It’s part of having complex PTSD, but it’s a part that tends to bring me a lot of shame. I was brought up to consider others before myself. Unfortunately, that often translated into neglecting my own needs until those needs became critical in my life. Now, I’m healthier–and married. That last bit–the married part–is fantastic and comforting and has a way of complicating everything.
My wife has frequently over the past couple of years referred to me as picky and high maintenance. At first, this really hurt my feelings. I have trained a lifetime for to be as Spartan as I am today–growing up near poverty and having to pinch pennies almost every day of one’s adult life will do that to a person. Besides, my supportive, loving-but-stern religious upbringing taught me well. My interests are not the most important in any relationship. I’ll eat most anything other than stewed tomatoes. I don’t demand expensive gifts on birthdays or at Christmas. However, my wife (and the couple of other friends who have gotten close enough for me to rely on in times of desperation) have a point. I am emotionally high maintenance.
Marriage to someone with chronic health issues isn’t easy. A relationship with someone who has complex PTSD and DID comes with a special set of complications. Frankly, now that I’m married, the complexity of every relationship I’ve ever had appears clearer. As for my marriage, which is a happy one, the exponential complexities mean we have to work constantly to make it work.
At this point in my recovery process, I’ve left behind me a trail of emotional destruction. In some cases, I simply left a relationship just before the tipping point–knowing that one more late-night phone call would tax the friendship too much. In other times, the person in relationship with me had to make more space between us to keep from suffocating. Sometimes the end of relationships have been loud and explosive. Other times, they have resounded with a deafening silence–emails left unanswered, phone calls not returned, mail undeliverable. In many cases, fear of my potential reaction to the need for distance caused others to leave with no explanation. I’ve cried oceans over these losses, beat myself up over them, read myself the riot act for my inability to relate to others. I’ve reached the end of the line in relationships and isolated myself, read myself the riot act for being unlovable, beat myself up over having done something (only God knows what) wrong. Then I continue to beat myself up for being so stupid as to not know why my family and friends “just can’t handle” me.
Today, I frequently find myself reluctant or unable to reach out to friends. Fear of rejection or, perhaps worse, of hurting someone I love unintentionally, easily wins out. I’d do anything to keep from hurting those I love.
As I continue on my personal journey to healing, I’ve begun to find that most of my fears, informed by past trauma, are far bigger than actual current threats. This series of realizations provides me the opportunity to do damage control today that I could not do in the past. For example, I know that I fear white men with full beards. Back when I actively picked fights with dear friends because of that, relationships had to undergo major surgery for things I scarcely comprehended. Now I can verbalize the fear and let well-intentioned people who look scary but aren’t know what I’m feeling.
Some of the triggers I encounter aren’t as easy to ward against or navigate. The Mustang-driving Trump supporter in my networking group will never understand why I’m scared he might rape me if I accept a ride from him. Although I’m not fool enough to attempt an explanation, I do need to protect myself from triggers. So I seek alternative companionship and other transportation. Closer to home, I can recognize when a close friend wearies of picking up the phone to hear a sobbing, panicked E on the other end. I’ve learned to expand (carefully, cautiously) my circle of trust. Even in my marriage, I have begun to recognize how vital it is to have a backup team of friends to call so I’m not I quivering pile of fear-filled goo every time my wife comes home from work.
After a sudden hospitalization last May, I also began to fill in my support gaps with professional help that specializes in trauma work. I’ve been seeing a counselor regularly for many years, but I currently need help from someone skilled in helping people process early trauma without retraumatizing us. With the right professional help, I’ve been able to build up my support structures at home and in my community. In fact, for perhaps the first time in my life, I actually have the support I need. That one fact gives me incredible hope because the more my fears are assuaged by loving support, the less I ultimately have to fear.
Yes, I am emotionally high maintenance. No, I am not too much–not now that I have the tools to help me know where to look.