Feelings of worthlessness. Social anxiety. Telephonophobia. A sense of foreshortened life. Cherophobia. Agoraphobia. Nightmares that feel like a portal to hell. Physical numbing. Emotional numbing. Suicidal ideation. Suicidal intent. Low self-esteem. Poor sense of danger. Hypervigilance. Rage. Body aches. Depression. Fatigue. Susceptibility to chemical dependency and addiction. Inability to trust others. Inability to show affection. Inability to receive affection. Extreme isolation. Hallucinations. Fear for loved ones. Tendency to push loved ones away. Expectations of loss. Expectations of harm. Self-harm. Derealization. Depersonalization. Personality dissociation. Flashbacks. Panic attacks. Generalized anxiety. Aggression. Inability to work. Obsession with loss. Fear.
These are just some of the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While not everyone lives with all of these symptoms, many of us live with a lot of them. If you don’t have PTSD, imagine living with just one or two, all the time. Those of us living in the aftermath of trauma have to battle debilitating symptoms on a constant basis. It can’t easily be done alone. We rely on our supports to function. So what happens when all of our supports–or even just a great majority of our supports–fail to come through? That is what has happened to me this past month, so I’m at a great vantage point to talk about it.
How I’ve Been Dealing With PTSD When My Supports Failed
For someone with not a lot of social and familial supports, therapeutic support is crucial. I wish I had the kind of life in which my friends and family were the cornerstones of my recovery, but honestly, if that were my life, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at all. Well, I dunno. Maybe that’s not true. My trauma was pretty extreme. But we do know that having a strong support system can stop a person from developing PTSD, or at least mitigate the symptoms.
In any case, for a long while after I ended my abusive relationship, I did not have strong supports. The truth is, the support system that I have now really did not begin coming into place until after I attempted suicide on my 28th birthday. I don’t want to downplay the role of my awesome friends. I can only blame myself for how much I am estranged from them. But it’s true that before that attempt, I did not have much by way of support. And one of the biggest supports I gained from that time was therapeutic support.
Mental Healthcare Is Not Equal Among Classes
If you have private insurance, or a wealth of income, you will not have the same mental healthcare experience as me. To illustrate my experience, let’s go back in time about a decade. My son was an infant, and I needed to establish a primary care provider for him. Because we were poor and on Medicaid, as I still am today, we had limited options. One of those options was the family clinic at the hospital where I stayed after my suicide attempt, which is also my current mental health provider.
I made an appointment for a well-child check up. What I remember about the family health clinic was the largeness of the waiting room. It felt even bigger than it was because it didn’t have a proper door dividing it from the rest of the hospital. It was delineated by a turn of the wall and a hallway. The floor, as I remember it, was greyed with dirt. The room was crowded. Single mothers wearing loose-hanging clothes bounced chubby babies on their knees. Large families grouped together, chattering on rows of colorful plastic chairs. There wasn’t anything wrong with these people, there were just too many of them. That is what stands out most about poverty: the sheer size of the number of people affected.
I don’t remember much about the visit itself, but I do remember that by the time I left, I decided to never go back. I found another primary care provider, also accepted by Medicaid which meant also targeted for poor people, but simply better. This time through the hospital where my son was born. I kept my vow, and I never returned to that provider…until I was brought there by ambulance and forcibly inserted into their system.
I had my concerns about continuing care there, especially considering how poorly I was treated by the Emergency Department staff, and how misogynistic the all-male psych doctors were, but I took a liking to my assigned therapist. She was kind, and funny, and helped me with many things. Problem is, this is still the same provider I visited ten years ago with my son. Too many patients, too few staff. When it comes down to things, I’m just another number to this woman. For the third time since I began treatment with her a year and a half ago, she forgot to renew my appointments, leading to an abrupt and unexpected month-long lapse in my care. Every time this has happened, the impact on my life has been severe.
Lacking Therapeutic Support Led Me To Lack In Other Ways Too
Say what you will about talk therapy, but for me, the ability to bitch freely is powerful. The truth is, we haven’t even gotten to do much trauma work yet. In part because the abuse I experienced was so extreme and appalling, but also because I have such an intense need to process the everyday. Without close friends who I see or speak with regularly, and without parents who enjoy listening to me, my therapeutic support is a very necessary part of my ability to manage life with PTSD.
Everything in my life has suffered because of this one person’s inability to keep track of our appointments, or care enough to fix it after the fact. I’d say that’s unhealthy, except patients are supposed to be able to rely upon their therapeutic supports. Yes, sometimes even heavily when that’s all we’ve got.
My marriage has suffered. Because I have been unable to fully process my feelings about arguments with my husband, I have been getting angry more often, and feeling resentful over slights for longer periods of time.
My friendships have suffered. Because I have been unable to process the idea of my friends knowing things about my addiction history that they didn’t know before I started publishing my recent articles, I haven’t really wanted to talk to my friends. So I haven’t. Which means my secondary and tertiary supports have also been weakened or, in the case of my friends, virtually eliminated as a result of the therapeutic support failing.
My other therapeutic support–my peer support group–has also suffered. Unfortunately, there are things about the way that group is run that really annoy me. I haven’t been able to process those things. A big thing came up recently–a false positive on a drug test that I felt my counselor believed was a true positive–and I ended up not attending at all because I was so upset over it. I’ve also begun to feel resentful because I can’t process everything I need to while there. I get that it’s the nature of group therapy, but right now I have nothing else. So I feel betrayed and abandoned by everyone.
It’s a major backslide. And it’s not right. I should have been able to count on my therapist.
So What Do I Do When My Supports Fail?
It’s been tough. I’m not going to lie. My drug cravings have returned more intensely than they had in months. I’ve been feeling depressed, and borderline suicidal. I’ve become overly emotionally dependent on getting writing pitches accepted. Thankfully, I’ve had some luck with that lately. I think I would be a whole lot worse if I hadn’t.
I don’t want to claim that I can give a blanket answer to suit everyone’s needs should your supports fail too. What I’ve learned for myself are two things:
1. Don’t place too much trust in another person outside of myself. I don’t mean that in an overly pessimistic way, just a realistic way. I cannot honestly depend on anyone besides myself, so don’t.
2. Have other supports in place, should the foundational support fail. I don’t really have these, and I don’t know what they would look like. But I need to figure it out. I think a good idea is to have a lot of small supports in place. Like a writing group, a friend or two in my city, maybe a domestic violence survivor’s group. I don’t know. Just a few supports to rely on that aren’t just one falliable support.
What I have been doing is devoting myself to my writing work. I don’t know if that is healthy in the long-term, but since I do have work right now, it has helped me keep my mood from lowering too greatly, and has given me a sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose significantly decreases my suicidal feelings. Weirdly, it has even lessened my feelings of doom. I don’t really know why; if you have any insight to that, please let me know.
What do you do when your supports fail? Do you have a number of small supports lifting you up, or do you rely heavily on one strong support? How do you manage life with PTSD? Let me know in the comments!
Til next time.