Posted by: cavemanwithmartini | April 13, 2010

PTSD and Me. from How To Be Relentlessly Happy by Troy Ygnacio Soriano.


“You have Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder, Troy.  Called PTSD for short.”

I didn’t say anything.  It sounded a little familiar.  I am surprised that I have something that has a name to it, that twenty-four years of life could fit so neatly into just four letters. I almost had to admire it.

I looked at the door and considered leaving. I could leave, be somewhere on Newbury Street in a few minutes, relaxing. I brought my eyes to the door and kept them there. For the next minutes the door would become an object of almost erotic fascination.

I don’t say anything for a long time, but I am aware she is looking only at me. Finally I speak up.

“When I … made the appointment to talk to a therapist, I kind of just wanted to talk to someone once or twice … about my …” I had to force the words out, “- anxiety attacks. I figured they would go away, then. I didn’t realize it was going to lead to anything, I didn’t …  I don’t … want it to … lead to anything.”

At the words, anxiety attacks, I begin to have one, which I was helpless to stop. I begin to sweat and my heart starts to beat harder and faster, my blood pressure rises, the veins in my neck sprawl out. My breathing becomes labored.

I have the actual thought, your life is about to get very difficult for a long time. My life is already so un-enjoyable and bleak, that I am overwhelmed with this idea.

The idea of death comes in at this time, and stays. It is the very somber thought that I might die, that I could die, that I could take my own life, that life is over, and it is over now. Death as a possibility accompanies every panic attack. I am having them one after the other lately, from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, late in the night. I don’t think about much, I don’t do much, I just sit there in my room at home, with a cold sweat pouring down my face.

I wrestle with the diagnosis half-heartedly and lose. I wrestle it again, a lot harder, and lose again, a lot worse. My idea was to argue with her, only it fits so well. Though I had no words to describe it, and no real understanding of myself, or powers of self-diagnosis, even I, in my super-hazy, dark and dim awareness could realize that I sat there dripping in post-traumatic-stress-disorder. It made every room I went into a mess.

So obvious, so complicated for people around me, being covered in wet, bright-red paint forever would have been a lot easier to live with in the world by that point, than my PTSD. After eight minutes or so, I recognized how pointless arguing with her would be. And so, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I sat there, like two people who, once introduced, become an instant, famous couple.

“You have all the symptoms, which are rather specific. I also conferred with three colleagues of mine, on this, to be sure.  We are strongly recommending.  That you go on medications. Troy.

Here is a pause. She is desperate for me to hear her and get her meaning, and I am desperate to try to. For the first time in my life, everything happening feels very important, and that was not a word I ever associated with myself. Previously, I had thought, oh this is important, or that is-but no one ever shared in those ideas with me, about the moments of my life. So, it was finally happening, I thought this development was important, and so did at least one other person, maybe even a few people, and this event of profound shared-meaning was taking place, but how could it not be over something nicer, more enjoyable? Other people I knew were off graduating, or getting married. I was trying to successfully leave the house.

I force myself to exhale and inhale, with great effort, and am very sad.

It was as if she and I were on an island of defeated, crazy people, and any second now, she was going to be pulling away on a ship called Sanity, and these were my last seconds to either jump on the boat and save my life, or step away from her and decide to take my chances. Only, I can’t join her because I have convinced myself that I belong where I am standing, I was born there.

I’m scanning, scanning, scanning. Scanning her, myself, the world which suddenly seems much bigger and more difficult, and much more wretched now, with PTSD in it.

My heart breaks so hard, I can’t believe it’s not audible. For a moment, someone else is closely monitoring my safety, and guaranteeing it. Completely, I wonder, completely? Do I let myself go crazy now and wreck up the whole block or is it more convenient for everyone concerned if I fall on the ground and die? If I could will myself gone with a snap of my fingers, instantly gone from the world, not existing anywhere, I would have disappeared at exactly this moment. Instead-

“A lot of people are on these medications, which are safe, and many of the people on them don’t have even half of your anxiety.  Troy, this could improve your life dramatically.  It could be a whole new thing for you.  I’m asking you … to seriously consider this.”




I had never been on medications before. Though I was in the middle of my twenties, I had only been to a doctor once, since I was born. I had never even been to the dentist. I almost didn’t know what medications were. Self-care, doctors, medications, all sounded exotic to me. If they were essential to life, I was brought up to understand that they weren’t essential to my life.

“But. For how long?”  I said, as if we were talking about someone else, who did not interest either one of us very much.

“A little while at least?  Maybe longer?   We’d .. monitor it.”, she said very confidently, very crisply. “But you need a change.  You need to be able to function, and leave the house, and … care for yourself.  These medications will help with that, I believe.  I believe this is the best option for you.” She nodded slowly, thoughtfully.

I can tell she had thought about all of this, very hard. That was almost the most bizarre aspect of it to me. I was not used to being the focus of deep consideration, and not at all convinced I was worthy of it.

She is being very tender with me, but it is a quiet gesture, and I only barely perceive it. I try to observe her for a moment, as if she is my patient.  My eyes seek her, so that I could show her a small smile. To do this was a lot for me at that moment, and I am trying very hard to just do that. This smile, almost nothing, is my huge thanks to her for helping me, because I am not really sure how to be thankful for another persons help.

I want to speak up for myself. I want very badly to ask her not to make my life any worse, or harder,  I want to beg her for this, but at the time, doing so, actually saying those words, would have been inconceivable for me.  I feel a strong affection for her, and I am curiously charmed by the conversation we are having-if only because it was so different from the rest of my life up to that point.

We shouldn’t be talking about these things, I want to say, but even in my fear-weakened state, I realize how silly that would be. I also pity her, for having to hear all my sad, dumb stories.  Why in the world would anyone want to spend their time this way?

Eventually I decide that it is very kind that she is taking this route with me, and not just kicking me in the head and ordering me to change.  Medications and talking, observing the results politely and acting accordingly, it all seemed so civilized as to be almost ridiculous. Was it, I wondered? I tried to judge what we were doing, from outside myself, so that I could dismiss it, finally.

Would all of this talking eventually be worse, than getting kicked in the head?

Just at that moment, I feel calmer than I ever have. For what seems like a long time, nothing at all happens. Until, eventually, I think of Vietnam.

“Post-traumatic-stress-disorder” I say, trying it on, as if she is attempting to replace my first name with an insult, and as if I am about to let her.

“Yes. -Or PTSD, if you prefer that.”

Tears fall straight out of my eyes, but my face, my expression does not change and my voice is not altered.  Nor my breathing.  Nothing about me indicates a change has occurred, and the tears are the only new element.

“I … I heard about this.  A documentary … on TV … was talking about .. what was it? The Vietnam war, I think.”

She stares at me, and I start to laugh softly.

“This is for people who’ve been in a war, right?  But-I haven’t – I haven’t been in a war.”


I’m looking at the floor.  I can’t control my eyes now, and my throat is tight, my breathing feels constricted, and I’m suddenly sweating and crying profusely.  I have to force myself to breathe, or I will immediately lose consciousness. The room starts to feel like it is falling up, on me.  And though a shock of sadness passes into me, and settles deep into my chest, and broadly establishes itself there, my heart is beating very fast as I look up at her and she continues.

“From the things we’ve discussed here? I would not only say that you’ve been in a war, but I would remind you that mostly soldiers volunteer, or at least willingly enlist, for service.  They go as men,  young men.  And with weapons, training, some kind of advantage, somewhere.”

She pauses and this means the world to me. And then she says, very softly:  “More advantages than you had”, and her softness means the world to me.

She leaned forward to let me know this was important.  When she moved toward me, however, I noticed I had to remind myself that she was not going to assault me. It had been my extensive experience that a persons mood could change that quickly. Instead she is going to do something even more unusual than assaulting me, she is going to defend me.

“You were a boy.  You were a boy! You fought through a childhood as explosively violent as any war, but you were untrained for combat, and had no way of fighting back.  You had to stay in that family!  And you were asked to love and depend on people … who were either actively trying to kill you, or, frankly, willing to let you die.”

It was as if with each one of these phrases she had turned on blinding floodlight, after blinding floodlight, after blinding floodlight, in my ever-dark basement world. And made it look easy. I turned toward her, and met her eyes completely for the first time, and really looked at her.

I was extremely shocked that all of these things had been said out loud, and almost couldn’t react. I also recognized all of it, immediately, as true. Somehow the word true didn’t get to the how true these things were. These were all the truest things I had ever heard before, truer than anything I learned in school, or heard in church, or from any authority. In fact, I had never heard so many true things, one after the other, all at once, I was astounded it was even possible.

She had established a grand trust with me by saying these things, and it was such a comfort to me that I felt a miracle had occurred. And now, I almost didn’t want to leave this room. I was not having a panic attack anymore.

There was nothing left to do then, but to look at her, peaceably. She seemed so genuinely outraged at my situation, and this was soothing. It was as if she was angry for me, and so, in that moment, perhaps for the first time, I did not have to be so angry.

It was like suddenly there was so much more room inside of me. I don’t know where the anger went to, or where the new space inside me came from, I just knew that by her saying these things out loud, everything in me had moved around, and I could breathe.

I began to calm down. I wondered how this was going to change my life and what it meant for my future. I had PTSD. The trauma I experienced in my life, had caused me to have a disorder.

I kept on looking at her, on and on. And now I did not look away.

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