PTSD Is Annoying
by Lisa Macafee
I have a smidge of PTSD from my first two serious relationships that gets triggered by unexpected things. It was 20 years ago and I’ve been in almost a decade of therapy and it still pops up an gives me insomnia and angst for a week when activated.
One early red flag is one partner trying to separate the other from their family and friends. It’s not overt or intentional – it’s not like anyone goes down a checklist on how to become abusive. It seems sweet at first. Things like “move in with me, I can’t stand sleeping apart from you anymore” or “can’t you cancel just this once so we can spend more time together?” or “I love you so much I don’t want to share you tonight!”.
The thing is though, most people need their family and friends to be healthy. We cannot fulfill every single role in our partner’s life (lover, friend, confidant, therapist, support, humor, energy, venting, etc) and have that go well. We need other people because nothing in any relationship is ever perfect and we need outside help when things are amiss.
Otherwise your whole world tilts on its axle and people try to kill themselves when they should have gotten a coffee with a friend and some perspective. I’ve been in both types of relationships, and let me tell you, the latter is way better.
Abusive relationships often start out good and healthy, but slip into abusive patterns by not stopping the warning signs. No one wants to be abusive, but if neither party has been in a healthy relationship or had open loving role models, how do you know what healthy looks like? I dated “C” from age 17-19 and “B” from 20-22. One right after the other. None of us knew what healthy communication looked like or how to do it. Autistic folk are much more likely to be in abusive relationships because we fail to recognize the red flags or emotional cues.
“C” in particular was extremely romantic, given to chalk drawings outside my window and scavenger hunts for love notes. The first year of our relationships was great – we both slowly separated from family and friends because we were “so in love”. The second year was very painful. He was dealing with burgeoning mental illness and I knew I could be his rock to see him through. I gave everything of myself because I thought that’s what you did. He took it because I gave it and he loved me. He asked for more and started hurting me. I was still trying to perform some warped gender role of loving nurturer even as he hurt me.
When he finally left me, it was because I had become so pathetic I was no longer the person he loved, I had designed myself up to be whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it because I thought that’s how love worked. I have never heard of people setting boundaries in love. Cinderella and Ariel seemed perfectly content to leave their entire worlds for their men, after all. Sigh.
After being dumped by the “love of my life” and thinking I would never find love again, I rebelled against everything feminine I had pushed myself to be for “C”. I designed and got a back tattoo inked (“C” said tattoos were white trash, even though I already had two). I cut all my hair off, dyed it neon orange, and got a facial piercing (“C” said only “whores” did stuff like that). I reclaimed my body as mine in the only way I knew how – by changing it so he would not recognize or want it anymore. I made myself as ugly as possible in his eyes so he would never be tempted to take me back. In this way, I was protected from him.
Turns out, some guys like that sort of thing. Broken, angry, and so, so sad. I started dating “B” after about a solid month of lying on the floor crying whenever not at work or school (thank god I kept myself attending school and work)! “B” was also broken, angry, and so, so sad. We were perfect. We’d both been with someone who hurt us (hurt being a verb in this sense). But neither of us knew how to have a healthy relationship.
We had sort of the opposite from my relationship with “C”. I drew boundaries and kept my sense of self. He didn’t. He wrapped his entire world around mine. I took my work responsibilities seriously. I managed a comic book store, it was the height of my dreams at 21! Problematically, he saw me leaving the back office with a man at work and assumed, not that I was conducting interviews in hiring new staff, but of course, that I was conducting an illicit affair with this dude in the back office. Bruh.
If we had kept our social networks and family ties, he might have called one of them. They might have talked him down. Instead, he went home to our apartment and tried to kill himself so I would find his body after work and regret cheating on him.
Joke’s on him because I wasn’t cheating and found him before all the pills and alcohol finished their work. Although he was impressively foamy and not seeming to be breathing, he was alive when the ambulance brought him to the ER and was sparky enough to tell the doctor when he awoke that I had tried to kill him. Good times.
In retrospect, I am so very lucky because most people in those relationships don’t try to kill themselves, they kill their partner. I am so lucky. I am so lucky. “I am so lucky” becomes the mantra I repeat to myself when not able to sleep and thinking of all the others not so lucky.
I obsess about my loved ones’ relationships and think about all the ways that their relationships seem just a touch unhealthy lately. I think of all the things I could say but won’t because that’s rude. I hate that I live in a neurotypical world where there are all these social rules that seem so dumb to me.
Mostly, I lie awake and wonder how two people that love each other can hurt each other. I wonder that it seems to be in our natures to corrupt good things and that making a relationship work is HARD WORK. Clear and open communication to keep relationships healthy is tough. I don’t like having to set boundaries or talk about feelings and respect.
I wonder about “C” and “B” sometimes. I feel as though if I had only known about healthy communication, I could have saved us all from going down those dark paths. I wonder if they lie awake at night terrified of falling into old habits from their first relationships, too.
It’s been 16 years since the end of my last sick relationship. The fact that I’m still dealing with the trauma seems insane, but those years were some of the most formative in my life because of the sad intensity. My relationship with my husband and children suffers. Ryan will say or do something normal that turns me to stone.
I wonder about people who didn’t have such troubling experiences. How did they learn to communicate? Did their parents model healthy communication and they just knew how to do it? People with no trauma are marvels to me.
I feel so unlucky.
But I am so lucky to be here.
Why Domestic Violence Victims Don't Leave
Leslie Morgan Steiner was in "crazy love" -- that is, madly in love with a man who routinely abused her and threatened her life. Steiner tells the story of her relationship, correcting misconceptions many people hold about victims of domestic violence, and explaining how we can all help break the silence.
Hello friends! I would like to publish writings from myself and other people with autism as snapshots of how autism has affected them, since there are so many misconceptions and confusions about adults with autism.
Some background: I completed a 12 unit certificate program to be able to serve autistic students and am angry at how the program focused only on little boys as autistic and completely left out adults, the trans autistic population, and girls/ femmes/ women autistics. I am currently pursuing a PsyD to do more research on autism and gender.
Please contact me if you would like to add a story! If so, please send me your piece, publish name, title, and an image (can be a picture related to your content, your picture, an autism meme, etc).
I am interested in publishing this collection, because people don't know enough about us (but sure do assume a lot). Also on Facebook!
Lisa Macafee, autistic counselor with a hankering for social justice.