Out on a limb

A week ago, I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD with Major Depression. At first, it was a relief. It was clarifying and validating. All these years, decades really, what I have been dealing with is not “normal.” It doesn’t have to be like this forever, and I don’t have to continue to struggle. I thought about sharing the information with everyone right then and there.

Then, the anger and sense of loss of who I “could have been” crept in. The multitude of ways in which my life was scarred over and over by my own, insufficient attempts to deal with the pain swept through my mind. I literally crumpled to the floor in sobs as the weight of this diagnosis took hold. The idea of sharing this information suddenly seemed like too much. I don’t want people’s pity. I don’t want off-handed, well-meaning advice. Lord knows I’ve had more than my share of that over the years (haven’t we all). I decided to only share with a select few.

As the week has worn on, I’ve become tired of answering, “how are you?” It’s one of those platitudes to which we all fall prey. We want to acknowledge others, and maybe even hear a little about what they’ve been doing lately, but “how are you?” can be so difficult to answer. I find myself physically tired with the effort involved in mustering a polite smile, while uttering “ok.” It makes me think maybe sharing my diagnosis will help people know the depth of what they are asking. Maybe it will help me by allowing people to avoid the question in the first place.

Along with all of this waffling on the idea of sharing my news, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if I had just received a life-threatening, medical diagnosis. Would I be going through all of these same thoughts and emotions? Would I more easily reach out for support? I can only imagine that the same ill-timed advice and “well wishes” would be just as hard to take. The pity and sympathy would come in waves in much the same way.

Here’s the sticking point, then – I have had to let myself understand this as a life-threatening diagnosis. After all, according to one source “PTSD related suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.” I have already spent years getting past the idea that there is something inherently wrong with me, in order to understand that the depression, the anxiety, are things that need treatment in much the same way that cancer would. If I have had to spend so much time and effort to truly believe these things, when I am the one experiencing all of it, how much more will others need? I know there are plenty of people out there who are already there. Who see that mental illness is not a form of weakness or deficiency, but a struggle that often requires professional help. Yet, there are still so many who don’t see it that way.

So, as much as I have wanted to share my diagnosis (because I tend to overshare once I get going), I have also been afraid to do so. Afraid of making others uncomfortable. Afraid of being judged or looked at differently. Afraid of causing others to avoid me. The truth is, though, I am still me. This is who I have been all along. Something I have struggled with for decades. This diagnosis is a chance to get well. A chance to finally, fully be me.

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