People tell me I look happy.
And although they don’t see the tears that flow when I am well hidden beneath the steaming shower or behind the heavy bedcovers, I know I still have space for happiness. But it looks nothing like it used to.
Happiness is no longer a long-awaited holiday, or an updated piece of furniture for the house, or even a new pair of shoes. Since my husband’s PTSD became a constant reminder of the unpredictability of life, I have been forced to search for my happiness in other places.
Good food on the table every day. Friends who give me their ear when I want it, and their hand if I need it. A family that supports me, and loves me unconditionally. A warm house, and space to just breathe. An opportunity to share my stories, and to reach others with my words. My three children, healthy and happy.
This is my new happy.
So even though my husband’s PTSD can rain down on us for days on end, I know where to look now to find my peace. And I know that a glimmer of happiness can be found, even on the darkest days.
People tell me I’m so capable.
And I can understand why. Jobs get done, life moves on, the world keeps turning. Do they honestly believe that, put in my situation, they would crumble under the pressure?
My routine is my secret weapon. When PTSD spins everything else out of control – when my husband rages with anger, or intoxication takes him away, in body or mind, or another relapse means an admission to the ward at short notice – I turn to my routine and my children to ground me.
A cup of tea brings me back to myself, and a text from a friend about her kids coming over to play. Lunch boxes still need to be packed. School buses still need to be caught. Clothes still need to be washed. Dinner still needs to be made. Teeth still need to be brushed. And bedtime stories still need to be read.
I am capable, because without my routine and without a layer of normal I would be lost. And if I am lost, would I ever be able to find my way back?
People tell me I’ve become so resilient.
But what does that actually mean? Have I become so accustomed to the behaviours of my husband’s PTSD that I have gradually adapted my life around them? Or have I hardened against the anger and the unpredictable episodes? Nothing can touch me now.
But I know that I am still touched. And I still have a constant knot of anxiety twisting deep inside.
Part of me accepts that his actions and behaviours are no reflection on me. But why do I feel so ashamed? Why do I still feel responsible for what he chooses to do, or not do? The worry can be overwhelming. And the shame, suffocating.
I am not resilient. Or am I resilient simply because I acknowledge the pain, and it hasn’t broken me yet?
People tell me how strong I am.
And this one gets me every time. Every single time. I may smile and I may nod, but I also look away, even though I know no one can see the fog inside my head.
Does adversity build strength, or does it simply reveal it? I’m still not sure.
Am I strong because no one can see the little girl deep within who never imagined that her marriage would look like this? Or am I strong because no one will ever be able to read the dark thoughts inside my mind?
Even now, telling you openly and honestly about my life, there are still some words I can never put down on this page.
So if I am strong, in the face of PTSD, then it’s because it’s the only choice I have.
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