I had decided to stop travelling before my breakdown.
I’d checked off the last place on my bucket list and the mugging in Morocco — coupled with the police comment: “A man your age shouldn’t be travelling alone.” — precipitated my decision. But there was another reason. I’d always found it very hard to choose a restaurant. Sometimes I’d wander for well over an hour trying to find a place I felt I could patronize.
“Exquisite” sensitivity to noise is one of the most difficult symptoms I have and yesterday it came up in discussion with Dr. S. We were talking about moving and that my friend Beth had said in an email that I’d miss the city’s cultural amenities. I was telling Dr. S. why Beth was wrong: I would never go to a movie or a concert and if I go to a play I call first to see if there are any loud noises. My startle response is anathema to me and can seriously disturb people around me.
I said: “And it’s way worse because it’s in an enclosed space.”
And she said: “Of course. You feel trapped and the noise. That’s how all agoraphobics react.”
I’m still shocked by that label and I told her so, so we had a good chat about it and the difference between it and claustrophobia and that’s when somehow my trouble settling on a restaurant when I travel came up.
And she said: “Of course. I understand that. That’s a tough decision for people with your condition when they’re alone.”
“You mean PTSD?” I said.
With understanding comes equanimity. (Eventually.)
She doesn’t say I’ve got a mental illness, she call it a psychiatric illness. She diagnosed me with Complex-PTSD. I had to read about it to learn how to explain it to my friends. That diagnosis has morphed into “psychiatric illness,” “agoraphobia” and “social anxiety.”
She said that it’d always be with but that two things will happen: Therapy will diminish the severity and frequency of symptoms and I’ll develop management strategies.
I know it’ll always be with me because I know it’s always been with me. I just didn’t know. And it proves Dr. S’s thesis that my condition is the result of childhood trauma.
I cried once yesterday when she flattered me. She complimented my compassionate and empathetic character, citing examples from past sessions. It’s not that that made me cry. It was what she said next.
“Psychiatry would love to know what makes some victims of prolonged childhood trauma turn out like you because the dominant common trait of criminal psychopaths like Geoffrey Daumer is prolonged childhood abuse. We’d love to know what makes one person become so kind whereas the same background turns others to violence.”
Her comment reminded me of what Dr. Desai had told me when I was caring for Rita: “I assign my students an essay about you and Rita because if we could understand what makes a person like you so caring, we could teach others how to be that way.”
I cried to know how lucky I am lucky (and good).