PTSD: Part One
I haven’t written a blog post for awhile. The truth is, I have a lot to say but can’t seem to find the right words. My friends will say, “Really, you? At a loss for words? No….” Maybe it’s that I know some people say, “It’s been over two years and surely things should be better by now.” And, yes, they are. Life hurts less. Joy has returned. I laugh. I work. I still cry though. I miss my son and daughter. The nature of grief is that your loss never really leaves you. I have heard it said that time heals all wounds. The truth is that any mother who has lost her child knows that a part of you stays in that moment forever. There are memories that will not leave or lessen in their intensity no matter how much time has passed. There is a part of your heart that dies with your child. Time is tricky. Memories can seem like yesterday but simultaneously like many years ago. In times of intense loss, our sense of time is completely skewed.
I had PTSD after losing Abigail. There, I said it. I had to see two different counselors for nearly a year to get through this time of my life. My own coping mechanisms were overwhelmed: I had lost two children within three months of each other. I spent nearly a month in a tiny hospital room on bedrest, praying that I wouldn’t get an infection which would kill us both and praying that God would heal my baby. Every single second I was awake was filled with anxiety and fear. After she was born, there were no words to describe how traumatizing it was to see my baby after her heart surgery. Things were so bad that we only allowed a very few people to see her. We were protecting them.
After she died, I knew I needed help. I spent six months in trauma therapy. I drove two hours roundtrip to see an EMDR therapist for nearly six months. I’d drive back from my appointment and work for seven straight hours. It was some of the hardest work I had ever done. Sometimes I had to sit in the parking lot for an hour before I felt calm enough to drive. Looking back, I recognize that it was the grace of God that gave me the strength to do that. I worked so hard in therapy. I had to be willing to face those most excruciating memories. Things improved to the point that the beeping of the washing machine wouldn’t throw me into a panic. I could walk by those ugly plastic mugs at the nursing home and not be reminded of the many times I got my coffee in one of those while in the hospital (translated: when my baby girl was alive). I was able to function. I was proud of myself. My hard work was paying off. And then one day I got the mail and there was a newsletter from the Ronald McDonald house. On the front was a picture of a baby, after heart surgery, looking just like our Abigail. When I say it brought me to my knees, I mean that literally. I could not look at that without hyperventilating. I showed two friends and I said, ‘This is what haunts me. This is how mutilated my baby was.” I needed them to understand the memories that I was working so hard to deal with. I realized that by not allowing them to see her after surgery, I had robbed myself of their understanding of the severity of our trauma.
Given time and therapy, the flashbacks eased. Mostly the memories became normal memories. Painful, yes, but not the “drive off the road” anxiety attack- provoking kind. And then one day last winter, I walked into my Advanced Cardiac Life support class and saw the infant mannequins piled on a table in the classroom. I had a flashback so powerful that I ended up hyperventilating in the bathroom. Honestly, I had no idea that this was going to happen. I could not have predicted this. Those infant mannequins look more like aliens than real babies but seeing the instructor in her white coat standing at the front of a long line of mannequins and thinking about doing infant CPR on them….total meltdown. In the end, I survived. I passed. I don’t even remember doing the infant CPR part. I know I did, but my brain just sort of dissociated. I did what I always do: I prayed.
I had a hard time talking about my experience initially. Why? Maybe because I felt weak? Or stupid? Or mad at myself that I could still be affected so deeply? Maybe because I didn’t think others would understand? Finally, my wise friend said, “That’s not weak. That’s a momma who loves her daughter and still grieves for her.”
So what’s my point? If you are like me and you are dealing with PTSD or even if you are not-be kind to yourself. I think this is normal—no, I know this is normal. I am convinced grieving takes years. Maybe we spent our whole lives grieving our children; it’s just that each year we do it in a different way. I don’t know. I’m not an expert. I don’t have it all figured out.