I assume there is a (rainbow) spectrum for healing from PTSD, like there’s a spectrum for autism. If so, then today was firmly a purple day . . . or red . . . which end is the high anxiety side? Hmm, well, since physics would say that the purple end would be high energy (think ultraviolet radiation) I’ll orient my day toward that end. It was . . . challenging. An innocuous conversation with my esteemed and lovely professor (whom I’ll call Professor Q here) led to a panic attack and the confession that men with big personalities frighten me. He asked how my classes were going, and I mentioned how much trouble I was having with statistics. Professor Q encouraged me to speak with the other teacher and just the thought of doing so sent my anxiety into the stratosphere. All rational thought fled, and the nervous, hurt, panicky me came out. I really hate when she shows up since it means I’ve lost control of my emotions and am operating strictly in fight-or-flight mode.
I’ve just begun my healing journey and I have trouble talking to others, outside of the safety of my therapist’s office, about my trauma. Actually, that’s not completely correct. I can talk to most women, but men? Obviously not, if today is any indication (**note to self: learning opportunity here**). And if that weren’t enough, I left his office shaking, and in serious want of some fatty, sugary carbs. Thank goodness I don’t keep stuff like that in my truck, or I would have had my mouth full of an emotional sublimating treat. No, I’ve lost over 40 pounds in the last 6 months just by writing down everything I put into my mouth. Every. Single. Thing. The control over that part of my life helps me cope and, if I think upon it, my mouth-stuffing really took off once I met and married He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (lol, thank you J.K. Rowling for that one). But I want to do all the fun activities I enjoyed before my relationship with HWMNBN so, 40 pounds down, 30 more to go.
So back to the professor. I have this unrelenting urge to apologize, but I’ve learned that I often apologize unnecessarily. I was conditioned to apologize out of habit. In this instance, I know that I don’t want to apologize for sharing, because I should share my journey with others. I would like to apologize for sounding like a blithering idiot … but I know I’m not really an idiot. Maybe I just need to thank him for listening.
So here is what I’ve come up with…
Dear Professor,Thank you for listening to me today. Your suggestion that I discuss my difficulties in statistics with my professor was excellent advice. Unfortunately, you could not have predicted my reaction. I spent four years with a man who warped my sense of reality, and used lies to undermine my faith in humanity. I was conditioned to believe that men are untrustworthy, dangerous predators. While I realize how ridiculous this idea is now, I was unable to leave the situation. My sense of safety was dependent upon my belief in these lies. I do not share this story often as the emotional pain is still raw and I am working through the after effects.I was uncomfortable telling you that I have anxiety around men. I knew that it would reveal that I am not as comfortable around you as you might have thought. Yes, I have anxiety attacks when I come in to ask homework questions. When I first sit down with you my hands shake, I have trouble breathing, and my brain tries to shut down. Usually I sit on my hands so you don’t notice. Then, as the minutes go by and I calm down, the shaking lessens and I start to remember what I’m there to ask. It’s a fight between my brain and my body, but I’m nothing if not tenacious. I love this particular subject and I’m willing to battle myself for the knowledge.In all things exist the opportunity to learn. I have learned to embrace difficult situations and look for the truths they reveal. I didn’t choose to be victimized, but I do choose to take my pain and turn it into a source of strength. I choose to weigh actions more than words. I choose to listen first and speak second. I also believe in recognizing those who have helped me, whether or not they did so knowingly.I am grateful for your respect, humor and compassion. Every time we meet, I am afforded another example of the truth about men in general. You, living your life as an upstanding engineer, instructor, and man is proof that predators are not the norm, but the exception.
So thank you, Professor, for being yourself, exactly as you are.
One of the days I was in Professor Q’s office, and we were working on defining integral limits (that’s fancy nerd math for those of you who get hives at the mere mention of ‘Calculus’), he told me that sometimes you just have to be brave. I didn’t comment at the time, but I’ve been wondering, “Am I brave?” I don’t consider myself to be so, but if I can get past my fear and send this letter on, that’d be pretty audacious, wouldn’t it?