A while back, I was spending some time reading the blogs here on Band Back Together. Usually I travel over to Mommy, Alcoholism, or other topics….this time I fell upon some PTSD posts, and thought I should share my story.
Back in February 2010, I was in a car accident that changed my life. I have a multitude of physical injuries with muscles and nerves and emotional/brain issues. At first the doctors were hopeful that time would resolve these with physical therapies but it’s a really slow process. I’m now under the care of a neurologist, undergoing testing. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something I was diagnosed with when I visited a therapist who sat me down and did a simple checklist with me. Imagine, that one Big Black Thing can be determined… with a checklist.
What it’s like in my head is so difficult to describe, because words get mixed up in my brain. It’s been almost impossible to describe because it is unclear to me. I lose words. As I write blog entries, I have volumes of words in my head and cannot seem to get them out; they elude me. I tend to type paragraphs or sentences while chapters are locked in the prison of my mind. It is a very dark place I rarely explore these issues outside of therapy offices anymore. There, at least, they have the right questions, the ones that can open the cell door a bit.
Life hasn’t changed on a day-to-day basis. If I had a new ball of yarn, tightly and neatly rolled, I could easily begin to knit a scarf. If I took that new ball of yarn and allowed a puppy to play with it for an hour, it would still be a ball of yarn with the same length, color, and overall properties, but it would have imperfections. I can still use this yarn to knit a scarf that will keep me warm but the imperfections can be apparent if you look closely. The strength, however, will not be the same.
For example, I have a phone where all my appointments are stored, as are daily tasks such as picking up my kids from school, eating, sending paperwork, and calling friends to help with paperwork. I lose time. For example, last week I had a form to fill out to send away to the car insurance company. It was a very straightforward form but I would have to access other forms in my file folder to access my policy numbers and other information. I sat down to do this with the file folder beside me – everything I do has to be organized and focused. I got up to get a pen and ended up in a different room of the house doing something entirely different with no idea how I got sidetracked. I didn’t even realize until I walked past the table with the file folder on it.
I was immediately angry at this lost time.
I sat down again to complete the task. A while later my heart rate was up, my right leg was bouncing, I was becoming frantic because I just couldn’t understand it. I had rifled through my file folder countless times to find my policy number, which I knew was on many of the pages. Yet I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t remember how many times I’d looked through it. Did I look through it? I think I did. Try again.
My phone beeped to let me know I had to pick up my daughter from school in an hour.
What? I’d lost 2.5 hours! The pressure was too much. A huge breath exploded from inside me. I pushed up from the kitchen table knocking over my chair. I was furious! My head was pounding. I felt a stabbing pain at the base of my as my back spasmed and my hands were tingly.
The black doom was closing in upon me.
I ran to the bathroom, ran the cold water over my inner wrists, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, crying silent dry heaving sobs.
Then I was numb.
Breathing normally, I washed my splotchy red face and reapplied my makeup. I went to the kitchen for some Extra Strength Tylenol. It does almost nothing but I don’t take the anti-spasmodic medication for my back because it makes me a zombie. I tried to relax in my numbness and lost time until the alarm rang telling me I had 15 minutes to pick up my daughter.
I had 15 minutes until I had to be Mom, the mom I want to be – the smiling, patient mom. Not the numb, auto-pilot mom. So I put on the happy mask and prepared to give my daughters the memories they deserve, knowing that God provides me the strength. Until I can truly experience it, I will mimic it for them.
Just typing this makes me uneasy; it’s the tip of the iceberg for me. I don’t want to address the iceberg.
I implement controls for my daily activities, remaining hopeful that one day the PTSD will give up this lock on me.
Every once in a great while my job requires me to go out of town, fine and dandy… extra money and all that jazz. Today I had to go to Cedar Rapids. Good enough…Today I’m driving… listening to my favorite morning radio talk show, laughing my ass off… Then I look over I see a sign.
Iowa City 40 Miles.
I stop laughing.
My chest tightens.
I can’t breathe.
My mind turns off.
I no longer hear the banter of the D.J.
I’m back there.
It’s the 4th of July and I’m back to the back seat of my mom’s Kia. My step dad is driving, my younger brother next to me, my mom in front… 85 miles an hour. I see that sign… Iowa City 40 Miles… There is no way we can beat the helicopter…We are all blank. Dead inside. They have my bubba… My sweet baby brother. We speed up. Hoping there are no cops… maybe hoping there are so we can drive faster.
My mom’s phone rings. It’s the hospital… They need a recorded permission to take him to surgery… My mother speaks with the courage of a thousand Roman soldiers. I hear the wavering in her voice. She’s not crying though. She can’t… None of us can. The Doctor. or whoever was on the other end of the phone asks for the details… What happened? We don’t know… He fell of course… how do you not know???? Everybody must know by now….How far??? We don’t know 50 – 75 feet maybe further, maybe not as far… The Doctor tells her nothing.
But we’re closer now…. Iowa City 27 Miles…
My mother is pleading with the surgeon to please not take him back yet. Let us see him… Let her see him… Before the surgery… It’s brain surgery for crying out loud… Just 27 miles… We’re almost there just please wait another 27 miles. They can’t. They have to take him back now…My step-dad drives faster…. We’re not going to make it in time. We all know it’s a waste of energy to try to make it there before they have to take him back… We still drive faster.
Iowa City 6 Miles…. 6 MILES we’re only 6 miles away from where he is… From where the doctors are performing miracles.. We are too late to see him. He’s already in surgery. We know this… We still drive faster… We’re there… FINALLY we’re there… We can’t find the entrance… There’s no “Panicking People To the Left” sign… There should be… (remind me to put that in the suggestion box). We go in… We can’t see… Still blank… It smells like sick people. Like fake real flowers and wax… There is a player piano… (I will later find this very disturbing and somewhat humorous.) Elevator… up… Okay, waiting room… We sit… and wait. The lady at the desk is clearly ready for her shift to be over. She tells us the surgery will last up to 4 hours…
4 hours… OK… 4 hours… How do you function for 4 hours while an 11 year old is having brain surgery??? We pace… We get a Pepsi… It has no taste… I think we talked about who was going to drive what car when this was all over… I don’t think we knew if this was going to be all over. Then my husband was there. The one who saved him, the one who scaled almost 45 feet down a bluff without shoes to save him. Blood stained and covered in mosquito bites. Blood. So much blood….
Then over the P.A. system my mothers is called to the triage desk. He’s done… He’s in post-op… He’s okay… or at least will be.. They won’t be able to tell until the next day or so if he has any brain damage, but the outlook is good. Over 200 stitches. I’m terrified to see his face. His sweet cherubic face cannot be tarnished. Post-op… The second worse place in the entire world. (Only to be outdone by the children’s cancer ward in Peoria… story for another day.) It’s sterile and cold. Dead. It smells worse than the lobby. Like saline and metal. They try to make it pretty with florals and leafy shit. It doesn’t work..
They let us see him, my mom first. He doesn’t say anything. Then me… Bandages cover his head. His face is swollen. He has a drainage tube coming from his head. It’s so cold. I lean down to kiss him, his warmth radiates through my entire body. My sweet bubba. He says nothing… He can’t; the drugs are still doing their job. Then my husband… He comes out crying. My brother told him thank you… The first words he managed were to tell him thank you. That still radiates deep. It was then I knew he would be OK. My bubba…
It all came back to me. In a red hot flash… Like a ton of bricks…The day my little brother fell 45 feet from a look out point at a park in a nearby town, while at a family reunion picnic. Thank God for my husband who scaled the bluff to try to rescue him and for my son who alerted us and for the amazing rescue team who was able to get him out. It was straight out of a Rescue 911 episode. Except real… and not re-enacted for your viewing pleasure.
I wasn’t afraid to drive to Iowa City. In fact the thought never had crossed my mind that it would sneak up and haunt me. But it did. I don’t do that. I don’t freak out. I deal well with most things. I cope well with most things. I think what scared me most was how it took me off guard. Then it was over as quickly as it started. The rest of my drive was fairly uneventful. Maybe this was my mourning. Maybe this was my way of closure and coping. I really don’t know. But now… He sleeps. On my couch. I had to go pick him up… I had to be with him tonight.
His face isn’t tarnished, except for a small Harry Potter-esqe scar on his forehead. His back is still sensitive. He did suffer a compression fracture to his spine after all… But HE his fine. He is still my sweet amazing cocky little brother. He still gets in trouble at school and gets mouthy with my mom. We are so lucky to have him. I could not imagine my life with out him. I thank the good Lord every day for that. My sweet bubba.
July 19, 2009 will always be an important date in our families personal history book. To most this day passes without a second glance, but to us, today will always be the day God saved our son.
The emotional roller coaster of this day has not even come full-circle, the accident happened at 7PM. And yet, before 9AM I have felt joy, peace, fear, sadness, anxiety, hope, reassurance and love.
And, I’ve told Satan to go to Hell.
Because today, friends, is about celebrating life & all that it has to offer.
The fear and anxiety that Satan is calling me to feel will not overpower the joy and celebration of this day. There are many forts to build and pools to swim, trees to climb, and playgrounds to discover. We do not have time to waste on worry.
There is too much life to be lived.
Last night, as Bubs slept, I crept into his room and I knelt down beside his bed. There, I gently stroked his chest and legs & I prayed and cried and thanked the Lord.
I thanked Him for:
his strong frame that held the heavy weight of that 800 pound golf cart
his wherewithal to hold that beautiful head up as the cart drug him along the concrete earth
his tiny bones that may have bent and broke but held it all together, somehow
for the neighbors who rushed to help my family in those moments before the paramedics arrived
for the paramedics who worked swiftly and kindly with my little fragile son
for the pilot that drove the helicopter carefully and without haste
the doctor’s that worked through the night to repair his tattered, broken body
for the nurses that healed my family as much as they healed Bubs during his time in Children’s Hospital
for the gift of medicine, that allowed our sleepless son to rest, and be relieved of pain, long enough to heal his bones and build up his energy to fight again the next day.
And then I thanked him for our gift of friendship. My, how we’ve been blessed. The old saying is true, you really don’t know who your friends are, until you need them. And Lord, when we needed friends, you showed us in overwhelming numbers. You gave us an emergency room full of love and prayer. You filled the waiting room for countless hours while we waited for the doctors to tell us the surgery was complete. You sent visitors and toys and prayers and hugs.
You sent tiny angels Lord, and we have seen Your face.
I will never forget the faces as I entered that emergency room. Their concern and worry wrinkled over their knitted brows. Most of them looked like they had been praying for hours, deep in communication with their Lord. Some of their eyes fell as they saw me wheeled through the room – they didn’t want me to see them crying. They are a force to be reckoned with – those prayer warriors.
I will never forget looking around as they rushed me back to my son. I have relived those moments 365 times since then… The faces of friends who came from far and away – I saw you all. The faces of people who love my little family & the little boy behind the wounds.
I am forever indebted to them.
And I am fine with that.
In my hour of need, Lord, you gave me friendship. I am honored to say that I learned to give from the best. I am honored to call them friends.
There were times when my heavy heart and tired pregnant body didn’t think it had any more fight in it – and in those times I remember the people I love carrying me. I remember friends calling and emailing & praying. I remember physically feeling those prayers working.
I have seen the face of God.
I call them friends.
And, I believe in prayer. And, I am blessed because of it.
Today, I will celebrate. I will go to a pizzeria and order a movie. I will buy “grey ice cream” (Oreo) and I will top it with chocolate sauce. I will watch him blow out candles and I will play with his hair until he falls asleep.
I could think out an essay or a plot line or a response in 5 points all at once. It felt like my brain fired on 6 different cylinders and I could see from multiple perspectives at once. I could be writing an introduction knowing how it was going to end and where the body would fit into this. I never lost my train of thought. If I learned a fact once, I could recall it instantly and know where I heard it.
What I’m saying is, I used to be (or at least, feel) smart. I was an A student, the A student who is awkwardly quiet in class because she knows the answers and has answered every question and it feels weird when you answer every question, don’t people get annoyed?
It would be comforting if I was getting dumber because I was getting older. That would at least be normal. To have spent the last five years knowing I’m not as smart as I could be and wondering is it because I’m on this brain medication or is it because I’m not a 20 year old college student anymore just makes everything worse.
If nothing else, it succeeds at it’s intended purpose, but I’ve failed out of school, been accused of anorexia, can’t focus for shit, and can’t multi-task, so who even am I anymore?
Growing up, my family dynamic was so different from anyone I’ve ever known. My father was born a footling breach with the cord wrapped around his neck. He ended up with brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to his brain and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. My mother is developmentally delayed and was also later diagnosed with schizophrenia.
My parents met through my mother’s brother, my Uncle Bob, who was also developmentally delayed. Uncle Bob and my dad went to special education school together and became friends. Bob introduced my dad to his little sister, my mom. They met, fell in love, got married and then I came along.
Neither one was really capable of living on their own, much less together, and now a baby, me. By six weeks old I was malnourished and dehydrated – I almost died. My maternal grandmother took me away from my parents and brought me to the doctor. From then on, she did her best to raise me. It wasn’t long before my parents divorced and my mom moved back home with us. My father moved back home to his parents, too.
We had grandmother, my mother, Uncle Bob, and my grandfather, the child-molester, all under one roof. My grandfather molested my mother and had a reputation for other little girls in the neighborhood. I believe he started molesting me when I was less than a year old. I don’t understand why nothing was done legally but my grandmother said they just overlooked him.
I believe that he had intercourse with me around age four. My mom and grandmother noticed that I had like a nervous breakdown and screamed when anyone came near me for over a week. They had to keep me in my baby bed and just bring me food like a animal! I believe with all my heart he raped me but no one took me to the hospital or doctor because he might have gone to jail for it. My grandmother had no education and relied on my grandfather to support her and the rest of the family. I’m not making any excuses; I think she just didn’t know what to do.
I had so many problems with my private areas when I was a little girl and nothing was done. I still don’t understand why. I even had to have surgery on my vagina when I was five – it’s like everyone was wearing blinders. Baffling. My grandfather died when I was seven, so the molestation ended
By ten, I realized I was already more advanced than my parents. I taught my dad his ABC’s using flashcards when I was eight. He never learned to read and neither did my Uncle Bob. My mother can read but has absolutely no common sense, so I swear my dad was more intelligent. At fourteen, I had to quit school to take care of my family. By then my grandmother’s health was failing, times were changing, and they didn’t understand how to make appointments, pay bills, stuff like that because things became automated.
I became very angry that I had no childhood so I rebelled – big time. I ran the streets and ended up getting raped. by a friend’s father. He actually plead guilty to it and severed a year and a half in prison. I still feel like that was my fault because I flirted with him.
That’s the only way I knew to act around a man.
My mom is a religious fanatic so I grew up in church and attended a private “Christian” school. My dad’s mother paid for it but not for the reasons that you might think. Embarrassingly, it was to keep me from going to school with black people – terrible.
The school was crazy too; I just couldn’t escape craziness! At one point we had a so-called Evangelist visit and for two weeks we were made to listen to what was supposed to be real exorcisms and learn all about demon possession. It was horrible! I am forty years old and I still have issues with it.
After I quit, I ran the streets, acting like I was 21. At 14, I met a 19 year old man and moved in with him. I was living like a married woman at age 14. My grandmother was actually happy that I had settled down; now she always knew where I was. Unfortunately he was very obsessed with me and abusive. At first, I enjoyed the attention and punishment; I put up with it for two years.
Ironically – and I know this will be hard to believe but I swear it’s true – BOTH of my parents had nervous breakdowns and were diagnosed with schizophrenia within the same year! My mom thought she was possessed by a demon and talked to God while my dad thought he could talk to the devil.
They were both in and out of different mental hospitals all the time. My mom would speak in tongues and run outside into the street, it would take six police officers and EMTs to restrain her. My dad would try to kill himself, he took 120 over-the-counter sleeping pills and was in the cardiac intensive care unit before going to the mental hospital.
At 17, I met my ex-husband and became pregnant with twins. I lost one of them during my pregnancy but delivered my now 22 year old daughter. He gave me my first black eye while I was pregnant with her. We had three more children together, three sons. My oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and my middle son has autism.
Dealing with all my family issues with my sons delays was more than I could handle. On top of everything, my ex-husband was abusive. Along with several “minor beatings,” at one point I had a fractured elbow and a nose broken so severely, he split my nose almost in half.
In 2006, my Uncle Bob, who had been like a father to me was killed in a accident. It was more than I could take. I started abusing pain pills – big time. Two years later, my grandmother passed away and added drinking to the mix. A lot of drinking.
I left my ex-husband and met a girl I fell in love with; we were both idiots and addicts at first. Man, do I have stories! Four years into our relationship, I lost my kids. I gave up on life. Around the same time, my girlfriend and I briefly separated. When we were separated, she slept with her ex boyfriend, got pregnant, then we got back together.
I’d like to say we sobered up right away but that would be a lie. The baby was almost two before my girlfriend got help. Eventually I followed. Today, I split my time between my ex-husband’s house and my children. She lives with her boyfriend and her daughter. We are very close. Turns out, I really like my ex-husband now that we’re not married and he’s not abusing me.
I just wish I had someone to talk to that can relate to even half of my crazy upbringing. Someone who can relate to me. I don’t know anyone with both parents like mine or a life like mine. It’s a crazy life, but that’s all I know.
During even the smallest moments of our lives, our actions can mean the world to someone. We must hold onto those moments with all we are.
This is their story:
We met at the bus stop.
You see, I was working at this place seven years back, and buses had to be taken to reach the institution. I was in a teaching position. She was in the library.
We got talking after bumping into each other at the same bus stop, boarding the same bus and getting off at the same stop every day. We were the same age. She was single and I was not.
Her long hair she carefully tied into a bun and soon we became friendly enough for me to intentionally pull out her hair clip and release her hair. She’d beg me to not do it; tying the hair down was “such a chore,” she’d exclaim, but I could not escape the fun of it. We’d chat all the way to the office, then chat all the way back.
She held her umbrella for me when it rained, because I hated carrying umbrellas, and she wouldn’t let me get wet. She claim to be fake-upset with me, but she always shared her umbrella.
Six months later, I changed jobs and I no longer needed the bus. I no longer stood at the stop. I no longer waited for her to arrive, so that we could catch up on our day (she lived at a hostel nearby the bus stop).
I recall catching a glimpse of her standing at the bus stop, while I was driving towards my new office one morning. The bus stop was no longer on my usual route, but I had broken my daily route that day. She was looking away; our eyes did not meet.
Then one evening, we bumped into each other while running errands. You wouldn’t have noticed that we hadn’t been seeing each other. While we were both in a hurry, the warmth was overwhelming. She invited me over to her hostel, but I refused, saying that I’d come by some other day.
Then I did not run into her at all. She crossed my mind now and again – I considered visiting her “one of these days,” but it just never happened.
Several months later, I ran into another ex-colleague. We’d worked in the same department, and rode the same bus to and from work. When the conversation veered toward M, the librarian, my ex-colleague suddenly got very serious.
M had been diagnosed with some brain-related issue and was undergoing treatment. I never got full details of what had happened. She’d had to get her long hair chopped off. She was still working but as she became progressively weaker, she eventually stopped working.
One day, she collapsed after a brain hemorrhage and never came out of it.
“Do you know what M used to say about you?” my ex-colleague asked.
“Now I have neither the hair, nor the hair-puller.”
I cannot believe that M thought of me in her last few months.
What I put aside with procrastination and life-getting-in-my-way, has now become unachievable.
She is no longer there.
I instinctively look out for her every time I pass the bus stop.
She will never be found there. But that should not stop me for silently acknowledging the place that brought two strangers together.