Right now I have the flu. Apparently it’s bad this year. Go figure. So I am sitting in my bed with my electric blanket on level 8, drinking Walgreens knockoff version of TheraFlu (Whatever happened to the real stuff? Darn you, stupid meth lab guys, ruining everybody’s access to decent cold medicine!).
I was reading this article about Michele Bachman refusing to pay some campaign staffers because they’re refusing to help cover up her campaign’s alleged theft or misuse of a homeschooler contact information database. Then I was reading a rather funny response to Rick Santorum’s pretty callous (and inaccurate) position on inequality in America. Then I moved on from the negative coverage of these Quiverfull-esque politicians (really, I can only take so much), listening to Thao Nguyen sing “Bag of Hammers” for NPR and then watching Jon Stewart’s joke referencing her song (in an otherwise hilarious diatribe about gun control politics) fall flat.
And then it hit me. For having the flu, I’m not doing half bad. After all, I’ve kept up with the news, made myself chicken soup (okay, okay, reheated the chicken soup a nice friend was kind enough to drop off for me), and I am even writing a blog post. Hmm. Don’t most people with the flu just take a bunch of vitamin C, some NyQuil, and knock themselves out until its over? Shouldn’t I be sleeping in a half coma or something right now?
As someone who has struggled with moderate depression on and off since my teens and who has PTSD symptoms crop up that make me feel tired, jumpy, avoidant, or achy for no apparent reason, I’ve gotta say comparatively the flu isn’t all that bad. Okay, I am going through a box of aloe-infused tissues right now (perhaps the best invention for sniffly people ever), I groggily forgot yesterday was Thursday and I had a late afternoon meeting to cancel (oops! I’m really sorry about that!), and my sinuses are so clogged that it feels like I have a squid squeezing my face (actually I have no idea what that’d be like in real life), but secretly I am still happy for a day to lay in bed with no need for excuses or shame and nothing real bad going on besides the fever and achy joints.
Why? Well, sometimes when I lay in bed all day because I’m just having a “down day” I feel like a lazy person. Not simply just a lazy person, but a fat, pathetic, no good, useless, disgusting lazy person. When I am having a down day I often have a hard time being nice to myself and I generally have a hard time getting my Dad’s lifetime of insults, still played in his exact voice, from repeating on a reel in the back of my head. I recently learned a term for what happens when I am unsuccessful in telling that negative voice to shut up and unsuccessful in trying to convince myself to get up and go do laundry or return emails, and that term would be “auto-insubordination.” Apparently this is a pretty common issue for everyone though, something we all struggle with more or less. Some days I have that reel going on and I still manage to get up, brush my teeth, put on weather-appropriate shoes (it being winter in New England right now the only choice is the leather boots or the snow boots), say hi to people I know, get work done, run errands, cook food, try not to seem like a zombie, and get to bed at a decent hour.
When my full-on PTSD breakthrough crisis or whatever it was hit me, suddenly I could not accomplish those things, could not power through it. I tried but I was stuck. I attempted to hide and just snap myself out of it, was confident I could because of all the other times I had, and then when it didn’t work, I tried to explain to people that I honestly was stuck. They were as confused and annoyed by it as I was. I was a responsible, intelligent student. I could speak and write coherently. My reading comprehension was quite good. What on earth was the matter here? I didn’t know either, and it scared the heck out of me. My identity was wrapped up in being the responsible, intelligent student/employee/friend/wife/big sister and suddenly I felt neither intelligent nor responsible. I felt like I was a big chunk of green jello melting on hot pavement, and everyone was going by, shaking their head, and being either repulsed or thinking “oh, what a shame.” I now figure most of what I inferred about other people’s perspectives at the time was a bit exaggerated, because after all, I did graduate and I’ve got lots of lovely awesome friends who had my back and believed in me (depression is a nasty thing that convinces you your friends secretly think you suck), but still, it was hard to deal with. Since then I have taken a rather unexpected maxim to heart: Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. Kinda freeing, right?
Still, after my Grandad died in the middle of my last semester, everyone was telling me that they knew how hard it was for me, given how close he and I were, how it was okay if I didn’t feel okay, that they didn’t expect me to feel okay. Thing is, I secretly felt almost better than I had before. Now I had a socially acceptable reason to be in mourning, to be sad, to feel down. It’s true that I was quite sad to lose my Grandad, but in a different way then I expected. I think of and miss him often, but I almost felt a sense of relief. I knew the cancer wasn’t hurting him anymore and his life had ended in ripe old age and as close to being on his terms as anyone can hope with death. I held his hand the night before he died. I had closure. I was at peace with his passing. I was not at peace with having to deal with the ongoing PTSD nightmares, the concentration problems, the insomnia, the waves of icky feelings and intrusive memories reminding me of childhood that still washed over me.
It really got me thinking when I noticed that having the flu wasn’t as bad as having a “down day,” and that having a lot of down days had felt slightly more awful than losing Grandad. It helped me to have some sort of a context for what my otherwise invisible struggle has been like.
I am a bit of an overachiever, a perfectionist, always have been, and feeling like I haven’t been able to do everything I expected of myself (or promised to others) since the PTSD stuff happened has often been infuriating. I’ve felt like I’ve let myself down in many ways. Every down day I’ve had has seemed like wasted time, like a miniature loss of control, a giving up, a giving in. Thing is, if PTSD symptoms feel worse than flu symptoms, and prolonged intense PTSD symptoms feel somehow in the same range as the pain of losing a person who was for all intents and purposes the beloved father figure in my life, then maybe that means I am dealing with something bigger than I imagined. Maybe, despite everything I’m not doing half bad. I’m still getting stuff done and I am still healing. No matter what, I feel love every day, both by giving and receiving it. Maybe recognizing this will help me be nicer to myself the next time I have a down day. I think I should be.
I have worked hard to get to a new normal and I’ve gotta say I’m not quite there yet. If the breakthrough crisis was an earthquake resetting the tectonic plates of my life, forcing me to deal with something that I thought I had forever put away, I am still experiencing aftershocks. Apparently going through so many years of what I did makes this experience (the careful avoidance and the unwanted breakthrough that bowled me over) common but obviously still quite frustrating. The last thing I want to be doing with the beautiful, opportunity-filled life I have in front of me now is reliving the ugly, lonely parts of the past.
Still, I feel like you should never waste a perfectly good disaster, so the least I can do as I heal is be real about it, channel some of that energy into raising awareness about the issue, hopefully making a difference. As hard as it is to wrap my head around all of it sometimes, I am learning new things, new concepts, new perspectives. I am realizing I know less and less about more and more, if that makes any sense.
Also, it’s nice to imagine, as I post this, how much I might be able to get done once I’m over the flu and have overcome even more of these residual PTSD symptoms. Then nothin’ can stop me. I’m gonna keep on truckin’, living life, knowing Grandad would be proud.
I’m gonna keep on working, keep on noticing and participating in the world around me, keep showing and feeling love, keep fighting for what I believe in, and keep on having a sense of humor about it all when I can. One things that gets me laughing is when bits of homeschooling subculture make their way into mainstream culture. Go ahead, watch Sweet Brown’s viral video autotune song “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” and have a little glimpse of Tim Tebow “Tebowing” to “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”