Dr. Robert Motta, a psychology professor at Hofstra University, is the first person to make sense of me in a year and a half.
He tells me about one study in which one monkey watches another on television. The study finds that if the monkey on television is fearful, the watching monkey becomes fearful as well.
Motta is comparing me to the monkey that's watching. He tells me that the watching monkey can't smell anything or sense any danger in the air.
"Are you following me?" Motta asks.
Motta is a cognitive behavioral psychotherapy specialist who studied secondary trauma in Vietnam vets' families. He thinks I have Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, or STSD.
The initial "T," or trauma, refers to the time I spent with Jay, my ginger ex-boyfriend people still ask about. "How's he doing after Afghanistan?" they ask. "I sure did feel bad for him."
I smile and I shrug through those conversations. "We don't talk," I say. "I hope he's doing well."
That's a lie.
* * *
There are two levels to my experience.
The first shows itself in psychological reactivity to triggers that would commonly disturb a veteran. Except I've never been to war.
STSD is a vicarious traumatization occurring when a significant other is "traumatized" by hearing about a trauma that happened to a loved one. The likelihood of contracting it is increased through three factors: First, how graphic is the exposure? Second, how repeated is the exposure? And, third, how much does it violate your expectation or understanding of how the world works?