Until It Happens To You...
I grew up with the heart and mind of someone destined to become a mental health counselor. Not only did I want to help others but the human mind both intrigued and perplexed me. By my freshman year in college, I was ready to declare my major. To be fair, I was intrigued by a lot of things and so while I knew that psychology was going to be my major, I also studied religion, education, and business.
I distinctly remember studying and learning about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I wondered how our brains could store such trauma and cause someone to relive their most heinous moments over and over again? How could the mind hold onto so much detail of something so horrific when my mind couldn’t even hold onto the detail of what I had eaten for breakfast? Wouldn’t time cloud those memories and make them less traumatic? Wouldn’t the mind eventually heal with time and just stop playing the vicious loop of horror? How could it be that years after a trauma a patient could still suffer as though they were still living in the traumatic moment? Did they just like to suffer? Did they choose to suffer as some form of self-punishment? How could there be so many triggers in their world that could set them back in time in a split second? I was truly mind boggled while studying PTSD but what I should have been was just grateful. I should have been grateful that I couldn’t understand the real dynamics of PTSD. I should have been less judgmental of those that were suffering from something so awful and more thankful that I couldn’t relate. Yet, it was only a matter of time until I would come to understand PTSD on a very personal level. Now, the questions that once perplexed and intrigued me are met with personal experience from a real-life trauma.
The general public acknowledges PTSD as not being able to move on after a traumatic event. On a very simplistic level, this is an accurate description of what a PTSD is but there is so much more to PTSD. Wrapped up as part of a PTSD diagnosis are unwanted memories, a negative self-image, hypervigilance, emotional distress, intrusive thoughts, a sense of threat, avoidance/isolation, memory problems, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety/depression, excessive blame, dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares, sleeping problems, and self-destructive behaviors. Life with PTSD, for me, is debilitating. It has taken everything I once thought I knew and understood to be true away from me. When you have endured the incomprehensible, when pain erupted like a never-ending volcano, it shatters your belief system. You have now seen beyond the veil, looked into a hidden room, glimpsed inside Pandora’s Box, and now you can’t unsee what you have witnessed.
It’s been 33 months, 145 weeks, 988 days since my nightmare began. With time, grief has become something I process and carry differently. The once sharp and searing pain caused by grief has become more of a constant dull ache, a continuous longing, a persistent emptiness, with sharp and searing scattered throughout my days and weeks. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between grief and PTSD but they both have changed the person I once was. In place of the girl that was intrigued and perplexed by the human mind is now a woman who is tormented by her own mind. The girl who once innocently believed that time could heal everything, even PTSD, is now a woman who has come to know firsthand that time cannot and is not a cure all. I still long for that innocence, for that unawareness to be returned to me. To go back to a time when I didn’t know that pain like this existed. I long to go back to a time when I didn’t feel a need to stand on guard just in case the trapdoor opens beneath my feet. The internal seed of hope, that life will always be ok has imploded. I now live in a world where children die and the beliefs that I once took for granted, like the belief that a parent would outlive their perfectly healthy toddler, have been stripped away.
Perhaps, one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned thus far in my grief journey is how fragile not only human life is but also how fragile the human mind is. I’ve learned not be judgmental of a situation that I am not familiar with firsthand. Human nature lends itself to the belief that we know exactly what it would be like or what we do if it were us in a situation. The truth is, you don’t really know until it happens to you.