Must I say more? The hair, the eyes, the circles beneath them: All signs of an elated woman! This is me, drinking my second cup of coffee after shipping my girls off to daycare, looking forward to the next several hours of my Super-Busy, Way-Too-Stressful, Socially Awkward, Very Exhausting Day.
Busy days suck for most people, but for those of us with PTSD, they are legitimate battles. We must carefully select our armor and our strategy, and then our strategy for dealing with any deviations from the strategy.
On this super busy, very exhausting day, I had several meetings and appointments-including a support group-in a row. No meal breaks. No opportunities to run home and hide. Just hours after hours of human interaction.
My battle armor was “normie” clothes. With hand tattoos and a piercing in the middle of my face, I don’t really exude a “normal” vibe. Which is fine. Great, even. I would not want to walk through this world pretending to be some false brand of normal. But there is pierced+tatted Betty in a spotted dress, rainbow tights, and leg warmers, and there is pierced+tatted Betty in jeans and a white blouse. Which do you think stands out more? So, my battle armor for the day was jeans and a white blouse, with a little bit of make-up to cover the strain exhaustion has taken on my skin lately.
My strategy…well…normally it would include at least one Home-Break. An hour, or even half an hour, of time inside the walls of my own own private, if shabby, apartment. Even if it meant turning my day into a labyrinth of exits and returns, my break time is a necessity. As already stated, however, today’s schedule of events did not allow for that reprieve. So I tried something new; I took a risk, and decided to try to just plow through. Normally, when I overstuff my day in this way, I cancel something. And I did, in fact, make a weak attempt to reschedule the last event, a parent-teacher meeting with my daughters’ daycare instructor (Crazy, I know; it’s like Super-Daycare). But she assured me the meeting would be short, and she even had some free baby wipes to bribe me with. Oh, the things that can buy me now that I am a low-income mother…
Half-way through the first Event, a meeting with an employment specialist to help me procure a job, I realized that I had forgotten to put on any eyeliner or mascara. This morning’s armoring had been hectic; we are cash-broke and desperately need to do the laundry. Clean clothes are limited; clean “normie” clothes, always a rarity, now almost impossible to find. I actually had to recruit my husband to help me find a pair of relatively clean jeans to match my blouse while I swiftly applied my eyeshadow. I was, of course, running late. Well, he found them, he’s good at finding things, especially nice pants that make my ass look as big as possible. So I threw on my outfit and…forgot that I wasn’t done with my makeup. Can you imagine the horror I felt when I realized that I was not in full armor?
“How well do you communicate?” asked the employment specialist, as I brushed my fingers against my eyelashes to confirm the Terrible Truth.
“Um,” my mind raced back from the horror of bare-eyelash shame, “awkwardly.”
Well, at least I was honest.
I started wearing make-up much later than my peers. I thought it was “fake,” that I was somehow covering up my true self, which I did not want to do at the time. I remember standing in the doorway of my mom’s apartment, The Ex standing just outside the frame. He scowled at me, then 16 or 17, and snapped “Why don’t you just wear some make-up.” Shortly after that, I began wearing mascara. Eyeliner, then eyeshadow followed shortly thereafter. Now, my makeup regime consists of mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, a little bit of concealer beneath my eyes, rouge, and the occasional touch of lipstick or lipgloss.
I barely remember the second half of my visit with the employment specialist. It was important; I am desperately poor. As I am writing this I am trying to think up ways to afford the next batch of my girls’ diapers. But my mind was reeling with shame and embarrassment, wondering how weird my makeup looked, wondering how obvious the mistake was, wondering how ugly I looked to this woman who had no reason to judge or care about my level of attractiveness. It was insanity. But that is life after abuse.
As soon as the appointment ended, I rushed to the bathroom. Not to pee, just to check the damage in a mirror. Of course, it was not as bad as I had imagined. I always look better with my eyes accentuated by eyeliner; it helps bring out the prettiness of my eyes while taking away focus from the dark circles I now constantly sport. Still, it was not the awful mess of obvious forgetfulness that I had imagined. Really, I just looked like one of those moms who don’t wear much makeup, which is a pretty common sight around here.
By the time I reached my support group, the adrenaline rush of PTSD-enhanced embarrassment had ebbed. I sank into my seat, already deep in the bog of post-adrenaline fatigue. The group facilitator slipped a sheet of “emotions” across the table to me.
She expected me to pick just one.
Ha! Just one.
For someone with PTSD, one emotion never covers it. Even two, or three, are usually not enough. The experience of feeling while having PTSD is kind of like a toddler painting; a big muddy combination of emotions that you never properly wash away before sticking your brush into the next one.
I sat in this meeting sober, relatively well-rested, and watched the walls begin to warp. My thoughts rested, begrudging access, on the far bank of a mental fog. My eyes began to droop. I lay my head in my cupped hands and sank into sleep-for a moment. Then the group facilitator asked me a question.
Talking helps. Self-expression is a definitely a balm to the PTSD-addled mind. I unloaded a couple feelings, and afterward the heaviness had lifted enough that I could stay awake. My sleepiness was gone, but soon replaced by a creeping nausea. By the end of the group, I was overwhelmed by the desire to vomit. It was a strange, nasal form of nausea, which seemed to originate just below the back of my eyes, near my sinuses, and then flow down to my stomach. I imagined the feeling as a grey, faceless yet sentient blob, pulsing with rasping breath, vampiric, sucking at my last stores of energy. I needed to sit down.
My next appointment was near enough that I could take a few moments to sit. I ignored the stares of strangers, stares of confusion and disgust which follow me everywhere I go and are mostly likely imagined anyway, and took a seat in the waiting area. The nausea never passed, but I became acclimated to it enough to brave my next encounter.
Everyone at my daughters’ daycare is extremely nice. I have only ever had one iffy interaction, and it was with a woman who had never seen me and was only trying to ensure the center’s security. The woman with whom I was meeting has always been especially kind and understanding. She deals with low-income mothers all the time so I’m certain she never expected me to come in perfectly coiffed, but I had still hoped to make a better appearance than that of a pallid, stuttering baglady.
She showed no signs that I was acting odd. She asked me normal questions, listened with genuine care to my answers, and did her best to fully answer my questions. It was a pleasant interaction. During which I squirmed, and stretched, and fiddled with my hair, and rubbed my eyes and tried and tried and tried to make myself comfortable. The whole thing took about twenty minutes, and ended pleasantly enough with her giving me the promised baby wipes, but by the time I left, I would not have been surprised to see a grey-haired, battle-stooped warrior reflected in the door.
I walked home through frigid sunlight, trying to outpace my daughters’ ride so that I could stuff some lunch into me before they arrived. To some, that may have seemed a light day. But for me, five hours of non-stop, forced human-interaction was a Busy Day. I re-fueled on mushroom risotto and ten minutes of silence, before meeting my daughters outside. Sometimes I take my daughters to the park after they come home. Not yesterday. By the time my daughters came home yesterday, I was through with the outside world. I ushered them in, and struggled just to stay upright on the couch so I could watch them while they chased each other in circles and shrieked.
Some things this Mama was grateful for at the end of a very long day with PTSD:
-That my daughters enjoy activities which require minimal Mama-involvement
-That my husband came home a couple hours later and took over their care so I could take a nap.
And nap is just what I did.
Until I woke violently to cold-sweats and shaking. I wrapped the blanket around myself, mind racing to remember: Could I have eaten something non-vegan? Could I be reacting to something? Is this a virus? Until the shivers and the panic began to subside and I remembered, this is how PTSD behaves. Unexpectedly, uncontrollably, inconveniently. I was sick for the rest of the night because I had not given myself the space to rest during the day. And because I had forgotten my mascara. And because I had behaved in an awkward manner. And because all the little faux-pas and etceteras which happen to everyone every day do not, as with others, slide past me like waves over rocks. PTSD is like a net that catches all the daily instances of embarrassment, all the wee triggers, the ones not grand enough to strike immediately, and it stockpiles them until my body finally gives in to the load.
I had bouts of cold sweats and shivers until I fell asleep for the night, when my body reset for the next battle. The next daily trial. This is life with PTSD.
Me, the next day, in my new Battle Armor
This post is dedicated to my beautiful Abuelita.
Today would have been her 101st birthday. Instead, as my husband Rick put it, she is 1 in Heaven years. I will always love my Abuelita, and I hope that wherever her energy now lives, it is an experience as kind and beautiful as she was to all of us while on this Earth.