Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Post-traumatic psychiatric disorder

When my marriage broke up after 120 years I thought I was going to lose my mind. Really. Once, in the depths of despair, I drove to the local emergency room at 3 a.m. I thought it was going to kill me and I wanted them to give me CPR. Or maybe I just didn’t want to die at home alone. I don’t know—it was truly temporary insanity.

So I sought out a psychiatrist, someone I knew vaguely because he was an advisor on a project I was working on, a project related to children of alcoholics. He had a private psychiatric practice but he also was an expert on youth resilience. I liked him a lot and his support was invaluable to me at a very vulnerable time in my life. But there are three specific things I recall him saying to me that have stuck with me, for better or for worse.

I can picture him, very dapper and urbane, in his beautiful chair, in his perfect artsy office. He pushed his glasses down on his nose and looked at me over the top of his wire frames. He said, “You don’t detach easily, do you?” Of course I don’t detach easily. That’s why I stayed married, for a little bit of better and a whole lot of worse, for 120 years. Once attached, I’m stuck. No amount of reason, no blast of reality, no betrayal, no urge for self-preservation will detach me once I’m stuck. He was disarmingly correct. I hated him for pointing it out and I hated knowing it was true. This is a flaw that I don’t know how to correct. I’m missing a detachment gene. Perhaps I can get a handicapped parking permit for that.

He also told me that I was one of the most resilient people he had ever known. From him, that was an enormous compliment. I try to remind myself of that from time to time, though many times I simply don’t believe it’s true, even though he was the expert on resilience.

And the other thing I recall him saying to me, something I thought was totally charming and endearing at the time, was, “Someday, some wonderful man is really going to love you.” I recall his exact words, burned into my heart. I took that as a promise, a solemn vow. Coming from his mouth, he who knew me so well, it felt like he was predicting my future. I was ebullient, hopeful, excited that my sorrow was going to be turned into joy. The ugly dissolution of the marriage was going to worth all the pain because I would spend the rest of my life with that wonderful unknown man.

Fast forward 15 years. I still don’t detach easily. I try to remember that I’m resilient but I’m stuck doubting the power of my resilience. And the wonderful man who is really going to love me is not here. I’m still waiting for that someday.

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