On PTSD Reactions


My graduate advisor had his annual party tonight to welcome the new graduate students. I always love this party.

I knew that, if I get a job–which I hope that I do–this would be the last of those parties for me. I wore a gold, velvet tank top that I had paid full price for at J. Crew (I never pay full price at J. Crew, but I really loved that tank top). I wore long dangly earrings made out of brown and gold leather threads.

I liked my outfit.

I said to two of my friends, “One of the nice things about having lost weight is being able to wear cute clothes.”

One of my friends reached over unexpectedly and hugged me. She said, “I met you for the first time at this party four years ago, and you don’t even look like the same person.”

My other friend said, “It’s not just that you’ve lost weight. It’s that you’re so much happier. You don’t seem stressed in the same way.”

The other day, I ran into a different friend, and when she asked “How are you?”

I answered, “Good. Really good.”

Then I thought, When was the last time that I said that?

I divorced Caleb, then moved to Athens the next day. I would have met those two friends from the party only a few weeks after my divorce. No one knew my story then.

I didn’t even know my own story then.

I was so sad.

And then, soon enough, I was angry.

And then, the anger consumed me. It manifested against Caleb, but it also manifested against his friends.

Who were they to disbelieve me?

If they did believe me, then who were they to devalue me by remaining friends with him?

Who were they to assume that I was doing “fine” because I had gotten out?

One of Caleb’s friends wrote to me that it seemed like I was doing well, so what was my problem?

She was an aspiring writer, but had not published, so I presume that her assumption that I was doing well was because I had become a pretty prolific writer?

Writers judge by those standards. “Oh, that person must be doing well because they’re publishing!”

When in truth, at that time, I would take breaks from my writing and jog past the McDonalds by my apartment building as a way to work out some of my stress, and the McDonalds employees would laugh at me through the window because I was so obviously out of shape.

I cried so often and so hard.

I ran the stairs at my apartment building.

I needed to make my body hurt, so that I couldn’t feel the pain in my heart.

Caleb once told me that we can only feel pain in one part of our body at a time.

When I was running those stairs, I only felt pain in my legs.

My heart, for a moment, was free.

And that anger led to this blog. That anger is why this blog is called Apology Not Accepted. That anger led to me complaining to the DA’s office about the handling of Caleb’s case, about his sentence being that he only had to write me a a letter of apology.

That anger led to me getting an apology from the Prosecuting Attorney on behalf of the state of West Virginia.

I got an apology on behalf of the state of West Virginia, and it wasn’t enough.

The anger was still there. Still eating me alive.

I wasn’t angry at Caleb. I was angry at everyone around him.  His mother. His friends. His workplace.

Who were they to love him?

Who were they to love him when I felt so unloved?

So, I started lashing out, both privately and  publicly. I privately messaged people to tell them just what I thought of their alliance with Caleb (and I was not kind), and I publicly engaged in battles that I should not have with men who claimed to be feminists but were still in contact with Caleb.

Every time that I lashed out, I left the exchange having gained nothing. No one changed their mind. No one said, “You know, you’re right. I really have messed up in my support of your abuser, and I know that now.”

But the truth is that the people who would have said that had probably already allied themselves with me because there were plenty of Caleb’s friends who also said to me, “I am on your side.”

Last night, I messaged a female professor who had known Caleb, and I thanked her for having always been supportive of me from the beginning.

I said to her “I regret how assertive I was with some of those Boise dudes about their support of Caleb (though they generally denied to me that they supported him), but then I think of the Boise women and how I always felt supported by the women, and I realize that, as much as I hate to be the case study in PTSD and reactionary responses, maybe I’ve done something to help those dudes realize how to–actually–support women who have been abused by their friends.”

And I was sincere.

My PTSD caused me to react in an overly aggressive manner to people who are really of no consequence to me, but, still, maybe they needed to hear it?

Maybe they needed to hear that they can’t claim to be feminists while remaining allied with a wife batterer?

In reality, I am sassy, but a generally agreeable person. I love very fully and am a loyal friend.  I am an approval seeker who will always try to meet expectations. When talking about the academic job market, one of the full professors in my department who is known for his brutal honesty looked at me for a long time, then said, “I am not worried about you. You just need to get a campus visit because they will like you when they meet you.”

Still, around that same time, on Facebook, I was aggressively countering a rather famous writer’s claim that he was a feminist with my own evidence that he wasn’t.

I did the same thing on another writer’s post. One of his friends, a stranger, jumped in to tell me that it would be a lot easier to listen to me if I “wasn’t so angry.”

I learned then about tone policing.

It could have been career suicide for me, but I didn’t care. Sometimes, I am just the vehicle and PTSD is the driver.

My PTSD is on mute right now, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve surpassed it. Only, that I’m not having those incidences of rage or sadness.

But I don’t want to discredit the value of those incidences. So many people tell me that I’m “brave,” but so much of my “bravery” has been PTSD. PTSD is ridiculously emboldening, and a lot of good can come from that.

I’ll never be grateful for PTSD. It is honestly the worst,  but it also isn’t a permanent state of being.

Right now, I’m the person who when a friend says, “How are you?” I answer, “Good. Really good.”