Three days a week, for three hours each day, I sit in a little white-walled room with 4-5 other patients and two facilitating therapists, and we talk. We do not talk about what caused our PTSD, necessarily, but we discuss the daily struggles that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brings with it. We are people whose ages range from 18 to mid-60s, though the gamut is much broader, and we represent different nationalities and even continents.
We are people who cannot sleep, who cannot be in crowds, who cannot hold down jobs. We live on medications that counterbalance each other’s side effects, and our minds are often lost in wandering down worn paths of synapses and sadnesses. One of us lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, another’s brother fell off a cliff to save him. Some of us are veterans, men and women, who have witnessed the deaths and mutilations of their friends while protecting the rest of us from the horrors of war. There are those of us who have been abused and molested as children; those of us who have been raped. We like the effect of drugs and alcohol, pills and cutting. Most of the time we feel alone, except those three days and nine hours we spend together.
The facilitating therapists ask that we do let others in, that we talk about our ups and downs, and that we be honest with ourselves. Group therapy is not the place to wear a mask, though some of us find it hard to remove them after so long. We are asked to remove our war paint. We read through packets and try the exercises our therapists use for mindfulness, and they teach us about staying in the moment instead of running to destructive habits. But health feels so unnatural. They try to help us find our inner resources for those sudden flashbacks or daily battles with depression and anxiety. They show us the way, but they cannot carry us.
Explaining to our outside friends and family all the little rules our minds have put in place for us to survive this life is difficult, and we do not want to worry them. With our fellow survivors, we do not have to defend or hide our panic when someone walks behind us, why we shut down when a voice is raised, why we cannot watch certain movies or listen to certain songs. Why we cannot bear the smell of roses or the salt of the ocean breeze. Why we hate to lie down at night. We find great comfort in our shared struggles and understanding.
Hearing about the phantom images, feelings, nightmares, and voices that follow us might puzzle or scare you at first, but hang around long enough and you might find we do have things in common. As one member of our group puts it, our burdens may be different, but they are just as heavy.