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The burden of keeping PTSD "secret"


Do you keep your PTSD secret from most people in your life?

For me, my close friends know, my Drs and therapist know, the one person I keep in touch with from my family of origin knows... and that's basically it.

I've always kept it a secret: at work, in my neighbourhood, from acquaintances and friends I'm not close to.

While it has some obvious social advantages to people not knowing that I have PTSD / a mental health issue, it also has some major disadvantages. In many ways, I feel like it's this double life, much in the way that people used to (and of course in many cases still have to/ choose to) keep it a secret that they're gay and pretend to nearly everyone around them that they are straight, except for a small circle of friends...

Oh yeah, I guess I forgot that aspect too... Much like there's a gay scene/ community, where it's possible to be out without being out on a wider societal level, I guess there's also a mental health scene - group therapy, this forum, etc... where you talk to other people openly who you also know have PTSD/ a mental health issue/ depression/ are doing therapy.

(I really, really, really hope I've not worded this in a way that's offensive - I truly do NOT somehow mean to equate having a mental health issue and being gay - it's just that "secret" aspect that both things have in common - keeping mental health stuff a secret reminds me of growing up as a teen and in my twenties and having gay friends living that whole secret/ coming out/ telling their parents journey... I see so many parallels)

Anyway, I'm wondering (and also assuming) that many/ most here keep their PTSD secret from the world in general... Apart from a few brave souls, probably, that are just totally open about it and refuse to accept the stigma and taboo - and good on them! Cos honestly, I think people who are open and honest about that are brilliant - cos it truly is NOT anything to be ashamed about... And they're such great rolemodels to prove that it can be done... Tho I think it's really an attitude and strength thing... If you are strong and convey to people that they'd better not treat you like crap just cos you're being honest about your PTSD... then people don't tend to treat you like crap, cos they can tell that you're not gonna have any of it... I don't think I exude that kind of natural confidence about it, which is why I think people *would* treat me badly about it in some cases - cos they can tell that I've not got that inner "f*ck off" attitude about it...

So, do you mostly keep it a secret?

Do you also find it a burden, even if it does have some advantages?
i see a huge diff between keeping a secret and allowing myself some privacy. i am fully okay with people knowing that i suffer ptsd from surviving child sex trafficking, but am quick to spare myself the retelling of the trauma tales. those never will be my favorite dinner table stories.

i believe there will be people who will treat me badly, no matter what mask i choose to wear. living my life around avoiding that fact doesn't seem worth the effort. those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter.
It isn’t anyone else’s business to know but mine.

Obviously there are certain reactions and things I don’t/can’t hide. If I’m feeling completely miserable I will say, if I need someone to come out and party with me I will say yo I need to let some steam out. They don’t need to know the ins and outs, they support me with what they know and I do the same in return for them. I don’t dump on them, and I give/get in equal measures.

Work no, I don’t allow it to affect any part of my performance. Rightly so, if it affects you to the degree you cannot perform at top level then unfortunately in my career you are out of a job, as it’s results driven only. No results, no money.

they'd better not treat you like crap just cos you're being honest about your PTSD... then people don't tend to treat you like crap, cos they can tell that you're not gonna have any of it...
PTSD or not, I don’t have people treat me like crap. I don’t tolerate it I’m afraid, I give as good as I get.
The first time someone f*cks me off I’ll be polite about it, the second, I’m going to unleash. There is no third.
I do not discuss the diagnosis with anyone who doesn’t need to know. I don’t find it necessary.

I do not find it to be a burden because if I wanted them to know or found a reason it was relevant I’d tell them.

I do find keeping CSA from people to be a burden but I’ve so far found there aren’t people without judgment. If you say you were abused for a short period of time most people can handle that but when it’s for an extended period of time I read judgement and you poor thing from people. Two things I can absolutely do without. But there are times when I feel I’d be understood better, particularly when it’s about my level of family I’m willing to commit time to. I know people would understand if they knew but the cost otherwise would be too high.
I used to live that way and found it unbearable. Things got a lot easier for me when I started being honest. When I actively hid my history from people, they didn't like me, because they knew I was hiding something but didn't know what and it made them behave more hostilely toward me. Now that happens a lot less, because people understand that what happened to me impacted my ability to socialize and form bonds with others.

They are also more likely to give me the benefit of the doubt that I am just unaware of convention, and not purposefully being an asshole. And it makes it easier when I have periods where I cannot control myself properly, such as during psychosis. People know that I struggle with that kind of thing and are a lot kinder to me as a result. I guess one could say it's in a "poor you" framework but honestly, it's better than being brutalized and shamed and excluded.

What I tend to be careful about more, is the details of things. I've become more comfortable being open with the bare facts, but anything deeper is something I don't quite think is ethical to put on those who aren't trained to handle that type of information. And it's difficult to know who can and cannot cope with that kind of traumatic material (which is probably why there is such a wide array of illogical responses to hearing about CSA, for example).

And I also have a hard time knowing what is too distressing for others to hear, since that kind of stuff does not affect me at all on an emotional level. So it is a learning process, always, and I have made plenty of mistakes. But fortunately, honesty isn't one of them.
I do keep it secret and I find that a burden because I think I must seem weird to others because I'm long term single and have few friends. That in itself is stigmatising.

But if I told people, I think there is is some risk of misunderstanding how PTSD can present differently in different people, but I'd be more worried about the stigma attached to sexual abuse.

The other thing is that it would make me vulnerable to further abuse.

I do tell people that I get anxious if I feel a need to offer some explanation. Anxiety seems to explain on a level that people might understand better, has less stigma and avoids any questions or conversations that might reveal abuse.
Is there a way of reframing 'secret' to personal information shared on a need to know basis?

We don't share information about ourselves to everyone in the same way. We make decisions, about everything, on who we share with, why, when, what. About any aspects of our lives.

If it feels like a secret you need to keep (something being done to you, you are passive in) as opposed to personal information that you are being descerning about who you tell (something you are active and in control about), perhaps there is something to explore how you are holding it?

Re: being gay. I don't 'tell' people I am gay. Nothing to 'come out' about. People need to stop 'putting me in'. I correct them when they assume I am heterosexual. When I first 'came out' it was a big deal. Mid 90's. World was different. It felt like a secret. But the 'secret' and shame, all isn't mine.
Same with this.
I’m kind of like @anthony , easy to share the diagnosis, don’t feel the need to go into particulars. I used to say, when pressed, “my dad sexually abused me when I was a baby.” But nowadays I think that the words “child abuse” are enough if pressed.
I do tell people when, as has often happened the past couple of years, I've lost my temper and need to apologize once I've regained my senses. I don't always tell the full story - but sometimes I do.

I was diagnosed two years ago with PTSD resulting from my first husband's death 30 years ago, which flared up when my current husband was hospitalized with COVID. My first husband had hemophilia, a blood clotting disorder, and he - and all three of his brothers - died of AIDS. At that time, there were no good HIV tests available to the public, so it was years of me being convinced I would test positive, get sick & then die. Almost everyone with HIV died of AIDS back then. My friends are all aware of the details; it's a dark part of history that I feel needs to be known, especially the government's failures around allowing the FDA to notify people of the dangers of blood clotting products infected with HIV.

So, I think that whether we tell people the "why" of our diagnosis depends on the situation and how much we want to reveal. But I have told people the "what" (that I'm dealing with the impact of trauma) at times when I need to apologize. I think of it not as much as an excuse as an explanation of why I was quick to anger.