedules were printed and color coded. I was rarely late, hyper organized, and terrified of failure. I hear it isn’t normal to like looking at spreadsheets?

At a counseling session I was talking about my daily routine. For fear of sounding overly type A, I won’t tell you how it goes. But very kindly, she said “In the counseling world, we can this ‘over-functioning'”. At work, my team jokes “Well, I’ll do task X, but probably not as well as Stephanie.” And Del says that sometimes I’m “Just a little extra.”

I like who I am. And my organization, flow charts, and amazing planning skills have gotten me far in life.

When you go through a lot of trauma, over an extended period of time, and experience trauma repeatedly – it changes you.

I could “Let go and let God.” But it’s unfair to say that when as a child I wondered “How did God let this happen?” It feels strange to put so much faith in something that also let that bad thing occur. You’re either omnipotent, or you aren’t – right? Yet, I know the evil that causes trauma is not of God, but of man.

Data is beautiful because it makes the world black and white and simple. And having no marriage or children is easier because it makes the world less complicated. The more things you add the harder everything gets.

There are not enough Bible passages, quips, one liners, or coffee dates to fix a world that feels constantly unsafe.

I once told Del I see all of the world, and I hate it. I can’t go into a room or on a street without scanning for every possibly of danger. I live my life at a 10, in constant fear of every threat. The car that might swerve, the woman who might launch at me. I have a very long list of things I control so I can feel safe.

I wasn’t on guard those few times, and danger struck. So if I am hypervigilant, maybe the world won’t hurt me again? If I’ve learned one thing from society, it’s that the victim gets blamed before the attacker. So I kiss Del and Carly every time they leave; certain one day they won’t come back. A deer will hit the car on a snowy day, and everything I love will be taken away.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted. Life always on edge, afraid of what’s around each corner, is exhausting. And it can sometimes be exhausting for Del, who runs to keep up.

I have, in spite of this overwhelmingly sad few paragraphs, gotten better. Two contradictory things have helped me: the safety of patterns, and a messy family.

Knowing I wake up and go to bed with same pattern, day in and day out, for years – allows me to feel like the world is safe. Yet too much control would drive anymore batty. Carly and Del, are my wonderful opposites. Del and I fight a lot over the fact that he sees the world as safe. And watching Carly, fearless of everything, helps me drop my guard. If they can see this world as safe, so can I.

I can go to bed a little later, eat dinner a little earlier, and have a little extra ice cream. If I work out 55 minutes instead of an hour, the world won’t stop spinning. Little by little I arc towards better. Little by little the world is somewhat safer. Trauma fades, and in it’s place stand a husband holding me tight and a baby grabbing ahold of everything she can.

On being nice…

I had a strange thought whilst walking around the park pondering things to my little self.

In third grade, our teacher (Mrs. Stewart – yes, she had a beehive) gave everyone in the class a list of each other’s names.  Then, we went down the list and wrote two or three nice things about everyone.  For Christmas, she pinned the compliments on little pretend gifts on the bulletin board Christmas tree (yes, back when Christmas trees were street legal in public school).  Our Christmas gifts to each other were compliments.

I remember going to the tree for days and feeling disappointed.  I was sad because all that I wanted was for someone to say that I was beautiful.  I remember other girls getting compliments under the tree about how attractive they were.  One girl was “cute” and another was “pretty.”  However, I was sad when I got to my compliments, because they said that Stephanie Klomsten is “nice” and “smart” and “good at Math.”  I can still remember rolling my eyes.  I kept those compliments for years, staring at them in agony.

Nice, I thought, is a cookie cutter compliment. Grandmothers are nice.

Smart, I thought, did not matter if you didn’t have the looks to go with it.  Ugly people are smart.

Good at Math, I thought, was worthless because no one cares about Math skills (you know, except bankers, and stock brokers, and scientists and EVERYONE).

Today, I take back all of the resentment I had about those compliments.  The thought finally hit me… “What if all of those things are true, and they are good?  What if I really am nice and smart and good at Math?”

So I thought a bit more about it.

Except for a stretch in ninth grade where I was a devil woman and a cruddy phase my junior year of college, I think I am pretty nice.  I like being good to people and helping them.  I care about how other people are doing.  I genuinely want people to be happy.  I am nice.

Perhaps I am smart.  I feel guilty even saying or admitting that.  Like saying you are smart is bad or cocky.  I have been told I am smart quite a lot – at least once or twice a month.  What if… it really is true?  I know there are people smarter than me, I see that.

But on the IQ curve, I am closer to the top than the bottom.  I am smart.

What if I am good at Math?  I feel terrible saying that, like I am bragging.  But I can’t say “It isn’t like I have never been in the top of my class” because I have been in the top.  And I can’t say “It isn’t like I use Math every day of my life and get paid for it” because it wouldn’t be true.  Sure, I am not sending rockets into space, but when I am in Math classes, I do well.  And I do Math every single day of my life.  A few hours ago I sent off a research project with no less than 100 Mathematical equations perfectly presented in a lovely chart.  I am good at Math.

So I take back the resentment.  I take it all back.  Who cares if I am not pretty or beautiful or whatever?

I am Stephanie Klomsten.  And I am nice.  I am smart.  And dang it, I am good at Math.  I can even make you a chart to prove it, well, if you would like one.