As I become more self-aware of my behaviors related to PTSD I notice more and more often a certain level of discomfort in almost every place. The news has reported more and more stories about college campuses and other socially intense places are creating “safe spaces” for members of that community who feel they are being offended by certain communications from others. These places are set up for students to relax and recharge. “Safe spaces” have a whole different level of meaning to me. My first safe space I discovered was of course my childhood home. This is where I retreated to once I was able to leave campus after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. I remember being tense the whole ride home, every muscle aching from the length of time I had remained tense. The moment I walked over that thresh hold and met our family dog with a hug my muscles melted into nostalgia. Needless to say “safe spaces” have been significant in my recover, they are places that I can let my guard down even if just a little bit to feel like myself again. It’s a comfort of routine and familiarity.
As anyone who has been involved in any kind of serious relationship it is certainly not always routine and familiar. The person you are in that relationship with becomes routine and familiar but the circumstances surrounding the relationship can change at the drop of a hat. My husband and I did not move in together until we became engaged. This was to avoid any issues in custody with his daughter’s mother. We only saw each other on weekends and talked on the phone during the weeks. While I missed him during the week this set up also gave me space to create my own safe space that was consistent independent of my relationship. I would have this safe space regardless of the curve balls that could be thrown in my relationship. For three years I had this safety net, until we got engaged last January and took the leap to move in together(daughter included) when a beautiful house fell into our laps. While I was beyond excited to start the next chapter of our lives together I was mourning the loss of my familiar routined safe space (my mom moved into a smaller place and sold my child hood home as well during this time).
While this house was better than any first house I could have pictured, it was big, it was unfamiliar, it was not routine. For the first six months in our home there was a lot of rearranging, a lot of family meetings, and more than I like to admit of arguments with my husband. I woke up in constant survival mode, not a moment of relaxed muscles, I went to work and worked more than my fair share of hours with children who were not happy themselves. After losing my job and getting into a car accident my world felt like it would never be familiar or routine again. After weeks of panic attacks and sleepless I began to relax in my home. My husband was my flashlight in the darkness through those weeks, while he became frustrated at times by how helpless he felt, he never left my side, he was my routine and my familiarity. I finally felt that there was some familiarity in my surroundings now, the family was coming together, the roles were being more solidified.
Which brings me to the whole reason behind this post…….the invasion. One of the major things I notice with my PTSD is the over reaction when there is a breach in the typical day-to-day routine. My stepdaughter’s mother is a unique person. She doesn’t understand boundaries and seems to lack an understanding for communication. I don’t say these things to be judgemental or petty, I say them because they have been shown through pattern. As I’m doing my afternoon tasks for my home I hear my Chihuahua on the deck barking like she does when someone is here. I let her bark for a few minutes to make sure it wasn’t over something uber threatening….like a leaf. There in my drive way is my step daughter’s mother at 2:30 in the afternoon when we clearly asked that she pick my step daughter up at 4. No call, no text, just showed up. Then instead of waiting in the driveway while we gathered a bag together for our girl, she invites herself inside. This crossed so many boundaries my chest started pounding I’m sure my husband and my step daughter’s mother could hear it. Not to mention the crazy vibes my chihuahua must have been picking up, I’ve never seen her hair stand so high!
My husband apologized and identified that I had a right to feel uncomfortable because he felt uncomfortable too. I was grateful he acknowledged my feelings but there was an invasion in my safe space. It was much more than discomfort I was feeling. It’s hard to explain that to him without him misunderstanding it. That is the most frustrating part of PTSD and relationships, trying to explain something that affects your every fiber of being to the person you love most in the world and them looking at you like you are from a different planet. Invasions like this cause set backs, I’ve grown to be okay with set backs, I accept them and focus on coming back even better. My husband doesn’t see them as set backs, he see’s them as being miserable. This creates more tension for me, I’m feeling unsafe because my environment has been invaded but I don’t want my husband to feel like he ruined my life bc he thinks I’m miserable, I want to tell my step daughter’s mother to come at the scheduled time but I don’t want it to hurt my step daughter in any way.
Telling me to get out of my comfort zone is like telling me to go jump off a bridge. It’s a big request, but I did it for my husband because he makes me a better person, more than any medication ever has. It’s scary, exhausting and at times lonely but it’s worth it because the rest of the time it’s home.