balancing act, funerals, handaball, Healing, nightmares, Parental Units, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, PTSD Fog, Shift, shuffle, sidestep, waiting
Been coming across some interesting PTSD-related blogs of late. Including the boys over at Operation PTSD (looking out for war veterans) and Teresa’s blog: My Embodiment (Misadventures and Adventures of a Psychotherapist in Yoga School).
A recent post (**potential trigger warning**) of Teresa’s has inspired some self-contemplation about the “lost years” of my own PTSD induced fog.
Have a look at my Timeline page. Under 2006 and 2007, there are almost no posts. And the reason for that is simply that I barely remember anything from that time.
Jason from Operation PTSD wrote:
Most people who are affected by PTSD will initially recluse into a world of their own leaving everyone around them searching for answers.
And that was me.
Untreated PTSD is like a 3D tactile, sensory and enveloping version of acid reflux on a loop, wherein your trauma repeats on you frequently, engaging ALL of your senses. Sometimes multiple times a day.
Can you imagine living every day of your life in terror of your own mind?
The following is about as much as I can remember of that time…
I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to sleep. Or rather, I wanted to sleep, but without the nightmares (they eventually went away and then I just wanted to stay asleep – I often slept away whole weekends).
I didn’t want to do anything or be seen by anyone. When I wasn’t at work, I was a hermit, living alone and not going out, except to the corner store for more ice-cream or DVDs. I forgot more than I remembered. I couldn’t manage to get anywhere on time. And I absolutely couldn’t stop crying for the life of me.
I remember wishing away months of my life. I’d think things like “another six months or so, and I’ll be okay”. I wasn’t though. Healing from PTSD doesn’t really work that way.
Some people are amazed I didn’t take medication. Maybe I should have. Maybe it would’ve made my life a little less stressful.
But the truth is I didn’t see a doctor post-assault, because I was too ashamed. I also didn’t know there was anything to go and see a doctor about as I didn’t understand what PTSD was, or that someone like me could end up with it.
Eventually, I think I learned to coat myself with a layer of protective numbness. The Fog. Maybe this is nature’s way of medicating a person from the horrors? And right then (whenever “then” was) is when the Fog really set in!
The Fog was insurance, protection.
It was hard to remember to buy food to eat, let alone anything more important. However, during this time I was also being bullied at work, had bone graft surgery, a crazy neighbour and a mother who almost got me arrested! Stressful much? You bet!
There’s one thing I managed to do pretty well in that time: keep it together at work. I’ve now shared my story with a handful of ex-workmates and they’re amazed. One response was: You always seemed so happy, smart and confident!
Heh. There you have it. Externally, I had an excellent cover story working for me. I needed it desperately, to keep the Fog in tact so life didn’t hurt quite so much. And I think I know where I got that from: the Parental Units are experts.
Something that punctuated the ongoing sameness (apart from the above mentioned) was my grandfather’s passing in early October 2006.
It was just a month after his 85th birthday, when Dad had driven an hour each way to pick him up (he refused to move after my grandma died even though he was far away from family).
For some reason, I felt inspired to take a few photos of my dad with his dad, arms around each other – they were the last photos ever taken of my grandpa.
He died at home, his heart finally giving out as he made his way from the bedroom to the living room, still in his pyjamas and dressing gown.
At a family conference the next day in my grandpa’s living room, I somehow agreed to speak at the funeral on my dad’s behalf because he said couldn’t do it without breaking down. I don’t know what made me think I could, either.
But maybe this is just what my family does by default? Shift, shuffle, handaball, sidestep… we wrap what’s really going on in layers of silk, never really looking at it directly. It’s possible to survive like that for a while, but not forever. At least, not for me anyway.
The day of the funeral I arrived early because I wanted to say my goodbyes in private. I was nervous because I’d only seen one other dead person before – my grandmother. In contrast to her plumped and pristine condition, my grandpa looked small, shrunken and stone-like.
Sitting in a chair, I could just see his forehead over the top of the coffin while I said mantra and prayers. Perhaps it was my numbness but while in the presence of his body, I felt incredibly peaceful. Here was someone who’d lived a full and happy life and now he was done. There was no lingering energy of his presence. And in a way, the nothingness was soothing.
Thing about my grandpa was, he never wished away any of his life. Even once he’d lost his wife – the love of his life – he still made the most of his time, socialising, flirting with dental nurses and maintaining a perrenial twinkle in his eye.
But that was then.
I kissed his frigid forehead, wishing him well in his travels as I tried not to look at his shrivelled and sunken eyes.
Of course I didn’t get through the service without tears. They were too readily available. And after, I was back to dealing with the balancing act between the Fog and dealing directly with PTSD.
But I guess in some ways I was glad to have an “acceptable” reason to cry in public for a few weeks. Because I couldn’t always control it, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of the grief I was feeling was as much about my own life as it was for my grandpa.
Bob Weisenberg said:
It’s hard to figure out how to comment on such a powerfully felt and written blog except to say thank you for sharing it with us.
Svasti … thank you. So much here resonates … and I can’t help but wonder if the tears that flowed from you after your grandpa died began your process of “de-fogging” …
You wrote: “Untreated PTSD is like a 3D tactile, sensory and enveloping version of acid reflux on a loop, wherein your trauma repeats on you frequently, engaging ALL of your senses.” — What a dynamite description … so true … I read “acid” as “drug” — I’ve never taken acid, but from what I understand about the drug’s effects, they sound similar to some of the worst mind-messing aspects of PTSD — flashback after flashback; the constant triggering and sensory overload, etc.
I’m slowly emerging from a PTSD fog … and right now (so apropos!) I hear a songbird singing its heart out as a cold, sleety rain hammers down. Even in a storm … somebody’s making music 🙂
You write often of how dance, yoga and movement enliven you … They’re pivotal to healing, aren’t they … Movement and music are so basic, so simple … and so central to clearing the fog and keeping it cleared.
@Bob – Thanks for reading. I never really know how these posts will turn out til I’ve written them!
@Jaliya – Darlin’, I’m so glad to hear you’re coming out of your fog. You’ve been there for a little while now. Keep on coming out, I’m sure you’ll be ok.
I’d say that when my grandpa died, it did help me a little. Its possibly the first time I’d grieved for myself, as well as grieving for him.
I didn’t mean that kind of acid, but you know, it works like that too (speaking from experience in my late teens/early 20’s!).
Definitely, dance, yoga, movement… these things are so important to set yourself free. Funny how its the last thing you feel like doing when depressed or in the grip of PTSD, and its really first aid for the mind,b ody and soul.
Hope you continue to find your way back xo
*collects dropped jaw* ummm… yeah. what Jaliya said, for sure, dynamite is the word. but gentle dynamite after that, the kind that soothes awkward wounds and puts things back together.
anyway, an altogether gorgeous look at something so very difficult to find any words for, at all… let alone ones so right as these!
Jason Ream said:
You have an amazing talent to put such a clear perspective on your feelings. I look forward to hearing much more from you. I am in the middle of creating my new website OperationPTSD.com, when it is complete I would love to have you do a regular guest post if that would be alright with you.
It sounds like your grandfather’s passing was a way to kick start the grieving process and to help you find your way out of the fog. What a wonderful gift for him to be able to give you.
I too remember those years of being in the fog. So numb, and yet in so much pain. Crying and grieving heal the soul.
As always…a wonderful post:)
Your grandpa certainly had the right idea–to never wish your any part of one’s life away. I find it hard to believe that I once wished myself dead to the point of attempting suicide–serious attempts.
PTSD is so common these days–it seems to be everywhere. As you know, I teach online classes and I have a significant portion of students in one of the universities where I teach who are in the US military. I teach psychology and when they write their papers–I’d say 50% of them right about their experiences with PTSD. The really good news is that we know so much more about it–and the more people who talk about it openly, the less stigma there is to it–so BRAVO to you, my friend!
@CK – Wonderful praise, coming from a wordsmith such as yourself! Would you find it surprising if I said I didn’t even know I was going to write this piece? It just kinda… came out.
@Jason – Thank you Jason! I’m not sure about writing a regular column… will let you know. 🙂
@Angel – Yes, there was certainly an act of grieving that began with the death of my grandfather. Which felt kind of wrong, but also very right. It was such a shock to see him in his casket. It was also quite shocking to find myself at the front of a room speaking at his funeral. I think it was definitely helpful!
@Melinda – You wouldn’t believe how wonderful my grandpa was. I was never very close to him (my grandma made that difficult) but he was always pleased to see his family, full of love and warmth.
I didn’t know PTSD was so common, nor did I realise so many of your students are military! I’m glad to know they are writing about their experiences. Definitely, it helps and changes so much when its no longer a secret. This of course is true of all things held secret – when we can talk about them openly, they cease to have so much power over us.
I want to thank you for bravely sharing some of your experience and visceral pieces of your pain and your story. It is a difficult place to return to, to remember the fog and what jolts us out of it, but there can be catharsis found in it for ourselves and others by talking, when ready. It is a brave thing you do daily on this blog and I am just honored that you added my link to your post and that you have made such lovely and heartfelt comments on my blog as well.
I appreciate the voice you give to PTSD and a healing journey that can serve for others as a powerful resource and an embodiment of strength in a survivor and even moreso a thriver following a traumatic history.
Thank you for being that voice.
Teresa at myembodiment.
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