Friday, July 13, 2018

Possibility of Connection

[Note: If you follow me on Facebook, this post is *not* referring to the thing that's really upsetting me right now, I'm writing this post more to distract myself]

So, the other day, we had this work event where we got to play games. Two of my coworkers and I played Jenga, the game where you have a tower of blocks and have to keep removing blocks and re-stacking them on top, and the person to knock down the tower loses. As we were playing, we kept talking about how nerve-racking it was, how we kept being so scared that we would knock it over. One person kept saying that the game was giving her so much anxiety, and towards the end, when the tower was really ready to fall, she jokingly said that she was afraid she was going to have PTSD after it was over.

Now as someone who actually has PTSD, I thought I would feel really offended by this, but I sort of...don't. I almost felt like it was a moment to attempt to bond, but I wasn't sure if I was reading it correctly.

Here's the thing: In general, it's a problem when people use mental illnesses as adjectives to describe how they are feeling when those people do not actually have those mental illnesses, because it downplays what it's actually like to struggle with a mental illness. You hear things like, "I'm so bipolar," "I'm so OCD," "I'm so ADHD," from people who don't actually have these disorders, which is invalidating to people who actually have them. I've also heard people say, "I totally had a panic attack!" when they don't actually struggle with panic attacks. Some people have a problem with people saying "I'm so depressed," or "That's so depressing," when they don't have clinical depression, but I actually think that's okay because I think that "depressed" is a feeling that a person can have without having clinical depression, the same way that anyone can experience anxiety as an emotion without having an anxiety disorder. It's all about how it's said, and whether someone who does not have clinical depression or anxiety is trying to equate their feelings with someone who actually has clinical depression or anxiety.

But the thing is, I've never actually heard anyone say this about PTSD. Like, ever. Referencing bipolar disorder or OCD is common, but I have never heard anyone reference PTSD unless they were talking about it for real. And that's what made me wonder if this person was joking about PTSD because she actually had it, or had had it in the past, or had some other issue that sort of made her an insider.

At the start of my DBT class this term, I was helping our co-leader set up a projector, when the therapist who leads the group jokingly said that she wasn't helping with the projector because she had a traumatic experience with a projector falling on her in second grade. Our co-leader said that it could be exposure therapy for her to help, and our leader replied (in a joking tone), "Just because I'm a therapist doesn't mean I've dealt with all my issues!" Now, in a different context, outside of DBT class, this kind of interaction could be perceived as making fun of people who have serious issues, but within this context, where I'm guessing everyone in the room had been through some kind of trauma, it was actually a fun exchange and it kind of made me feel warm and cozy, like we were all insiders who understood the same things and could have fun with those common understandings.

And that's why I wasn't hurt by it when my coworker joked about getting PTSD from play Jenga - I was sort of bewildered, trying to figure out if she really had made a joke when she shouldn't have, or if she was an insider. I wish I could ask. Because it could be my imagination, but I saw the possibility of a connection.

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