Women are strong as hell.

fiery sunset sky

Complex PTSD, the doctor said. That’s a diagnosis, by the way, not her commentary on my brain.

Listen to me read the below here:

 

I’m writing this in bed. The day, sunny as it is, has been wrung out by last night; I was terror-stricken in trying to fall asleep, had bad dreams when I did, and have been hungover since sunup with the too-familiar combination of PTSD’s peculiarly fatalistic depression and general cognitive disassembly.

I’ve just now realized that my official PTSD diagnosis happened this time last year, when spring was making all of its clever little promises and I was still trying to make sense of a bewildering array of both physical and mental symptoms. Complex PTSD, the doctor said. That’s a diagnosis, by the way, not her commentary on my brain.

On days like this, the world feels like a minefield. You pick and choose between what you think might ease the pain a bit, keep things the way they are, or just keep shit from actively getting worse. So far, the most productive thing I’ve done all day was to try my hand at photo styling. I’m a bowerbird; I like to collect little things. The idea of minimalism holds as much appeal to me as eating a gluten-free diet holds for others. (I get it; I really miss croissants.) I had a hand-carved wooden spoon, sea glass, rose quartz. Throw a partially-used garlic bulb in there. Why the hell not.

wooden spoon rose quartz

I’ve been trying to finish an essay about trauma for months. The concept behind the essay is that trauma and schizophrenia affect the brain in similar ways. But it’s also the first literary essay I’ve tried to write about my ex, and I’m hyper-conscious of sounding both melodramatic and overly sentimental in the telling. There’s a reason Leslie Jamison’s “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” and Jessa Crispin’s essay “Wounded Women” this year, with opposing viewpoints on “female trauma writing,” have caused a hubbub in women’s writing communities. I keep thinking my essay is finished. I’ve sent it out to a few places, where it’s been rejected; I don’t think it’s ready, but I don’t know what else to say to get away from the way I hold written pain at arm’s-length, while still obviously smarting from the wound.

flowers driftwood air plant on a wood table

Recently Netflix released a new Tina Fey-created show, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” that I fell hopelessly in love with.* What “Kimmy Schmidt” does is what so much truly wonderful comedy does: it portrays the consequences of something lousy (e.g. racism, gender inequality, trauma) in a way that’s so spot-on that it causes what my friend A. and I call the “ha ha but oh noes” reaction. You laugh because it’s true, instead of wanting to cry. The New Yorker published a great piece by TV critic Emily Nussbaum about the show’s take on trauma, a piece of writing that I loved:

The show doesn’t address sexual violence head on; it’s possible to watch without dwelling on the details. But Kimmy’s ugly history comes through, in inference and in sly, unsettling jokes about trauma, jagged bits that puncture what is a colorful fish-out-of-water comedy.

This pain will be of use to you someday. I can’t remember where the quote–or more likely, the paraphrase–comes from, but lately, it’s been running in my head. If I don’t let it kill me. If I don’t let it break me. This life looks very little like I thought it would. It will all be of use to me–if not now, then someday, someday.

Esmé

 

 

 

*I did stop watching it before long; there’s a lot of racial humor that I find falls flat to the point of being offensive. Nussbaum’s article, however, inspired me to try and give the show another try; it might be possible for me to enjoy “Kimmy Schmidt” without condoning its flaws.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Esmé, thank you for writing so beautifully about PTSD and mental illness. It’s something I’m still trying to learn to talk about in my writing and in my life. Your writing is refreshing and inspiring. I too believe this pain will be of use someday. Peace.

    • Thank you, Iris. May your journey with your troubles be accompanied by your own strength. I certainly hope mine are. x

  • I have NOT made peace with my ptsd (yet).

    I’m working consciously to accept without judgment or fear when the flashbacks come and pull me back to that night. I’m getting better at that. I strive to one day make peace.

    I too found the beginning of the show curiously validating in a way and, as you did, quickly found it getting off track and stopped watching. Thanks for this piece, Esme.

    • It is so, so hard to make peace with something that’s inherently upsetting, which is about something (or things) that’s upsetting. I’m still having trouble with adrenaline management, etc, but we ARE strong. & you’re amazing. x