"I tell Julie all the time that I care about her and I love her but she never accepts it and never believes me."
"I am always telling Jim how important he is to me and to our family, but he just doesn't listen."
These are a couple of quotes that I believe accurately represent the frustrations experienced by the friends and loved ones of those living with PTSD. I have had several conversations around this topic with a friend of mine and I think it is still frustrating for her as well as for me. I was talking with a person who has a friend living with PTSD. What she shared with me during our conversation was very similar to the second quote above. PTSD is initiated by some traumatic event in our lives and when that happens some level of darkness invades the inner being of that person. It's not so much that we don't listen, or we don't understand, or we don't accept it, or we don't believe the person expressing their love and care for us, but the reality in our world is that the darkness is all-consuming inside of us. So much so that we don't have any place inside of us to deposit that love and care that friends and loved ones are expressing to us.
A little bit of an odd visual picture for you to try to illustrate the differences between the two worlds of living with PTSD and living without PTSD.
Jodie and Sally are two close friends. They are both living without PTSD. Jodie tells Sally that she has been a really important friend to her and how much she values the friendship they have had over the years. Picture Sally's brain having a filing cabinet inside it. She takes this expression of love and care from her friend, Jodie, and it has a special place in a file inserted inside this filing cabinet in her brain. The filing cabinet has a vein running from it to Sally's heart. These files inside the cabinet, full of love and care she has received, are pumping lifeblood to her heart and she is therefore allowed to fully absorb that her friends and loved ones care about and love her.
Eric grew up in a home where he was constantly berated, yelled at and always punished for things he had not done. He suffered severe verbal abuse and some physical abuse, but all this took place behind closed doors. His family was upper middle class, religious and respected in the community. Everyone who knew his parents would always tell him he was so lucky to have such loving and kind parents. Obviously this scenario proved to be very confusing for Eric. He has no concept of what it really means for someone to care about him or love him. His filing cabinet has been laced with a poison that finds its way into all the files he inserts into it. Instead of a lifeblood flowing out of the cabinet to his heart, it is instead a poison.
Andy is a war veteran who fought on the front lines and came literally face-to-face with the horrors of combat. Holly was violently gang raped one night. Marlee witnessed horrific criminal acts as a young child, things no child should ever have to see. In all three of these cases, which resulted in severe forms of PTSD, their filing cabinets either disintegrated or exploded and no longer exist. There is no place for them to deposit the files of love and care they receive from their friends and loved ones.
For all of these people living with PTSD, the all-consuming darkness has done something to destroy or overtake their filing cabinet and they are left with no way to fully absorb the love and care they receive from their friends and loved ones. It's important to pay attention to the words here, we do receive the love and care that are expressed to us, but there is no place for us to store it. With no place to put it, it eventually gets thrown away no matter how desperately we want to hang on to it.
It is a very frustrating process for those living with PTSD to not have a way to accept the love and care they so desperately need and want to hang on to. And we can see how frustrating it is for our friends and loved ones when they feel like we don't believe them or they think we just aren't listening. This in turn adds extra frustration for us, often leaving us feeling as if things would be simpler for everyone if we just didn't exist.
I am wanting to believe that the destroyed or dysfunctional filing cabinets in our brains can somehow be restored and hoping that one day we will experience that lifeblood of being able to fully accept the love and care from our friends and loved ones. This probably happens in small steps though.
If you have a question about what it is like to live with PTSD, please use the link at the top of the page to submit your question to be answered in a future blog.