Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

 At my first advocacy training eight weeks ago, the coordinator warned that if any of us in the group were survivors, we might have a tougher time with the training material and even cautioned us to be prepared for symptoms like flashbacks and increased anxiety. I thought, "Pashaw. I've got this. I am doing so well. I haven't had a flashback in what? two or three years? No problem."

I went through the entire training and I was fine. The seminars were tough and the material was heavy but I managed to get through it with my heart and head in tact. Which is why I was completely thrown for a loop when at the end of last week (Sunday evening) the magnitude of the training and my own personal experiences mushroomed into an epic meltdown. It began with daily migraines, then a lack of sleep, waking up from bad dreams, waking up in a panic, feeling nauseous during the day at random times, remembering an event suddenly during routine daily activities, increased anxiety -- all to be expected I suppose, but I wasn't expecting it.  

I've had flashbacks all week. Some during the day but mostly at night. I sleep only fitfully for fear that a memory might meet me in the dark. Mostly I'm being confronted by old memories - the ones I've worked through. Then there are the new memories - new because these ones I've 'forgotten' or repressed. The one memory I'm having trouble currently processing is also the one causing me the most grief right now.This memory has popped in my mind many times over the years but I've always managed to dismiss or forget about it. I can't anymore.

I am four-years-old. I am with Frances at the home of one of her friends. We were there all day playing and hanging out. The adults had been drinking beer in the yard and listening to music all day long. The other kids and me had ran around in the yard having fun and getting dirty. We played far longer than usual and finally around what seemed like 10pm or so, I decided to go sleep inside. I don't remember if I asked someone where I could sleep or not but one of the men from the house told me there was a room in the back I could lay down in. I followed him to the room and got in the bed and went to sleep with no problems. But then after I had been asleep for only a short time, I opened my eyes and this same man was walking into the room with a cigarette between his lips. I raised my head off the pillow to see what he was doing. He said, "Oh, hey sugar. I just came in to get something. You can go back to sleep," His smile made me uncomfortable. He had shut the door and locked it behind him, and he took his baseball cap off and placed it on the dresser. He smelled like smoke and his hands were shaky...... That's the entire memory. And it just eats at me. Is that all there is to it? Did something else happen? Is it a suppressed the memory? Is there more to the story? Why did this seemingly innocent event make an impression in my mind? Am I crazy?

My home now is so different from my home growing up. I married a safe, steady, loving person and our house is full of peace and laughter. I have every reason to feel secure, but the past still has a way of creeping up on me. Between the flashbacks, the panic attacks, the exhaustion, the crying, the lack of sleep, the migraines, the nausea...  it's been a trying week. I am so grateful for Michael. He's a huge support. When I'm silent and he asks me what I'm thinking about, all I have to say is, "I was just remembering something," and my wonderful friend swings into action. His past work helping soldiers with PTSD has certainly come in handy. Mike's response is always strong and reassuring: You're in a safe place. You're just remembering. The feelings are intense, but they're just feelings. No one can hurt you., etc. His support has been amazing. he's great at talking me down from the cliff.

I know the flashbacks will pass more and more in time, and I'll get back to a normal rhythm.

I'm sure I will post more on this topic soon.


Cris Tolbert said...

This post was slightly more scattered than usual (I think). I posted late at night, but I just had to get the thoughts on paper.

jalna said...

I am so glad that you have Mike in your life.

Cris Tolbert said...

Thanks, Jalna. Me, too.... Also, I go to your blog periodically and look at your pics. You have a really amazing talent.