8 years ago in October, I got the phone call that no parent wants to receive. I was settling in to work, after another difficult morning of trying to get my then 16-year-old daughter out of bed for school when I received a call from the police department saying that my daughter was hit by a car while walking across the street to school and they were patching me into the ambulance to talk to her. As soon as I hung up the phone, I stood up heard myself make a strange sound and heard the sound of glass breaking in my mind and then I experienced the most intense flashback (although I didn’t know what it was at the time) of a girl sitting in an airport, alone broken and bruised. Just like that, the flashback went away and I spent the next year caring for my daughter as she recovered.
The year following my daughter’s accident I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keep our household running as normal as possible. And at the same time, I kept having these experiences that were making me feel crazy. I had worked so hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant my daughter got hit, my controlled snow globe world came crashing down. In fact, when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “things will never be the same again.” Extremely prophetic words, that at the time myself nor my family had any idea what that meant.
I started to become really anxious, I started losing track of time, I was called into meetings at work because my performance was becoming sub-par, to say the least. Which is totally not who I am. I’m one of those people pleasing rule followers, who gave 100% at work all the time. Need a project done? I’m your go-to person! Over the course of a year, my behavior totally changed. I was always upset, over the top emotional, taking everything personally and suddenly unable to hide behind that “I’m okay, I’m fine” mask that I brilliantly wore each and every day of my adult life. My physical health began to decline, and I was recalling memories, that was blowing away my dark past, that I worked really hard both consciously and unconsciously to repress. I knew something was seriously wrong with me, or that I was going crazy, or both, so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.
That’s a very edited version of how the slow unraveling of my psyche began, or now as I re-frame it, that’s how the slow knitting together of my psyche began.
Flash forward seven years: I have been getting help and dealing with complex post-traumatic stress disorder….that darn PTSD! I’ve written many posts on this illness, and the effects it has on myself, my family and my friends. In fact, that is really the main focus of my blog. I want to honest about what it feels like to live with PTSD. I also know that I am very much in the middle of my healing journey and understand that how it feels today will not be the way it or I feel six months, a year, seven years from now.
I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, all with a supportive smile for everyone else. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer my friends began to ask me, what does it feel like inside. I couldn’t really explain it, so I wrote a poem (My PTSD) and that was the beginning of sharing some of my writing, but more importantly, I found that sharing with others helped me begin to understand what living with this illness means for me.
I used to fear that if people knew the “real me” they would run away. That simply wasn’t the case. Being more authentic and vulnerable actually enriched my closest relationships. Yes, there were some people in my life, who couldn’t tolerate the changes. I was now a person who had moods, who felt, who wasn’t always happy and there for them. I no longer tolerated anything anyone said, no matter how unkind without defending myself. Those people went away….and really, did I ever really want people like that in my life? I thought I did, but I’ve learned that people like that don’t deserve to be in my life.
Another reason I continue to write and share is because my symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me. As with many mental illnesses, PTSD can be pretty invisible on the outside. Some of my symptoms include flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere. Like a lot of people, I’m triggered by anniversary dates and things like that, but because of what happened to me, regular outside noises can initiate a flashback. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car backfiring, even the moon can bring on flashbacks.
As I have been healing I try to remember these specific things: I work to notice those perfect moments in every day. Even though I’m plagued by symptoms I have learned that in the course of the day there are in fact perfect moments and it helps when I acknowledge them. I don’t necessarily notice them when they are happening, but I can reflect back on them at the end of my day. I also learned that I need to celebrate each step on the path towards health. I know that it’s a long and never linear process and that it really is just one foot in front of the other. I need to do a lot of resting, a lot of just sitting and metabolizing. And even though healing can feel like be a lonely process, I don’t have to do it alone.
I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I’m not going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I want. I know what my goals are…to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Somedays those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I can see them just through the clutter, almost there.
And even though it feels like I fell apart, and if I’m being honest lots of times I feel like I’m falling apart; I try to re-frame it and say No, no wait, I’m actually falling together.