A friend of mine shared this post with me from the Huffington Post a couple of months ago.  The first time I read through their selected tweets, it felt like a gut punch.  Almost all of them reminded me of how it was when I was growing up.  A few of the ones below were things I struggled with in earlier relationships.  None of these are things that I face at all in my current relationship, and I feel so incredibly lucky.  (<3 Mark)

Broken.  Ugly.  Useless.  When you hear that so often, you can’t help but internalize it.  Every so often, I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think these things still.  When I’m taking a break and doing something “unproductive” like watch tv or hang out with friends, I hear his voice say that I’m useless.  When I’m scared or unsure of what to do or reaching a little bit further than usual, I doubt myself with the echoes of men telling me how broken I am.  I constantly think that one day, I won’t feel these things because I’m at a completely different place in life, but it’s so hard to erase all of these feelings that are deeply ingrained.  Every day, I feel stronger and more loved and the pain eases a bit, but it never goes away completely.

These two feel like they go together to me.  I had boyfriends who would make me feel like I was this awful burden when I had a PTSD episode, like I was this Kafka-esque pest that they had to live with unfortunately. I had so many people make me feel like they were doing a favor to me by dealing with my PTSD.  “You’re lucky to have a [boy]friend like me who’s so understanding!”  I remember feeling sick to my stomach when I heard that as if normal people wouldn’t even want to look twice at being friends with me.  It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that real, true friends don’t bring that kind of thing up in conversation.  I was incredibly lucky in college and beyond to have bosses and friends and boss friends who didn’t see PTSD as this thing that made me less of a person.

While idly chatting with coworkers, someone said that they wouldn’t want a person with a mental illness as a leader, and they didn’t realize how many people had invisible illnesses.  Other people chimed in about their depression, etc., and how it didn’t make them less of a person, and I felt like a weight was lifted off me.  I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with PTSD if asked, but I found myself still living in fear that in personal and work relationships, no one will want me.  Does my struggle make me unable to ever be a good leader?  Will being open about it bite me in the end and discount me from opportunities?

When I first wanted to go back to college, so many people said that they thought that my brain was altered too much for me to ever be successful again.  The conversations were directed specifically at college, but it was mentioned so many times in regards to other things that I started equating any failures with the fact that I had PTSD.  It wasn’t until many, many tears and years later, that my best friend (Mark) said that people just fail sometimes and it’s normal and whatever.  I still feel like failure is terrible and will show the world that I’ve been faking being okay and that I’m really just broken.

There’s a difference between loving and controlling.  I’m glad I know that now.  When you don’t know what a good, healthy relationship looks like, it’s easy to confuse the two.  The control in the beginning feels like this safety net when in reality it’s shackles that bolt you in place and stop you from ascending in life.

People always ask, “but why do you stay so long?!” but they don’t realize that you’ve been away from normal, healthy relationships so long that you doubt that you are even capable of it anymore.  A lot of times, the conscious knowledge that this is a bad relationship is so deep and hidden and shameful that you convince yourself and the world that things are better than they seem.  You become this ridiculously optimistic person, wishing on stars that don’t exist.  Maybe if this happens or maybe when this happens things will be better.  Maybe.  Those little glimmers of hope confound and deceive you into ironically fighting to stay in the status quo, despite how terrible it is now.  It’s the devil you know.  You become so singly focused on this what if’s that you are blind sighted from seeing that there are so many other paths and opportunities in life that have higher ups and less frequent downs.

If you still don’t understand this, please browse the hashtag #maybeHeDoesntHitYou.  If you have friends who are in this situation, it’s incredibly frustrating on all sides.  You want to sweep them away, but they have to make the choice on their own.  Having been there, the things that helped me the most were great friends who said they’d support my decision either way, but would be there no matter what to help me out.  They helped me feel more confident and envision a different path in life that I couldn’t see for myself.  You can’t be what you can’t see.  If you can’t see healthy relationships, it’s so much harder to know that you’re in a bad one.  I was incredibly fortunate to stay with three healthy couples/families and experience every day normal life with them.  It doesn’t sound big, but the “mundane”, daily routines helped me understand what *good* really is.  Most of my relationship knowledge was from romcoms and tv shows which are rooted in comedy/drama.  Seeing real families gave me this comfort in normalcy and this framework for good relationships.

I didn’t understand this when I was younger, but I do now: just because it’s not physical, doesn’t mean it’s not still abuse.

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