Toward the end of last year I took J to meet up with a family who had a girl I had hoped she could talk with as they went through their similar health situation. I had texted the mom and asked her if her daughter would be interested after seeing a post on the support group board. She said she would, so we planned to meet before the support group meeting.
I knew within seconds that her daughter had not said she’d like to meet with and talk to J. Because her daughter, like two of my sons, has autism. All her daughter likes to do is play video games on her device.
Very quickly I also realized that it was not for her daughter or mine that the woman wanted to meet up. It was for her. She wanted another mom to talk to about her daughter’s health and on-going medical appointments.
There was a time that this would not have been an issue for me. For my whole life I have tried to use the knowledge I have gained through the trials I have been in to help others. But standing there in the lobby of the hospital that Sunday night I became acutely aware of something I had only suspected before. I had nothing to give.
Giving has always been something that, as a woman in Conservative Christianity, I was expected to do. God made me to serve everyone around me, not to be selfish and be served (don’t do the math on that statement, it doesn’t add up). And so I gave until I couldn’t give at church anymore because I no longer agreed with them that there is any sort of deity.
But I carried that sort of giving of everything into my Atheism. I had been raised to believe that my suffering was useful because it could at least help other people. Or some such nonsense as all that. So I tried to help others by sharing my story, by giving them resources, listening to them, and encouraging them. It was supposed to be what gave my suffering purpose.
But by November of last year, I had nothing left to give. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about this woman or her worries. I just could not take them on. I had too much already. And in taking care of that ‘too much,’ I have little to no help. One more thing was more than I could handle.
After I admitted that to myself later that night, I found I was able to tell a few other people, and that brought the problem more into focus. Of course, it was nearly finals then, and I had a group research project due in Gen Chem, so there was nothing I could do about it.
Fortunately, I work at school. And, in my case, that means I get about a month off after finals for Winter Break. We had planned to go up to SLO for a few days for New Year’s, but I ended up needing tires and, well, dang, those things are expensive (but not as bad as my old van). So we canceled our trip and just hung out around the house.
After I got my final grade in Chemistry, I slept–a lot. I just laid on the couch most days and slept, the relief finally allowing me to relax enough.
In between my long naps I cleaned and organized and decompressed. I’ve never really done that before, at least not so intensely for so long. By the time work training came around I was only slightly stressed.
Earlier in the term I had begun to feel that I would be grateful to afford to give in and stay in bed all day. I had suspected that it might help. But I pressed on because I have no choice. I did not expect to find that just taking my vacation would help the same way I thought taking one mental health day would. In fact, I think it worked better because I had a month.
A year ago such a long break was too much for me. It gave me too much time to ruminate and to attack myself for every short coming in typical fashion. This year was very different than any other year has been. This year I could work through the things as they came up with more strength than I’ve had in the past.
While I cannot say there is an exact reason, like some philosophy I heard or some book I read or some activity I did, I can tell you it is due to the fact that I never quit. I never quit trying and I never quit looking for solutions.
18 years ago, my second son was diagnosed in utero with a birth defect that would have killed him if I hadn’t taken it on myself to do my own research and make decisions for him that went against the doctor and the insurance company. The scary moment for me was when I talked to one of the doctors and realized I knew more about my son’s birth defect simply from my research than the medical professional did. The doctor didn’t even bother to do learn about my son’s rare defect before giving me advice.
I look back over the past five years since I was diagnosed with PTSD and I can see many similar instances. I’ve had to stand up to the system for myself, even when I didn’t think I was. I’ve had to stand up to the church, bad therapists, and random idiots I run into.
I’ve been forced to do my own research and experiment to find what works for me. It has taken me nearly five years since my diagnosis to get to the point where I feel like I might be standing on firm ground for the first time in my life.
Bit by Bit
I’ve waited a few weeks to write up an explanation for the blog name change. I wanted to make sure I understood it better myself, and maybe I wanted to make sure I made it through the first week of school. But this steady progression is what prompted it. The realization that I had made progress, even though for years it’s was so small I couldn’t even notice it.
Bit by bit, never quitting, moving forward slowly but surely, keeping up with my research, standing my ground against people who are admittedly educated but don’t seem to be listening to the patient at all, and trusting my instincts, even when I didn’t feel I could trust myself, is how it is done, apparently.
My PTSD is not something that will ever go away. I will have problems for the rest of my life, but it can be less controlling, and I can make it so.
I ran into that woman last week at the meeting. It was not as awkward as I feared. She is still needy, but I could listen and offer her some comfort without feeling like I would wither away.
Added to the Playlist this week.