I can’t do a proper update about what’s happening with regards to my life or SSDI right now. It’s not good and fills me with near-constant panic even without discussion of it. As nonfunctional as I was before it’s worse now, for several reasons. I’m doing everything I can to find a way to survive and that’s all I can.
I have a desperate sense of running out of time. I also realize that I’m not the right sort of person for this time and place, and not just because I’m more nuts than a baklava factory. I’m long-winded and I’ve spent so much time alone I’m aware I may be too idiosyncratic a lot of the time to make sense to anyone other than myself. This is because I’ve been hurt way too much too often, and many times in rapid strings of traumatic events by entire communities that have driven me deep into myself in self-defense and touchier than a porcupine on PCP.
It boils down to this. Through repeated disastrous experience I have learned I can’t work or live with other people. I still want to try to convey what doesn’t make sense to so many other people who haven’t been through what I’ve been through, even though it may be impossible unless you’ve been through what I have. The imaginary device I most wish that had been invented is the Point of View gun from the movie version of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ because I think empathy is seriously on the wane as the human race expands and so do our monkeyspheres and our resources deplete and many get squeezed right out. For a while I thought the replicator would be the best thing to be invented until I realized people could use it to make things to hurt other people as easily as food, medicine, and vaccines. Personal opinion alert, though.
I have a theory that’s spongy and malleable, that there is a certain amount of shit up with which individuals can put over the course of their lifetime. This varies depending on the person, the resilience they gain in their developmental years, what resources they have for the upwith of putting throughout their life, and of course the amount of shit they are already withupputting. I feel I reached that point at least seven years ago. The increasing frequency and intensity of shit-up-with-putting is making me desperate and jagged and see an ever-foreshortened future and therefore muster less caring of the consequences of saying what’s on my mind. Plus that sense of running out of time. You’ve been forewarned.
I’m hardly by any stretch of imagination the holder of the most abrasive opinions out there but you are free to click away at any time and if you don’t and take offense, on your head be it. That is a self-inflicted wound and I have zero sympathy for any self-righteous sense you have to crusade or retaliate against me. Because, hey, you clicked it, you read/watched it, and then on top of that you invested time in responding meanly and unnecessarily because it’s not like this makes a damn bit of difference. Obviously you are doing so because it meets some secret nasty bullying need you won’t admit even to yourself to kick people on the ground. I am, as HRH Beyoncé Knowles would say, not sorry. Not one jot.
Right here I have the capacity to shut up people I don’t want to listen to without forcing them to listen to me in the way of verbal pressing my abusive father and others would do to those around them. I’m not forcing what I say on you. This is an outlet for me, and if you want to listen, hey, awesome, but if not, I have still done what I came here to do. All the shit I have listened to from other people, which I have had poisoning my insides and twisting me up, and I finally get a say. If you want a say make your own videos or blogs, or stand on a streetcorner and yell, and deal with the consequences. This speaker’s corner is mine. My silence serves no one and it also destroys me. I’m done with that.
Captivity is My #1 Trigger
Here’s something I have difficulty explaining to others. When I'm forced into repeated prolonged contact with other humans, apparently regardless of character, over which I have no control, I become suicidal in about a month, and start self-destructive behaviors almost right away. Like some captive animals can go psychotic and run around in figure eights for no reason. This doesn’t apply to art and social change events, for those of you who know what I’m talking about—those are voluntary things I choose and am occasionally privileged to be given stipends to attend, but am still limited in my participation by my disabilities and at which I have felt threatened more than once because of my lack of privilege and choices.
But all the standard treatments and ‘care’ for people with psychological problems are—guess what? Prolonged repeated contact with other humans over which I have no control, often where they have a lot of control over where I am when, what I do, what I eat and what goes into my body, when I sleep, who I’m with, what I do. Captivity. Plus they’re too expensive for me to afford and things that Social Security expects me to furnish to prove I’m crazy, which by nature of my particular crazy as well as not having money (being too disabled to work) I really can’t. Face to face encounters and particularly conversations are triggering, And any situation where someone else has the power to control where I am when and what I'm doing and exact punishment that impacts my daily needs and survival sends me into fight-or-flight. I know this about myself and it’s only gotten worse over the years, not better.
Ideally I’m a hermit but without the woods because woods are nightmare fodder for cult-raised me. Ideally I’m Emily Dickinson in the back room writing poetry. In reality there is yellow wallpaper with faces, and no one gives a shit because they have obligations of their own.
The reality of my antipathy to prolonged nonconsensual if objectively benign contact with others under circumstances completely out of my control means that for me employment, intensive treatment, cohabitation, and assisted living are all disastrously nightmarishly traumatic. Also most (but not all) communities or friendgroups or any social anything. I know this, but it's so unbelievable, improbable to other people, that it's just so much easier to think I'm lying or lazy rather than wound tighter than an E string all the time I'm in proximity to other humans, feeling more like prey than a member of the same species. Think of an abused shelter dog, okay? You don’t think they’re bonkers for being wound up and snappish. I’m like that but times many more decades of the more insidious psychological horrors humans can inflict on one another to make each other think we deserve it, and even do it to ourselves repeatedly even after being let out of captivity. We know this about human psychology but in order to live in harmony with others it’s one of the many things we can’t think too much about. We make enormous concessions for both the pain and pain-based relief-seeking behavior for veterans, and have sympathy and charities for them, but not for people who have been abused throughout their childhoods and never volunteered to be born into captivity of people who do not have to abide by the Geneva Conventions nor fear prosecution or even social stigmatization because of the overwhelming prevalence of child abuse, but more on this later.
For me, I look at human history, or even the news, and I see a very thin the line is that separates a human being from a sadistic or just uncaring selfish monster, and how very easy it is to slide right over into that under even the least amount of stress. And how much they look exactly like all the other human beings right up until they don’t, like when I set a boundary with them or tell them ‘no,’ or I’m between them and what they desire most, conscious or not. The only silver lining to me is that not every abuse survivor develops into an abuser, or else the majority of humans alive on the planet would be sociopaths.
Personally I don’t even make sense to myself anymore, if I ever did. In spite of years of searching for answers in myself and those around me. When people offer to take me in, give me opportunities or help support me I learn very quickly that like every other time no matter how many years of trust and love and friendship I may have built with the individuals in question, it tends to end so badly and traumatically that I’m left even more angry, spiky, paranoid, and less amicable for future possibilities. Knowing this doesn’t empower me to change it. It’s like reopening old wounds so they don’t close. What’s worse is that most people who hurt other people don’t do so out of malice or intentional bad will and hold up ‘I didn’t mean it’ as a ‘get out of consequences free’ card—what’s really happening is that people are self-absorbed, focused on something else entirely, usually to serve their own unconscious or conscious emotional agenda, and it impacts others badly, followed by a knee-jerk insincere non-apology like “I’m sorry that you feel that way,” (which is an insult) or “I’m sorry if/but…” (which is not an apology at all).
(What I actually want to hear when someone fraks up with me is ‘it won’t happen again.’ It’s far too easy to say ‘I’m sorry’ without thinking, a knee-jerk response. But sorry means making changes. Don’t say sorry, do sorry. Everyone’s actions, inactions, words and silence are choices, and we are all responsible for the consequences. And if you say to me ‘won’t happen again’ and it does, you’re gone. I give no second chances to people who have proved they either have no self-control or care about something else more than not frakking up with me in exactly the same predictable way again. I’m not interested in excuses, I’m interested in respect. I expect nothing more and I’ll accept nothing less. FYI.)
I’ve heard other YouTube bloggers talk about my own point of view I’m trying to explore here. A lot of us make our videos because we lack people around us we can get along with and share these things with, or our social skills aren’t great, or the things we have to say are contentious—especially things about social justice. We’re voices in the dark, alone and lost, hoping for an outlet or maybe even a connection. Sadly I think I lost my ability to connect, because of wolves in sheep’s clothing, and being bitten too many times, and hence why I have trust issues the size of the Greater Magellanic Cloud.
On that subject, I made a sweeping decision to moderate all comments on ALL my videos because of a comment I got telling me to kill myself because people with mental illness only hurt those around them. No matter how much I have ever hurt the people around me I do not tell either strangers or people I know to kill themselves.
I have listened to other people’s hurtful words enough. After everything I’ve been through every conversation I survive without pain is like being shot at without result. I feel shaky relief but not a warmth of connection. Some part of me winces every time someone looks at me and opens their mouth, every time I get an email, every time I get a piece of mail, because of just how bad the bad has been, and you can’t imagine how bad. It overwhelms the good like falling piano overwhelms a pedestrian passing underneath. This right here is my space, my place to have my say when people have refused to listen to me, and just as you don’t have to listen or watch these videos, I don’t have to listen to what people who take pleasure in abuse, arguments, and punching down want to say to me. The internet may grant the technology, but not the rights, to harassment via electronic means and I have had occasion to pull out the North Carolina General Statutes on this matter so often they’re saved to my computer. Freedom of speech includes freedom to accept the consequences of what you choose to say or write, and there are consequences. Or, as Terry Pratchett wrote, “Freedom without limits is just a word.” I have freedom of listening, and freedom of pressing charges.
It sucked to make the decision to moderate YouTube comments and then ignore them as stress I can’t deal with right now, because I know there are others out there who feel lost and alone like I do. Some have reached out and commented wonderful and inspiring words. I want to address you right now and say this: every time you leave an encouraging or inspiring comment with no sarcasm or condescension, no matter how short, even a smiley, it has meant all the world to me and I don’t want to stop you because those comments help me to keep going in the face of the much bigger and more destructive forces that threaten and shorten my survival. However, the comments that are nasty hurt worse than the good ones feel good. And there are few enough of the good ones that sometimes I don’t even go look at the comments.
I think most of the truly wonderful people in the world are too busy being wonderful to try to make up for the excess of nasty and selfish people who have plenty of time to run around loose in the world making meals of anyone and anything in reach. One would have to be related or closely tied to one of the good ones to have the attention of the wonderful ones, whereas the selfish and nasty have their radars on constantly for likely prey. In between are the people who are good, or try to be, but also desperate, and haunted, and I know. And I’m sorry. The loudest, most active people are the ones who represent the worst of what we can become. All I can say is that I search and listen hard for the calm voices and actions of the ones who are the best of what we can become. They’re not flawless, they’re human, but all things strive, and if you’re striving it’s important to have a direction.
I’m deeply sorry to those of you trying to make a connection with me and hoping for a response. Please understand that for me it’s like Russian Roulette to even look at comments, even moderated. For every one of you that’s kind there could be one or even several serious nasty hateful or sexual remarks that I superlatively don’t need. I get enough of that randomly just existing in the world from strangers because I’m an inviting target for a lot of reasons. Even though I am white as a dead fish’s underbelly, and make an effort to look well-dressed and stay away from places where it’s more likely I’ll get hassled, and I am well aware and appreciate that I would get a lot more hate and violence if I had other intersecting identity issues. I’ve got white privilege and I can pass for middle-class and abled and if that saves my life I use it, but it’s not a magic invincibility shield because I’m a woman and I’m alone and there are a lot of hateful predatory people out there who zero in on me just for that.
Besides which as I come out as invisibly disabled and poor in spite of how I look, I become a sort of emblem of exactly the sort of person many people find disposable, reprehensible, better off dead, and truly deeply wish would die, because I’m viewed as someone who is living off their tax dollars, their hard work, in spite of the fact that any one of them could at any moment suffer the same series of disasters that took me from privilege to poverty and total disability. I make a convenient scapegoat, the lowest of the low underdogs, because I’m seen as not even trying to live the American dream or pull myself up by my bootstraps by people who are not disabled and poor, so it’s easy to judge any misfortune I suffer as self-inflicted and deserved and as a result of some mindset or easily cured by some magic pill or scientifically-disproved voodoo EMDR finger-wagging. It sucks to live in a world like this.
WARNING: Unpopular Opinion Alert
I’m about to talk about some things a lot of people will take this the wrong way, but this comes out of experiences that are not nice but real things that happen in a not nice world. I want to preface all this by saying that hate crimes horrify me. They are targeted at so many different oppressed people and as long as any one of us are oppressed none of us are free. Even if I woke up tomorrow and had safety and benefits and security I would not stop advocating for those who don’t. These years of terror and misery will leave an indelible mark on me. I do what I can; unfortunately lately my fighting for my basic needs and speaking out about what I’m going through has eclipsed my capacity to do anything for anyone else.
People who are transgender and have different sexualities and skin colors and ethnicities and nationalities and religions than me are victims of hate crimes and violence. Words don’t express how unacceptable and angering I find this reality, and how deeply I feel that it’s incumbent on all of us to individually say and do things to change how we think, speak, and act to make a world where this stops happening. As well as rape, guys—I appreciate the desire to apologize on behalf of your gender, but rather than apologize to me, which will not fix the past, confront your bigoted and inappropriate friends and be open and vocal that this mindset and behavior is not acceptable to you. I know it’s scary but you’re in an amazing, marvelous, POWERFUL place to make a difference that I never can. And it’s that which would make me feel better, and heal not just me, but prevent others in the future from winding up in my position.
Now, LGBTQIA+ individuals, individuals of different colors of skin and different appearances and religions, also are entitled to a lot of well-earned pride in being bravely who they are in this world after so many eons of persecution and torture and worse. They’re entitled to express that pride when they find safe places to do so—and there are welcoming places, although I appreciate some countries are the antithesis of this and still revel in their persecution and murder. There are countries out there that do things to them that anger and scare the ever-loving frak out of me and I sob like a baby listening to interviews with people who remain in those countries and advocate for the rights of their people at the very real risk of the lives of themselves and their families. That’s a courage that humbles and kind of shames me. In the face of that, I doubt most of us could be that brave.
Now I come to the tough bit to say. The poor, the disabled, and the mentally ill even in the US and other first-world countries remain an almost universal target to kick while we’re down. This includes the homeless LGBTQIA+ youth and immigrants kicked out of any kind of shelter and turned down for benefits because of who they are and wind up in drugs and prostitution which makes me enraged all over again, and clearly the poor and disabled and mentally ill come in all colors and nationalities and religions, so there’s very clear overlap and intersection of all these identities.
The point is, we poor and disabled and mentally ill of any gender or sexual orientation or color or nationality or religion can’t fight back by virtue of our positions and limitations and physical exclusions from spaces and conversations about us, our needs and rights. As far as I know we don’t have pride days or events—not all-inclusive ones. Among other things, most of us wouldn’t be able to afford the time or get transport to participate and likely are too isolated and exhausted to even know such things exist because most of our time is taken up with survival and caring for ourselves and whatever family we may have. Events are usually for highly specific diseases and disabilities. In many unspoken, ignored ways we’re divided against each other, fighting over scraps of benefits that are never, ever enough, and looking down on people in the exact same situation but from a different neighborhood, with a different skin color, disability, you name it.
People with physical disabilities and specific kinds of illnesses sometimes get recognition, respect, opportunities and benefits others don’t, and people with mental illness get scapegoated in the media and in the public when mass shootings and violence occur. And just try to talk about this with anyone spearheading a difficult project to benefit just a fraction of the disabled and poor—and get evasion, defensiveness, ignoring the question, or if pressed outright hostility. And we who struggle to survive? How can we fight against the defensiveness of those who are fighting to arrange these programs and benefits and assistance, and insist that they’re wonderful and fair and progressive, when we’re left wanting? Who even cares? Who even listens? We seem ungrateful, because they have fought hard just to get any kind of program for some of the disabled and underprivileged going, so when a lot of us are left out and complaining it’s too much to hear about it.
But likewise, it’s too much to expect us to shut up and be grateful for programs and benefits and events that ignore us, make us invisible, pretend to serve a community when they don’t serve most of us at all. It’s too much to expect to make people feel they’re doing more for all of us than they actually are, and that a problem is solved that isn’t, while we pay the price with our health and safety and even lives, and especially our quality of life and our voice in what happens to us and how we get to live and be treated by others. So our protests and requests for help fall on exhausted and closed ears and people are lightning-quick to point to what they’ve already done, which have not helped many or even most us at all. Frustration and anger on all sides. Not productive.
It’s good to have more celebrities coming out and speaking about their mental illnesses, but these are people who aren’t so disabled by them that they cannot work to support themselves—obviously, if they are celebrities. There are a whole lot of us in the majority silent group too disabled to work, unrepresented and unsung and considered little more than human waste, or as early eugenicists put it, ‘life unworthy of life.’ At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, the ‘euthanasia’ program was the Nazi’s first program of mass murder, targeting the institutionalized mentally and physically disabled living in Germany and German-annexed territories, predating the genocide of the Jews by approximately two years. There are links below for more information. We are often literally the first against the wall when revolution comes.
The US and UK and other countries aren’t doing anything so flagrant and obvious, but treating programs supplying basic needs to the disabled as disposable and subjecting the disabled to neglect and health care cuts is a passive but just as deadly form of eugenics and euthanasia. Adults of children dead from neglect are still legally culpable for the death of that child. Not doing something is a choice.
For example, there is video footage out there of Wang Yue, a two-year old who was run over by a truck in China, and eighteen people who walked past before someone stopped to hold the dying toddler in her arms. I’m not even close to kidding. And this is just because we have cameras everywhere now, so it’s not like this is a radically new thing in human behavior. I remember hearing about a local girl in North Carolina who had been run over several times before someone stopped their car and got out, but at that time video didn’t allow us as it does in the case of Wang Yue to identify the faces of those who stepped over the flailing body of the poor child, nor the plate of the truck that drove off. Many of those eighteen people in China, after the video went viral, got harangued for their bystander behavior, for failing to do anything. However, when the failure to do something is far removed from the cries and blood and eyes of the victim, it becomes easier and easier for people to do nothing, and never actually have to face the countless deaths that result from doing nothing, from yanking funding for people who need it to survive through no fault of their own, from prioritizing other things above the lives of dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of people who are only not you by virtue of a stroke of disaster that could change your place in life at any time without warning. The further one is from the consequences of one’s actions, the easier it becomes to lie to oneself and do nothing, follow orders, look the other way.
My husband died of cancer contracted from a medicine proved in lab trials to cause cancer in rats. The FDA warned the drug manufacturers and strongly advised them to inform doctors not to administer it to children, to inform patients, and to take breaks from prescribing it to allow the body’s natural defenses to bounce back. Did the drug company do any of this? No. People died, including an eighteen-month-old baby from a heart attack after being treated with the medicine, which is no longer on the market. The drug company is still in business, suits settled out of court, no one in jail, and many people dead.
I remember there was so much scare talk about death panels with Obamacare. But with the slashing of health benefits for the poorest and those on Medicaid—where a lot of the disabled fall—this in essence condemns without trial or justice swaths of disabled poor people to death, to being unpeople, to being valueless as human beings and therefore unworthy of life, dignity, survival. And the instant we start deciding that certain arbitrary demographics are unworthy of life this should be a huge giant red flag for all of us, whether you have a loved one who is poor or disabled or not.
The fact that as severely disabled adults we are incapable of earning enough money to support ourselves does not constitute appropriate grounds for fatal abandonment and neglect and denial of our basic needs, or telling us to off ourselves or just go shut up and die already. I’m of the belief that communities and nations shall be judged by how we treat the least fortunate of our people, not the most; just as when you go out to dinner with someone you like you watch very carefully the way your date treats the waitstaff.
Because, and this is absolutely vital that you grasp this, every single human being on this planet can through no fault of their own and despite careful planning and best efforts, become disabled and destitute and desperate as I am, no matter how skilled or smart or possessed of degrees and wealth and back-up plans and loyal friends and family as you think you are. Grief is not the only thing that rewrites your address book; any disaster will at a stroke leave you gaspingly alone and stunned at who abandons you to your fate, especially since a lot of misfortune tends to cascade by causing additional problems until you’re stuck in a hole you cannot get out of and you are suddenly an unperson.
I wish I didn’t have to keep saying this, keep trying to prove that (1) I am not like the secure middle-class people I can pass as and often encounter, but (2) such people could become like me at any time. I was once like them, and I would not have believed it possible either, because it was much more comfortable to believe that all the things I did and believed in every day would protect me. Faith is something I found that one can wind up clinging to even after it has failed, as if I’m lying on the ground with shattered bones still trying to pull the cord on my parachute and convinced it will Control-Z undo the entire crash-landing. Here’s a hint: it won’t. We do not control our destiny and we can’t protect those we love as much as we think.
(And that shouldn’t be why we help those who can’t help themselves. But hey, if appealing to selfishness is the only way to get things done, I’m not above pandering. Whatever works. Look at me: this could be you. This could be your sibling, your child, your spouse, your friend. Bad things happen every day, many many bad things, and many of them to the same people.)
If you think I’m lying, take a look at history. You don’t even have to go that far. There are people living right now who have stories you would not believe could all have happened to the same person. I am a testament to the fact that a long string of extreme misfortunes can hit the same individual and I know at least six other people for whom this is also true. Misfortune is the fortune that never misses! …That’s my only joke so tip your waitstaff, because they can’t stand hearing me make that lame damn joke every time. Well, my only joke aside from the one about misanthropists. How many misanthropists does it take to screw in a light bulb? If it can’t be done by one person alone, that bulb is never getting changed.
Now let me talk about veterans. I was born to one, related to several others by birth and through marriage, have at times been friends with several across the Hieronymous-Edvard-Frieda hell of the last few years of my life. Some are the most gentle and loving people I have ever met. Some are absolute spamburgers injected with arsenic. People are people, and being a veteran, like being a psychological professional or doctor or childcare worker or rape helpline operator does not convey an exalted sainted status. One’s occupation does not determine the content of one’s character, only one’s actions and choices. To my personal intimate knowledge, in fact, many people in helping professions I have known go there specifically to have access to at-risk and vulnerable people to prey on. On the other hand, some veterans, like Erich Maria Remarque and Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway, create literature that imbue their readers with bolts of soul. But I’m not here to pass judgment, especially since—gasp—I don’t actually like Hemingway’s writing. I seem to be missing an essential gene there. I digress.
Veterans with PTSD are often as massively screwed over and left homeless without benefits, addicted, sometimes suicidal, self-destructive, despairing as people like me. It is frakked up that our veterans are left to these fates, and I hate that. I know that while there are organizations out there to try to help them they often aren’t enough, and veterans I have known have to go in an yell at the tops of their lungs to get their basic needs met. Apropos of nothing, I’m somewhat related to a veteran with PTSD who is among the lucky and did get benefits and has a beautiful family, but I am sad to say that I have lost touch and that’s down to the fact that I cannot maintain relationships with people. That fact right there is the soul and center of why I can’t work.
Still, I often see and hear veterans get respect for their PTSD that others with PTSD most often don’t. This gets thrown in my face, and you know what? That is some bullshit. Like PTSD is only VALID if you’re a veteran, and this is bullshit, and everyone in the mental health profession knows this. Veterans do not have the monopoly on PTSD. And veterans with PTSD (i.e. people who could kill us with bare hands) should not be accorded an understanding when it comes to alcohol and drug use if by the same stroke we turn around and sanctimoniously blame the victims of long-term abuse and captivity by others for their alcohol and drug use and expect them to ‘get over it.’ Maybe this is because of some insecurity or alarm when human cruelty and sadism is too close to home. Like in the backyard of your peaceful little neighborhood, full of people on the local news saying, “But he seemed so nice!” with yellow police tape in the background.
PTSD is not about the specific facts of what happened to the sufferer. That’s not in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) with which mental health personnel diagnose mental illness. PTSD is about the symptoms and consequences the person suffers as a result of a traumatic event. War is by no means the only trauma that is valid. Veterans don’t have the monopoly on the evil that people do to one another by any stretch of the imagination. There are many horrors that humans can enact on one another that have nothing to do with combat, as well as natural disasters. There is nothing that humans do in combat that they’re not capable of doing on suburban soil and behind closed doors, and much worse. Additionally, the most effective way to legally capture someone and abrogate the rights of someone who can’t or won’t fight back enough to overcome an assailant for years is to biologically create a baby or have access to that child through family or a child care job. Children are the easiest the brainwash, threaten, convince, mold, train, use, and so forth.
Knowing what combat is like, or rape, or torture, or even prolonged cult abuse or child abuse of all kinds, has nothing to do with understanding the facts and validity of PTSD.
Don’t Compare Your Pain To Someone Else’s; You Have No Idea What Their Journey is About
I also know it’s extremely bad taste and insulting to assume you know the horrors someone else has personally experienced, not that that stops anyone of the multitudes I have met and wished would fall off the face of the earth. Seriously: if you want to make a connection with me, don’t EVER, EVER tell me you know what I feel like or what I’ve been through or you’ve lost the right to speak to me indefinitely. You aren’t me and that is not a valid way to make a connection with me. Stay with your own story. Don’t project and force your narrative on top of mine. Especially not as an excuse to throw an impromptu pity party for yourself. I resent attempts at emotional manipulation early on to force intimacy on the pretense that we’ve been through the same thing—there is no way in hell we have been through the same thing and it comes off as ignorant and condescending to me. It closes my heart to you as sure as sealing a fallout shelter with five-foot thick reinforced doors.
I am not you and you are not me and I don’t want us to be each other. I want respect for our differences as well as our similarities. Differences are not threats to friendship, but trying to force them to go away or pretend they don’t exist most certainly does threaten (and end) any hope of closeness.
People, please stop doing this. This is unfair to other people that you do it to, especially when they’re in the worst pain of their lives. I know it’s a habit we are socialized to and pick up, comparing our pain to each other’s and imagining what it would be like to be in their position, but that’s imagination, not visceral knowledge. You are making it up in your head, and that is not the same as reality. It is a choice, it is an act of will and it is limited by your point of view and your experiences and your imagination. Plus, the minute you stop imagining, the imaginary pain stops for you, but the other person goes through every moment of the day with their real pain and no off switch. When you confuse what you think with what someone else experiences you do yourself and them a grave disservice and insult.
Instead: Listen. And Listen. And then, Listen Some More. And Listening is Done with Mouth Closed. Listening is Loving. Listening is Respect.
Listening is so much more important than speaking when you are with someone who is in pain, especially pain that is unimaginable. You don’t have to speak, and saying the wrong thing is worse than saying nothing and just being there for them and asking what you can do. Your role is not to try to fix the unfixable, you will just break it more. Your role is to support the person in pain while they heal the way they need to, in the ways they want you to. They have already had agency and control taken from them by their traumatic experience so swooping in to ‘save’ them can very easily be not only wrong but retraumatizing.
Give survivors your respect, and the gift of finally being in the driver’s seat without being a damn backseat driver—where we are going may not be where you would go, but let us figure our where we need to go. Otherwise it just gets hypocritical later when you complain to us that we are ‘too needy’ or ‘too dependent’ after you swooped in with your savior complex and took over but then got tired or bored when things weren’t wrapped up after a ninety-minute movie-style plot with crescendo. Believe me, I have seen this over and over and OVER again, and I have even been on the other end of this, so I understand wanting to be the interventionist, but overriding someone’s agency is exactly how this trauma started for a lot of us in the first place. We want to be asked what we need, and then given what we need, not what you want to give us or decide we need for our own good. Or we want you to be honest, say you can’t do it, and hit the road and stop wasting our time.
I take offense at anyone claiming to know what I’ve been through who very obviously hasn’t had anything even close to the same set of traumas, which are numerous; or insist that because I haven’t been in combat I can’t actually have any kind of PTSD (much less Complex PTSD, and refuse to listen when I explain the difference). The actual diagnostic criteria for the disorder does not ever make mention of even serving time in the military, much less surviving a traumatic horrendous action during that time. That is ignorant crap and I’m not going to engage with these fact-resistant humans beyond this. It’s as pointless as arguing with someone who insists that two plus two equals orange. There’s no way to engage with that level of solipsistic reality. All I can hope is that people who haven’t had a lot of education about PTSD and are willing to listen might actually hear something of what I have to say here.
The Dirty Little Secret: Born into Captivity
Many non-veteran PTSD sufferers, especially Complex PTSD sufferers, get argued or talked over, their pain minimized or degraded or compared with that of veterans, and pushed into things they don’t want, like silence, humiliation, disregard, ignorance. And in my case and those of other child abuse survivors, invalidation of the fact that some survivors of child abuse had much more prolonged traumatic experiences of captivity that we didn’t even understand half the time, and if we happened to escape our captors the police would BRING US BACK.
Child abuse is a dirty little secret that hits too close to home for people because it is so rampant and is happening in middle class and upper class neighborhoods just as it is among the poor. Maybe next door or down the street, or to the kid with which yours is in school or playgroup. Behind the closed doors of those neighbors that seem so nice, but whose kids are always a little too quiet, or a little too eager to lash out about seemingly nothing. And there are survivors and perpetrators in every walk of life carrying shame, defensiveness, and denial that shuts down discussions of it with intense hatred and vitriol aimed at the brave survivors who want safety and justice and sometimes just to be heard.
We have battered women’s shelters. Battered children? Sometimes they wind up in foster care where they get more battered. That was told to me often enough to keep me from running away, horror stories of what foster parents and their other children had done to foster children, who always wound up in the criminal justice system at the end of the stories as inhuman monsters who tormented animals and humans alike just for the fun of it.
Abused children are well below the age of enlisting—we were born into captivity of people, i.e. parents or foster parents or other caregivers, legally allowed to do things to us that are banned by the Geneva conventions to be done to prisoners of war. We also don’t get medals or flags or stickers for surviving, we lucky few who do.
Those that don’t survive pass through the news cycle at a heartbreaking and overlooked rate if anyone even bothers to report it. We are expected to forgive—and even take care of—people who held us captive and tortured us physically and psychologically. And we are heaped with shame and scorn and silencing for our survival stories, disbelieved, mocked, denied the pain that shaped how we relate to people when we had zero rights and choices to determine what happened to us. Here, have some salty lemonade for your wounds. Just get over it already, it happened long ago. We are treated not just by ourselves but by society as if our pain is our own fault, as if our victimhood is a choice and a character flaw and a failing, and revictimized by people unwilling to accept that a lot of people are not just bad but criminally, abusively bad parents who screw up their children during crucial developmental years and we are never allowed our anger, catharsis, healing, or even the freedom to share our truths and stories without being attacked for them.
The Shapes We Grow Into
Not for all of us, it isn’t over, and it isn’t as simple as waggling your finger in unscientific unproven EMDR bullshit (seriously, rigorous repeat studies showed the finger is a placebo effect, and I personally have had a tone of EMDR that has done frak all for me) or taking a pill (again, I’ve had many kinds that have done frak all for me) to somehow rewrite your entire past and personality and all of your memories and how you know how to interact with others and the world.
For many of us that abuse shaped in a core way who we became in those years we were becoming human beings. For many of us it never stops happening because we were denied escape, denied fair hearing, denied validity, denied comfort, denied acknowledgement of our pain, denied choices we needed to make for our own healing rather than the comfort of other people and our abusers, denied even our own voices and anger we had every right to, denied knowledge and understanding of what we went through and the fact that we were not responsible. We were and still are denied the right to be who we are, wounds and anger and choices and all.
We got out of one prison only to be crammed into the prison of an us we were not, a silence and identity that was fashioned for us by the expectations and punishments and rejections of those around us while we burned with terrible emptiness and desire for an unconditional acceptance we have forever been denied—a feeling of being enough that is forever held out of reach, an acceptability in someone else’s eyes that never comes without giant spider webs of strings.
Recovery doesn’t come in a magic pill form when your entire development of who you are was twisted. Imagine those trees at the seaside that grow sideways because of high winds. You can’t transplant them to a place out of the wind, give them mulch and watch them turn into straight trees. At best new growth will begin to grow straight, if they don’t wither and die. If you spend the best part of two decades training any plant to grow a certain way you’re not going to do some magic follow-my-finger eye tricks and hey presto, the whole shape of the plant changes overnight. Think how hard it is to quit a habit like smoking. Now imagine it’s not just a habit but absolutely everything you’ve ever learned about thinking, speaking, walking, relating to everything and everyone in the world around you, every instinct you ever learned that warns you about danger. Your entire identity and way of existing in the world from the moment you wake until you go to sleep, never mind the dreams you find there.
Imagine trying to tame a wild animal—a really wild animal. We’re not talking a Hollywood movie moment overnight cure. The animal is never going to be completely tame. There will always be triggers and instincts, far below anything you can reach or even understand. You can live with that animal and earn its trust for years and still one day it may just maul you. We expect people to endure decades of abuse and with the flick of a finger or swallow of a pill turn into shiny happy people. Even while there are still people around us that, let’s be honest, enjoy pushing people’s buttons and claiming injured innocence when pushing the red one makes everything go boom.
Am I Relating or Comparing?
I read through ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’ I can’t compare what I’ve been through to wartime. Especially after what I wrote above about that very thing being a really bad habit we’re trained to do that blocks true empathy and respect for people in pain. But even so I was raised the same way and I do have to take a long hard look at the strong emotional responses I had reading that book, and my own experiences of being raised brainwashed, used, as a young person, and harmed and lied to by those I trusted.
I like to hope what’s happening is relating deeply and profoundly to the human emotions of a character disenfranchised by all the world, knowing he would have no place in it after what he had been through, after what he had seen and survived, thinking the deluded adults far from the front talking of glory and going about their worldly concerns were so removed from any reality he could take part in. He had been taken and shaped into something else, something other—a weapon.
I was born and shaped into something else, something other—a survivor, a fighter, a paranoiac, someone who had to withdraw deep into herself to escape a world of horror where my body, my emotions, my mind, my beliefs, were all relentlessly forged into something that had no application in a world outside an increasingly insular and nonsensical cult. Someone with no trust in anything or anyone. I don’t even know what I am most of the time, and it changes day to day, and yet I’m expected to explain myself, often with no support, certainly with no familial support and often no friends I can really trust once I actually open up and tell the truth, not even fellow survivors, because they have the same problems and shame and anger and mistrust and paranoia and push-away reactions. They’re fighting just for themselves, as we learned to do from day one.
Is this hypocrisy given what I said earlier about ‘don’t presume to know what I’ve been through’?
Quite possibly at least partially that, because consistence has never really been a human trait, and recovery from any deeply ingrained habitual response to pain is a process full of setbacks, self-deception, hypocrisy, and guesswork, as I well know. I’ve turned it over and over in my mind.
Here’s what I hope might be at least partially true. PTSD can be likened to an infected wound, in that no matter how you sustained the wound, the infection is likely to show similar symptoms, with similar risks and similar treatments. With Complex PTSD, because the wounding went on and on without treatment there can be permanent damage to tissue or malformed bones and muscle. It does in a sense to the sufferer matter how and where the wounds were inflicted because that informs the treatment, both with physical wounds and trauma.
But in the end, treatment of the symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD are about what persists after the initial wound, hence the ‘post’ part. When I talk about reading a novel written by a combat veteran from the point of view of World War I trenches in Europe, and of feeling an eerie connection to the emotions and symptoms he’s ascribing to his protagonist, I hope I’m touching on the absolute and ultimate goal of language and communication: to try to erode the barrier that can never be erased between each of us, between who someone else is and what they experience and who I am and what I experience. The closest thing to the Point of View gun I mentioned earlier, and the function of art according to Lin-Manuel Miranda: to engender empathy.
All our striving with words and speech and art and almost everything we do sometimes I feel is just to communicate something that can’t ever be passed from one human to another. Namely, someone else’s feelings, or some equivalent made possible by enormous effort on the part of the speaker and the listener.
I’m not claiming I know what it’s like to be through combat—I mean, seriously, consider me, I’m a marshmallow. I would not make it through one day of basic training. I’m also not saying I don’t share some symptoms of PTSD with someone who has been inflicted with psychological wounds of combat, nor that they know what it’s like to have been through my particular trauma. Symptoms of PTSD, remember, aren’t contingent on the initial cause. I’m asking a lot of you, dear reader, to go beyond simplistic thinking, and understand that there’s no clear answer either for me or you or anyone else. We can never feel what it is like to be another person, to fully experience their pain.
This is not to say that all pain is equal, or that the many people who continually tell me ‘I know how you feel’ clearly don’t, as is evident from any length of time talking with them. They’re not willing to be wrong, they are competing in the Pain Olympics, and honestly they are not listening to me, only to themselves and demanding I listen to them. This happens more often than genuine connection.
People who have genuinely been through trauma don’t generally play ‘I know how you feel’ as an opening gambit when one of my many traumas comes up in conversation (and because most of my life has been traumatic or shaped by trauma it’s impossible to have many conversations without trauma eventually coming up). Those are people who want to force a connection so I have to listen to their bitching and feel sorry for them, while ignoring my anger at being strongarmed into an emotional intimacy I did not ask for and don’t want with a total stranger. I feel violated and disgusted and used and like a little emotional orphan has run up and grabbed my arm and declared I’m now their parent and have to take care of their needs while having none of my own that are valid or matter. It’s even more damning and disgusting when the person is, as is usually the case, far more privileged than I am, and not struggling to survive day in and day out, year in and year out, and having to put up with people like themselves wanting more, more, more from them that they never agreed to.
Which is not to say I’m not sympathetic to the struggles of others. What I’m not sympathetic to is the desperate perspective-absent neediness of people with no sense of perspective and a great deal of privilege. I know I have privilege—I’m white, cisgender, not sleeping on the street, and have access to mental health care. But privilege is a spectrum and it fills me with disgust when people not fighting for their lives try to claim solidarity with my pain, pain that in no way is equal to the trials they describe. Not all pain is equal. Not all struggles are equal. When one is spoiled with privilege it may seem the end of the world, whatever is happening to one, and from my perspective, it really isn’t.
Because I have been that person, thinking that one little tiny thing was the worst thing ever. And I was about five at the time, allegedly, and it was not having the right sheets on my bed. After that I learned what real pain actually was. I’m tired of the emotional orphans of the world expecting me to take care of their feelings with no reciprocal friendship and generosity. I was tired of that when my parents raised me to be that for them.
I am angry that it’s not possible to feel what it’s like to be me no matter how many words I pour out, no matter what I say or do. I am desperate for it to be possible. I feel I have spent my whole life searching for crumbs and pieces that I can relate to in order to force it to be possible that what I feel and what another person feels be the same thing. And at the end of the day, despair knowing that it’s all imagination. Is it?
It’s up to each of us to make a judgment here. I’m not going to make it. I’ve said what I said earlier and what I have said now about the difference between imagining what it feels like to have an experience, to living through and with that experience ever after without the surcease of merely stopping imagining it and going back to one’s own problems. I think like many things the truth isn’t simple. And that the complicated truths are the ones worth thinking about much more than simple ones. Empathy isn’t automatic and it isn’t built into humans in the womb. It’s what we develop from socialization, and some people fail. Some fail entirely, some fail a little, and some mistake many other things for empathy and get in the habit of doing that wrong thing for so long they don’t know the difference.
All this being said, while any one of us are oppressed none of us are free and I am enraged (well, okay, most days now I’m too tired and in despair to muster the anger that GETS THINGS DONE, to my intense dismay) about the worldwide violence against transgender, gender nonconforming and genderfluid individuals and non-heterosexuals, as well as racially and ethnically motivated violence, violence against women and children, and violence against those of different religions.
I have this tired disgust I feel that by the time we get around to talking about the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the invisibly disabled, and the mentally ill, there’s a whole lot of silence going on. In my struggles I’m finding a whole lot no support and a whole lot of hate speech, despair, hate crimes, violence, homelessness, and suicides, and above all denial and victim blaming.
But I will leave you with this, even though it changes nothing, because a day without a Pratchett quote is a day without Kassi.
“She always had a soft spot for the underdog. So did Vimes. You had to. Not because they were pure or noble, because they weren't. You had to be on the side of underdogs because they weren't overdogs.” ― Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay