I no longer post my thoughts about 9/11 – I though I’d said everything I needed to say. But this year, I was invited to take part in #HoldOntoTheLight. And I realized that I did, in fact, have something new – and important – to say.
For as long as I’ve known of the phrase, PTSD was a thing other people had. It was the result of being in a war zone (military or marital), of undergoing some stress so terrible it fucked with all your settings and refused to give you a new user’s manual. I took it for granted that I – stable, safe, civilian me – would never find myself in a situation like that.
Until, of course, I did.
And even then, it took two years, and a passing interaction with a specialist, for all the pieces to come together and be recognized for what they were. Because PTSD isn’t like a cold, or a broken leg. It doesn’t have clear and easily identifiable signs – especially if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re just out of sorts because of other events (job, relationship, family, health, all of the above).
I was under stress, after all. I’d just gone freelance under mixed circumstances, my first book was coming out, I was starting to confront issues in my marriage and hey, my country was in the middle of some seriously shitty times… And pain was good for a writer, wasn’t it?
And even when I’d been confronted with the pieces, I still tried to deny it. That stuff in my writing? The broken people, broken relationships, broken worlds I keep returning to? I was just channeling the national mood, that was all. Because Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder happened to other people, people who had actually suffered. I’d just been a witness, a secondary target; that didn’t earn me the right to –
It was at that point, when I heard myself saying those words, that I started to listen to myself. And what I heard scared the crap out of me. I’d been gaslighting myself, telling myself that things I knew were real – the things I was feeling, the reactions I was having – weren’t; that I was reading too much into things, that I was overreacting, being too emotional.
Telling myself I didn’t have the right to be damaged. That I didn’t have the right to ask for help.
At which point, common sense (finally) got in the driver’s seat. Fuck that shit. I’d had a traumatic experience, and my brain had decided to rewire itself in panic-reaction. And that was okay.
Let me repeat that again for the folk in the back. IT’S OKAY TO GET FUCKED UP EMOTIONALLY. It’s okay to NOT be okay when something happens to you, or around you. It’s not a question of if your pain is “enough”: that’s not how it works. Suffering doesn’t care. Trauma doesn’t care. They’re not graded on a curve.
And maybe you won’t realize it, at first. That moment when your heart races because of something totally innocuous, some noise you’ve heard a hundred times before, or a smell, or a taste you used to like, that now makes you violently ill, and you’re not sure why. The moment when you realize you’re avoiding something that used to be part of your daily routine, or turning your head to avoid seeing things that never bothered you before. When panic moves from being your shadow, and starts resting in your bones.
You may try to tell yourself that it will pass, that you’ll “get over it,” that other people have it worse so you should just suck it up and deal. But you don’t have to. De Nile is very pretty, but it will flood, and you will drown.
Call it battle shock, call it PTSD, call it Fred or Luci if you prefer. But call it by name. And call it out.
And get help. We have the right to it.
#HoldOntoTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOntoTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/.