First, I want to say thank you to everyone who talked me through the past two days. I made it out of that Sheraton break room eventually, and I did manage to give my presentation the next day. I know some people asked what I was presenting on, but in the world of research – startup, policy, or academia – your research is probably the most tell-tale marker of your identity. If I told you about my presentation, I’d be telling you who I was, who my bully-of-a-boss was, and – by extension – who my sibling and all the various systemic abusers in the 9th Circle of Hell were all in one easy Google search. I’m sorry, that doesn’t feel safe. Hopefully, the grad students and professional researchers among you understand.
The bedbug place lost its license, albeit not for the reasons I originally expected. I still don’t know the reason. They also appear to have chosen not to undergo the appeals process they – as providers – are entitled to in the 9th Circle of Hell. (The 9th Circle of Hell, of course, has no corresponding client appeals process or any independent way to determine the outcomes of license inspections. Yes, this is technically a violation of federal law, for those few of you in the know who are wondering, but it has been ignored by the feds for at least two years.) They packed up, fired their employees, and for hours it seemed like they were prepared to dump several facilities worth of patients on the street.
Another provider assumed temporary control of the facility, and I spent the time after my Sheraton breakroom breakdown in their business center waiting for forms that I needed to sign to allow them permission to assume managing as my sibling’s emergency provider. Those forms never arrived, and I further panic spiraled at the thought they would arrive the next day – during my presentation or, worse, on the airplane – when couldn’t get to them. I almost skipped my presentation to wait in the business center for fear the alternative would be my sibling losing any placement. With everything I’ve seen in the 9th Circle of Hell, I absolutely believed that was possible.
And my Partner, who had backup rights to sign if I was unavailable, was nowhere to be found. He didn’t answer his emails, his texts, or anything. I even logged in to his email, his Pokemon Go and his various online MMORPGs to determine if he was still around. He hadn’t been online in any capacity, it seemed, since the night I’d flown in: almost two days! Most people at this point would probably panic that he’d been in a car accident or something similar. My readers who have lived childhood trauma and abandonment by primary caregivers might instead have guessed what other types of non-accidental outcomes I instead envisioned him pursuing in response to the news that, nope, the trauma hadn’t abated. My brain, thanks to C-PTSD, will always envision much more agentive and/or sinister explanations first.
It certainly won’t think of a migraine, which says something profound given I’m a migraineur and dealt with chronic attacks for years. (I guess I technically still deal with chronic attacks, as, if I stopped treatment, I’d immediately return to daily migraines. My current care regime has, fortunately, reduced them to an average of about 4-8 month.) I know my Partner gets migraines, though I can count on one hand the number of times his attacks have lasted more than one day. I know he’s been having more frequent attacks during all this stress. I never even considered a migraine attack.
I ultimately took advantage of the time difference – and the fact I was up all night worrying anyway – to call my complex manager the moment they opened. I explained there was an emergency, that I needed my Partner to sign forms by EOD, but that I didn’t know if he was sick, had lost his phone, or had had an accident. The manager checked on him and discovered he was in the midst of his worst attack in years – possibly ever – and hadn’t touched technology in two days because, well, it hurt like hell to do so.
I will never claim that migraines are anything other than devastating, so please don’t misunderstand when I say my response to learning a migraine attack was the reason for my Partner’s disappearance was fury. It’s not that I doubted the pain he was in. I absolutely know firsthand that they are debilitating neurological events that can last for days and render any light, sound or wisp of air into distilled agony.
I also know that I’ve shared that the last time I faced an abuse situation in a facility of a severity comparable to this year’s, that I had to confront 9th Circle of Hell officials the same week as my graduate thesis defense. I know I’ve shared that my own migraine attacks used to occur nearly daily. I don’t think, though, that I ever connected the dots between the two on this blog. I don’t think I ever mentioned that the abuse case-during-my-defense story occurred while I still had migraines every day. The only med that at that time had provided some control – Topamax – was one that ultimately demonstrated why the cure can sometimes be as bad as the disease.
I got my first cell phone in high school and my first email address in middle school. I have checked them both every day ever since, even in the midst of daily migraine attacks. I’ve been legally responsible for my family since adulthood. I’ve been de facto responsible for my family for as long as I can remember (splintered, traumatic family situation and all that.) I’ve tangled with regulatory officials in the 9th Circle of Hell for my entire adult life. I know better than to ever not check my phone, no matter the health cost to me. I know that in broken systems, especially ones as unstable as what we’ve faced in 2018, the world can turn upside down in an instant, with devastating long-term consequences.
I thought my Partner knew that, too. I thought he’d seen enough by now that when he promised he’d “handle” any situation that came up with the 9th Circle of Hell – though we weren’t expecting one, per se, we’re just cursed – he understood that meant checking his phone even if it split his skull open with an icepick. (That analogy isn’t metaphorical: migraines really do feel like an icepick to the head.) I thought him telling me I could trust him to manage the 9th Circle of Hell so I could manage the conference and my first time seeing any of my colleagues in person since my very recent return to work meant he understood what he had signed up for.
But, my Partner has neither my lifelong experience with handling trauma during migraines – or even my experience with migraines severe enough to last days – and he didn’t instinctively think through his physical pain that not checking his phone when he was responsible for someone else might cost them everything. His mental pain didn’t hypervigilantly override his physical pain the way it does for me and warn him “check your phone no matter what.” He did what any sensible person would do when experiencing blinding pain: he isolated himself from all things that made it worse.
In the process, he inadvertently let me down horribly. I’ve spent a lifetime knowing that I’m it. There is a co-guardian who lives in the 9th Circle of Hell, but she’s not someone I trust to remain stable in crises, though she, too, loves my sibling. Sometimes, she’s not even someone I trust not to compound the crises when she’s triggered. Her expressions of trauma are a little more – let’s say ‘overtly stigmatized’ – than mine, though they are expressions of trauma all the same. I’d always been waiting for the phone call that would be life-or-death. I’d never trusted anyone enough to fully take on such a burden, and – horrible though it was to get the phone call about the abuse the same week as my defense – I never would have ever thought to ask anyone else in my life to be the primary contact at that time. I never would have trusted that much.
C-PTSD teaches you that trust just leads to abandonment. I trusted my Partner. When he didn’t answer the phone – even for an understandable reason – it felt so much worse to that core attachment trauma part of me than having prepared all alone to handle it all alone. The consequences of a full-scale public meltdown in a Sheraton, C-PTSD screamed, wouldn’t have happened if I’d just realized that of course, he’d ultimately betray me like everyone else. If I’d expected the betrayal, I could have weathered it. I didn’t, it said, and look what that got me.
C-PTSD doesn’t care that my Partner ultimately did fight through the third day of his migraine, once the manager reached him, to handle things while I gave my presentation and flew home. It doesn’t care that he seemed gut punched to realize that, yes, the 9th Circle of Hell really is a place so terrible that even an icepick through the brain isn’t a safe reason to let down your guard for a few days. It doesn’t care that it probably should be worried about why he’s having such frequent and severe attacks now, or whether they are now a trauma symptom for him.
It just sees the fact that he promised that he would be there to handle a crisis, and he wasn’t. It just sees that I trusted him, and he betrayed me like childhood trauma has taught me anyone important to me always will. It just thinks that I would have been better off not letting anyone in. And, for that reason, it doesn’t care that I know what migraines feel like; it is furious all the more at the Partner exactly because I do know.
C-PTSD and attachment trauma make me furious at him for something neurological that he can’t control. C-PTSD says to him, “Oh, you had one of the NHS’s Top Twenty Most Excruciating Pain Experiences for three days? That’s not an excuse. I’ve been there, done that, and I still picked up the phone.” C-PTSD says to him, “I know what happens when I don’t pick up the phone because I’ve experienced a lifetime of what people really are, and people are worse than migraines.” C-PTSD says to him, “I guess deep down I’ve always known I’m better off handling this alone. The ones who are supposed to protect me are always the ones who betray me the most.”
What was that betrayal? Having a devastating, debilitating, entirely real neurological disorder? Nope. Still having enough of a sense of safety that he dared to go to bed and care for himself when that disorder attacked instead of checking the phone. Still responding to one of healthcare’s top-20 pains from within the naive belief that the Hell of this year might have started to abate. C-PTSD convicts him for retaining that shred of belief in a just world, which only served to permit him to abandon me when the world finally, irrevocably reminded him it really is as bad as C-PTSD has always told him it is.
I wouldn’t wish the experience my Partner had yesterday of handling a crisis while concurrently experiencing a top-20 pain attack on anyone. (Ok, not entirely true. I’d probably cackle if a few folks in the 9th Circle of Hell knew the pain they inflicted on others personally.) I shouldn’t hate him for not handling the experience optimally his first time. Migraines suck. Complex PTSD and attachment trauma suck more, though, I guess on my personal pain scale. I wonder what the NHS’s actuaries would say to that?
I’ll just say thank you to those who commented kindly when I needed it.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.