PTSD and Bipolar: Vampires in the Warehouse
I’ve been dreaming of vampires lately. The vampires work normal jobs as clerks in huge warehouse stores. You pass through the aisle and then come to the checkout stand where the vampires are waiting for you. There are people who kill the vampires, but when they do, they turn into vampires themselves. Nicholas Gage is one of the vampire hunters. This is never a good sign.
The stigma I have experienced for being a sufferer of PTSD is worse than that I experience for being bipolar. Though bipolar disorder is not what some call a “casserole illness”, I can at least talk about it without people telling me that my symptoms are figments of my imagination. Standing up for the reality of my bipolar disorder was hard with my mother to be sure, but it was harder to speak about what my childhood had been like. Like many abusers, she denied her part in the emotional and physical abuse perpetrated against me to the very last day of her life. After she died, her friends told me what a great person she was. They did the same for my father. I have learned that the most beneficial salve for this is simply to remind myself that there exist as many different perspectives on each of us as we have relationships. But this comes dangerously close to buying into the denial about what was done to me.
Things continue to trigger me. The other night I was facilitating a support group when a man walked in from the street. We were mid-meeting and were about to listen to a fragile member. “Do you understand what the group is for,” I asked. “I saw the sign that said ‘Quakers’ and thought this is where the Universe wants me to be.” “This is for people living with depression and bipolar,” I said. His eyes lit up. Had he lucked into the right place? I asked him his name. He started bragging that he was a certified NLP1 therapist.
I held up my hand. “You’re trying to control me,” he protested. “We’ll get to you in time. First we listen to Regina.2.” Our NLP therapist took a seat and leaned forward hungrily. I focused my attention on Regina so that the other members of the group would do the same. When she was finished, I made a remark or two, then asked if other members of the group had feedback.
Mr. NLP rattled off a series of probing questions that, in his mind, established him as creditable. The look on his target’s face suggested that she was overwhelmed. Other people looked scared. I held up my hand. “This is inappropriate feedback,” I began.
“You’re trying to control me,” he shot back. “I’m the facilitator of this group,” I replied. “I’m supposed to do that.”
Insert the standard paranoic lecture about people who get off on having a little power into the mouth of Mr. NLP here.
I pointed to the door. “Out.”
His protestation that I couldn’t make him leave was drowned out by five angry women telling that, indeed, he had to go. My wife rose up and crossed the room to hover over him. “You have to leave now!” she said. He stood up and started accusing us of being a bunch of whiners who he could cure. He called my wife bipolar. I followed them to the door where he made his exit. There was shouting, yelling. I saw that the affair was over, so I went back into the meeting room where one member sat calmly in her chair.
“We can just talk you and me if you want,” I said, craving calm.
Lynn came back. Then Regina showed her face at the door. The two other women came back. They requested that we secure the Meeting House so he couldn’t sneak back in. Lynn locked the doors.
I held a moment of silence, then let people talk about what had happened. Many expressed their fear that he was going to be violent. One woman needed to use the bathroom. Lynn went with her. A frantic feeling filled my gut, one of panic not anxiety. I returned the focus to Regina, then continued through the circle. When it came to me I reported that I was shook up and scared. The other members made it clear that they did not fault me.
Afterwards, we gathered in shocked silence in the foyer. Everyone had brought out their cellphones and studied the keypad as if memorizing the correct configuration for Nine One One. I told people that we would all leave together. We went from car to car, checking the back seats as I had learned to do on a college campus years ago. I was the last to leave.
The people in whom I confided my feelings of being scared laughed them off. One person spoke of how she would have liked to have handled the guy and implied that my accompanying people to check the backs of their cars before they left was “oh so American”. “I don’t have that problem because I have a bicycle,” she said.
It has been a chore to write about this in the aftermath of the event itself and the facetious commentary. One fellow survivor of abuse observed on Facebook that people will often shut down the victim relating their experience by outright denying the abuse or otherwise belittling the telling of it. He writes:
It closes the doors for someone to talk about their feelings and forces them to keep it inside. This can destroy a person’s life. Many suicides result from this. Once any of these lines are used, the person may loses trust with the person who used one of these lines. Unfortunately much of this comes from family. The ones who we are supposed to trust to talk about our feelings are the very ones shutting us off. This forces us to seek friends or even strangers to talk to. This type of abuse is worse than the original abuse we went through.
I am worried for myself. I’ve detected faint flashes around the rims of my eyes. I feel the panic of the dream — that there are vampires around me and people treat it as a joke. Worse, I fear signs that I am becoming abusive. Or that my confessions will brand me as untrustworthy.
The final stigma of PTSD that haunts me is the implication that because I don’t have “a thick hide” I am unfit for being in a leadership role among people enthralled in the suffering of mental illness. My sensitivity is a mark against me even though I feel and others have told me that I am more empathetic because of it. This feels like the final revenge of my dead parents: when I was young, it was always my protests that were the problem — not their considerably more violent rages. For the longest time, I have not stood up for myself and when I have done so, I have done it badly. Now it is my sensitivity — my feelings of upset by encounters with aggressive people — that is labeled the problem. Don’t feel. In cases like the one I have just described, I have felt a distinct uneasiness and shame for having allowed the situation to develop. As I told Lynn: “I am sorry that I put you in a situation where you felt you had to act the pit bull.” After all of this, I am the vampire. So far those with whom I have talked about this have not gainsaid me.
- Neuro-linguistic Programming — a scientifically discredited therapy. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuro-linguistic_programming [↩]
- Not her real name [↩]