PTSD

I’m really good in the moment.   I stay focused, listen hard, respond clearly, look calm and centred.

It’s afterwards that the stress just pounds me hard, leaving me with symptoms like a huge headache and a need to go into the silence.

I had to call in a complaint to a beverage company today, and while I was fine on the call, the stress after just got me slammed.   The recovery was hard and long, even for something so simple.

It’s an acute awareness of the cost of that aftershock that leads me to avoid getting into situations that it would be better if I just handled in the first place.  The avoidance ripples down, adding to the price and adding to the avoidance.

This isn’t the way that people like to thinks anxiety works.   If you do it and it comes out well, then you should feel more confident, more capable, right?   Learning that success is possible should help ease anxiety, right, rather than just adding to it.

For me, that’s not the way it works.   Open up that deep pool of lived anxiety, the powerful emotions that I had to learn to perform over, and it’s open.  I am alone with my feelings again just like I learned to be so very long ago.

Sharing those feelings is possible, but without effective mirroring of those feelings, well, deep healing is very hard.   No matter how elegantly I explain them, the trauma and stress of my life are not eased until I can feel a human touch of understanding, compassion and love.

I am powerful in battle, appearing above the fray, acting with grace and almost instant deliberation, but only I know what kind of a cost that presence costs me.  Other people just can’t imagine the work I do inside and when I try to explain, they quickly shut down and move away, not wanting to engage depths I go to.

Compartmentalizing is something I can do, performing the leader, but not feeling the powerful and buried emotions that flow through my own femme heart is beyond my capabilities.  That energy looks scary on me, big and bright and sharp and queer, so people step back, believing that I should just be left to handle it on my own, be left to be the tough and durable guy.

Inside though, I know how tender I am, how tender I have had to be to care with compassion for those who are not able to manage their own healing.   They are having enough challenge engaging their own emotions, so adding mine to their burden would be just counterproductive.

There was never a time when I could rely on anyone else to be safe and understanding, giving me space and kindness to just let me be, feeling my own gut.   Instead, I had to learn to deny my instincts so as not to inflame or engage others, had to use internalized shame & discipline to keep my heart under almost absolute control.

I know that I am not allowed to show my hurt or disappointment because others will see me as being judgmental and nasty.  Instead, as concierge, I have to turn the other cheek and patch up any damage when I am finally alone.

People often feel entitled to act out against the smart, the queer, the men, projecting their own pain, fear, rage and frustration onto the phobogenic objects they identify as causing their pain.   They have an expectation that somehow, we are supposed to manage their feelings, even though those feelings are only inside of them, only rooted in their own unhealed spaces.

Without networks to discharge and heal the traumatic effects of being acted out upon, to understand, encourage and affirm, those injuries tend to add up.  Getting only the response of “Well, you screwed up by asking too much, by being too big and too queer, by not being normal,” only adds to insult, deepening the pain.

It’s lovely to think that just getting out, facing tough situations and surviving them will somehow make me stronger, getting over the profound anxiety in my heart.

My anxiety, though doesn’t come from some nice rational place where I can just get a more clear understanding to get over it.   Rather, it comes from a lifetime of emotional trauma, comes from someplace far below smart logic.

Learning how to use the force of willpower to overcome those feelings was very much a triumph for me.   My intellect was able to keep me going in situations when others would have crumpled.

Having other people understand and value that enormous effort, though, was almost impossible.  Instead, they just told me that I should have done more, that whatever I could muster was not enough and I failed by not coming closer to their idea of perfection.  If I could do what I did, they thought, then surely I could do more, right?

My skills though, like everyone’s skills, are jagged.  Just because I can do something you find hard doesn’t mean that I can do something you find easy.   Holding me to that kind of standard is erasing my humanity in the cause of you finding an easy way to avoid doing the hard work of being there for me.

I know how use willpower to keep down my feelings, but I also know that willpower is a finite resource.   Use it up and it is gone.

Even if it isn’t totally gone, the thought of having to climb back into that suit of mental armour at my age, well, it sounds like entering another realm of hell.   Maybe, if doing it lead me to success and then objective rationality helped ease my anxiety by easing the toxic aftereffects of engagement in hard situations, doing that exposure work would have benefits, but in my experience, even success doesn’t help me avoid the deep pain after anxiety.

It’s not failure that I fear, rather it is the cost after having to get in another fight with people who don’t understand or respect me that is what I so want to avoid. Win or lose, the fight has a price on my skin.

I am battered and tattered after a lifetime of battles, mostly sacred battles that I poured my love into.  Healing has been almost impossible to find, no matter how much I do the therapy to understand, to share myself and my journey.

People want me to get over this anxiety, to go back and engage the world.  They hope if I understand success is possible if I am just willing to fight harder for it, I will come out and enter the bigger world.

They are right, of course.   If I just fight for it, I have the smarts and skills to win, maybe not what I want, but some of what I need.

The cost of a lifetime of fights informs my deep, anxious desire to fight anymore, though.   I don’t see a win worth fighting for that is as important as giving my parents one more good day, just don’t see a place where I others will stand beside me and we can fight together.

I tried to learn new ways to approach the world without armour, depending on charm and grace instead, but my performance coach saw himself as a life coach and decided that he wanted to teach me to stand up and fight for myself.  This was highly counterproductive.  Learning to trust new ways of being public at my age and my size without benefit of effective support and feedback is well neigh impossible.   Conscious vulnerability is much harder to teach than a bit of deeper analysis.

Now, though, my headache from just battling with the courteous soda rep still tightens my skull, and that was an easy & simple battle, I know.    How or why should I endure bigger ones?

Life may not be life without a fight, but the cost of a lifetime of battles is high.   It’s after the trauma that the costs, at least for me, come due.

I started early and fought alone.

That took a toll.

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One thought on “PTSD”

  1. A response to a private comment:

    Performance Guy, with his life coach hat on, always wanted to talk about goals, about things that could be “checked off the list” as you say.

    Last time I saw him, though, he told me about a new exercise for his improv performers where after a scene they went back to look at the meta in it, the motivations and subtexts and such, admitting that this view came from his work with me.

    There is a psychological concept called “latent inhibition,” which means that after the event (latent) you inhibit the feelings, sloughing them off rather than coding them into meaning, so you are ready to go back and do it again. It is this latent inhibition that most people use to attack the same coal face day after day. We are used to what we are used to so it doesn’t add to the burden.

    The clinicians know that people with “low latent inhibition” are the ones most likely to suffer mental stress, but they also know that they are the people most likely to make art, to reflect on and express the human condition. We, like Shaw’s tailor, measure again everytime rather than just repeating the expected.

    For people with high latent inhibition, taking action is just getting something on the list.

    For people with low latent inhibition, taking action is writing a new paragraph to the story, adding something to the experience we carry with us, to the burden we carry and the knowledge we have collected.

    Tomorrow AM is my doctor appt. Always something in the future that brings up stories in the past that were not so good, but that those of us programmed to be the memory of humanity, exposing patterns — the ones with low latent inhibition — that are “heavy.”

    Those who do not remember history, though, are doomed to repeat it. How would we as a society ever find healing without the historians and analysts, those who don’t “Just Do It!” but remember it for the future?

    Thanks for your comment.

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