Music is what has gotten me through my darkest nights. Music is what has laced my happy memories. Almost always, I am singing a song. In my head, out loud, to coworkers (they politely let me go on), and often as I go to sleep at night. I am a walking soundtrack. I know the songs that will be played at my funeral, and morbidly enough, the songs that I think should be played at my loved ones funeral. My love for music was given to me by my mother, and it is something that connects me to her. Sometimes I play a game where anything I say has to be song, and it has to be a real song. It makes life interesting, it makes life tolerable. More often than not lately, my life has become difficult to tolerate.
I’m losing myself. It dawned on me when I met with a lifestyle/diet coach, and she said, “When did you start letting PTSD define you?” She was shocked, and almost disgusted that I had “allowed his PTSD to define me”. Of course, I bristled and thought, “It does NOT define me! I am me, always have been always will be, it just takes up a lot of my time, and it is a part of life!” Trauma is a fact of life. But for the last 6 years, I have been focusing on that, and unable to see the other piece of that fact.
So is resilience. Am I resilient? For months I grappled with this, refused to believe it, and the old quote, “Thou doth protest too much” echoed in my head. I have NOT been resilient. I HAVE started letting this define me. I miss me. I miss who I was. Can I be who I was? Can I change my path and start to live my life in such a way that I am able to be true to my inner self?
Two coworkers and I went to a nightclub an hour away to see this band. I wanted to go so bad, but from the time of ticket purchase, to the time of the show, I worried. I shouldn't be doing this, it’s my only night off, I should be home, what if the crowd is too much my coworkers will know that I have Secondary PTSD like a motherfucker, they won’t understand, what if what if what if.
Determined not to risk any sort of decent reputation I have with them, I was going. And deep down, it was what I wanted. The old me wanted it. Wanted to watch a band perform with crazy intensity, to have a few drinks, to dance, to get a t-shirt, to see how close up front we could get… I really hoped that no one would be stupid and that I’d have to flip shit on some sorry soul who doesn't know the reason behind the rage.
Once the music started playing, I relaxed. I remembered how much this was me. I tried not to worry about the kids, or the husband, or the inevitable messy house I’d be coming home to. But throughout the second bands set, a string of lyrics came out and resonated with me. Tears pricked my eyes, and I was able to choke them back. But as I looked around, and listened to the music, watching bodies sway, the musicians losing themselves in their own stories, I realized, I’m different. Certain lyrics could be taken one way by the average citizen, but when they fell onto me, the magnitude of what hid behind them was startling. Looking around though, no one seemed to notice. I thought did you just hear that?! My coworkers dancing a frenzied circle around me… No?
I understand that things have different meanings for different people, but it had never been more apparent to me than that moment. My experience has changed my perception. And much of what I have experienced is not even to call my own. It is often the aftermath, the bits and pieces of war stories I gather when I privileged to ever even be in earshot; When I am honored that the keeper lets it sit on his lips.
I did find some humor in the situation. I laughed to myself when I saw a man kind of circling around the outside of the drunken mob, enjoying his beer, enjoying the music, almost like he was not even there. I warmly smiled as I thought, “That would be my husband if he were here”. I reveled in the company of the girls I was with, they were so fun, so carefree, completely unbothered by the mass behind them. I even found myself being silly with them. Imitating some silly viral you tube video we had seen, dancing our way back to the parking ramp.
I can’t say, “Have you let his PTSD define you?” because really, this is not just “his” war. This is OUR war. And if you can remain unaffected, untouched, then bless your yellow ribbon magnet on your gas guzzling SUV heart, and carry on. PTSD/TBI in our Veterans is everyone’s problem. I would not go so far as to say it defines me, rather, I am learning to reexamine and redefine myself because of it.
Submitted by Kateri Peterson