Hello! Happy Monday! It really is a happy Monday because I have the honor of publishing this amazing guest post, and you’re here reading it 😉
Last month August did me the great honor of hosting my very first published piece about being queer on her collaborative mental health blog, Survival Is A Talent. Today she has done me another honor: She has written a guest post for Betty’s Battleground, granting us readers intimate insight into her relationship. She discusses a topic that is dear to me: what it’s like to be in a romantic relationship with someone who has PTSD. What makes August’s story unique is that she also lives with a mental illness: bipolar type schizoaffective disorder. Neither she nor her now-fiance had their respective diagnoses when they first began dating. So this piece not only reveals the reality of life with a partner who has PTSD while combating her own symptoms; it also shows us what it’s like to discover that the person you love has a mental illness, while discovering that you yourself do too. This is a unique, beautifully written perspective on a very important topic, and I am proud to have the opportunity to publish it on my blog.
Oh also…if you think the title is unbelievably cheesy…don’t put that on August. The superb article is all her; the corny title is all me. Now to August…
August Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media manager. A story about her life with schizophrenia has been published in the next volume of The i’Mpossible Project. It is available for pre-order and will be in stores November 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and her personal blog.
A Neurochemical Romance
by August Pfizenmayer
When I thought of PTSD before I met my fiance Justin, I pictured an angry man choking his partner in her sleep. I saw fits of rage. I thought of dramatic scenes in movies after a soldier has come home from war. But this is not what PTSD is like in my relationship. It is much more subtle, slithering its way around me and my partner like a deadly snake. It is a quiet and eerie feeling that develops like a brick wall between me and him until he becomes unreachable.
In the beginning, it was the small but constant anxiety he gave off every night when we were getting into bed to go to sleep. He seemed to be scared of me. I am half his weight. What did I do? What could I do? We’d only been together six months. Was he already sick of me?
Pretty soon, he started asking if we could sleep in separate beds. Isn’t that for old people? Or people who don’t love each other? I thought. My feelings were hurt, but I was descending deeper and deeper into psychosis, a symptom of my own illness. A month later, and I was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar type schizoaffective disorder, a mood disorder accompanied by symptoms of schizophrenia. When I got out of the hospital, Justin confided in me that he had remembered something he had blocked out long ago. Some memories had resurfaced.
“Honey,” he told me. “I…I was raped by my neighbor when I was a child.”
I was shocked and heartbroken. I wanted to go back in time and save him, keep it from happening. But at the same time, it made sense to me. That’s why he wants to sleep alone, I thought. Because he feels vulnerable in bed at night, the time and place where he was violated. Because he was abused, taken advantage of, and violated in the worst way possible by someone he trusted. Sleeping in separate beds didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted to get him help. I would do anything to make him feel safe and loved.
We found Justin a psychiatrist and a counselor. Two years later, I have made peace with my diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, and he has made peace with his past. We are able to sleep in the same bed most nights, but that’s not evidence that his PTSD is “cured.” Neither he nor I will ever be cured. It is the absence of the wall that was once so high that I had to stand on my tippy toes, straining to get a look at him, to connect with him, to get him to let me in…It is the absence of the wall separating us that lets me know that we have passed the hardest parts of his PTSD. It will always be a part of our relationship, just as his past will always be a part of who he is.
We still have our bad days. This morning, I woke up from a nightmare and was convinced that the demon in my dream had transcended the dream realm (I guess that’s what it’s called) and come into reality to kill me. I looked in the closets, checked under the bed. I felt the demon behind me. My delusion (a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason) that the demon from my dream had come into reality was transforming into a hallucination right before my eyes. And there he was…right in front of me, blinking and breathing, this creature with black eyes, teeth, even black breath. My illness had created him. My mind had conjured him and my psychosis had brought him into my life, fully formed as a hallucination. That’s what my illness does to me. And Justin was trying to calm me down. He was trying to talk me out of it, to talk sense into me. But that’s the thing about delusions–they are by definition resistant to reason.
So today was about me. And Justin was doing okay, so it was all right that it was about me, about calming me down and taking care of me. But some days… both of us aren’t doing well. And we both start crying and screaming about nihilism or how nothing we ever do will ever matter. Sometimes we go back and forth, droning on about the pointlessness of life itself. And sometimes… I’m having a panic attack, but he is, too. We’re in Walmart, just trying to get groceries for the week. I snap at him. He snaps at me…
You take the cart. I’m going to the car!
Can’t you see I’m having a panic attack, too? What makes your panic attack worse than mine?!
I didn’t say that!
And then we make a beeline for the checkout line just so we can get out of this loud, bright, huge store that has triggered a panic attack in both of us. Or we ditch the cart and walk back to the car feeling sorry for ourselves because we cannot even get groceries without having a meltdown. Most of the time, though, we take turns. I am the strong one, and then he is. We give and take. We lean on each other.
I know that we are stronger than those who have hurt us, that we are stronger than our illnesses. We are stronger together, and we can endure anything as long as we have each other. That is how we both, somehow, stay upright, despite it all.
Thank you again, so much, to August Pfizenmayer for writing this honest and touching article about what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone who has PTSD while combating her own mental illness symptoms. Please don’t forget to visit her collaborative mental health blog, Survival Is A Talent, and her personal blog, August Was Here.
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to sign up for updates by adding your name to my e-mail list. You can do that on the main page sidebar or the toast that should be showing up around now! I’ve got some great guest posts lined up for this and other series-you definitely don’t want to miss ’em.