The past several weeks, I’ve been worse than normal at responding to texts and emails, but have become hyperactive on social media; I’ve been sleeping less, eating less, and feeling low on energy. It’s easy to attribute all of this to the whirlwind of pre-graduation life as I prepare to bid farewell to the places and people I’ve come to love over the past four years, but the truth is I’ve been battling it out with PTSD.
When I bring up PTSD, people probably think I’m talking about my sexual assault. Sometimes that’s correct, but the bulk of my trauma-related difficulties have to do with a series of events that occurred repeatedly over an extended period of time, starting prior to the assault. The trauma I experienced was entirely emotional/psychological, which (ironically) makes the mental health piece harder for others to understand than it is when I talk about my assault, which was more physical.
Without going into too much detail – it’s a long and painful story – I experienced repeated abandonment and rejection by a number of people who were supposed to care about me over a span of many months (or maybe years…I’m still not quite sure when it started). Since then, I’ve dealt with extreme difficulty in feeling worthy of connection.
It’s normal for people to flow in and out of our lives and given where I am in life as a young adult, people are in and out fairly frequently. But sometimes, the loss of a person (I’m referring to social loss, not death) triggers my PTSD by bringing up feelings of abandonment and rejection.
Even though I consciously know that I did not deserve the sh*t that went down years ago, I still very much believe that something was my fault. There must have been something I could’ve done differently to prevent those things from happening, to prevent everyone from leaving. Because of this, I often go into relationships trying hard to show the other person how much I care about them and that I’m worthy of connection.
And when people don’t stick around – either temporarily or forever, because we go separate ways, or they find me burdensome, or they simply need space – all of the old traumas come welling up from within. My mind scrambles to understand what happened, why, and what I can do to make it better.
Do they hate me or do they just need space? If they hate me, why? If they need space, in what ways did I take up too much? Was it that panic attack? That awkward thing I said? Was I burdensome? Was I rude? Can I make it better? If so, how? If not, why? Is this disconnect permanent or temporary? How can I do better? How can I prevent this from happening again?
Unfortunately, the ebbing and flowing of people is a part of life and unfortunately, it brings the feelings of abandonment and rejection back to the surface for me. I’ve gotten better at managing it over the years (#therapy), but it still affects me. This time around, it comes with flashbacks, insomnia, decreased appetite, decreased energy (which insomnia and decreased appetite do not help), mood swings, and sporadic social patterns. It’s my brain attempting to un-shatter after experiencing rejection by another person with whom it tried to connect.
However, I have a support system I know I can count on, I’ve been reminding myself to eat, I’ve been journaling before bed to help me sleep, I’ve spent some time in nature, and I’ve prayed some.
On Tuesday, my therapist and I came to an awesome conclusion about these situations: I need to let go. I need to let go of the idea that I should go out of my way to “make” people like me – they either like me or they don’t; it’s out of my control – and I need to let go of the people who leave. As my therapist put it, “You have a lot of love to give and if they don’t want it, it’s their loss.”
In the next few days, I’ll begin saying more good-byes to people I care deeply about. Some will be good-bye for now and others good-bye forever, but I hope they’re good good-byes. I want us all to leave knowing that we are worthy of each other’s connection. That we are enough as we are. That I am enough as I am.
Maybe then I’ll sleep a little easier at night.