By Tymmarah Anderson
It has been years since my ex and I officially broke up, but I still couldn’t shake the aftermath of our relationship. Did I miss him? Not a chance. I’d rather shovel snow with a dustpan than go back to him. It’s just. . .I was still carrying around the most brutal parts of our relationship on my back.
A song we used to rap religiously would come on at a bar, and my anxiety would sky rocket. My stomach would knot up and my chest would start beating uncontrollably. Or, I’d pass by our favorite restaurant, pull over, and just start crying uncontrollably. And the worst part of it was, it started affecting my ability to build and maintain relationships with others, both romantic and otherwise.
I couldn’t decipher whether I was being a “hot girl” because I wanted to be, or because it was the bullet-proof way to assure I wouldn’t end up in a hot mess again. If I did find myself getting too close to anyone, I’d pretty much ghost them — with no hesitation, no warning, and no real reason other than I was TERRIFIED of being in another toxic relationship. From constant accusations of cheating, to the policing of my outfits, make-up, and friends,, to intense arguments every single day about the most minuscule things; it was honestly the most exhausting time of my life. I had cried more in a month than I felt most people did in a lifetime and the thought of me still not being over it years later made me feel lost.
“Post Traumatic Relationship Syndrome” is the term my therapist used. I honestly thought she had made it up. So naturally, I did my research.
11 Signs You Have PTRS
7 Signs of Post-Traumatic Relationship Disorder
Relationship PTSD is a Real Thing!
And they all pretty much said the same thing. Symptoms like relationship flashbacks or nightmares, intense fear of making another commitment, and feelings of isolation and loneliness seemed all too familiar. I mean, some of the articles read like the very blueprint of my relationship. In the next session with my therapist, I talked through some of them and finally she stopped me and asked,
“Why do you do that?”
Do what, girl? Knowing she was about to read me.
“Invalidate your own feelings.”
Saying things like,
“Well maybe it’s just my anxiety.”
“It wasn’t that deep.”
“I mean, everyone goes through bad breakups.”
She warned me not to downplay what I was feeling because it didn’t make my reality any less true. Honestly, I just didn’t want to believe I could ever allow myself to get so low. Here I was, the wise friend that everyone always looked to for advice, completely ignoring my own intuition. I felt shameful, naive, and just all around stupid for allowing these horrible things to consistently happen in my relationship. As a Black woman, I felt an unspoken duty to plaster on a happy face, both during the relationship and after. Not to mention, my unspoken duty to protect Black men at all cost, regardless of their inability to do the same. I mean at some point I blamed myself for all of it. I thought maybe if I walked away from that one argument or showed him more attention when we were together, my reality would be different. But soon I learned it didn’t matter what I had done differently; it would not have change the fact that he was at war with himself. There was no peace offering on earth that could end that massacre.
It honestly took me months after the relationship ended to even talk about my trauma, some of which I still can’t bring myself to say out loud. But, I have learned to address the situation with patience. While I am continuing to work through my own PTRS, I found these things to be most helpful in my journey:
Call it what it is. Whether you label it as PTRS, relationships anxiety, or both, it’s important to recognize that the problem exists. Black women aren’t encouraged to admit they are struggling, for fear of being judged or seen as weak. In reality, overcoming the trauma makes you strong above all.
Seek help. This isn’t a battle you have to fight alone. While often stigmatized, therapy is a great resource for bringing clarity to a situation, as well as acknowledging pain points you didn’t know existed.
Change the behavior. Eventually, I had to stop self-sabotaging my relationships if I wanted to move forward. I’m starting to be more open-minded and take more chances with people. This part has been the hardest for me, nevertheless, the most rewarding.
All in all, I learned to be more kind to myself. Not only can I not change the past, but I continue to remind myself I am not responsible for someone else’s in-humanity. I view the relationship less as a burden, and more like a lesson. I learn from it, and move forward.
Tymmarah Anderson is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC.