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Post-traumatic strength disorder

Today, the Republican candidate said this: “When you talk about the mental health problems…when people come back from war and combat and they see things what maybe a lot of the folks in the room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it.”

I have post-traumatic stress disorder. To be clear, I am not a veteran. I got my diagnosis after losing my daughter in a head-on car crash that also left me physically disabled in a lot of ways. Thirteen years earlier I was assaulted so bad I was surprised to wake up alive. During the assault I came to terms with my own inevitable demise. I remember looking at my hand the next morning and being surprised it moved, and that I was looking at it. I was supposed to be dead.

So it’s an either-or/pick-one situation in terms of the actual source of my PTSD.

It’s not that "some people" are fine even in the face of trauma. If we’re honest, none of us is fine. Ok, maybe Donald Trump is feeling fine emotionally, in his own little mind. But he’s a sociopath. (And yet who am I to judge, when admittedly I am one of those who can’t handle the it-storm life throws at us?)

I’d like to think a lot of people I see in my day-to-day experience — co-workers, store clerks, the healthcare workers who are still helping me heal from very old injuries — would be surprised to know I have PTSD. At least I hope they would be surprised. I like to think I put on a strong face, that I can handle it.

That’s the problem with the way we look at mental health issues. I have lost count of the number of therapists I’ve seen over the decades: two or three in the years after the sexual assault, another one after my dad died, yet another after losing my daughter in the car accident, and a few more just to deal with normal crap that comes up.

What I’ve learned is that I am strong. I am handling it. Every single day I do things that so-called normal people take for granted. (And I question the assumption that anyone is normal.) I drive my car surrounded by people who are texting, on the phone, or otherwise distracted from the reality that they hold my life in their hands. I take in the news and the outrage that another unarmed black man has been shot as he ran away from police, or another school or church or mall has been the site of violence.

What does it mean to handle it and who defines what handling it means? By acknowledging the toll, we become stronger. We acknowledge the trauma, adjust ourselves to accommodate it, and take on the day almost as if we didn’t know better. That’s PTSD: Post-traumatic strength disorder. We see what a lot of folks have not had the misfortune to discover. And we start the day anyway.
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