By Ox Drover
Yet Being Someone Other is the title of one of my favorite books and sometimes I think that title applies to me as well, at least since I recognized the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has become such a part of my life these last six years. Now I’m “someone other” than who I used to be. I’m not the same person at all. I no longer think like that other person did, that FIRST ME as it were. The NOW ME is different.
This was a very disturbing thing for quite some time as I had to get used to things being gone that I had depended on previously. I had to make adjustments to the changes in myself, sort of like a teenager has to make adjustments to larger feet and longer legs, and for a while becomes quite clumsy as they learn to use these appendages which have suddenly changed in dimensions. I felt very clumsy for a while, and still do to some extent. In other ways, I feel like an amputee that is having to relearn to walk with only one leg, or to use a prosthetic leg. To me, this is quite unsatisfactory. I want the old me back, the familiar me.
Worst of all I think, is that my mind doesn’t work the way it did, and it keeps on changing. At first I couldn’t read at all, not even one sentence, as I was in shock and couldn’t retain the words from the first of the sentence long enough to add them to the last words of the sentence in order to make sense of it all. That was frustrating and scary. I’d watch a movie and enjoy it, and then put the same DVD in the next night and not realize I had seen it the night before until maybe near the end when some specific line would make me realize I had seen it. Then I would feel so stupid that I had watched it again, not remembering.
I talked to my psychiatrist about this and she reassured me, “It will get better, it will come back,” but I didn’t believe her, and even after six years, she is only partly right. It has gotten better, but I realize and finally accept that it will never be the same. I am Someone Other than who I was before. I still have word finding problems like a stroke patient, seeing the image of a tree in my mind, yet not being able to find the word “tree.” It is as if my brain is now made of Swiss cheese, with large empty holes at random within it. I stutter when I talk, trying to find the words I want to express myself, and sound to others as if I have the early onset of dementia. I apologize to them for not being able to find the word I am seeking, and explain why, or try to, but not really knowing if they believe me or not, or if they are simply humoring me to be polite. I don’t talk as much to strangers now, the New Me doesn’t want to have to explain. The Old Me never met a stranger, or was reluctant to exchange conversation with someone they just met.
I have found that for some strange reason the muscle memory of typing which the Old Me always did well, though not quite intact, is actually better for producing words and thoughts than verbally doing so. Though I now have problems spelling, and will use the word “here” instead of “hear” and not realize it until I read back through the typescript. Sometimes my spelling is so bad on more complex words that even spell check doesn’t know what I am trying to say to fix it, so I have to go back and find a simpler word that I can still spell, so my vocabulary has decreased by a large percentage.
Reading, which has always been one of my passions, is still a passion for me, but now instead of reading at breakneck speed, reading by phrases at twice or three times the rate most people read, I am again reading word by word at about 200-250 words per minute which is about average speed. I also know that my memory of a series of numbers, which was once quite extraordinary, can’t even extend to the seven digits of a phone number long enough to dial it.
Through the last six years the Now Me has gone through many changes, some quite painful, and has had to navigate through the rapids of multiple episodes of grief, make decisions while not fully functional as far as logic is concerned, and reinvestigate what my core beliefs are, and which direction my moral compass should point.
The feelings have been sometimes like that feeling of unreality you have inside a house of mirrors at the county fair! You end up holding out your hands in front of you to touch the things you think you see in order to navigate because you learn you cannot trust your eyes to navigate your way out. The Now Me must learn to use other senses besides sight to move by. Sometimes I’ve had to close my eyes and grope in the dark to find the path out of the maze because if the Old Me tried to find her way out by sight, she would confuse the Now Me.
Time has helped to calm the fears of things being different, of be being Someone Other than the Old Me. I’m learning to adjust, and to accept the Now Me and not grieve the way the Old Me was. There is really nothing in this life that is constant except change, and though the PTSD does seem to cause this change to accelerate at what seems like a breakneck speed, in many ways the Now Me has adapted well to these changes and is learning to care for herself in ways that the Old Me never was able to.
I saw a video a while back of a two-legged Border Collie working sheep at a dead run. One of the things I’ve learned in my years of having and raising collies is that they are a “can do” breed and ”working,” which to them is play, is very important to them, and if there is any way they can succeed in doing that, they will find it. I didn’t see that two legged dog sitting down whining on the side lines, but running as hard as she could go, doing what she loved. It was only when she sat down that she fell over, so I intend to keep on running and being and appreciating that the Now Me, while not identical to the Old Me, is still able to do what I really want to do.