It’s been four months since I recovered from my seven year bout of PTSD. (See previous entries of my blog for real time coverage of the recovery process). My coworkers don’t really know I had PTSD (although I did give a talk on PTSD and tell them the reason I was giving it was because I had it, I think they either weren’t paying attention or blocked it out). They just know that all of a sudden a few months ago I stopped being so quiet and agreeable all the time. At first they thought it was great. I’d blossomed. Developed self-confidence, gotten a backbone. They assumed it to be the result of residency training. But as the months have gone on and I’ve become more and more my true self, they’ve started commenting to me they miss the old quiet me.
I’m a little too opinonated, they say. Talk a little too much now. I’m too hard on the interns. I’m angry, they say. Well folks, what I really am is … me. The real me not suffocating under PTSD. The real me not constantly trying to avoid the bad things I think are coming. The real me who isn’t convinced I’m going to get kicked out of the medical profession if I let on to who I am.
I am indeed angry at times. Unapologetically angry. Righteously angry. Old testament angry. Jesus turning over the money changers table angry. Malcolm X I’m-done-begging-for-crumbs angry. No apologies.
I am hard on the interns. Hard on them like my senior residents were hard on me. I thank God my seniors were so hard on me. Guess what? We’re training them to be doctors. We’re not at the brownie jamboree seeing how many friendship bracelets we can collect. They’re here to learn to be excellent doctors: thorough, hard-working, devoted, compassionate physicians who think things through and can communicate and lead. Some interns need more nurturing than others, but even the most fragile (hi, I had freaking PTSD when I was an intern. I was about as fragile as they come) needs to be held to a high standard. We owe it to them and every patient they will ever treat.
I do talk a lot and have a lot of opinions. It’s not that I have a lot of opinions that bothers them though. I haven’t met many doctors who don’t have a lot of opinions they feel you must be dying to hear all about. What bothers them is that my opinions disagree with theirs. I don’t find their sexist jokes funny or even acceptable. I’m really such a drag, I know. But I’m 36 and I have a daughter and I’m done tolerating that crap. The male residents are assertive while the female ones are called aggressive and told to tone it down for the same behavior. The male residents really hold the line and don’t take shit while the female residents are told to calm down and lighten up when we do the same thing. To hell with that.
It’s possible I’m a little overly zealous with the assertiveness and rightous anger right now as I delight in my recovery, but can you blame me? PTSD is hell. You’re not dead but you’re only technically alive. I’ve got seven years of pent up thoughts, words, feelings, and actions here.
In my defense, it’s not all anger and thunder bolts around me. I have a lot of joy. I’ve made a lot of progress on forgiveness (entry on that to come). I’m just not PTSD Barbie anymore, putting all my energy into pleasing everyone and always agreeing and going along and not complaining and working myself to exhaustion because I’m afraid everything’s going to fall apart at any moment.
My husband and I met when I was in the thick of the PTSD so he’s had a little bit of a switch-a-roo pulled on him. He always wished I’d be more assertive and talk more, but , as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
The thing that’s frustrating about all of this for me is that I’ve been given this amazing gift. PTSD was hell. I can’t tell you how much of the past seven years I had spent wishing I could die. Knowing I couldn’t kill myself because of my kids and asking God why he would put me in that position. The blackness inside of you. The expansive emptiness that feels like it will break you apart. The loneliness you feel like you just can’t bear. And there’s no end in sight. There’s no hope. The fear. Every noise makes your heart race. Do you know how many times your pager goes off a year as a resident? Do you know what it’s like to feel terrifed every time it does just because of the sound it makes? To not be able to trust anyone, not even your husband. To not let yourself open your heart to your kids because you’re expecting them to be gone any minute. To go on psych med after psych med after psych med looking for an answer and all they do is make you tired and remind you you’re crazy.
And I finally escape all that and the people I work with, the physicians I work with, they tell me they like me better the way I was. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I’m unapologetic. If I relish giving them a piece of my mind when it comes to what is right. Silence does not protect us, it fills us with its void until the tensile strength of the matter of us gives out. It’s like compartment syndrome of the soul. You must release the pressure surgically and when you do, sometimes things burst forth and get messy. But it’s the only hope of saving the limb. The real me has come back out and I couldn’t stuff her back in to the old necrotic shell even if I wanted to. And I most definitely do not want to.