“PTSD?” I repeated, incredulously.
My GP nodded, “That’s my conclusion.”
She sighed and shuffled the papers on her desk absently. I had noticed this was a habit she did when she was trying to figure out how to phrase something, in the same way I twirled the ring on my finger when I was trying to work something out, a habit which, perhaps, she had noticed. Doctor Patient relationships are odd like that. You sit in the GPs office roughly once a month, you tell her all your darkest intimate secrets, she has been given the map of the wasteland in your head, she knows your triggers, things that even your lovers don’t know about you, and yet you don’t know the first damn thing about her. And it would feel weird – intrusive – if you did. I suppose the comfort in speaking to a GP comes, for some people, in the thought that the GP isn’t actually a person, but a source of knowledge, a series of answers and ideas that took the chaotic feelings of pain and aches and fears and slipped those feelings into neat little boxes called “diagnosis.”
One day, as a teenager, I had a sobering realisation that my GP was a real person. They got sick too. They too would have days when they couldn’t get out of bed, or when making a cup of tea was a Herculean task. And they too would need to sit twiddling their thumbs in the waiting rooms of other GPs, who in turn would get ill and go to see other GPs, and other GPs, until the world suddenly seems an endless Derridean chain of doctors, all getting sicker and sicker. My therapist too, probably has a therapist, and they have a therapist and they have a therapist and they have a therapist and ultimately no one is happy and no one can stand sturdy, in the monolithic and impervious parental position of saying “I am fine and I will always help you.”
That realisation was sobering because it was the first time I looked at the world and said to myself, “well, we’re fucked then.”
“You seem surprised,” my GP said, studying my face intently.
“You seemed relatively certain about the schizophrenia.”
“I had a strong suspicion. It runs in the family, after all. But the symptoms I’m seeing in you overlap with bipolar disorder,” she moved papers around again, until she found what she was looking for. “Now, given what you told me last week…”
Ah, yes, last week. When I had, quite without cause, spilled my measly black guts out to my GP about exactly why I felt so awful. No more talking in euphemisms about “difficult family circumstances,” or “anxiety at home.” Straight out, staccato said statements. This is why I am sad.
“…with that in mind, I would say a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder is much more likely.” her voice softened, “You’ve had a rough time of it.”
I opened my mouth to say that comparatively speaking I was fine. I wasn’t starving. I wasn’t hiding from IS fighters. I wasn’t clasping desperately to the wreckage of an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean. I wasn’t in a chained up in a labour camp somewhere, awaiting inevitable death for insulting the glorious leader. But the objection lost its footing, stumbled, and never made it on stage. Instead, I just gaped at her rather pathetically. That Doctor has the patience of a saint.
PTSD. It was hard to associate it with me. When I think of PTSD, I think of hollow eyed war veterans, trapped in re-enacted atrocities in their minds; of fire-fighters who failed to save people, of refugees staggering across god forsaken deserts, their whole world tied up in a bag on their backs. That wasn’t me.
And yet what was me? Trauma is something I have known all my days. As a child, I was molested. I was brought up by abusive fundamentalists who kept me effectively a brainwashed prisoner until I turned 12. When I was 15, a family member tried to suffocate me in my bed because God told them to. While at school, I was beaten up, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, pissed on and verbally abused. The first girl I ever had significant feelings for was mutilated because I didn’t believe in the correct God. At 18 I was publicly disowned, and suffered a mental breakdown. I developed, and recovered from an eating disorder that made be starve myself down to 7.5 stone. I was sexually abused again in University. At 21, I was violently assaulted at work. At 22, I became the target of a prolonged campaign of vile online harassment and abuse. At 23, there was an arson attack on my house, which I strongly suspect wasn’t a random incident. At 24, someone thought it would be a proper laugh to convince me that my mother had killed herself (she hadn’t), so I would get in touch with them. That’s just the synopsis, the 30 second “previously on” before the main show starts.
Someone close me to described my life as “over-plotted.” Reading back over that paragraph, I frankly wish whomever came up with that plot was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and shot.
PTSD. On some level it made so much sense. I have always struggled with sleep. Insomnia that lasts for days, hyposomnia that floors me for a week at a time. Currently, I sleep around six hours a night, but I am plagued almost every night by nightmares, which appear at the corner of my bed, take my hand and like some awful parody of Peter Pan, drag be back to that time when I was held down by three people while someone tried to write their name with a knife in my arm (because that’s what kids in my town did for kicks), or, if they are feeling even more sadistic, remind me of that church, of that confessional, of that man with the long nose, now, thankfully dead, and hopefully being torn apart for all eternity in a hell I would quite happily cease to deny the existence of if only to imagine him burning. In other words, I do not sleep. Marx once said that history repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second time as farce. In my case, trauma repeats itself. Not tragic, not farcical, but simply always fucking there. I’d become so used to the nightmares that, frankly, I didn’t wake up screaming. Much.
The constant fear, the lingering sense of mistrust, the sudden triggering of nauseating terror when someone happened to mention, say, family, or priests, or joked about rape – it all made sense. PTSD was a box which my GP had helpfully handed to me, and I was now trying to pack into it half solid feelings that slithered and slipped around my consciousness like smoke. Of course, as had happened before, I knew that if I packed too much into that box, if I kidded myself that one more tiny experience or the smallest of fears could just slip into the top, it might break open and spill everything out and make a horrible mess of me.
I sighed, stopped fiddling with my ring, looked my GP in the eye, and said, rather dully: “So what happens now?”