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The Body Keeps the Score

CW: Rape & Trauma Processing

Recently I’ve been faced with a health challenge that is draining my physical reserves.  The cell phone battery of my body charges to an unpredictable level… when I wake up, usual daily chores/activities are taking everything for me to get through.  Often even walking upstairs causes me to need to lie down for a bit.

This lack of autonomy/function in my body has caused me to have increased flashbacks as of late.  My heart is already racing from basic activity, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to jump into a PTSD moment.  Something as simple as my child accidentally scaring me, or even the sound of a male voice can fast-forward my memories into trauma.

Flashbacks aren’t new to the survivor, and I’ve certainly had them before, but the flavor of these have been particularly intense.  During the actual assault, I did what many people do in traumatic events, disassociated.  I recall leaving my body behind and watching from above.  In the actual moments, I don’t recall feeling pain, as my body protected me from the physical trauma by disconnecting my body from my brain.  However, in the past month, my flashbacks have incorporated split seconds of “pain memories.”

The first time I remember feeling actual pain was in the hospital after the assault.  I was numb, and I don’t actually know how I got there (obviously I drove, but I don’t remember the act of getting there).   I looked down as I stood on the collection paper, and saw blood, and a lot of it.  In that moment, I started to “wake up” and realize what I had seen wasn’t a movie, but rather something that happened TO me.

My body told the tale that my mind protected me from.

Very quickly, though, my brain shut down those pain feelings… and filed them.  Until just recently.

The lack of autonomy that I feel in a body that is not at its best is wildly triggering.  I sit in therapy trying to hear what she’s saying… at the same time as I hear voices in the foyer that are male and try to manage the flashes that happen.  When I’m alone at home, it’s even harder as my mind spins on the possibilities of what “could” happen. I check the doors, make sure they are all locked and crawl into bed and wait for the moment to pass.  Sometimes it passes quickly, but more often than not it lasts for what feels like an eternity.

PTSD is a bitch.

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I See You.

During traumatic times, those of us who have lived through trauma do one of two things.

  1.  Avoid the news like the plague, which is likely the smarter thing.  This was we avoid being re-traumatized by recent events.
  2. Start to look at everything out there that we can, videos, photos, articles, everything we can to try to connect with the traumatic event that is unfolding.

My best friend watches the videos of jumpers from the towers of 9/11 every anniversary.  I believe she does this in order to connect with her own feelings, to connect with that moment where someone made a choice to end their own life (though a quite different circumstance) in order to understand her father, and by extension her own trauma.

Today, we watched as people ran from a madman shooting at Mandalay Bay in Vegas.  But what was different was the cell phone video taken by one of the people in the crowd.  I found myself captivated by it, and horrified, as much of America, but not as a lookie-loo, but as someone who could immediately place myself in their shoes.

The things they said “we have to go or we will be trampled.” the looks they exchanged as they weighed their options of ‘do we stand or do we huddle in place?’

The looks they exchanged as they weighed their options of ‘do we stand or do we huddle in place?’  Where is the shooter? Is there more than one?  Which option will cause our odds to live to increase?

Where is the shooter? Is there more than one?  Which option will cause our odds to live to increase?

Which option will cause our odds to live to increase?

These are the moments of trauma.  I watch the video over and over… Because the looks made me feel less alone.  It was horrifying to connect on such a visceral level.  It shook me to the core, you see.

Others who haven’t truly lived through a moment like that can think they get it. But until they lie in a stairwell, fearing to breathe, fearing that the knife that is stuck in their hair might still be used against them, they have no idea.  They can imagine, but that’s all.

Until they have a moment like Mandalay Bay.

 

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“You’re So Brave.”

Brave: having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty; making a fine show 

“You’re so brave.”

When people say this to me in regards to my story, my go-to outer response is “thank you.” My inner response is “I have no choice, so it’s not bravery, it’s survival and even that isn’t always a given.”

The past two weeks have been full of the bravery of a different type, simply figuring out a way to stay alive. I walked among the living, not feeling a part of them.  I smiled and joked, and played the part of the living, but was not one of them. I am around people, but alone.

PTSD is a Liar.  Anxiety is a Liar.  Depression is a Liar. Trauma is a Liar.

As someone aptly mentioned, trauma is like “my neighbors who not only play their music super loud but have extra bass that you can feel from across the apartment.” Wednesday night, that music brought me to the brink after a full week of operating at emergency trauma level, and I took a handful of pills on top of my typical nighttime medication.  This was brought about by quite a few of events involving a mix-up with a member of my care team, a person from my past coming up on Facebook surprisingly, and continuing feelings about the friend-breakup from the prior weeks.

 

My thoughts were scattered when I made this choice.  I can’t describe it.  I didn’t want to die.  I just didn’t want to live.  Or didn’t want to feel.  I’m not sure, maybe both.  Trauma is a liar. You can’t escape your brain, it’s always there.

So I talked about it.  First in a terrifying text to my therapist- where I downplayed exactly what I took.  Second, to my husband when “the story in my head” told me that likely my therapist would call the police to do a wellness check (which didn’t happen.)  Third, I reached out to my sister-wife, Diana.  Fourth, to Katherine.  Fifth, made a small circle post to my trusted people.  Oddly enough, the scariest reveal was to my bodyworker, as I was totally feeling very vulnerable about sharing this very deep scary part of my soul.  With previous attempts, I kept silent.  This time needed to be different.

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I was talking with a gal on Insta today about how she was worried about her mental health stories being depressing.  And maybe they are.  Maybe we ARE telling the depressing stories.  We talk about clawing against the walls to get out of the well.  We talk about the awful side effects of medication and how we want to crawl out of our own skin with it, and without it. But here’s the thing, these stories HAVE TO BE TOLD.

Mental Health HAS to be talked about.

Suicidality has to be talked about.

I can appear at a mom’s group at 9:30 AM on Wednesday looking perfectly functional, joking, and at 5:30 pm try to end it all.  The person right next to you could be struggling with trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all sorts of things and we AREN’T talking about it.

This HAS to change.

I’m not brave.  I’m alive.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts.  This week, despite my best efforts.

Bravery, in this case, is “Making a Fine Show.”

 

 

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Dear Flashbacks,

Flashback

a :interruption of chronological sequence (as in a film or literary work) by interjection of events of earlier occurrence; also an instance of flashback
b :a past incident recurring vividly in the mind

This week, you’ve moved into my body with a vengeance. An interjection of events of an earlier occurrence, an interruption of my normal day by inserting your grainy fingers vividly not only into my mind but into my body, into my lungs, around my neck, through my belly.

You bring the war back into my soul unexpectedly, and by that I don’t mean Iraq or any other desert, I’ve never been there, and by that I mean I sometimes wish that was the case because people might be able to relate in some way or at least ask about the war I lived.  And by that I mean I can’t say that out loud because of the shame of saying I wish I had lived through the war of people rather than the sexual war I lived through sometimes.  I could speak about you more in groups, people would understand better.

Instead, I spend most waking moments consciously working to keep you in check.  People don’t typically focus on how many breaths they take per minute.  How often I hold my breath and wonder “why am I so dizzy right now?” grab the counter and then gasp when I realize I’ve been holding my breath.   How often I realize how often I feel awful and realize it’s because you have caused me not to leave my room all day and need to eat.

Massage is one of the only places where my main job IS to breathe, IS to relax, and the place that you make me work the hardest.  For months you have been poking at me, knocking at the door of my brain just WAITING to jump out. Only once before have you come out to play, and you scared me.

This week I was unable to keep you put away in your little box.  My feelings were at the surface, I was working so hard just to keep myself together generally that once I got on the table, I realized that the whole 90 minutes were going to be hard work to keep you at bay.  My feelings started swimming at the surface immediately before she even came back in the room.  I became hyper-aware of every single noise.  Every person around the building became my rapist, every voice, the one who was going to come get me.

Once she came back in the room I felt my focus go extremely inward to manage you. You started immediately when she touched me.  You started teasing me with small little memories.  Some were benign compared to others.  Little leadups to the Big T traumas.  Then in one quick moment, you hit, as if physically, and I had no control any longer.  I’ve been able to keep you in check for months, but yesterday I was totally helpless to keep you in your box.

Little t traumas either in Charlie Chaplin black and white skipping silent reels will play, where I can’t keep track of where you are leading me or when you will stop.  A mix of little t and big T traumas will play in mini cartoon style where you insert sound or feelings and my body will start to react. My hands and body will start to shake and my breathing will start to alter. In the largest situations, Big T traumas will play in full film or even 3D fashion, where you just move right into my mind and hijack everything.  This is the scariest part.

I have a deep fear that people around me can’t cope with you, mainly because *I* can’t cope with you.  I can’t imagine what it is like to watch someone experience a flashback from the outside, as I just know what it feels like inside.  The way you make me feel is so out of control.  I can’t breathe, I’m suddenly thrust into 17 years past like a horrific Christmas ghost of trauma.

I told someone this week, “you can’t handle this.”  Truthfully, *I can’t handle this.*

Truthfully, *I can’t handle this.*

I can’t handle you.