DEAR CAROLYN: I was recently diagnosed with PTSD. I have been severely restricting my exposure to the topic that triggered the initial breakdown, which nearly landed me in the ER. This isn’t forever, but given the stakes, I’m only going to re-expose myself under the guidance of my psychiatrist.
I’m not sure how to handle this around other people, though. For close friends, I can explain everything; for small talk with strangers, I can excuse myself abruptly and wander off. It’s the people in the middle I don’t know how to handle, and what makes it even more difficult is that the topic is normal small-talk material and pretty innocuous other than its associations in my head. What do I tell people?
New to PTSD
DEAR NEW TO PTSD: Short answer, tell them whatever you want.
It’s not what most of us strive for socially, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional odd reaction that leaves people mystified.
So why not “excuse myself abruptly and wander off” with those people in the middle, too? If that’s an effective way for you to handle it, then, fine; let the normalcy of other, non-triggering exchanges of small talk speak to your general normalcy and absorb this small exception for you.
Take it from someone whose sense of humor is routinely too weird for its audience; it’s a very different context, yes, but the “Wha?” reaction I get is the same one you’d be getting with your abrupt departures and/or subject changes.
You don’t have to field-test this theory alone. If other therapeutic goals don’t leave room for you to discuss and role-play such social questions with your psychiatrist, then please consider adding talk therapy with a psychologist or social worker to your treatment plan.
I’m sorry you have to go through this, and hope you feel better soon.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am hosting a weekend-long family party at my small lake house but offering hotel rooms for family members out of a desire for more personal space and comfort. My sister believes I should never have asked her to stay in a hotel, even if I paid for it, saying, “I would never do that to you.” Two years ago, our parents stayed in a hotel while my sister’s family stayed at the house. My husband and I could go to the hotel, but this too would be seen as un-family-friendly.
Rather than fight, I reversed course. I apologized and insisted they stay over.
Except, she snippily responded, “No, we booked the hotel room, you got what you wanted.” Which is NOT what I want now! Is there any way to salvage things?
DEAR HALFWAY HOST: You made your salvage gesture already. Your sister chose to throw it back in your face, yes, but that doesn’t mean you owe her a better, even more salvage-y salvage gesture, or a buy-in to her crazy. It’s on her now to come around; you need only be a gracious host to her and/or in spite of her.
“Tell Me About It” by Carolyn Hax appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 202-334-5669.