I had a piece on leadership and the probie set for my next entry; instead, I want to talk about fascades. Relax. I won’t be quizzing you about building construction. What I mean are the masks we don more than our scba ones: the guise that everything is just A-Ok. Mine sported such a pretty smile, a smile that hid the hurt, exhaustion, and confusion almost completely. They say the hardest step in any type of recovery is asking for help. While that’s certainly tough, I disagree. I put unnecessary pressure on myself from the beginning to make some sort of progress (ANY progress!) in managing my PTSD. I refused to let it happen organically. I thought, If I couldn’t control what I saw, I can at least control how quickly I manage it and move on. That’s not how things work. In trials and tribulations. In heartache. In your career. In life. For me, step number 2 was the hardest.
I was really lucky. Despite the toll it did take on me, my PTSD was hardly crippling. I was functioning as a regular person dealing with regular life. Until I wasn’t. The staggering expectations I put on myself eventually became too much to bear. I was so stressed with finding answers and treatment and putting this all behind me. All I wanted was to get back to my life and who I was before all of this crap. I was committing myself to competitions and races and social activities. Too many of them. I thought that if I kept busy, people would assume I was managing well and that I was, indeed, fit for duty. In reality, I was running myself so thin that I was screwing up much of what I committed to. I was frantic. The answer HAD to be somewhere!
I took a breath. And another. Another. I kept breathing. Day after day. My therapist likened the PTSD treatment plan to that of training for a marathon—short term (daily and weekly) and long term (monthly) goals. The task didn’t seem so insurmountable. Being the type of person I am, I had to do it to really understand it. I trained for and ran my first full marathon last fall. It gave me the patience I needed to focus my attention and the endorphins to keep me optimistic. It was the greatest decision I’ve made.
Regardless, I still struggle. Not as often.
“Why don’t people ask how I’m doing? They KNOW I have this diagnosis. It’s like they think I’m all better.”
“No, Kelly, they think you’re strong.”
“Well, I’m not. I’m still struggling.”
“They won’t know that until you tell them.”
While most of my days as of late have been good and easy and calculated (my new normal, I guess), I still have rough days. I want to give up on all of this ‘awareness’ and just crawl into bed and stay there for the next week. But I think of how far I’ve come. And I lace up my Nikes and take my dog, Riley, on a run. While blaring Kenny Chesney. Hey, it’s what works for me and allows for refocus.
And the awareness work? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a tricky line to walk. I want to use my experience to show others that you most certainly can have a full, vibrant life as someone who struggles with PTSD. But, I also promised myself to use this platform to be honest. So here I am, telling you that it’s totally ok to have really crappy days along with the better days. That applies to you no matter where you are in your journey. A bad day is not synonymous with failure or regression, it’s a sign that you are HUMAN. I think acceptance of ourselves is the biggest and most important step in destroying the stigma associated with PTSD. How can friends and family help if they are not aware of the problem? If you, unfortunately, are surrounded by people who do not try their best to support you, it’s time for new scenery. Find your tribe, the people who will love and help you despite the work involved. They’re out there, I promise. Personally, I have found that the more I share my story, the more others open up to me. People want to talk. They do. They are just desperate for a safe, non-judgmental place to do so.
If you can, be that place.
The Road and the Radio//Kenny Chesney, November 2005.