Last Wednesday I filled out a checklist. It was a list of symptoms for sexual assault survivors, and I was asked to circle each one which I experience.
Out of something like 20 symptoms, I have 17. This is normal, the counselor tells me, this is what tells them that what I’m telling them is true. This is what gives them a confirmation of the diagnosis I walked in with.
I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I’ve had my PTSD diagnosis for 11 years now, which is approximately how long I’ve been officially dating for.
I do not miss dating with PTSD.
Dating with PTSD is hard, not just on the person with the disorder, but on everyone he or she touches. It is hard because we have to learn how to disclose. It is hard because each time we disclose it is the same conversation, the same soft spoken “I’m so sorry’s” and the glances that tell you they aren’t sure they can handle this.
For each person that I met, that I considered seeing, that seemed to want to pursue things beyond conversational dating – I had to have The Talk. I had to explain where I come from, what has led me to be the hypervigilant person I am today. I always hated tempering my past to placate a new person in my life. I didn’t want to say that it was “ok” – but the question was never asked if I WAS okay, only “So you’re ok now, right?”
PTSD doesn’t just go away with the wave of a magic sanity wand. Just because I wanted to be close to others, just because I wanted snuggles and kisses… it doesn’t mean I was all better now. I’m still not all better.
It would seem that many people believe that those of us with mental illness do not deserve these physical and emotional things. We are not capable of finding a partner because we might hurt those in the process.
In a comment thread on XOJane last year, I admitted that I had to disclose on the first date because of my PTSD. I had to disclose so that I didn’t become startled and hurt someone. I needed them to know that consent, for me, is imperative. Even for an arm around my waist. Some of this is just because I’m blind, some of this is because I’m partially deaf, some of it is because of my PTSD. I was searching for a person who wouldn’t pity me because I told them that I had a past.
Instead, I was told within the comments thread that “Maybe you shouldn’t date until you get better.”
I’m still not better. But I met my match. I met my partner and he and I walk through the negotiations of mental illness together.
Seeing all those symptoms reminded me how difficult it is to negotiate in a world where mental illness is clouded in shame. My friend who picked me up from the office after my meeting said that I was radiating waves of rage.
It took me until today to understand what some of that rage was – it wasn’t really about me. It was about the fact that I am only doing this ten years after my diagnosis. It is about the fact that I live in a world where we have to be so careful about what we say – about how we say it – we have to be careful not to scare people off, even when we’re trying our best to simply be ourselves. My rage wasn’t just about me, that rage was for my friends living with other mental illnesses – because we’re all lumped together – and then we’re told that we’re all psychopaths.
Mental illness doesn’t make you a monster. Mental illness doesn’t excuse actions that hurt people. Taking accountability, disclosing, and caring for yourself and others – that’s just being an adult. I only wish that with that responsibility came understanding, rather than the hushed stare and steps back that most people take.
I am grateful that my husband didn’t run away. I’m grateful that my friends are supportive rather than fearful.
But I hate that we can’t disclose without fearing for our jobs, for our safety, and for the societal support we need to be safe. Disclosure means not having to say why “A Clockwork Orange” might make me flee under the bed. Disclosure means not having to apologize for night terrors. Disclosure means the kind of intimacy that everyone wants, because the dialogue isn’t about the “why” of a negative reaction, but becomes about making that interaction more positive.
Disclosure often creates a place for us to be safe. The people who stick around after disclosure? They’re the ones who create your safety bubble. They are the people who will tell you without having to be asked that you might not want to watch this week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” or “Downton Abbey” – they’re the friends who support you when you want to watch SVU, but will be there to debrief afterwards.
Disclosure means safety for everyone – and a kind of closeness that allows for growth. So I’ll keep disclosing, I’ll keep supporting those who’ve disclosed to me, and I’ll keep hoping that the world changes enough that no longer will disclosure brand us as the monsters.