Monday, May 25, 2009

PTSD Symptoms: Educating Partners About What To Expect

It’s a holiday today, so John and I stayed up late last night watching a movie, taking Baylee for a post-midnight walk and then flopping on the bed for a long, lazy talk. I love those evenings when I can lie against John's chest and we are just still for a while.

I wasn’t always able to do this sort of thing, relax with my partner. I was too antsy to sit at home and watch a movie, too agitated to be lazy, and faking my entire identity too much to allow anyone to get close.

With John it’s different. I’m comfortable and open and able to sink into the peace of any moment. OK, part of it has to do with him: For the first time I’ve chosen wisely in a partner. John has a calming presence. He's very Zen, practical, philosophical and steady. I feel safe with him - physically, mentally and emotionally.

The other aspect is that from the very beginning I’ve chosen to be myself with John. When we met, I was right at the beginning of healing my PTSD. I didn’t sleep much. I was strung out, depressed, anxious – you know the drill. Normally, I don’t tell my partners about my psychological issues. It’s a lot to throw at someone and for years I didn’t know there was a name for what was wrong with me, so I didn’t have anything to explain. I just was that way.

However, from the time I met John I decided to be up front with him about my PTSD journey. I told him right away I was dealing with some heavy stuff. He’s kind and compassionate and empathetic; I felt I could trust him with my struggle. I was right.

Letting John in on the secret allowed me a great deal of freedom: I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I was, instead, able to be completely real and not sap extra energy putting up a front. When I had a nightmare, John understood why and just held me more tightly. When I couldn’t sleep he wrapped around me and put his palm on my forehead, which for some reason calms me instantly. When I was depressed he knew to be quiet, hold my hand and let me find my way.

There’s a big benefit to full disclosure about PTSD: if you’re in a relationship with the right kind of person this sort of teamwork builds and strengthens a partnership. Recently, I asked, What did you think when I told you about PTSD? John paused for a second, shrugged, and said, I thought there was more to you than that.

I’ve been thinking lately, as we come to the end of this month of considering how we educate others about PTSD, that while we have to be careful and choose our confidences wisely, if we are truthful, this helps us live honestly and in the moment. Healing comes when we are more, not less, of our real selves.

(Photo: Bob Murray)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that

Kristen said...

I am so happy you have found someone who understands your struggle. I suffer from Depression myself and there is nothing more important than having the support of those you love. I found a book that may help you. It's called No Open Wounds-Heal Traumatic Stress Now. This book presents beautifully and illustratively over 20 years of the author’s experience to assist you in closing your “open wounds”.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@kristen - Thanks for the book recommendation! I added it to the resource page on the blog, and also to the 'Recommended Reading' page on the Heal My PTSD, LLC, web site.

Ellen said...

So can you send John over to my house once you're finished with him Michelle? :-)

I totally relate about the painful false front and the relief of starting to be our true selves. I'm starting to make some new friends and my main criteria is that they don't freak out if I share a bit about what life is really like for me. It's more important to me at the moment than having similar interests or backgrounds.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Ellen -- Wellllll. I don't know when I'll let him go! Not yet, anyway. And he's a fabulous dancer, too. :)

I love what you wrote about the criteria for choosing friends. I think we should all approach new people that way! Would lead to more healthy relationships all around.

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