I wrote this in the early ’90s. I was writing it for a friend who was struggling with PTSD. I didn’t know that I was struggling with it too.
What not to say to us
“Wallowing in your misery”
I don’t wallow in my misery, it swallows me.
“Wallow” implies I have a choice, that I could get up out of the mud and walk away.
But the mud is in me, clinging
it moves sluggishly through my veins
it clogs my thoughts
it dissolves my vision in greyness
it fills my muscles with tension and pain.
I am my misery
I wish I could get up and walk away from myself.
“Why don’t you get a job?”
I have a job.
I’m dragging a huge invisible burden
hauling ghosts and voices that drag me back,
“oughts” and “shoulds” that weigh a ton.
Before I can feed myself I must fight my way
past an invisible barrier that says
“you aren’t worth it.”
In order to pick up my mail
I cross an invisible minefield of
people who ignore me or
glare at me or
(worst of all) ask me how I am.
I spend all day working at
not killing myself.
It’s a full time job.
“Why can’t you forget it?”
When your arm is torn off in an accident
do you forget it?
Oh, it’s possible to forget the accident
numbed by shock, anesthetized by pain
I wake in the hospital swathed in bandages
I have a hazy recollection of noise
Grinding metal, smashing glass.
The doctors stitch up the hole where my arm was
“There, you’re fine” they say.
My life is now an endless series of small battles
to tie my shoes
to brush my teeth
to count my change
with only one arm.
How dare you ask me “Why can’t you forget it?”