Late last summer, while anxious and sleep deprived, my doctor asked me if there were any anniversaries of traumatic events I was remembering. I half laughed, it seems there is always a traumatic event to remember. I told her which one correlated with that time of year. However, I’d not been ruminating or brooding on it as I tended to do in the past.
In fact, I’ve spent the last seven years since I started writing my first book working on healing and strenuously moving through the past into the present. My doctor told me the body remembers even what the brain wishes to forget. Old pain is like an undertow that knocks you down and takes your breathe away.
My book cam out in 2012, and it was an amazing experience. I’ll be honest, I’ve not made a profit from it. I did get an advance, but that was quickly gone on book promotion. I enjoyed the hell out promoting my book, and I have no regrets about the fiscal costs of selling a bit of myself. Seven years after finishing the book, I do have some niggling regrets about what I wrote because when I wrote it I’d never been to therapy. I’d never tried anti-anxiety or antidepressant drugs EVER in my life. I never truly understood what people meant when they urged me to take care of myself. So, I didn’t take care of me, until 2012 when I started therapy and medication.
That brings us to tonight. I’ve written about February 9th before. I’ve articulated the fear, the ambiguity, the hell that was the eve of Plan B both in this blog and in my book. What is new tonight, is that I’m having a PTSD episode while I write this with intrusive thoughts, flash backs, and a full fledged panic attack while my son sleeps safely in his bed. I am mired in the residue of trauma, and I will likely not sleep or sleep very little tonight.
What does a panic attack feel like? Before I started therapy and some medication for insomnia, depression, and anxiety for my PTSD (as well as EMDR and Neurofeedback at the suggestion of my Medical Doctor) I couldn’t have told you, because how I feel at this moment was how I felt most of my life – even before I had children. Before I knew about congenital heart disease, ]I was always an anxious person. Trauma found me very early in life and made frequent cameos throughout my childhood and early 20s.
With perspective, I can tell you that right now my heart is racing, but not too fast, not as fast as you would expect. I suspect that is because I’ve lived this way for so long I’ve learned to acclimate. I have a burning desire to run and hide somewhere and need to remind myself to breathe. I miss my old coping mechanisms of self-harm and binge eating, but I know from the work I’ve done that those things won’t actually help me feel better. My skin itches, my neck is incredibly tense, my stomach is all in knots (a sign I used to misread for hunger). My mouth is parched, no matter how much water I drink. Now I feel like I must constantly pee. I feel like I am in imminent danger, like something dreadful is about to happen to me or someone I love. I’m living a waking nightmare of the past, and honestly this is horrible. I am terrorized by my own body’s memories of things that ended a long time ago.
This panic attack started when my husband Jim had his own. He woke up thinking I was out of town (I was out of town last week for two nights) and that he’d left the dog outside. He went to check on the dog, but then tripped over me getting back into bed. That triggered my own panic, followed by our Echo Dot (AKA Alexia) loudly and proudly announcing our ipad is now connected and she would resume the white noise. Not so helpful when you’ve just dozed back off after being startled awake.
I attempt and fail deep breathing. I tell myself it’s not real, it’s just a shadow that lingers, and my mind agrees, heart ,and soul all agree. My essence is united in validating my emotional parking and letting me move on from this panic. Yet, my body is on edge, much the way it was 12 years ago tonight when my 21 month old baby was facing his third open heart surgery. I probably slept 2 or 3 hours that night. I felt like I feel now, but I didn’t know it wasn’t “normal” to feel that way then. I felt that way pretty much nonstop for five years. Even as it improved, and continues to improve, shadows sometimes eclipse the light I’ve worked hard to attain.
All of this to document a panic attack, to acknowledge its power, to hope to heal more. All of this for all of you who read my blog because you have your own February 9ths, your own April 12ths, your own raw spots on the calendar that even if your mind slips over the exact date, your body may never do you that same courtesy.
I also share this for those who have never experienced PTSD or a significant trauma, who might simply say to ignore this, to get over it, but this is a biochemical reaction the human being has been perfecting over thousands of years of evolution to protect us from clear and present dangers. Unfortunately, that part of the brain commanding the body has lost communication with the parts of the brain that are rational. I could no more turn this off than stop the water if the main valve broke. This is why it takes so much work to get better.
Back to my niggling regrets, I’ve dialed down my public appearances and presence on certain forms of social media these past few years to protect my children. I did it so they could establish their own identities beyond the shadow of disease. I do not regret the book. My kids were very young at the time, and the book was not really about them so much as how our family coped with crisis. I don’t even regret revealing how we coped because I know from many of you lovely readers that the book helped some of you get through your own rough journeys. For that I am touched and humbled. What I do regret is missingwhat I’ve learned since – about myself, about mental health, about what would have helped me and what I did to harm my own well being. I wish I could have shared that sooner, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
So, I guess on this February 9th at 2:30 am (please forgive the typos – hyper-vigilance does not equal perfect typing) I am telling you I’ve started a new book with the working title Human. Error. My misadventures dealing with PTSD and Dissociative Disorder. It won’t be entirely about CHD, but it will be about how a traumatized parent finds her footing in a world where people don’t see what she sees and she starts to see where she’s been wrong and how hard it is to reintegrate into normal life after trauma.
That was never a book I thought I would write. I thought my story was covered in the first book, but like in so many mistakes I see in retrospect, I was wrong there too. I hope this post helps people who feel like I am feeling tonight. I hope the new book project helps many people carrying around trauma trying to fit back into their old seats on the plane, and understand that this new baggage needs to be checked because it’s too much to carry, and it’s a long and daunting process. I hope I still have some good to do in this world, because in spite of the episodic painful moments and their long shadows, there is so much light, love, and beauty yet to behold.