Many years ago, I was in a fish market in Chinatown. A woman came in to buy a fish, and pointed out the live fish she wanted. An attendant scooped it out of the tank, hurled it across the room to his partner, who beat the fish with a paddle until it was dead. They wrapped it in a newspaper (note the symbolism) and the lady went home with dinner.
I really identify with the fish these days.
There is a lot of real life in a chatroom. People don’t really stick with their prescribed topics, not when there’s a sense of urgency. I belong to some PTSD chatrooms, and what you read there will give you nightmares. The chatroom participants will probably appreciate the company, because one of our problems is that people usually ignore or disbelieve us.
We aren’t just responding to the chaos in our personal lives—we no longer have that luxury. The incident in Nice (pronounced Neese—how odd to see headline referring to a ‘Nice Attack’!), the failed coup in Turkey, and all the other manifestations of human fury and frailty, have sickened us all. Some people in the PTSD chatrooms have lived in France, and their recollections have been raped by this attack. Others are triggered simply by any attack having happened. The reaction of the general public usually adds fuel to our fires, and we respond as much to the public’s loss of control as the Enemy’s exercise of it. If you go over to the writers’ chatrooms, you’ll find a more circumspect version of the same thing. Someone asks the question, ‘what are you afraid of?’ and the answer is a litany of terrors. No one specifies ‘crazed terrorist with a gun’; they talk about dying in wood chippers, being eaten by sharks, dying alone and afraid in a dark hole…. You know, things that are(n’t) likely to happen in the modern day—realistic stuff.
There are a few things I have learnt in the last week or so. One is that the question, ‘What is happening to our world/with our police/what can we do?’ is annoying and naïve. More honestly, it’s a cry of helplessness and despair. Our Enemies, those Villains Over There, like that. It’s what they’re depending on. Our responses are their return on their investments.
Another thing I have learnt is that the hardest response to any request is, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ I often feel guilty for my silences because I really want to reach out and comfort people whose lives are a living hell. What do you tell a whole series of women whose husbands have just walked out on them? What do you say to a divorced woman whose abusive ex-husband is still being abusive? How do you live with people who think they’re better, more special, more valuable, more entitled than you? They are stronger, know more, will take care of you their way, and ultimately marginalize you?
Oddly, of the two types of rooms I generally haunt, the PTSD rooms are healthier in that people are speaking openly about their lives, their fears, their tragedies. At some point, someone makes an effort at a joke, and before you know it, they’re all laughing, including the person who started the thread! This is less frequent in the other rooms where decorum must be maintained and such frankness is not expected.
And decorum must be maintained—order is important. We with PTSD know that. Some of us, like those with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) have much too good a handle on it, but it’s how we make sense of daily life—order.
While it is uncommon for people to bond over gerunds and derivatives, in PTSD rooms, people are feeling each other’s pain and strength, and bonding all over the place. We occasionally get some thug who joins the group solely for the purpose of doing harm. The group deals with that individual very quickly and thoroughly, without betraying their principles, and they do it together.
We can do the same. We need to stop giving the Enemy sound returns on their investments. We can find ways to laugh at the Enemy, ways that defy them without belittling us, and show them what a non-terrorist world is really made of. We could try to do it in groups and factions, but it would be better if we did it in unity.
The Devil really hates it when you laugh at him.
Paul TN Chapman
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