I walked into the room full of men with suspicious eyes. They looked me up and down with their judgement finding me to be lacking. One stood up with a smile on his face, one which did not reach to his eyes. “Are you looking for the women’s group down the hall?” Of course he would ask this. I don’t’ belong here, don’t want to be here. “No, this is where I am supposed to be.” With that flat statement I sat down next to a large man who moved his chair away from me with exaggerated movements of his chair.
Why am I here? I asked myself this again. I’d been told about this group and how it seemed to be a perfect fit for my issues. Yet, I believe they did not understand how women with PTSD are judged by not only by men but also by other women. It didn’t matter that I’d written about my personal journey for years. It didn’t matter I’d endured death threats and ugly commenting and memes making fun of me as a women with PTSD. None of this mattered.
The meeting started and no one wanted to speak in front of me. None of these men, old, young, some clean cut, some not at all with stringy hair. I did not belong here. This is what their eyes told me. Finally one brave person started what I call the “PTSD pissing contest”. He began to talk about how he’d nearly been killed overseas by a child and had to kill them to survive. He talked about how he still woke up with its this child’s face in his mind and tears running down his face.
The next man and the next one had worse stories. Ones which brought tears to my own eyes as these men shared. They cried, they sometimes laughed but the pain was there all the same. Yet I was not fooled by any of this. These stories were familiar seeming to the group as if they had all heard them before. When it came to me they all looked expectantly at me with looks which said “prove it, make us believe you.”
I looked at them after hearing their stories. Stories which had made me cry along with other men in the group. I looked at them and thought; “I have nothing to prove here. They are not owed my story just to prove a point.” So instead I got up, gathered my purse and began to walk away. The jeers began, “see? She didn’t belong here, running away like a little girl. Don’t bother coming back, we don’t want you here. Can’t stand the heat get out of the fire. Fucking women they all think they know what PTSD is. Go ahead and leave.”
I stopped at the door, turning to look at them. The traumatic brain injury had taken away the ability to be hurt by their words. It had stolen away so many things from me and in this moment I was grateful for this lost item. “I choose to not wear what happened to me as a badge of so called honor. You haven’t earned the RIGHT to hear my words today. But I thank you for sharing your stories.”
I shut the door shut softly behind me and walked away down the hall alone. Always alone in this journey. My choice has always been to fight for me. To fight for the person I am inside and was before all the terrible things happened. As I went outside to my car footsteps suddenly sounded behind me and a hand touched my arm. Without thinking I turned quickly, swept my leg out, used their momentum to slam them to the ground. The person who had touched my arm fell heavily to the with a loud “oomph! What the fuck!”
It was one of the men from the room. He got up and brushed himself off, although he had a huge wet spot from falling into a puddle. I felt no remorse at this. “I wanted to tell you I think you were very brave to show up at all and to say what you did. You’re right, we do wear our PTSD like it’s a badge. Like we have something to prove to each other with our ‘war stories’.” He kept his distance this time, not getting close to me again. His eyes watched my body not my eyes. “I wanted to apologize for the group, that was unbecoming behavior.” I looked at him, wanting to be angry but felt nothing. “Thank you for coming out here to tell me that. I appreciate it. I apologize for my reaction to you touching me.”
He laughed a loud bark. “Girl, if you didn’t prove anything in the room to those jerks, you just did to me. I don’t care what your story is I know it’s the truth whatever it is. Would you like to get some coffee?” Yes I would and did. We became uncomfortable friends. Ones who have only bonded over something shared we cannot share with anyone except those paid to listen. We met up a few times a month to talk about how things were going for us, how his therapy was going, how life was treating us. Sometimes life is not very forgiving.
My friend…I lost touch with him three years after we met that night. I unexpectedly received a call one night from a man who had been his friend, one from the group. This call informed me my friend had lost the good fight for himself and given in because of all those who tell us we are nothing because of our PTSD. He’d been rejected for yet another of a series of jobs is what the man told me. He’d reached the point he no longer had a home and had been living in his car.
My friend…he committed suicide. This man who had been a decorated veteran of Desert Storm. This man who had been the only one to reach out to me from the group that night. The one who encouraged ME to never give up in my fight.
He succumbed to the hardest of fights.
Even when the night seems the darkest it has ever been please know this..
YOU ARE WORTH FIGHTING FOR.