Monday, August 17, 2015

Reframing the Situation

I talk a lot about "reframing a situation." It's when you take what looks like a really shitty situation and change your perspective. Sometimes that's really the only thing within your power to change. You can't change the facts of the situation, right? But you can change how you SEE the situation.

Today I had an unfortunate online encounter. The specifics aren't important, other than to say that at one point over 125 people were calling me a cunt, a bitch, a twatwaffle. Telling me I should suck a dick or that I should die. All because I raised an objection to a turn of phrase and its possible negative implications regarding mental health. Umm, I'm a mental health advocate. That's what I do.

But the fact that I was being "picked on" isn't the point. I'm a big girl; I can handle myself. But going through this today made me understand a lot better how it must feel to be on the receiving end of bullying in middle school or high school. Prior to this, I'd thought that the solution was to just turn off social media. But it's not that simple. Yes, after today, I tightened up my personal FB page (not this one). But that's not really a viable solution, especially for kids today. Hell, it's not even really viable for me, since we run the charity online. How could I get rid of my FB, and still maintain our page? I couldn't. I certainly couldn't see a teenager foregoing all types of social media. And honestly, they shouldn't have to. The blame lies with the bullies, not the bullied.

But here's the thing. I dealt with it today. Just for a few hours. Yes, it felt like crap to have my weight and my writing criticized. To have my work with the charity, my own PTSD diagnosis and my service to my country questioned. But it was just today. It's highly unlikely that this will still be a "thing" in a couple more days. But HS kids? They sink their teeth into a victim and they don't let go. The pack mentality is even stronger in teens, as they struggle with social hierarchies and shaping their identities. Yeah, I know I'm not a size 4 anymore (thanks PTSD meds). But while it hurts that literally dozens of people called me fat, I'm not crushed by it. The fact that these twerps chose ad hominem attacks simply proves that they had no actual argument based in fact -- so they resorted to name calling. I know this, but that's NOT how teen victims are thinking about the scenario. Rather, they actually start to believe that they are fat, stupid, dumb, worthless. And this goes on relentlessly for weeks, months, years even. That's a LOT to ask a kid to endure, especially with limited support. I vented to some friends. I actually had some of them stand up for me on the site this happened on. But kids tend to keep this stuff a secret. Is it really a wonder when they turn to self-destructive behaviors or suicide?

So here's my point. I didn't write this to air my dirty laundry, or to garner sympathy. I wrote it because this actually turned into a great "reframing" experience. I started thinking about how I felt dealing with this today, and ended up thinking about how awful it must be to be a teenaged bullying victim. This experience has made me more sympathetic and more understanding -- and more committed to standing up for those who are voiceless. I'd been minimizing the situation, and putting some of the onus on the victim, not the perpetrator. I hadn't been doing justice to the enormity of the experience of those who are bullied.  I will in the future because of today.

So to all those people whose goal it was to upset me or make me feel bad about myself, I owe you a thanks. All you did was open my eyes and make me *more* understanding -- and provide fodder for this blog post.

And this is how you learn to reframe situations. :-)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Awww, Nuts! People Just Don't Get PTSD

I know this is long but it's worth the read -- at least I think so.

Why, oh why, is Erin posting a blog about food allergies? Because contained within this blog post about a child's nearly fatal peanut allergy (which is very long and very moving) there was the following line:

"It’s going to be a long time before I’m over this, if ever, really. I spent the next week feeling like I had post traumatic stress disorder and I was the one that caused the trauma."
I can't possibly imagine what it's like to live with a serious food allergy. My Godson is severely allergic to fish (both shellfish and fin fish) and I've watched my best friend of 20 years religiously carry an EpiPen. I've seen her examine food and relentlessly question waiters at restaurants. I've watched my Godson burst into tears because he couldn't have something to eat at a party. He was terrified of going to my daughter's Sweet Sixteen because she wanted to hold it at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. And I watched his mother breathe a sigh of relief when we realized her party would be when he was at sleepover camp. Not only would he not be upset but his mom could actually have seafood for once without feeling guilty.

I do have a life-threatening allergy but it's to a medication, not a food. So I don't have to be quite so vigilant. But I do have to read the labels of seemingly innocuous items like eye drops and stomach medications because sometimes they sneak in small amounts of the (usually prescription) medication into over-the-counter drugs. Even touching a tablet causes swelling, itching and my throat will close up. When I worked in the pharmacy I had to carry Benadryl with me because we stocked several versions of the medication. I even got written up once for refusing to handle the drug. But a trip to the ER wasn't worth making my boss happy.

So I do, to some extent, understand how dangerous the situation is. But as my immediate family is food allergy free, I don't *really* get it. I'm never going to be in this mom's situation.

But just like I can't fully understand her situation, she can NOT understand what it's like to have PTSD, and her comment is insulting and ignorant.

I absolutely bet that this incident was traumatic for her whole family. I bet she was hypervigilant and sleepless. I bet she had a whole cartload of guilt over what happened.

But let me absolutely clear about something: having a couple of symptoms of post-traumatic stress for a week is NOT the same as having PTSD.

I would imagine that this mom routinely encounters people who innocently make off-the-cuff remarks that come across as insensitive, patronizing or otherwise offensive because of her son's health condition. Unfortunately, her comment about PTSD comes off the exact same way to someone with PTSD. A week of a few symptoms isn't PTSD. Heck, you can't even get a diagnosis of PTSD unless those symptoms have lasted more than a month. Until then, it's acute stress disorder.

I'd LOVE to only have to deal with my symptoms for a week -- just like I'm sure she would love to only deal with her son's food allergies for a single week.

This is what PTSD looks like for me:
* Nine medications (up to 19 tablets a day) to deal with my disorder.
* Side effects from those nine medications, which include extremity numbness, severe weight fluctuation, sun sensitivity, rhabdomyolysis (which attacked my cardiac muscles), dry mouth to the point that I went from NO cavities to nearly a dozen in six months.
* Night terrors that are so bad I have sprained my ankle, fallen out of bed, bruised my arms, and choked myself in my sleep.
* Hyper-vigilance, paranoia, unbridled aggression toward people I love.
* The inability to work or drive a car.
* The countless visits to neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and ERs
* The loss of friends and family because "can't deal" and who think "it's all in my head' and that I could "get better if I wanted to."
* Guilt and shame.
*The loss of sense of self.
* The loss of independence.
* Being constantly afraid.
* Being unable to sleep in my own bed for over a year.
* Spilling coffee on myself because a car backfired.
* Cowering in my seat at a baseball game because I didn't realize there would be fireworks.
* Wondering which is worse: the flashback or the embarrassment of freezing on the sidewalk, shaking and crying, and having everyone stare at you like you’re a freak.

This is what PTSD looks like EVERY DAY for me, and for others who suffer from it. It’s not going away in a week or a month or a year.

So comparing a week of post-traumatic stress symptoms to actually having PTSD would be like me comparing that one time when my ice cream didn't agree with my tummy to severe, life-threatening food allergies. It's NOT the same thing. It's not even in the same universe.

I get that this mom wanted to convey how serious food allergies are. But in doing so, she severely diminished what PTSD really is.

And this mentality is part of the reason I so strenuously object to dropping the "D" in PTSD. Having stress post-trauma is common. Developing PTSD isn't. A handful of nightmares and some hyper-vigilance is post-traumatic stress. It is not post-traumatic stress disorder. So casually labeling normal reactions as the same as a severe, disabling mental health condition does a grave injustice to those who have PTSD.

I get that PTSD is entering our language and our culture more and more. And that's a good thing. We desperately need to have these conversations. But talking about it like it's a condition that can develop from a bad waxing experience (no, I'm not kidding -- I wrote about that debacle a few months ago on my FB page) or that having a couple symptoms for a few days is analogous to actually having the full-blown disorder (one that claims the life of over 20 Veterans a day) only promulgates the myth that PTSD isn't really a big deal.

It is. It's hell.

Just ask any of us who actually have it, not those who just feel like they had it for a week.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Way the Cookie Crumbles

It was just a stupid, harmless BuzzFeed quiz. What cookie matches my personality type? Hey, this is what I do when I'm plagued by insomnia. But the thing is, nothing is ever really harmless when you have PTSD. Triggers lurk in the most random places. I'm pretty aware of the obvious places to be on the lookout for them but if it were that simple, triggers wouldn't be so incredibly devastating. It's the sneaky ones that really get you. And so no, I was not prepared for the "what is your darkest secret" question on this stupid cookie quiz. Because who in their right mind actually thinks putting "I killed a man" as an answer option is a good idea? Who's taking this quiz? Hired guns for the mafia and members of the Bloods and Crips? I mean Jesus. I guess it was supposed to be a joke but it's just not funny. At least not for me. There's a LOT of things I don't find funny anymore.

I mean I still slip up, because the other day, in the presence of a PTSD suicide widow, the phrase "I want to kill myself" slipped out. (Way to completely suck.) So I guess I can't really be too mad at the rest of the world for being a giant ball of triggers when I can on occasion be just as oblivious -- and I KNOW better. I just wish that this wasn't so hard sometimes. I wish that there were caution signs or something alerting you to what was coming. It's just really freaking hard when the triggers pop out of no where and something that rest of of the world finds funny sends you straight back into the middle of the absolute worst day of your life. And NO one understands why, when everyone else is laughing, you're just trying to breathe and no completely lose your shit.

This, this would make my life SO much better. (Yeah, I get that it's completely impossible.)

Oh and by the way, I was a peanut butter cookie, which I don't even really like, and totally isn't a good match to my personality.

"You got: Peanut Butter Cookie
You’re chill as heck, dude. Nobody knows how to hang like you do. Hey, who’s bringing the brewskis? Oh, that’s right, it’s you. Way to be."

I mean, I realize that the DSM-5 reclassified PTSD and it's no longer considered an "anxiety" disorder, but we do all understand how PTSD WORKS right? I will never be "chill." And "hanging" isn't my thing. (Let's bring on a heaping plateful o' anxiety with a side order of Xanax to go along with that peanut butter cookie.) And my friends would never, ever, ever use the term "dude" when referring to me. Yuck. I like my grammar neat and tidy and proper -- even in a blog.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I Want to Live

So I just finished watching the Oscars. As I've stated before, I don't watch movies much any more, certainly not in theatres -- the potential for a triggering episode is far too great. But I love the glitz and the glamour and fancy dresses so every year my daughter and I watch the Oscars. This year we were especially pulling for Frozen to win for Best Animated Film and Best Song -- and it did. Yay! I'd read about several of the other nominated films (I was very happy to see The Lady in Number 6 win Best Documentary Short Subject) but the sum total of my movie-going this year was to see Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, City of Bones and Frozen. (This was actually WAY more movies than usual and every one was seen with house guests; we had LOTS of visitors over the summer!) Animated films tend to be "safe" for me -- and I have a child and Godson that were clamoring to go to the movies.

Even films I desperately wanted to see, like Gatsby, I didn't see in the theatre. In the case of Gatsby I *knew* there was a horrific fatal car wreck because I've read the novel several times, after all, I'm a Long Island girl. I did eventually buy Gatsby and watch it in the safety of my own home, secure in the knowledge that at least I knew when the crash was coming and it wouldn't sneak up on me. That's the worst, the being caught completely unaware, like I was that day. The costumes were fabulous, Catherine Martin totally deserved her win. The score was also amazing, in my opinion, but wasn't even nominated. Gravity won; the film seemed to be picking up all sorts of awards tonight which is weird -- I don't think it would have been on my list of films to see even if movie theatres didn't terrify me.

Anyway, the actual *point* of this post was that while the award darling of tonight's Oscars was Gravity, the critically acclaimed movie going into tonight's show was 12 Years a Slave. Definitely not something I saw. I can't do violence or bloodshed. It makes me sick now. But it was *the* film everyone was buzzing about and it won for Best Picture, so eventually I will probably try and see it as I have on my Bucket List to view every Best Picture film. During the acceptance speech, Steve McQueen said that the film's message and the hero's legacy was the following:

       "Everyone deserves not just to survive but to live..."

That is so very true when it comes to everyone who has been through a trauma. We spend so much time just trying to survive, we forget what it's like to actually live. We don't have the time, the energy, the patience for it. We are so focused on just making it from this moment to the next moment. For us the concept of one day at a time can be overwhelming. It's one hour at a time, one moment. Let me just get through this very moment without exploding, without having a panic attack, without lashing out, without reacting inappropriately, without screaming, without doing something that is going to make someone look at me, judge me, say something to me. Let me just be invisible. It takes so much effort. I don't have time to enjoy a good meal or a good book or a board game with my child or a stroll with my significant other. Hell, I don't have time to cultivate a relationship with someone I can call a significant other. That's not living. That's eking out a survival. I don't want to survive; I want to live.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

She Just Didn't Know

I live in Buffalo, where winter pretty much extends from October through April. Once the snow and ice come, they pretty much never really disappear. In the past five years, I've learned to deal with this interminably long season, and even found some things to love about it -- like thundersnow. So it's fair to say that driving in Buffalo is an acquired skill, and it's a skill that I haven't acquired, because I haven't driven since my trauma. My friends know this, in part because sometimes they have to drag me places that our bus system doesn't service, but most strangers don't. It's not like I introduce myself by going up to them and saying "Hi, my name is Erin, I have PTSD and I don't drive because of my trauma." Trust me, PTSD makes it hard enough for me to make friends. I'd rather not throw potential new friends in the deep end of the pool right away.

Anyway, I was at an event on Saturday, and as I was leaving, someone said to me "It's a mess outside. Be careful on your way home; you don't want to kill someone."

It's hard to describe what it actually feels like when the entire world comes slamming to a standstill, brought down by an innocent turn of phrase. That's all it was to her, a casual expression. But for me, it was trauma and trigger and accusation and condemnation all rolled into one. Because you see, I was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident. It truly was an accident. There was no drinking, no speeding, no talking on my phone. I wasn't trying to sip a soda and change my radio station. I wasn't yelling at my kid in the back seat or trying to apply another coat of lipstick when this all happened. I was just driving. And there was a pedestrian, who wasn't visible, because of where he was, and then it was too late. The human body is not designed to withstand the impact of a car traveling 55mph on a highway.

So for me, "you don't want to kill someone" will never be six little words -- an innocent, meaningless expression. It will be a series of horrible images and sounds: a single shoe lying in the road; bits of yarn tangled in the grill of my car; an ever-widening pool of blood shining in the sun; the whir of the helicopter blades and the wail of the sirens; the screams of family members when they arrived on scene.

But she just didn't know any of that. So I walked outside, gulping in air, trying to calm down, praying I wouldn't start flashing back and actually seeing the accident replay on the street in front of me, re-experiencing the sirens, feeling the gravel bite into my face when I fell, shaking from shock. Eventually I made my way home, courtesy of the aforementioned public bus system.

It's strange. I live with this accident every minute of every day. It is constantly on my mind. I don't go for more than a few minutes without having a discrete thought about it, and that includes while I am sleeping. But when it comes out of nowhere like that, it still has the ability to eviscerate me, even after all this time. It hurts like hell.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Frozen with Fear

It's strange that once you have PTSD, you see it, or at least its potential, everywhere. After the Sandy Hook shooting and after the Boston marathon bombing I had the same thoughts as everyone else: shock, horror, loss, sympathy. But like most other people who have PTSD, I also had another thought: how many of those little kids, how many of those runners, how many of those bystanders, how many of those paramedics, how many of those cops? How many of them were going to end up with PTSD? And as the anniversary of Sandy Hook rolled around, we started to see that not only were there diagnoses of PTSD, but that they were the negative consequences and misunderstandings that so often accompany the diagnosis.

Perhaps after such a large-scale tragedy as Sandy Hook or the Boston Marathon, you would say that is was "normal" or "understandable" for someone with PTSD to feel especially upset or to see parallels between that tragedy and their own. But PTSD doesn't work that way. It's not a fair opponent that obeys agreed-upon rules of engagement. It's a sneaky, patently unfair enemy that strikes whenever and wherever it wants, reminding you just how different you are from everyone else.

I recently took my daughter to see Disney's Frozen with some friends. This trip to the movies was a rare treat. You see, I don't do movie theaters. One of my worst triggers is car crash scenes, and I can't guarantee that I won't see one in a movie. Accidentally watching one in the privacy of my own home, on a 40" TV is one thing; watching one happen larger-than-life in front of a bunch of strangers is Hell on Earth. But since Frozen takes place before cars were even invented, I figured I'd be safe. So after hiding out until the previews were over (because you can never know what the previews have in store and even animated cars crashing or tires squealing freak me the heck out), I settled in to watch Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf do their thing in the frozen wonderland of Arendelle.

I don't want to give away the movie but let's just say Elsa doesn't have an easy life. She's a bit of a freak and she's probably traumatized her sister more than a just a little bit. So anyway, partway through the movie Elsa has had enough and she goes running off because she doesn't want to hurt anyone anymore.
And then Elsa starts singing.


"A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I'm the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn't keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don't let them in, don't let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know.
Well, now they know!"

And suddenly my PTSD reared up in the middle of the movie theater. I wasn't having a panic attack, but I wasn't enjoying the movie any more either because all I could think about was how much Elsa's words sounded like a description of someone with PTSD. You see it everywhere, that pesky PTSD specter. If you take a look at the discussion of the meaning of Elsa's song on Metro Lyrics you'll see that there's all sorts of supposition and speculation as to what she's singing about. And I learned a long time ago (thank you very much Mrs. Shay) that art is a relationship between the creator and the consumer. So it depends on perspective. But that's kind of my point. PTSD changes your perspective; it IS your perspective. So I can't see anything without being shaped and shaded by a single experience five years ago.

And so when I hear those words, what I hear is the struggle of every person with PTSD who is isolated by their disorder, struggling to appear "normal" to their friends and family, because honestly, our friends and family would rather we just "get better already" -- as if that isn't what we want too?

It's sort of ironic
. The only thing that scares me more than some of my triggers is people's reactions. I can have a full-blown panic attack and most people won't even be aware of it. I generally don't scream or fall to the floor or do too many very noticeable things. I have a couple of "tells," depending on what trigger set me off. If it's a siren, I'll cover my ears. If it's car-related, I'm liable to do this weird gesture with my left hand that results in my eyes being covered. But you'll be hard-pressed to really noticed my rapid breathing, my shaking, my staring off into space or any of that stuff. I still look pretty "normal." My daughter is pretty much the only one who can tell with fair regularity that I'm in the midst of an attack.

Sometimes I think that's a good thing. I don't like calling attention to myself when I'm in the middle of a crisis. A couple of times it HAS happened, and it's been hugely embarrassing. I spilled tea on myself on one occasion and this woman actually got out of her car and asked if I needed help. Another time, I was in such bad shape I was clinging to a mailbox, retching. In that case, people just thought I was sick.

But on the other hand, I wonder if somehow I'm doing myself some sort of disservice. If I actually let these attacks be seen for what they are, and all they did to me; if I stopped trying to mitigate them and minimize them, maybe the people around me would stop diminishing my disorder so much. This isn't just me being "a little scared of a siren." This is me being frozen with fear, actually seeing a completely different scene overlaid on top of what everyone else sees, where every bad thing that could possibly happen, IS happening. Where the dog DOES go off his leash and run into the street. Where the guy DOES open his car door into traffic. Where the little girl DOES let go of her mom's hand. Where the car DOES take that corner too fast. I *know* none of it is happening; I'm not hallucinating. But both of these situations are happening, existing side by side, and part of me gets terrified by the part that ends in a bloody carnage. That's what I see EVERY TIME I go outside. EVERY TIME.

So maybe once and a while I should let some people into my world instead of just trembling and saying "I'll be fine."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Be a Friend; Be a Super Hero

This Visa commercial reminded me today that I have always been a writer. You see, my very first "book" was about Amelia Earhart. I wrote it in third grade. And I have been writing ever since: stories, poems, plays, essays.

So when I was involved in a fatal accident and developed PTSD, I wrote very clearly -- or so I thought -- and begged my family and friends to be patient with me as I navigated the aftermath of the accident. I still have the the message I sent out to all my friends via Facebook, saved as note. It read, in part: "I will need, now more than ever, the love and support of my friends and family. I am a strong girl, but I don't really know how well I am going to be able to get through this. Again, I appreciate everyone's concern, but please, if you pray for me, pray for this man's family before you pray for me. And then pray for his family again after you pray for me. My love and thanks to all of you, my dear friends."

And then two months later, I wrote this: "This is an open note of sorts to my friends and loved ones. It's been two months since the accident. Everyone keeps telling me that I need to "get over this" and move on. Well, I can't right now, and I need everyone to understand that. What happened isn't just something to "get over" like it's not a big deal. What happened was life changing. I am having a really hard time dealing with all of this. Nothing is helping -- not the medication, not going back to work, not therapy. Nothing is working and I don't know what else to do. I don't know how to just "get better." There isn't a switch that I can just flip and suddenly I'm the mother, daughter, girl friend, co-worker, friend I was before the accident. It doesn't work that way and I NEED everyone to understand that. I also need everyone to stop telling me that I'm ready to start driving again. I KNOW that me not driving is inconveniencing everyone, and I feel bad about that, but the last thing I need right now is more guilt and pressure.

So please, if everyone could just believe that I am doing the absolute best that I can, I would appreciate it. I'm sorry if my best right now isn't matching up to some standard that you guys have in your head about how I ought to be coping with this. I know you all are used to me being the strong one who can get through anything. Well, I've had enough. I can't take anymore right now. It's hard enough doing the simple things like getting out of bed and going to work; the last thing I need are well-meaning people telling me to "get back in the saddle again."

I know you guys are worried about me, and I appreciate it. Hell, I'm worried about me too. But this is my battle, my journey, and I need to do it in the way that makes me feel most comfortable and safe. And if that doesn't align with your expectations, I'm sorry. But I'm doing the best that I can. If that's not good enough for you all, I really don't know what else to tell you

And I wrote another letter on the one year anniversary. And another letter in April 2010 after a particularly harrowing incident caused a tremendous amount of trouble and general unpleasantness within my circle of friends. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I wrote so much that I even ended up writing a front-page article for my college paper, which was nominated for an award and which you can find here if you want to read it.

Every word I wrote was BEGGING my friends and family for understanding that recovering was the absolutely hardest, most difficult, painful thing I had ever done. And none of the tens of thousands of words, not even the most painful ones that I struggled with, the ones that reduced me to tears, the ones that made me nauseous and made the nightmares worse, none of those words mattered.

They didn't get it. They were just words.

I still write (obviously) but what I've realized is that much like with my PTSD itself, my friends and family needed time. Over the holidays I received a message from a dear friend, someone that I've known for nearly a decade. He'd heard a radio program that was dealing with people's personalities changing after accidents. So he wrote to me:

It got me thinking about you. I will admit up front, I'm very awkward at dealing with unpleasant circumstances. I think there are some people who are naturally comforting and can handle situations with grace. I am not one of those people. I feel like anything I say is just not the right thing -- either it's too cliché or comes out wrong. So, I usually stay quiet.
Anyway, back to the point. I know you went through something terrible, and I don't think I've ever truly understood how it affected you. And then I heard the people on the radio talking, and I started to think about you and tried to understand better what you've been through.
And I think I succeeded. Please note that I use the relative term "better." I don't think there's any way I could entirely understand, but I feel (all this time later) I have more insight into your perspective. This has made me regret not thinking about this earlier. I feel that, as a friend, I could have done more or been more supportive (not that I was ever NON-supportive, but you know what I mean).
That being said, I cannot change the past. However, I can modify my future actions. I hope to continue staying in touch with you...Just like my own relationship with my PTSD is constantly evolving, the way that my friends and family learn to navigate it evolves as well. I've also learned to be more proactive and more open about what I need and how I need it.

But the biggest thing I learned and the thing I absolutely could NOT see when I was in the deepest part of my own personal Hell was that while this was absolutely MY trauma, it didn't just affect me. It affected everyone around me. And as Lisabeth Saunders Medlock writes, "Having someone close to you experience trauma or tragedy should be an opportunity for you to learn and grow." But that growth takes time. If I didn't know how to navigate what was happening to me, inside of me, how could I fairly expect others to? Except I wasn't operating in a world of fair at that point. Some days I still don't. I was operating in a vacuum of rage and pain and I didn't give a shit about fair. I just wanted people -- my friends and family -- to please dear God make the pain stop, why weren't they making it go away? Do something, do anything just make it stop hurting. But they didn't know how.

Now they are learning along with me -- and I appreciate it. It's not perfect. Sometimes they forget, because at the end of the day this is MY trauma, not theirs and so the world spins madly on, despite the fact that I often feel like it's ground to a halt. So they may not remember that sirens make me jump or that I literally see the world differently than they do. But I DO have friends that at least remember some things, like my friend who remembers to grab my hand before we cross the busy streets of Manhattan because he knows they petrify me now or my other friend who took me to the movies and then pulled me close when a preview showed a car wreck and squeezed my hand til it was done.

So here's the thing you can learn if you have someone in your life who's going through some sort of unimaginable trauma, be it chronic/terminal illness, loss of a loved one, trauma or some other generally terrible, horrible thing. You don't need a cape to be a super hero. Just set aside that vague feeling of uncomfortableness. I get it, it's there, just acknowledge that grief is messy and move forward. Let that be your gift. You don't have to know what to do beyond that. Just be present. Be there for your friend. It's not really that hard to continue to be a friend. It doesn't actually require YOU to be a different person. It just requires you to be steadfast -- and compassionate. It doesn't ask you to be understanding, because chances are you won't understand. I only know ONE person who actually "understands" how I feel, and it sucks, cause she's a really great girl and I wish to hell she DIDN'T understand, cause I wish she'd never gone through what I went through.

Just be there. The rest will unfold. It won't be seamless. You'll mess up. Say dumb stuff. Hell, my own grandmother still tries to toss me the car keys sometimes. But the screw-ups won't matter. The little gaffes aren't what's going to further traumatize your already delicate, injured, fragile friend. What's going to crush them, what might even kill them, is feeling misunderstood and abandoned -- like some freak that that's been shunned. Don't do that to your friend. Don't compound the tragedy.

Having someone in your life who's dealing with trauma can challenge you. Don't walk away from that challenge. Don't say it's "too hard" or "too draining" or "too whatever." That "whatever" can help you grow. It can make you a better person, let alone what it can do for the person who's experienced the trauma.