At the end of every year, I do a bit of reflection. Hell, I reflect over anything and everything – overthink it and look at what happened, what could have happened, and how I could have made it better – been better. Some years are unbelievably blissful (2011—2012) and some years are so shitty you want to hide under the covers and never come back out (hello – 2009, 2014) and most years kind of fall between these two extremes – there is good and bad but when it all comes together it’s just a lot of everyday life. This year was a little different because it the good and the bad but it was both to such extremes that I feel like I’ll have vertigo and motion sickness for quite some time into 2017. It’s not like the year started one way and ended another – it was the constant back and forth, up and down: extreme high meets severe low meets extreme high hits bottom.
The beginning of the year was pretty great. My husband and I were happy with each other. I was more focused on my writing than ever before but my husband was dealing with a job he hated, for a company he hated. He didn’t use the word “hate” usually – but he openly disliked it and was looking for other opportunities. For me, it was hard to see how much it weighed on him, because I could see it. The bright spot was that he did like his coworkers. They were good people under the thumb of a bad corporate entity and toxic work atmosphere – comrades in arms of sorts.
Nothing of consequence really happened until May. My husband was offered the same job he was doing for a seemingly decent company. (And know that he has worked there, it can be said they are a fucking excellent company because the honeymoon period should have ended months ago and yet we’re still in it.) He wanted to give his notice, but now that he had a job secured somewhere else I told him he needed to demand the back pay his old company owed him and get it in writing before handing in his notice, because it would be nice to avoid court. It may have been stressful but it was worth it as he secured it in writing ten days later and received his back pay two weeks after that. (It’s uncouth to talk money so I won’t give a number but to show just how much money they owed him – which was a huge issue for both of us – they owed him more than a year’s salary at the incorrect pay rate they stuck him in. That’s an entire year’s work that he essentially did for free. So yes, it would have been worth going to court over.)
So May was a good month. My husband got a job he was excited about (and to this day loves). He would come home and tell me about his day and be smiling and telling me how good everything was and I already knew because it was such a shift. Then June happened and that was really when the rollercoaster that 2016 turned into started.
The first week of June I found out my greatest goal for 2017 would be realized – an essay I submitted was going to be published in a literary journal, both in print and via e-Book. I felt proud and happy and to be honest, it was the essay I hoped would be published first – it just felt right. One week later the “first hit” came.
The first hit was Orlando. I had a lot of people tell me things like “get over it” or “it’s awful, but you’re not in Florida [we are] so you can’t understand how hard it is here.” This was all coming from straight, white folks. It’s hard to describe the emotions you feel and how deeply you feel them when someone commits such an atrocious act of terror that isn’t even denounced because it echoes what a lot of politicians already feel. There was an outpouring of people praising the shooter that killed 51 young LGBT people of color. On the one-month anniversary of the massacre, Republicans in Congress passed anti-LGBT legislation refusing to extend job protections so that they can continue to be fired just for being gay.
After Orlando, The Huffington Post picked up an essay I wrote about homophobia, misogyny and gun violence and how it all intersects. I was feeling profound sorrow when I wrote it. Not even anger – I wasn’t there yet. To be honest it took me a month to get there. I felt profound loss and pain, and disbelief and sadness. As much as I had focused on getting published – this was my first published piece since my other essay was not going to appear until late July – it felt so bittersweet. I wrote what I did to try to heal, not to get a byline, but still it ended up getting picked up by a huge publication. But the good/bad of it would only intensify.
Some people thought my piece was angry. But since I was not feeling any anger this said more about them and less about me or the piece itself. When people see something in themselves they don’t like it can make them feel uncomfortable and when people feel uncomfortable it often leads them to think the other person is angry and since anger “is not acceptable” that person can be dismissed. Everything is good again. But it wasn’t. Relationships were strained and damaged after that – they still have yet to be repaired fully.
In the following months, my writing career continued to progress nicely. The Huffington Post invited me to contribute another essay – this one about gender, identity and acceptance. I had teachers reach out to me, people telling me how much my article helped them – how it started a conversation with a student who was struggling, etc. Then another piece was picked up by The Dallas Morning News, appearing both on their website and in their special 9/11 Commemorative print edition. I was sandwiched between the Texas Attorney General and a Never-Trump article – so really I couldn’t ask for better coverage.
But while all of this was happening my C-PTSD was getting out of control. I had done well and kept it in check since 2008. At first, I struggled to figure out the why of it. PTSD is all about triggers and coping – you understand what is bad for you and how to deal. I couldn’t figure out why things were as bad as they were. What happened? It’s only now that I realize that the “family drama” following Orlando was mostly responsible for it. At the time, I just thought it “wasn’t helping things” but in truth, it was a large contributor. And with that still unresolved, I’m on my own to figure out what I need and then take it.
The family tension spilled over into my marriage, which was greatly tested. My husband was hurt by someone, and being his “safe person” – the one who wouldn’t reject him, I kind of took the brunt of it and was then blamed for the actions/words of this other person. In mid-October and the pique of our marital issues, my husband have an epiphany. For the first time he realized what he was doing and there was an immediate noticeable change. We still have work to do, but we’re stronger. I don’t blame him for what happened – he was hurt deeply and grief and anger are tricky beasts. I’m just glad he found his way back because I felt I was fighting for our relationship alone, and he felt he was already alone. Now we’re united again and stronger than we have ever been before.
Normally, I wouldn’t share something so deeply personal and in the present. Any personal stuff are things in my past. But honestly this was the thing that most affected me this year. It kind of knocked me on my ass and caused my PTSD to go off the rails, and then spiral. How can I do any sort of honest reflection and not share this. It would be dishonest and pointless and I am neither of those things.
While my marriage bounced back with a vengeance, it was less than a month until the Presidential election. Trump was (and still is) a huge trigger for me. I understood that as well as the why, so I avoided election coverage. But when the unthinkable happened and he won the election all of the pieces I had been holding together finally broke apart.
See the thing about PTSD is that with any mental illness, getting rid of the cause or root of the original recurrence does not mean that it all just goes away. You have to do the work again, because what worked in the past does not work anymore. The disease has evolved and mutated and you need new tools to beat it back. On November 8, I was in a place of crisis. And like any person who knows crisis and doesn’t want to be there and wants to come back from it – I asked for help. It is the hardest thing for me to do. Because with PTSD, control is huge. I always have control over myself – my actions, my words, what I do or don’t do. Saying you need help is like saying “I am out of control – please intervene.” It’s awful and hard and goes against the core of yourself you carved out of past traumas that helped shape the very person you are. I have been in a place of real crisis three times before and each time I sought help – this time was no different just like if there comes another time, I will again. (Crisis does not mean suicidal, it simply means crisis – there are many kinds. For me my anxiety, flashbacks and night terrors rendered me non-functional. I couldn’t sleep, hardly ate, could not hold still and felt like I was crawling out of my own skin and up a wall 24/7. I call that a place of crisis.)
So now I get to experiment with meds, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, which isn’t fun (my body is so sensitive to certain drugs, most things either make my blood pressure plummet and I pass out or make me incredibly nauseated and sick) and right now I feel like I’m in a fog more than anything. I also started therapy, but I’m still on the fence on if my therapist and I are the right fit. I’m giving it a few more sessions before I look for someone else.
For me, this is easy to talk about because it’s important. For so long the stigma of mental illness touched me. I was that high-functioning person that looked like superman and was barely holding it together in reality. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t care what people think of me. If they matter then they’ll know who I am and if that person doesn’t work for them, better they get it now than later. For everyone else, it’s like relationship fat. I don’t mean to sound callous – it’s just reality. And no I’m not this wise, sage person – I am a person that has put in over a decade of self-work to be in that place. I hate that I have PTSD and I still feel weak that I do. Not because of stigma but because I have a different set of expectations for myself that I don’t have for others (don’t cry, don’t show vulnerability, always appear in control/superhuman) but at the same time I realize that anyone who has survived the things I have would have PTSD as well, even if it manifested differently. My physical scars tell a story and these are the scars on my psyche – they have a story to tell too.
Besides my mental health, there has also been my physical health. I have gastroparesis (my stomach empties very slowly) and thought that perhaps I was going through a flare up because I have been having severe, almost debilitating stomach pain since early July, nausea, constantly getting sick, struggling to eat, etc. Even though I don’t have any weight to spare, from late July to late November I had lost nearly twenty pounds and had to wear pajama pants and other layers just to get my jeans to somewhat stay on. I wore shirt layers to hide this too – since it’s not like I was trying to lose weight. After a bunch of tests and months of chasing, we found out I had dozens of ulcers and erosions in my stomach. Right now we’re still chasing the why – it’s not like stress alone could do all that and I’ve never had a single ulcer in my life – but for now I’m taking drugs that is supposed to help my stomach heal. At least they have an answer and finally know that I’m not making crap up or trying to lose weight as some sort of cry for help. It’s funny because ulcers fucking hurt – A LOT, and yet my gastroparesis totally prepared for not one, but several. Yes it hurts, it’s hard to leave the house and I’m almost violently ill every day, but having gastroparesis it was just a bunch of “bad days” strung together instead of spread out. Yay?
In mid-December, things were finally getting back under control, but then days before Christmas there was another blow in the form of death. We still feel it, and I won’t speak for my husband beyond that. For me this person was incredible and led an incredible life. I’ll miss her and like anyone I play the “what if” game. What if we had visited sooner? We were going to see her two weeks after her death – what if we moved that up? But she wouldn’t want this. I feel loss and it would be a lie to say I’m not. I’m sad she’s gone and that I won’t see her again. I also know that my husband and his family are feeling everything much more deeply as I knew this person for five years – they have had a lifetime with them. But the person we lost led a long, full, wonderful life. She did not die of a prolonged illness or injury – there wasn’t any pain, and she wasn’t alone. And this helps ease the sting that time will ultimately heal, or at least dilute.
The holiday itself was good, though a little somber for obvious reasons.
In the past few days, other things have happened that could mean incredibly good things on the horizon in 2017. For me, I am cautious but hopeful. I’ll keep putting in the work on me, on my marriage and other relationships. I’ll continue to do what I need and not feel guilty for it. Between all the personal crap and Trump this year has felt like one giant “Fuck you!” But here is the thing people who know me understand and people who don’t know me well, may not. I always fuck back – twice as hard. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and while I was strong enough before this year – good God, now I am going to be something to behold with wonder and fear.
I am thankful 2016 is over. Thank fuck. And here is to 2017 and what I hope is my comeback. When I can say with all the snark and a smile: The Bitch is back.