About a month ago I got dinner with a friend who I have known since high school. At some point the conversation turned to what it felt like to support me when my PTSD emerged for the first time during our undergraduate years together, about six years ago.
“Yeah Thomas, it was rough,” she said. “I remember I had to set super clear boundaries with you, because if I didn’t pick up the phone when you called, you’d freak out.”
When my friend told me this, I felt mortified. Though certain memories from my early PTSD feel crystal clear – crying in bathroom stalls, starting therapy with L, walking back to my dorm room at night listening to “Braveheart” by Neon Jungle – others feel lost in a blur. This friend, who supported me through it all, reminded me of how I acted at my worst. When my PTSD emerged, in addition to experiencing panic attacks, I lashed out at certain friends for minor things they did. Right before the onset of PTSD, I had expected too much from a different friend. When my friend who stood by me through it all talked about this time last month at dinner, I felt embarrassment and red-hot shame flow through my veins like lava. I wanted to crawl under the table and hide, and then I wanted her to kick me in the stomach for my past self’s behavior.
I share this because I want to practice transparency about my behavior and the mistakes I made. On this blog I often write about valuing compassion, social justice, perhaps to the extent that I portray myself as some like, amazing human which I am because I dump mediocre men and stan iconic K-Pop and pop music. But I was messy! I have made mistakes and I have mistreated people.
Since then I have grown. I went to therapy, and even though a lot of time it felt horrible, I learned so much. I learned about how to handle my trauma and how to regulate my emotions. Since all those years ago I have made healthy, supportive friendships with clear boundaries and open, loving communication. I apologized to the people I hurt. My growth does not excuse my past behavior, nor am I done growing.
I share this for anyone out there who feels like a shitty person, because as cliché as this sounds, I think we can become less shitty if we work at it, even when feelings of shame and self-loathing and exhaustion emerge. I also write this for any Asian folk out there aka the two Asian people who may stumble upon this blog by chance because ten years ago while in high school I posted about my obsessive crush on Key from SHINee, lol, because if I had known about PTSD or therapy earlier in my life, I definitely would have sought support sooner, support that is often stigmatized or inaccessible to our communities.
Gonna end this post with some gratitude. Thanks to my iconic therapist former therapist L and all the therapists out there spreading healing and light. Thanks to Caroline Knapp for enlightening me about feminism and body image and true self-empowerment. Thanks to this blog for serving as a space for me to share my life over the past decade and for my readers for not complaining about how weird I am. And, thank you to the friend I got dinner with, for sticking with me through my messiness. You da best.
Wow so I wrote this post about a month ago but saved it up and did not have time to post it until now. Reactions to this post? How do you cope when you think about past mistakes you’ve made or embarrassing/harmful things you’ve done? How can we honor and grow from those experiences? I have like 100 blog post ideas but grad school has been super busy as of late so fingers crossed that I can post again soon-ish!
9 responses to “Mistakes Were Made”
I’m a big believer in “the past is in the past” but that shit is so hard! The past always comes back to bite. Just thinking about how embarrassing or harmful I was in the past makes me crawl out of my skin, but it’s been getting easier to be forgiving. Past me had his reasons to act like that; he didn’t know better; he deserves as much compassion as I give other people. Anyway, I love(d) Jinwoo, he’s so pretty! 🥺🥺 Your last few posts have smashed btw keep doing you 🙏🏻🙏🏻
Awww Eric I appreciate you naming how it can be hard to think and feel about the past and I’m glad to hear it’s easier to be forgiving. I’m thankful you named some specific thought processes (e.g., he deserves as much compassion as I give other people). Yes retweet at Jinwoo being super pretty and thank you for taking the time to read and to comment, I hope your teaching and all else in life is going as well as it can. (:
I got into BTS lately, so I guess I’m now on the K-Pop train. (Jimin is my favorite. Probably.) With past trauma, you have to remember that there is no statute of limitations on your pain. It continues to affect you for as long as it affects you, which very well might be your whole life. Because it’s trauma. It rattled you to the point where you started to see the world as a hostile place. But you have to remember that some people are on your side. Understanding comes before forgiveness.
I’ve never been able to get into BTS though I’m glad it sounds like you being on the K-Pop train is going well. (: Thanks for that reminder re: past trauma. I appreciate you naming both the long-lasting effects of how it shapes your worldview as well as the potential for understanding to mitigate that a bit. Hope you’re well and thanks for taking the time to read and to comment!
I hope the people you apologized to understood the situation you were in. I can’t imagine going through what you did and staying in a zen like state. I also hope you forgive yourself too. You’ve got so much self awareness and empathy. I also want to add that I’m grateful that you continue to blog and overshare yourself (sometimes not enough…) even with your heavy academic workload. 🙂
Thank you so much for this compassionate response! Yes, at least one friend was super forgiving and she also apologized for some of her behaviors in the situation too. Though, I don’t expect an apology necessarily because no one is indebted to apologize to anyone who’s hurt them (even if unintentionally). I’m grateful to you for positively reinforcing my oversharing with your super nice and thoughtful responses. Hope you’re having a great Friday and that you’ll have a wonderful weekend.
This is a hard one! I struggle with this sense of shame a lot, and as a fellow Asian American, I feel like it’s a reaction that’s engrained in us since birth – if we aren’t perfect, we should feel shame and let that shame drive us to be better (and so continues the cycle of toxic perfectionism and anxiety). My therapist and I have been working a lot on letting myself feel and process emotions without an automatic response, where I practice letting a moment or emotion just be, without judgement or shame. It’s been hard and deeply uncomfortable, but I hope I’m getting better at it (and feel like I’m letting myself get to know a part of myself that I never let exist before).
But as for how you feel towards your friend: I have often been the person being a support through particularly traumatic, emotional, and sometimes abusive parts of my friends’ lives. It’s hard because you love and care for your friend, but you can’t always fix a situation for them, can only support them. But even if you feel ashamed at how you lashed out or acted, you did the work afterwards and didn’t let your PTSD be an excuse! You were accountable, and you tried to grow. To see my friends go through that process, nothing gives me greater joy or happiness for them. One of my close friends is dating the person who finally is giving them the attention and love she deserves, is tackling trauma, PTSD, and her past eating discord era in therapy, and doing her best to make a difference as an English professor at a community college, while still advocating for inclusivity and LGBTQ rights in academia and in the classroom, and a sharp eye towards social privilege. She’s doing so, so well right now. But at her worst, she was still dating abusive men, a high functioning alcoholic, an academic overachiever with constant anxiety and toxic perfectionism, and all I could do was come to her as she sat alone in that boyfriend’s apartment, bringing pizza because she had eaten nothing else for days.
What I’m trying to say is: you’re doing your best and being vulnerable and self-reflective in the process. You grew, and will continue to grow. Try to give some acceptance to the past you, who did what they had to to get through those times, the PTSD. Honor past-you’s efforts, because it got you to here. Sending love and thoughts your way!
Cat, thank you so much for this thorough and thoughtful comment. Your practice with your therapist sounds iconic and I appreciate you naming the Asian American component too. It makes me reflect on how that feeling of shame can be passed down through intergenerational trauma or it can be instilled through racism. I’m glad that through your practice you’ve been more able to explore another side of yourself and be gentle with yourself.
Thank you also for highlighting my accountability and willingness to grow (reminds me of how you did so for me regarding my past book selections too, whew). Your friend is lucky to have someone like you who’s able to view people’s past and current selves with compassion and grace. I’m sending love and warm thoughts your way too and again, I super appreciate all the notes of self-compassion and emotional awareness within your comment. (:
I’m sorry about your feelings of shame and I’m sort of glad your friend was honest but it hurt and upset you so also grr. But you’re still friends, right?
I wish I’d known about PTSD in the form I experience it before some time last year. I know my way of dealing with it was to be closed off and not truly authentic with people. So I’ve had a bit of a blow when I’ve felt the need to outline the reasons for my absence from blogging (writing and reading and responding to others’ blogs) (and not explain or justify, I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation but at least one book blogger reached out to me to check I was OK) and of course I can’t because of shitty family members and their spies who read my blog. So I’m feeling crappy about being inauthentic with people and trying to remind myself I have done my best.
And yes, I had a near nervous breakdown over cats, again. Cats with health-related issues, rushing to emergency vets etc, but I am a bit ashamed I didn’t put my foot down and allowed us to get these cats too soon after losing our old one. I did it for my husband, who was so distraught with no cats – but I put his mental health above mine which is not the best strategy.
So not sure how we draw a line under these things. Learn about them, listen to gut instinct, make sure we’re trying to grow? Sorry, this is rambling oddness which probably isn’t helping you!
I’m glad you can have the honest and open conversations with your friends it’s taken me decades longer than you to manage for myself.