My therapist suggested that I have PTSD. He wasn’t really specific about what situation in my life would have contributed to this disorder. We’ve covered a lot of my story so far, and I can’t be sure.
At first I felt ridiculous. I don’t get to have PTSD. My dad gets to have PTSD. He is a combat veteran from the Vietnam war. He still screams in the night. Do you have any idea how heartbreaking it was waking up in the middle of the night, hearing your hero, your dad, scream from the night terrors of his past? I can’t imagine what he went through. I love my dad. He has been the only person in my immediate family that I feel any sort of connection with. He and I have always been able to understand each other. I don’t have that with many people. He has been an amazing dad to me.
My parents are still married, but I didn’t see my dad a lot growing up. He worked a lot. But when he drove home after a sixteen hour night shift, he would drive me out to the bus stop at the end of our long winding driveway through the woods. He always had breakfast waiting for me, and we would sit in his warm truck and chat about life until the bus rolled up. Sometimes we would watch deer run through the field across the street. My dad and I both find amazing peace in nature.
He is a very opinionated guy. There are some major flaws in his world view. But my dad’s heart is made of pure gold. He’s the guy who anonymously orders strawberry shortcake for every kid in the restaurant before he leaves. He still sends a beer to veterans he sees at the bar and thanks them for their service. He melted one day at the post office when a little girl recognized his Vietnam Veteran hat and stopped him to say thank you for serving our country. That little girl will never know how her simple gesture made up for all the “thank yous” he never received when he came back from an unpopular war. My dad still wakes up early to plow the driveways of military wives and the elderly people in our little home town. He never takes money. He just enjoys taking care of people. Like I said, my dad’s heart is pure gold. And that had to have made it so much more horrifying for him to go through the soul-clenching terror of war. He gets to have PTSD. He earned it.
I have a friend who is in the hospital right now. He just had a piece of artificial skull placed over a gaping hole in his head. He got jumped by five thugs who beat him relentlessly for about forty-five minutes. Then they just left him for dead. They didn’t steal any thing. This wasn’t for drugs. They just beat him because they are terrible monsters and they have no humanity. My friend gets to have PTSD. He earned that diagnosis. His experience was terrifying to hear about. He shouldn’t be alive right now. But he is. And now he has to come to terms with a new reality. He also has to come to terms with knowing now, how truly psychotic some people in this world can be. People who would kill someone so brutally, so thoughtlessly, are not human beings. My heart breaks for this friend of mine. He also has a heart of gold. And now his life will never be the same.
I don’t have an experience like that. I have endured some tough spots in my life. My heart has been shattered. My life has twisted and turned beyond the path I imagined for myself. But the only PTSD worthy experience I have is almost dying from a burst appendix. I was fourteen years old. My mom kept ignoring my complaints about stomach pain. She pretended like she couldn’t hear me throwing up. She didn’t notice that I hadn’t moved from my bedroom floor for three days. She just kept watching her soap opera and telling people I was just nervous about starting high school. I wasn’t fucking nervous. I was very ill. I had a fever that burned over 106 degrees. When she finally took me to the hospital, the surgeon told my parents that they needed to prepare for the worst. She didn’t know if I would survive. I did. She told everyone that my pain tolerance was off the charts. It wasn’t. I was in more pain than I had ever experienced. But my mother couldn’t handle the guilt of everyone judging her for nearly letting me die, so we told everyone that I had the pain tolerance of a rhinoceros. To this day, I panic a little whenever I get sick. I am terrified of death. And yet, it’s a process I must endure.
We are all going to die. Tomorrow has never been a promise. On some level, we are all constantly aware of our own mortality. I guess PTSD comes from having that awareness take center stage in your life. It’s like walking through the jungle. You are aware that there could be tigers out there. But it’s a big fucking difference when one jumps up in your face.
Even so, my tiger is nothing compared to the tigers my dad faced, or the one my friend recently confronted. Isn’t it terrifying how radically life can change? A moment in time. A simple twist of fate. And all of a sudden, your world is changed forever.
How do you pretend the tigers aren’t real after you have touched one? After you have smelled the wild beast up close? How do you steady your legs and walk through the jungle again?