“It’s not like a normal sweat- it’s a stress-sweat. You know the one,” is what she says to me, her eyes not quite frantic, but close. This is the first time she’s told me in depth of her experience of her circumstances and her PTSD. I say that she’s right, there’s a different between exercise-sweat or sweat from heat, and “stress-sweat”. She laughs, saying the latter smells.
When we’re done talking in fragments about our respective experiences with trauma, we’re both sitting there, revved up, needing something to do. A change in our thoughts, our feelings, our energies. We both try to distract ourselves- she shows me something funny on Facebook, and I chuckle forcedly. I look back to the monitor of my own computer, concentrating hard on some frivolous news article. The tension is there, and I realize that that’s our shared experience. Her story is completely different than my own and her life is a universe unbeknownst to me, despite her willingness to share. Me, I don’t share much by no fault of my own, but at this moment maybe I don’t need to. The response is the same- the striking tendency to avoid by staying busy, persistent nightmares and sleep troubles, feeling revved up by red-alarm fear (and “stress-sweat”). Similarly, we emote an incomprehensible yearning over what could have been and a sadness, frustration, and anger that follows because we can’t go back in time and instead have no choice but to endure what’s been given. There’s the guilt (good God, the guilt) that eats at us, and warrants a strict voice of reason to stave it off. Her story is hers, mine is mine, and every day is an obstacle course of triggers that can make us re-live aspects of our respective traumas.
I always struggle between wanting desperately to have my story heard, and needing to withdraw and avoid from the painful emotions of loss that follow the memories of another life. I have this fantasy of telling people the whole thing, unabridged, and not numbing-out or feeling intense fear, and not feeling freaked out by the fear and sadness evoked in others from sharing the story of what I’ve endured. It remains a fantasy though, because my PTSD brain still hasn’t yet put it all together. The memories and emotions are scattered shards of sharp glass, too pain-invoking to be put together again. But this is where I’m at, and I can’t fight it (I’ve tried without success). Some length of time has passed, and I’ve learned that I must trust the process, and trust my brain and nervous system to do its thing. Sometimes it feels like I’m going backwards, but I know I’m further now than I’ve ever been, and am going to get further along still. Right now, I’m very clearly not ready to tell-all, although I’d like to.
The tangible experience- my memories, my life, as well as your own- are very different. The response is the same, and we can be united without having to reveal anything if we are not ready to. We each understand that our reactive experience is the same, and in that way we are united. We are in it together, and I find solace in that.