How to go from feeling misunderstood to building bridges

Pier-Support-Cartoon

Written by Trish

How many times have you felt misunderstood?  Or did you give up counting a long time ago?

I think everyone feels misunderstood at times.  People make judgments, assess you from outward appearances, and have too much going on in their own lives to be present to your pain.

It forges a disconnection between you and them; them being everyone else in the world that is not going through a similar experience.  It’s not that you don’t want people to understand; you are just tired of the assumptions and the disappointment of not being heard.

Feeling misunderstood has been a big theme in my journey with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It has been the main ingredient for me to create the reclusive life I live right now.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention my stubbornness too.

Feeling misunderstood is kind of lonely… and then you become a cat lady.

Something happens that changes your whole life

I think that is the first symptom of feeling misunderstood; going through something you cannot phantom anyone could have possibly survived to tell-the-tale.  And since there are no survivors, then no one has experienced the aftermath.

I felt that way about my trauma and as I unknowingly descended in to PTSD.  How could I explain what was going on with me when I didn’t understand it myself?  Some of the stuff I didn’t want to tell anyone for fear of being institutionalised.

Then the biggest question of all—the one that gets you right between the eyeballs—who really cares to understand anyway?

So I felt to feel truly understood, I needed someone who had gone through what I was going through.

Looking for a needle in a haystack

So it’s a bit hard to know where to start finding others who have firsthand knowledge when you can’t define it.

It didn’t help my cause that my psychiatrist evaluated me as having PTSD and I didn’t believe her.

I knew I had a mishmash of mental health symptoms that didn’t really make up any disorder.  So I felt that anyone who had experience with anxiety, depression, psychosis, mania, OCD and an eating disorder were my partners-in-crime.

I set out to meet my comrades on the Internet via this blog.  Soon I was connecting with all sorts of people from all over the world who were experiencing mental health issues.

For the first time I felt like I was a part of a community and not the freak trying to living among “normals”.  It felt really good and I am so grateful for the experiences I have had working with others to produce this blog.

Yet after a time, I realized I had not come across anyone just like me—at the time I was looking for the exact same symptoms and feeling more and more isolated with each encounter.

Sometimes our expectations keep us in a place of feeling misunderstood. [Tweet this quote!]

Labels can be a good thing

Five years I felt misunderstood in a way that would creep up on me at the oddest of times.

I would start to tell my story and someone would cut me off to change the subject.

I would write a guest post documenting part of my experience and no one would comment.

And though my post about having a floating sensation that is tied to anxiety is one of the most popular story’s on this blog, no one has come out and said “me too!”

This past summer while I was using Emotional Freedom Technique, I came to the realization that indeed my psychiatrist had been right.

Suddenly I was not alone in this.  I had the Veterans!

I hooked up with some really great PTSD resources on the Internet that not only talked to what I was going through, they explained how and why.

(I highly recommend checking out Michele Rosenthal’s site Heal My PTSD and her radio show at Change You Choose.)

I was empowered.  I now had the lingo to explain my experience, even if the person had never heard of PTSD, let alone experienced it.

Then my old fear paid me a visit and I stopped myself from using my voice and connecting: who really cares anyway?

Passion wins out

As I further investigated PTSD, I found articles by Dr. Robert Scaer that felt like I was reading my life story.  That was pretty darn exciting.

But what was equally exciting is that he is a neurologist and I love neuroscience and biochemistry.  They have been minor hobbies of mine over the last 10 years.  Well when I could explain my condition in terms of neurology, I really wanted to share.

Here was an opportunity to talk about myself from the perspective of a medical science I have a great love for (and those are few and far between!)  I love that Dr. Scaer’s stuff is practical and innovative.

Once again empowered, this gave me the courage to share what I was going through from a perspective of “isn’t this really cool?” and allow people the opportunity to understand.

How could people not be receptive to that?

And not just people who have firsthand knowledge of a mental illness, but basically anyone with a brain and nervous system.

That includes most people I know.

So how did it go?

It was the beginning of this month that I had my first sit-down-look-them-in-the-eye opportunity to talk to a friend about my PTSD experience as it stands right now.

That’s if you don’t include my Mom over the phone.

It was with my best friend of over 35 years.

So I jumped in and monopolized the conversation talking about myself and my “stuff”.

She listened.  She didn’t say anything in attempt to reframe my experience.

When I was done, she had a few inquiries which I happily answered.

I walked away feeling understood.  Man it is a great feeling.

I could get used to this.

The need for peer pier support

Just this past week, I received an email from a new volunteer guest blogger.  We connected right away and in his last email he asked me about my view of PTSD.

I was floored.  I don’t think anyone has asked me that before.

I tell you when your perspective changes from one of misunderstanding, to knowing there are people out there who truly want to listen from a place of equality, magical things happen.

Sure, I can sit here and tell myself that what I really need is to find it within myself to fulfill my need for understanding.

And maybe that’s true.

But for now the way I see it is misunderstanding is bridged by connection and it takes two living breathing human beings to build that bridge.

I plan to be busy building lots of bridges.

 

Cartoon credit: Trish Hurtubise

 

Trish HurtubiseHi. I’m Trish Hurtubise…the founder, curator and an editor for Mental Health Talk. I love serving those who are relegated to the shadows by society by giving them a platform to share their voice and be seen and heard… hence my passion for working with all the wonderful people who have shared their stories and wisdom on MHT.

You may view all posts by me here.

I have also written a romance novel (under the name Tricia Best) that is a story of two young adults struggling to come together and embrace their sexuality when faced with PTSD and addiction. I wanted the book to have meaning as well as entertain the reader in true new adult romance fashion.

Much love to you.


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Comments

  • Jared @ Schiz Life

    Trish,

    Thanks for this post! I agree, it does feel amazing to be heard by someone. It’s one thing for all of us in the same boat to talk to one another about it, but it feels so good to get someone on the ‘outside’ to listen and take a real interest. I think we can do a lot to manage the other person’s response as well. We can be courageous and not ashamed of our conditions and talk about it like it’s an everyday common thing, because it is! The more we get out there and share our stories, the more the stigma and judgment will fade out of society. You are doing good work here!

    Jared

    • Trish

      Hey Jared. Thank you for your kinds words. I don’t quite have the voice YET to be forthcoming with my story with everyone (though I seem to have no problem sharing it in writing on all sorts of social media 😉 so I admire your courage to speak your truth.

      You are also doing great work at Schiz Life and I look forward to publishing your story on MHT in the near future.

      Thank you for stopping by.

      Love,
      Trish

  • Zed

    A gr8 article, Trish! After having my own experiences with PTSD, I’ve come to recognize symptoms in many other who live without a diagnosis. I also sense most people have their own unique cluster of symptoms relating to our unique personality traits. Feeling alone or dissimilar is often the worst part and it’s important to search for collectiveness in anyway possible. I recall others recommending many community services, prescriptions and a plethora of other suggestions (church, group memberships, etc) that wouldn’t fit my unique style). So I found the connection with others through books. In books, I could open my mind to thousands of others whom lived life much differently than we do here in the western world. Suddenly I had choices in spirituality, philosophy, values, problem-solving, etc. I didn’t have to do what the Jones’s did or think like them. The more and more I kept reading, the more I sensed not only do people all over the world have many alternative ways to lead their lives, but many had similar values, philosophies, etc. That’s where the connection came for me. The connection filled the void in my heart. I knew I wasn’t alone anymore–there are millions out there with many of the same skills, thoughts & improvement areas as me.

    Eastern philosophies helped me to understand it’s our imagination or fear that puts the walls between ourselves and others and it’s a learned thing often from past traumas. Babies don’t see walls, small children don’t put others into hierarchies of greatness, why should I be any different.

    Well, I’m sure this type of separation isn’t exactly what you were referring to. Your article made me think about my experience with being alone. I call it aloneness-programming. We can program ourselves like an avoidance response to risk future traumas, plus we can be programmed from many past or present circumstances. If others ever feel this way, I’d like to share a small story-like study, as a fair aloneness-programming analogy. Just keep in mind, anything that is programmed into our minds can, therefore, be programmed out. That is good news!

    SCHOOL OF FISH: A small school of fish were placed in a tank and later divided into two groups by a sheet of clear glass placed in the middle of the tank. At first the fish bumped into the glass but then learned to sense it was a barrier. When some time had passed the sheet of glass was removed. Oddly enough, the two groups of fish would not pass the mid-section of the tank. Now, we look at the tank and clearly see it is still just one group of fish. Yet none of the fish would swim to the other side of the tank; they swam as if they were two separate schools of fish. Every cell/fiber of their being told them that a glass wall was still there.

    Often when I feel different than everyone else, I remember this story and realize I have to break down my own glass wall. It’s done easily when you take a leap of faith in believing everyone feels similarly at one time or another, and this is just your turn. The greatest CEO, model, genius, musician (you name it) will all have a turn. No one is better than you. For now the alone sensation is simply a learning opportunity you will understand better later on. The tough part of it, will pass when you see what it’s meant to teach you…

    • Trish

      Thank you so much for sharing part of your story and your thoughts Zed. How wonderful to find a connection in what you found was similar in others from all over the world. Books can be so helpful to give you a new perspective.

      The separation you are referring to is resonant with me. What I learned most from writing this article is that it is my expectations of how others should witness me that cause me to feel misunderstood. Those expectations are my barrier. I agree–it is all about mind programming and as you know from experiencing PTSD, mind programming plays a big part in our lives (in everyone’s life!)

      I like the “School of Fish” story–I had not heard that one. I will remember it.

      Thanks again Zed–for taking the time to stop by and comment. I am always happy to get feedback and learn from others.

      Love,
      Trish

  • Al

    Excellent artwork!

    • Trish

      Thank you Al. I’m so appreciative when people comment on my artwork. xo

  • Veva

    What a great post. You do a really good job of bringing up a seemingly obvious fact – and I say seemingly because not many choose to acknowledge it – but all of us need to feel that our stories are important. Why? Because they are. It’s only through our stories and experiences, no matter how dismal or dark, that we’re able to find connection with one another. Stories serve not only as a reflection of ourselves, but a candid reflection of the relationships and community surrounding us. Seeing one another through them generates that wonderful feeling of being understood. Thanks again for sharing this 🙂

    • Trish

      Thank you for your feedback Veva–you’re spot-on with what I was trying to convey in this post. You have this wonderful gift of putting things so eloquently.

      Love,
      Trish

  • mom

    Proud of all you are doing Trish and again excellent art work. Not just saying that because I am your Mom. Lots of Love.

    • Trish

      Thank you Mommy! I know you are my #1 fan. Love you, Trish

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