“Yeah, but what’s it like?”
Wait, what? Was I really on a date with a guy who just asked what it’s like to be a young widow with children? If my BFF were nearby, she would have thrown up a red flag.
[Pause—let me give you some backstory. My first husband died of ALS when he was 40, leaving six- and nine-year old sons behind. If you have to stand in line and pick a disease, don’t stand in Lou Gehrig’s, it’s about as bad as they come. Now back to the jerk.]
“Really, I want to know, what is it like?”
We were sitting at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a handful of tables, a small French menu, and dim lighting. Outside, the Houston traffic rattled on while the sun slowly sank into the ground. There’s no answer to his question other than the one I offered: “It sucks.”
A counselor once told me I was suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, there’s a general acceptance of traumatic stress in a variety of situations, however, PTSD was a buzz term in 2005 and I shook my head. “No, that’s for soldiers coming home from the Gulf.” I was just a mother who still had laundry sitting in the washer and happened to have a husband pass away.
When I later dissected the comment, I reluctantly agreed that the words fit. I wasn’t a soldier who watched my buddies run over an IED, I didn’t see a motorcyclist fly off his bike and into on-coming traffic, I didn’t witness my home burn to the ground. What I did experience was a strong, determined man lose his ability to talk and walk and blink and breath over a slow three-year period. It was stressful, it was traumatic, it was over, and it sucked.
I looked out the window as the Houston highway reflected orange and red in the setting sun.
I added, “Like the sun, you rise the next day and survive all over again.” To me, that’s what it’s like to be a young widow, or a soldier coming back from war, or a witness to a horrible crash, or a survivor of a house fire. My date continued to ask questions. His need to experience my journey was uncomfortable. I had no words of wisdom to offer and was left with the sick knowledge that people want to know what horror feels like; they wonder if they could endure it. “Well put it this way,” I snarked while trying to decide if his inquisition was full of adulation or bewilderment, “it doesn’t make me a superhero.”
In reality, there’s no way to predict how someone will handle stressful situations. And while there is lots of advice on the topic of stress and PTSD, know this one thing: Just like the sun, you’ve got to rise tomorrow and survive the day all over again.