When you seek professional help for the thoughts screaming through your head, there are some questions you expect. “Do you have suicidal thoughts?”, “Do you have feelings of hopelessness?”, “Are you feeling tired and/or low energy?”

Is there really a word for all this? The pure terror of your own mind and the thoughts and feelings it can evoke from seemingly thin air. You expect a certain diagnosis, you come to accept it. Depression and Anxiety, in today’s world, seems that there are more people who suffer from these mental illnesses than people who do not. But sometimes, you get thrown a curveball. At least, I did.

After escaping a long & unhealthy relationship, I was broken. I hated myself. The events of the past eight years ricocheted around my head. Even though she and I had broken up, I could not rid myself of the feelings, thoughts, and memories. They haunted me. So, when I sought help, there were some unexpected questions that were asked after all the usual ones.

“Have you had nightmares or thought about events when you didn’t want to?”

“Have you tried hard not to think about the event or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the events?”

“Have you been constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled?”

The list of questions went on and on. Then, the new actual diagnosis: Depression and Anxiety brought upon by PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Isn’t that what combat veterans suffer from? It’s not for people like me who were just in a shitty relationship. What does that make me? A combat veteran of love? No, that sounds lame. Like some corny power ballad from an 80’s hair metal band. It sounds like something Brett Micheals wrote. But no matter my own thoughts and feelings about who suffers from it, or what qualifies a person to suffer, here I am, diagnosed with PTSD. I suppose that relationship was traumatic. The memories do keep coming back to me, still affecting my life today. I still do see her in my dreams some nights, screaming, crying, taunting, like grenades exploding around me. It does stress me the fuck out. I guess makes sense…

I wonder which part of the relationship really gave me PTSD? I mean, the relationship started innocently enough. She was the new girl in school. I saw her sitting in the back of my last hour government class, and introduced myself. A few months later, we were dating. A few months after that, we were in love. Ah, first love. The love you never forget. The love you think will never die. The two of us were going to be married post-graduation and live happily ever after. High-school sweethearts just like my grandparents. For that first year, everything was going great. We walked each other to class, holding hands. We snuck kisses in the hallways by the lockers. We had study dates. We rode around in our cars, parking in dark parking lots and rolling around in the backseat. It was pure. It was innocent. It was bliss.

Maybe the PTSD came from Senior year when I first was introduced to her jealousy. She switched her schedule at the beginning of the year so we would have all the same classes. We were constantly together and if any other female talked to me, they would earn a death glare from her. If I looked at another girl for a bit too long in the hallway, I was scolded, or even flat out yelled at. If I started daydreaming in class, she wanted to know who I was thinking of. She questioned me endlessly about what was going through my head. She needed to know my every thought. Even after school, she would need to know what I was doing. She started asking about who I talked to and what was said. It was like having every conversation twice. She needed to know everything. This continued for the next eight years. She slowly cut me off from my friends, my family. It wasn’t just her pulling me away from them, it was me isolating myself. Without outside people and events, there wasn’t as much to remember to have to relay back to her. It was just her and I.

Or maybe, it was later when her depression got worse. It could have come from her first suicide attempt when I found her on a mattress with a note and a few empty pill bottles. Maybe it was when I had to carry her to the car, drive her to the hospital, and call her mom to explain what had happened. When I had to deal with the doctors, trying to relay her medical information and what may have inspired her to do such a thing. When it seemed like hours before her mother finally arrived and could deal with the doctors.

Maybe it was after that when she couldn’t be trusted with pills anymore, so I had to make sure they were hidden. When I had to make sure her medicine was taken at the appropriate time and the appropriate amount. Maybe it was when her family started blaming me for her moods, her depression, her unhappiness with life.

If the PTSD wasn’t from that, maybe it was from her always going through my things, my phone, my texts, my emails. Maybe it was because of her constant attempts of trying to find me doing something wrong. Maybe it was from her relentless accusations. I still have nightmares of her rage when she found a receipt on the floor from a place that I failed to tell her I went to. I can still hear her screams echoing off the walls when I finally couldn’t take it anymore and broke up with her. Though, that didn’t last long. Her hooks were in me still, always tearing into my flesh. I couldn’t escape her. Even broken up we were still always talking, always together.

Maybe it was from when she told me she slept with someone else during a breakup. Though we weren’t technically together, we were still seeing each other and spending nights together. She was always so jealous, so accusing, so self-conscious of herself. How could she have found someone else? The thought of the two of them together OR the thought of her with someone else made me sick. She told me on a night we were spending together in a hotel room. I still remember the taste of the vomit as I regurgitated into the sink after we slept together, still unable to get the image of her sharing her body with someone else out of my head.

Maybe it wasn’t from high school. Maybe it wasn’t from her suicide attempt or her sleeping with someone else. Maybe it was from when she got pregnant. Maybe it was from sitting in her living room with her parents telling them she didn’t want to keep it. Maybe it was from sitting in the clinic with her, waiting hours for her name to be called so she could go back to the room where they take care of things like that. Maybe it was what came after, the pains of the medication taking effect and flushing her system of our mistake. Maybe it was when my siblings had children of their own and I had to be reminded about how I was supposed to be a father but destroyed that child before it had a chance to grow.

Maybe it was even after that, after another breakup and getting back together again. Maybe it was from when I told her this time, I had slept with someone else. Maybe it was from how she treated me after that. The things she said to me. The “Do you know how big of a piece of shit you are,” or the “I should’ve slept with more people when I had the chance,” or the countless other things she would say to me that is burned into my memory.

Maybe it was from me when I was trying to pick up the pieces and make everything work after that. Maybe it was from me dealing with my own mistakes that were breaking apart our relationship.

Or maybe it was when I found out that the baby wasn’t actually mine. That she was with someone else again and he had been the one not careful. Maybe it was when I realized all the sleepless nights when I couldn’t get the thought of children out of my head, all the family gatherings with the little ones running around where I had to fight back tears were for nothing. Maybe it was realizing all the talks about having a family of our own were lies. Or realizing that she used me because she knew I would help her.

Maybe it’s because of because now every time I look at my dog, I am reminded of someone else’s mistake that I had to pay for. Maybe it was when I realized all the things she had accused me of were things she was doing. Going through my stuff and constantly berating me with questions was a way to hide her indiscretions. She would always be on the attack so I would never question her or what she was doing when I was at work or what she was doing on her phone with the screen turned away from me.

If none of this was what caused the PTSD, then it must have been that last breakup when I confronted her about her lies, her manipulation, her past. It resulted in the worst night of my life. Her empty apologies and begging me to try and make it work. The hours of tears, of telling her there was no trust and no way to make it work. Her telling me not to take her stuff back to her parent’s house because she wouldn’t be there. Her disappearance, leaving a note and her phone behind. It was probably the phone call where I explained what was happening and her mother screaming into the phone how her daughter was going to kill herself because of me. It was probably having to call the police, having them show up at my house, and dealing with them questioning me on the doors step. It was probably the fear that I felt as her father pulled in to question me as well. It was probably when she was finally found drunk in a hotel room with pills in her system.

I never saw her after that night. I never even talked to her again. She packed up and moved to Florida and found a new boyfriend who would treat her right, that wouldn’t constantly remind her of the past and both of our mistakes. Her last words to me still play in my head some nights, especially when the weather cools and the snow starts falling like it did that night. Every time I drive past that hotel she was found at; it feels like a punch in the gut. Even the sound of her name makes me cringe. Going through her hometown drives me insane.

I still deal with the aftereffects of her, of our relationship. We were together, on and off, for nearly a decade. Meeting at 16 and breaking up in our early twenties. I spent a year after the breakup dealing with and trying to forget that time of my life. I couldn’t rid myself of the memories, the constant reminders. The places and things that used to bring me joy all had some sort of tie with her. I couldn’t find a place untouched by her memory. Everything was stained. I didn’t want to live with her anymore. Even with her gone, she still haunted me. I wanted to put a bullet through my head, but I knew the brains on the wall would still spell out her name.

Eventually, with time, things got better. The nightmares now come, but less frequently. I learned to deal with the memories. I learned to make new ones, in an attempt to cover up the old ones. I even have a new relationship now, a healthy one, a happy one and I think part of the success of this relationship goes to my old one, as messed up as it sounds. If nothing else, that first relationship was a learning experience. First off, I learned how a relationship shouldn’t be. I learned boundaries. I learned how to be selfless, how to my own feelings aside for someone else. I learned how to take care of someone. I learned how to communicate. I learned how to love. I learned how to hurt. I learned how to cope. I learned how to heal.

This new relationship, this new girl, she is everything I have ever wanted and more. She is kind, caring, and has a tragic back story of her own. We both come from a place of trauma and can understand each other because of it. We can read moods and communicate what we are feeling and why. Maybe this relationship will work. I’m not saying the past was worth it, I’m not saying I would go through it all again if it meant being where I am now. I’m not saying I am a better man and a better partner because of the last girl… but maybe.

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