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Natalia Antonova @NataliaAntonova
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When Russia decided to wage war on Ukraine, it was hard to dodge my colleagues' questions about why I stayed away from the conflict. We all have our reasons for our professional decisions, but "I have post-traumatic stress" felt like a shameful thing to say.
"So you've reported on conflict zones before."
"No, I just had a complicated early childhood."
"And then more complicated things happened in my twenties. And, uh..."
"Oh. Uh."
I like telling stories most of all, but I didn't have good ones to tell about PTSD, only those that would Kill The Vibe™. The one halfway decent story involved moving to the States as a child and throwing a giant fit because the windows in our house were ZOMG NOT BULLETPROOF.
I always thought that was very funny. I must've been around nine at the time, and screaming, actually *screaming* stuff like "U R IDIOTS AND WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE" at my parents. I was such a little boss. The fact that I was screaming due to major trauma felt secondary.
But as a young professional in the business of telling stories, you hate to be limited by your health. It makes you feel like you're not serious enough or hardworking enough. If you were serious enough, you could fix it, you think. If you were dedicated, this wouldn't happen.
Some people talk about PTSD as though it's not real, or else something that you can only get from being in a combat zone, or else something that silly teenage girls invoke when they discuss being "triggered" in comments sections on blogs. I was that silly teenage girl once, tbh.
I was the silly teenage girl who had physical symptoms of the illness, which I wrote off for years as occurring due to me being sensitive. Like, 'sup, guys, I can't feel my legs anymore and the world is sideways, but it's OK, I'm just sensitive. i'm a drama queen, lol.
I always played up my status as a drama queen as a child/teenager, because deep down inside I knew that what happened to my body wasn't normal, and I was scared of it. I wondered if I had brain cancer. Or a vitamin deficiency. The idea of being called "crazy" terrified me.
Living with PTSD taught me how to be a good show pony. I was great at it as a kid, awesome at it as a battered wife. High-achieving, accomplished, writes, acts, pulls her weight like a mule but never forgets to do her make-up. Giving. Game. Knows how to be funny.
Being a high achiever is never a bad thing. But it is very bad when you clutch your trophies to your chest in order to cover up the gaping hole in it. Whenever I had to break down and actually utter the phrase "chronic post-traumatic stress" it felt like a defeat.
Even harder to admit that after having made great progress with PTSD, I saw that progress get undone by my years abroad, my time in Russia especially. I had to ask myself if it was worth it. A little voice in my head always said, "No. You got rekt for nothing. You ARE nothing."
When you're in that place where you're going, "I've been here before. This stretch of the road really sucks," it's hard to not feel like an abject failure. I felt disgust with myself, to be honest. Which is why forcing myself to get help again was so essential and important.
I wasn't alone. Friends helped. My colleague @alindguzik, for example, is someone who understand the importance of mental health keenly. I have to tell you that, in general, it's VERY important to have people in your life who will tell you to your face that you should seek help.
I've never been about polite silence — sometimes to my detriment, lol — but when it comes to mental health, polite silence can literally kill. People who say stuff like, "this illness is BS and if you were an adult you'd just pull yourself together and get on with it" are wrong.
When I was young I was told that I should hide my PTSD. Because I'd never get hired, I wouldn't have friends, nobody would ever date me, I would be like a broken piece of furniture, stashed away in the backroom of life. Those possibilities scared me, but they also angered me.
Today I'm especially angry on behalf of people who are scared to seek help precisely because they don't want to seem "broken." Some people I am very close to are in that position today, in 2018. All I can do is watch helplessly from the sidelines. It sucks for everyone involved.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with post-traumatic stress, but *dealing* in one way or another is what matters. Getting professional help is important. Bc you don't always have to be a hardass. I know it's easy for me, an actual porg, to say, but still.
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