The thing is, even being content or happy doesn’t shield me from the effects of receiving an email like that. I even allow that she might not have meant it the way I read it. But the pain, and the panic, and the after-effects were as strong just the same.
That morning, I was exceptionally happy – for me. I rated my depression as a five out of ten (and considering I have only gotten above a five a couple of times in over a year, that is really good – for me.) I was doing so well, and I was accomplishing so much, and then out of nowhere came this email.
I won’t say exactly what it said, as it both isn’t important, and will trigger me again – but it basically said, “You are doing it wrong.”
Conflict. Criticism. I just can’t do it.
Small as it may seem, it is a huge trigger for me. I mean, big. I did mention I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, right? That does come from a traumatic childhood, but it was healing. Triggered at times, but not in all I did. It was getting better.
But then I had three children removed from my home in a failed adoption – and the trauma from that is so bad that one small encounter with a stranger, or one sentence in an email can take me from the most contented I have felt in months, to hiding out in tears for days after.
“You are doing it wrong.” Those weren’t the words she used, but it is the same thing. It wasn’t even about something that is absolute – just like with the children’s ministry – one theory, one opinion, in a world full of them. What makes them right?
Only power. But power doesn’t make a person right, it only gives them the ability to destroy those that don’t have it. “You don’t agree with me? I will crush you.” And the thing is, they can. Forget this, “what can they do?” for I know what they can do. They can crush me – and they do. Again and again.
And what can she do? She can take back what she gave to heal me. I have never even met this person, and she has the power to destroy me, because in a moment of overwhelming pain I agreed to accept a gift from her.
Yet from my childhood, and from trying to adopt my children, I know. I know that any gift given can also be taken back. And any gift that isn’t taken back still gives that person so much power over me. And with that power, they can (and do) crush me. And it terrifies me.
So one line, in one email, can set me to days of panic attacks and tears. One comment can set back months of healing, and cause more fear than I can express. People want to believe that other people are resilient – that what they say and do doesn’t matter, really – but not all of us are. Not all of us. Many of us have been through so much already, that we just can’t take any more. And what have we learned? That other people have power. That other people can and will use that power to destroy.
Maybe she was just making a suggestion. Maybe I took it too hard. The next email said how well she thought I was doing… but then, the children’s ministry did the same thing – over and over – and they destroyed me, and then blamed me for being too stressed out working with them.
So what can one person who disagrees with me do? More than I hope any other person has to experience. One line in an email. One line. And the fear, and the trauma, and the social anxiety, and the desire to isolate myself grows in leaps and bounds. For what could they do, but take away the life line they threw to me, and leave me to drown.