Tag Archive | flashbacks

Next stage of therapy

I want to run again. I want to quit and hide. The urge is so unbelievably strong. I did quit something, couples counseling. I decided I needed to focus on my individual counseling for a while, and I was never totally happy with that counselor, probably mostly because he was a he, but I think his style made it impossible for me to trust and connect wirh him.

 Why do I want to run and hide? Because my counselor wants to know what happened to me, what AF and my brother did to a little girl. She wants me to start writing and saying out loud my most horrific memories in high def detail. I have been to about 20 different counselors in my life. None have asked for this. We discuss events vaguely, generally. We would lump 16 years of sexual and emotional abuse together into non-specific phrases like “he touched me inappropriately” and “I would wake up with him in my bed”. Never have I gone into detail of who did what, what we were wearing, what else happened that day, what my blanket looked like, what he said to me, etc. 

My counselor is giving me the choice of moving forward with cpt (cognitive processing therapy) or pe (prolonged exposure). We discussed and I read about both and I am choosing cpt. I am already familiar and comfortable with the framework. And pe sounds like hell-repeating what happened to me over and over, recording myself telling an account then listening to my recording. I understand the point of desensitization, but I believe discussing it once will be enough for me. I have so many events, thousands of traumas to choose from to retell, I think I need to start with the ones that form flashback images often. 

I feel safe with my counselor. I am not afraid of my memories themselves, but reliving the content is distressing. So it is time to try this, because counselor says it will help, and because I have never tried this.

This first step is to write my memories down. I know which one I want to start with. I have decided to post it here once I write it. My memories are fuzzy but I will do my best to write a detailed account. I thought if I shared it here first it would give me confidence to read it to my counselor, maybe, without passing out.

So why retell a traumatic event? Shouldn’t we just let it stay in the past? Isn’t better as a fuzzy memory without clear details? Won’t writing and telling it make the memory stronger, reinforce it, make the flashbacks worse?

Counselor says no. She says by recounting what happened through cpt, I can process the event, add meaning, address unbalanced thoughts, add adult perspective and emotional capacity that I did not have as a child. I should be able to make these events less powerful, less overwhelming, by feeling the emotions now that a little girl simply could not. Hmmm. Not sure I buy that, seems hokey, but like I said, I will try it because I am curious. And because so far this counselor has been right. So what if it seems hokey if it works. I would try about anything to get my life, my brain, back from this cptsd hell.

Staying present is harder than it looks

Flashbacks have been hurtling me into the past, into this odd blended world where past blends and merges with present in completely confusing ways.

Seeing my sick dog lying there, I suddenly was 8 years old and seeing the dog AF poisoned. The image superimposed, so childhood dog is on top of my real dog like a transparent photoshop layer that at moments is opaque and seems oh so real.

In those moments, I relive the trauma as it happened. Not just like watching a movie, as that would be only sight and sound. This is the entire experience, all of the smells, thoughts, fears, sadness, helplessness. I hear AF laughing, his cruel voice saying the stupid beast got what it deserved. I feel it in my skin and bones. It takes every ounce of energy to remind myself I am an adult, not a child, that I am safe, that this is a different dog, and no one poisoned him, he is sick.

I go through grounding exercises. I look at my hands and breathe and count. I look in the mirror. I tell myself AF is not here, he is gone. I am safe. I can help this dog. I don’t have to watch it die. He can’t make me watch it die. No one will laugh. I can go to the vet. I am in charge. I am okay.

I slip in and out of reality several times as I see my dog struggle. I have not slipped like this since the day I revisited the building of my childhood back surgeon.

Some triggers are just too strong. Some events were just too horrible.

Hubby says maybe I can finally grieve for that dog now, combining with current grief maybe. That I can say goodbye to her also when we have our little funeral. I don’t know if it will help, but I think it is worth a try to get some closure on that.

I don’t have any pictures of that childhood dog, but I started googling and I think she was part border terrier. She was really ugly! All straggly hair, mostly black, some white. But she was awesome, a good friend, and a good frisbee player. She would fetch anything and was always outside with me.

**Next part is graphic, stop reading if you don’t want to know**

It took her three days to die and none of us were allowed to help or comfort her. She climbed onto my brothers bed and stayed there, filling it with blood, as it seemed to leak out of her everywhere. The blood dripped off in a little stream at one point, dripping onto the floor. Her tongue hung out as she gasped for air. Her eyes were gummy and staring at nothing. Once in a while she would convulse, kicking her legs wildly, then nothing but gasping again. We were not allowed to hold her head or give her water. All I could do was stand in the doorway and watch, helpless, as my friend died in the most horrible way and AF laughed.

There were other animals he hurt too, but this was the worst and most difficult to erase from my mind. I don’t know how to put something that devastating into perspective. I can’t help that dog or that little girl and I can’t explain why it happened. So my brain keeps it active, in case one day I may figure it out?

So I am hoping that grief is the answer. There is no why. He was cruel, that is it. There was nothing I could have done. I need to grieve for the loss of the dog and the pain of the little girl. I’ll see if I can, and if it works. Because this is one flashback I would really like to stop seeing, please.

What a flashback Feels like and how to cope

What does a flashback feel like? What does it look like?

I had some earth shattering ones yesterday, so the feelings are quite raw and fresh. I am going to attempt to describe the experience. Then I am going to add some research and comments from my counseling session yesterday as well. I don’t know if this is how everyone experiences flashbacks, if this is typical or not, all I can say is this is true for me.

So what happened yesterday that was so triggering? I had an entire day full of doctor appointments, pre-op assessments to prepare for my surgery next week. I actually had very little anxiety beforehand. I was not looking forward to a day of xrays, blood tests, EKG, physical exam, and anesthesia consult, but I had no panic in me.

So we start driving to the hospital, which is a large campus made up of many large buildings. As we get nearer I look up my first appointment desk and see that the building is the one I used to go to as a kid, where all of my pediatric orthopedic visits were when I was 11 and started back bracing, and 12 and had surgery, and then for years after for physical therapy and rehab to get a paralyzed limb walking again. Hmmm.

Although I had been going to this hospital campus for my migraines and back issues, I had not been in this particular building since I was a teenager. Is this enough foreshadowing for you?

So I walked in the building alone, Hubby dropped me off at the front door so I didn’t have to walk so far.

(He dropped me off just like my dad used to do. That thought didn’t actually cross my mind at that point, not consciously anyway. A-hole used to drop me off because he had a job where he was on call on a CB radio and would stay in the car, at work, while I went in for my doctor visits alone. At age 11, leaving me to deal with having severe scoliosis and whatever treatment the doctor said all alone. He always acted like it was the biggest inconvenience to have to even drive me there. He’d complain about the disruption to his day, how he’d be behind at work, how much the doctor was costing him. I always felt guilty and ashamed for having scoliosis, like it was somehow my fault and I failed him)

I made it into the lobby and started looking for the elevators, but somehow I already knew where to go, part of me remembered. I just started walking and got in the elevator. A nice man asked which floor, I smiled and said 2 please, but my lips felt funny when I smiled. Like they were too thick. And I wasn’t sure I actually said anything, but I saw him press 2 and we went up, so I figured the words must have come out of me. But it didn’t sound like me. It sounded like a stranger behind me or something, not me talking.

I got out on the second floor and the view there was like a bolt of lightning. I was going to radiology, the same radiology I had been to a ZILLION times for back xrays to check the progress of my spine curves. It looked the same, exactly the same. It opened up into the loft overlooking the lobby below, I could see the doors where I just came in. I was struggling to breathe, like someone was choking me from the inside out. Or like my stomach itself was choking me by coming up through my throat. I got dizzy, reached for the rail just in time and avoided falling. I’m not sure how long I stayed there. My mind went blank.

(This was a dissociative flashback, I  learned later)

I came back and I was crouched behind the “wait here for next available . . .” sign, shaking and confused. My arms were crossed tight around myself, head down, I was leaning against the railing now, knees bent a little, but not quite squatting or sitting, more like I was HIDING there. Behind the sign.

The clerk called me up, and I snapped to attention, my awareness returning. I shook my head and walked to the desk. I couldn’t think what I was supposed to say to her. She said “can I help you?” and I still wasn’t sure who or WHEN I was. I was looking at my hands and my cane and I was very confused. I saw the desk number and radiology on the sign and said “Is this the right desk?” She wasn’t sure, since she didn’t know what desk I needed, but was very nice to me and asked me my name, which I luckily was beginning to remember. She confirmed my appointment, checked me in, and asked me to have a seat. I did, and started doing grounding exercises.

I have a great app on my phone, called “What’s Up?” that has all sorts of breathing and grounding exercises in it. I opened that up and started doing some of the lists – Name 5 types of flowers (tulip, rose, daffodil, lily, peony), name 5 fruits (apple, banana, mango, papaya, kiwi)…

Hubby comes in then. He does the grounding with me, which is so much better than being alone. Next list is name 5 capital cities (we both crack up…umm, we should probably know some, neither of us could think of anything so we just named BIG cities instead) The laughing felt great. Just what I needed. The swirly head feeling was stopping.

I had the xrays with no major difficulty and proceeded to our next appointment which was back downstairs. We walked back over the loft, into the elevator, got out on the first floor and I froze again. This time I didn’t just feel dizzy and out of sorts. This time my feet disappeared. This time I felt sad and afraid. This time I re-experienced myself walking alone down the stairs next to the elevator, a grand staircase with full view of the lobby and loft. I both saw myself doing this like a movie I was watching, but also felt it like it was happening in real time. It overlapped my reality. Like a dream come to life. I was suddenly 12, carrying a huge package of my own xrays to this elevator, so that my surgeon could see my curves had gotten worse again this month, that the back brace was not slowing the progress of my scoliosis. I was 12, listening to a team of doctors talk about me in the hallway before showing me my films on the lightboard. Listening as they say, Oh NO! Look here, and here, we’ll have to get more aggressive or her lungs could soon be compromised. And then they smile as if I couldn’t hear them outside my door, and they give me news to relay to my dad, the A-hole sitting out in his car, who can’t be bothered to come in with me.

I don’t recall feeling fear, or sadness, or alone. I couldn’t I wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t able to. If I felt those things…I would not have been able to go into my doctor visits. I would have been consumed and unable to do what needed done. So in my memories, I don’t recall the feelings, because I was numb.

But in my flashbacks – now that I’m no longer numb – the feelings are attached. And INTENSE!!!

I thought I was going to die yesterday. The power of the sadness, and the pure terror pumping through me was bigger than anything I’ve felt yet.

I felt the fear and sadness of a 12 year old starting with 2 60 degree curves in her spine getting progressively worse each month, getting told her own back will crush her lungs and heart if they can’t stop it, that the bracing is not working, and that surgery is required and soon. I felt the fear of that little girl doing that alone while her parents were too busy, self absorbed, or too weak to support her. No one held her hand or hugged her. No one sat with her. No one told her it would be ok. No one even looked at her. In fact she was made to feel like a bother, a nuisance for having this dreadful disease, a shameful bother bringing down the entire family with its inconvenience and cost.

I nearly passed out. I couldn’t breathe. I forgot how to breathe and just stopped for a while. I couldn’t feel my feet or hands. My vision was both blurry and focused, like I could see only directly in front of me, but it was with super clarity like a microscope. Is that tunnel vision? And then I burst into tears. Gasping for air, and trying to cry, trying to walk, unable to talk, watching these movies but experiencing them in high-def with surround sound and surreal senses. I couldn’t see the real surroundings with these movies overlapping my vision. I wasn’t sure which people were real, which were memories. I wasn’t sure which me I was – was I 12 or 39? I kept fading in and out between the two ages.

Hubby took my wrist then, kept saying “It’s ok, I’m here with with you, let’s find a chair, I’m right here…”He guided me and I kept having the urge to run! but I was unable, without feet or vision or air in my lungs. His voice I knew, and trusted, and knew it was not a memory, his voice did not belong to me being 12. I followed his voice and let him take to a chair in a quiet hallway. He kind of pushed me into the chair, and told me “push your feet into the ground, feel the ground” He kept holding my hand and wrist and saying he was there with me, that I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure how long it took, but the storm calmed a bit, and I could see where I was again, but still couldn’t breathe, and was still crying uncontrollably. I was trying to do breathing exercises, square breathing is my favorite for calming, but I was unable to count for myself. I asked Hubby to count for me so I could focus. He had never done it before, so I had to teach him so he could then coach me.

In 4, hold 4, out 4, hold 4 – I said in between gasps. Geez I felt like I was in labor trying to breathe in between contractions. This was so hard to THINK!

He started and at first he was way to slow, in……1…….2……3…..4……. and since I was still gasping and hyperventilating I couldn’t come close to his slow pace yet. He sped it up. And said ‘in’ is 1. OH!

he tried again. In..2..3..4..hold..2..3..4..

Yes that’s it. I could feel the quivering in my lungs relaxing a little. His voice sounded so good. The images in my brain were fading and the wall in front of me was getting more distinct.

We sat there counting and breathing for several minutes, not sure how long. Until I could take a deep breath with the quiver and gasp, until I could feel my hands and feet again, until I knew I was 39 and not 12. At one point a nice gentleman came over to us and asked if he could read us some bible verses to help calm me, since I was obviously distraught. We declined, but I thought it was nice that someone was willing to reach out to us.

I stood up and looked over at the lobby, the stairs, the elevator…a little sadness returned, but it is something I can handle now. It is something I needed to know. I unlocked something major yesterday. I got a taste of what I felt growing up, but wasn’t able to feel, what I repressed and locked away so I could survive each day and keep going. It wasn’t safe to feel it back then and I had no one to help me. I do now. I’m safe now.

I made it over to the next check-in desk, a few minutes late for my next appointment, but the clerk there was so cheerful as she looked up my name, and then all of a sudden she started giggling – and shrinking! Her chair was broken and the hydraulic thingy kept making her sink below the desk all day she said, she said someone took her regular chair. Her silly, mundane, human issue of someone taking her chair and swapping it for the crappy one was suddenly hilarious to the both of us as she reached up from her low position and hopped a little to try to see the computer monitor. We both burst out laughing.

It was awesome.

Many people are good and kind. I don’t have to be afraid to talk and interact with everyone. I don’t have to hide my problems, people like to be helpful, and all people have their own problems.


So the couples counselor was nearly dancing for joy yesterday when we shared this with him. He said this was tremendous progress for us both, shows a level of trust in each other, a willingness to share and learn. And he said that by Hubby caring for me DURING this flashback, it actually negates some of the fear and sadness. He said joy and care are antidotes to fear, pain, and sadness so if I felt loved and cared for instead of ashamed and alone during this flashback, then I may have rewritten some of these memories. Now when I think of them, Hubby and his love and care will also be combined with it, instead of me being eternally alone. That’s why we are supposed to shed the light on the shame gremlins and blast them away with the care of another person – in the moment.

I didn’t realize how powerful that was until he explained it to me. I now have a new connection, a new neuron path that connects loving feelings of safety and care with Hubby to my scoliosis and hospital visits.


Almost seems too easy, or impossible. Then I thought about the dream/nightmare imagery, how I’ve been able to think of new endings to some of my recurrent dreams with visualization and imagery. This is a similar process, only it works in reverse to rewrite history and lessen the power or recurrent flashbacks instead of nightmares.

I found a book by Joyanna Silberg, The Child Survivor: Healing Developmental Trauma and Dissocation.  I found an excerpt (page 201 of Silberg’s book shown below) where she discusses the time machine technique. But basically the technique involves imagining the scenario of the flashback but instead of just remembering it, you add something to it, make a change. My counselor said it can be something minor, like make your face green, doesn’t have to be as drastic a change as this. In this book, the author has children imagine they have superpowers and change what happened to them, or imagine saying something they wish they really had said. I see the power and value of this method to get unstuck, to break free of the memory rut. If you change the memory, you have broken that worn path, it no longer exists. You can’t change history, it won’t change what happened to you, but you can change how you think about it, and maybe stop reliving it. Really, once was enough.

silberg time machine

So last night I started imagining that instead of going to my doctor visits alone, my best friend went with me and we played cards in the waiting room. One trip I imagined I brought my dog with me and we played frisbee in the huge open lobby, I watched her running up the grand staircase. I tried to imagine that one time the doctor said I was all better, that my curves were getting better in stead of worse…but I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I can erase and rewrite the bad. But I can add in some good. I can add in some hugs and hand holding, and chocolate milkshakes. I can add headphones and imagine I was hearing great music instead of dad’s horrible words. Just imagine his mouth moving and not hear it – replace with umm, let’s see, age 12…I think I was into Madonna, Prince, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Tiffany, INXS, Guns N Roses, Phil Collins, Whitesnake and the entire soundtrack of Dirty Dancing nonstop from the year before. Both my cassette tape and my video tape were getting worn out. Patrick Swayze…Sigh.

Shut up Flashbacks. Nobody puts Baby in the corner!   🙂

Patrick Swayze will now accompany me in all of my flashbacks. Can’t hurt. Really can’t hurt. May not help a thing, I’ll let you all know how it goes. Next time I think of walking on that grand stair case at the hospital maybe it can look more like this.

What’s right when nothing’s right

I’ll have a choice to make soon. Not today but soon. And as often seems to be the theme of my life, my choice is between crap and poop. Or poop with a side of crap? Or how about no poop perhaps, but an agonizing pain in my azz?

OK enough, understood I think.

I’ve been happily denying the existence of my mom and siblings, for quite some time now. Maybe not happily, but it was working for me to have them all in a mental storage box while I attend this intensive trauma recovery program to deal with the PTSD I have from growing up with them.

Then my brother texted that my mom is having surgery. No details. I didn’t ask for any but replied I hope it goes well. Because I did. I wish her no harm or suffering.

Update is that my brother called and said mom has cancer. Bad, stage 4, liver, colon, not sure what else cancer. They were unable to remove it during the surgery. She hasn’t told anyone, my brothers found out same day as me.

So I have a choice to make. Let me share some of my thoughts first.

This news doesn’t suddenly flood me with love or make me miss her. I guess I wish it did. Instead I feel the familiar hole, the dreaded emptiness where the love is supposed to be. And some guilt, for not feeling what I think I’m supposed to feel.

I want to do what’s the most right for everyone here. Ideally I’d have more time for my therapy before having to deal with this. But I’ll be fine. I’m having flashbacks and memories and swirling thoughts, but I’ll be fine. My new counselor seems to know what she’s doing. Let her earn her money! Here

Seriously though, I want to do what’s right for my kids. And for my mom. And for my brothers. In that order. My therapist says what about me? Oh…yeah, I wasn’t part of the pros and cons analysis. I never am. I don’t matter to me. She cocks her head and says hmmm knowingly and I thought she forgot about it until she assigned my homework today, which I’ll describe at the end of this.

For my kids, they know my mom but aren’t terrifically attached to her. Visits are always short, a bit uncomfortable, but not unpleasant. Other than our cats and a distant uncle, my kids have not witnessed sickness and death. I wouldn’t keep them from her if we were close, but it is unclear to me what to do with this awkwardness. I don’t want to teach them to avoid life’s difficulties. I want them to have a chance to say goodbye perhaps if they want to.

For my mom, I don’t hate her. She is toxic to me. I’m better with distance and boundaries. But I also understand her. She, unlike AF, is not purposely cruel. She had a tough lonely life. She’s done her best. I can understand some of her actions, especially when you know she was AFs first victim. But I don’t feel it gives her a free pass, not for all of it. I was open to the idea of slowly letting her back in my life. Eventually. After my therapy. But it looks like I may not have time for slow and eventually. And unlike AF, I don’t think I’m OK with her dying alone thinking her kids hate her. That feels cruel to me, and I’m not cruel. So even if it means nothing to her, I may have to take the chance that it does. I’m not talking about rejoining her life or helping with care or hospital visits. I’m thinking some gesture on neutral ground to reach out to her. Nothing grand, but big enough out of this vacuum we are in now.

For my brothers…well they are big boys. The one that lives with mom will need someone to care for him. It’s not me. I’m sure my oldest brother has a plan. He’s good that way. Let them rely on him. I can barely rely on me. Plus that’s the brother that molested me, not like I’m opening my home to him.

This is only some of my thoughts, feelings, concerns. It’s much more complicated of course. I’m getting tired though.

So the homework…my counselor wants me to keep a log. Not a journal, but a log to enter a quick title for which memories and flashbacks are getting stirred up right now. Taking the dysfunctional family mental storage box off the shelf has me shaken up and caused some distressing PTSD symptoms. Usually these memories are too overwhelming and I disassociate, distract, and ignore, then self harm. But with my new skills, I’m staying present, mostly, and aware. I’m feeling crap. I’m crying. I’m confused. I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m ashamed. Then I cry again. Yay for my new skills, right? So much fun. Stupid skills.

So Many Mistakes, so much stress

So I’m here trying to feel grateful and not overwhelmed but really on that line still. Mostly now thinking how did I get here? What the hell happened the past 3 months, 6 months, a year??  Looking back I see I made a few mistakes, and allowed my stress levels to get too high.

Mistake 1 – Having no social support network and only trusting Hubby to judge my own stress and distress. Truth is, Hubby is not a strong, safe shoulder for me. My fears and doubts are met with either blank stares, his own fears, or anger. And yet I continually ask this of him year after year and expect him to be better THIS time. I keep hoping he will change. I have FINALLY learned this lesson and the need to expand my support network, to trust myself more, and to get more than Hubby’s opinion and help.

It was unfortunate timing that my trusted counselor of over a decade took an extended leave of absence during such a stressful period for me. I started working full time at a stressful new position, struggled with workplace drama hostility and ethics, then AF died and I didn’t know then the impact all this stress would have on my health.

I had no idea how to handle AF’s death. The man that was my entire world as a child, even though it was a wicked and twisted world, was gone. He was the one I called daddy for so many years. I discussed his passing, and his final attack in his will with the interim counselor, but I had never connected with her, and she didn’t lead me through any grieving process. I had no healthy way to process it on my own. No one around me thought it was worth discussing much, or knew what to say, or what to expect in how it could affect me. Even worse, I hid it from coworkers since I was not attending the funeral and didn’t want days off or to discuss it. So I got no sympathy, had to focus my wandering mind, got no flowers, nothing.

I should have given myself some time off, but I didn’t know then because I didn’t feel it then. I still felt ashamed, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. I still thought AF was my terrible secret, all my own. His death stirred up all that in me initially, all those feelings of I must hide, and isolate, that I’d lose everything if they knew. And since Hubby and in-laws were so callous about it, and my FOO was useless as usual, I alone as usual. So completely alone. And then that terrible Will, where AF was so cruel again, and it hurt, and I felt it ‘shouldn’t’ and then felt guilty for it hurting. I should have maybe gotten a message to my counselor, I know now she would have talked to me, but I did what came naturally and started my self harm cycle of binge eating, not sleeping, isolating, and self loathing. Odd how the self harm is part of my self comforting cycle, when I’m hurting I need to hurt myself more. Where’s all that progress I supposedly had made? All of it gone because my counselor wasn’t there to help me? I felt like no one was there to help me and I kept saying how much it hurt, kept reaching out this time, but it didn’t matter, no one understood. I needed my counselor I guess. When I finally saw her in March, she saw the pain, all the weight gain, and had me sign a safety contract, she saw I was in crisis. That I needed a break. She recommended a weekend away. It was good, but too little too late. I should have done it months earlier.

I remember one terrible day of head pain 2 months ago, intense memories/flashbacks to daddy holding me tenderly enclosed in his arms, when I felt safe in his arms as I curled up in a ball and fit completely on his lap, I actually felt his warm arms around me, I heard his voice, felt his head on top of mine. It was a wonderful moment frozen in time, but then I also know his hands are caressing me, slowly in ways a daddy should not. The me I am now returns to present day and feels nauseous, the moment is over, and I’m so confused, like a short circuit, I miss that wonderful disgusting man. That is when I started to cry and could not stop. and the memories flooded in, but even more, the sadness. Oh my god the sadness. I thought my head would split open from the force of the tears and the sadness, and the guilt, and the shame.I had several events like this, each more powerful than the last. I called and made an appointment with a psychiatrist but it was weeks away, so was my next counselor appointment. I could not bear another flashback/migraine/grief/shame attack. I started drinking more and more. I was getting so on edge I couldn’t stay in the room with anyone else. My kids faces looked like a young me and triggered new flashbacks. I avoided them. I started my combo of drinking and cold meds to put me out, and this time I had muscle relaxers to add to the mix from the migraines. Those only gave temporary relief as I woke up more desperate each time looking for something stronger. I just wanted to stop thinking, not actually to die. I remembered something about robotripping and looked up dosages. I had half a bottle of dextromorphan added to my muscle relaxer/whiskey/tylenol cocktail one night. I think I already wrote about this, but I’m writing again anyway because it was so stupid. I blacked out and vomited and fell asleep in my toilet.

I could have died from that stupidity. I didn’t. And not because life has more torture for me, but because my liver did its job. And because we don’t know why things happen. Maybe the second I accept life and stop wishing for death a toilet seat will fall from the space station and kill me in a freak accident. We don’t know. I won’t fill this page with dishonest gratitude either that I’m still living. I’m not yet in a positive place so that wouldn’t be right. But you can all think that for me, no harm there. And all you lucky enough to believe in God to can say its part of his plan for me, no harm for you to think that either.

So – I quit my job, no notice. Just ‘sorry, I quit, effective immediately’. I asked Hubby and he agreed I should quit. I debated telling them I was struggling with migraines, and asking for medical leave. But Hubby and I decided this was best. We also decided it was best because we were planning to take me to the hospital.

I need to clear something up here. I never actually attempted suicide this time. I went to the hospital because I was so afraid that I might. I was still completely rational upon admittance. I even planned the admittance, it wasn’t an emergency trip or anything. I wanted to see if they could help stop the flashbacks and the sadness and the suicidal fears. When I saw that I was only able to work 5 hours the previous week due to migraines. When I realized I was spending most of my time in bed in a dark quiet room and would be unable to work the following week either, I felt like such a failure that I couldn’t even work part time now and find another job appropriately. Flashbacks were nearly constant, seeing anything, feeling anything – could trigger reliving long intense moments of my childhood. The strange part of these flashbacks is that many of them were not frightening, and did not leave me feeling afraid, they left me feeling sad – purely sad, sadder than I’ve ever known possible to feel.

I pushed too far and I broke. My body could not withstand those levels of stress and I was putting my trust in doctors to help me heal, to get some needed rest from the torture of my own brain.

Life isn’t quite so bad. Today.

After therapy and rest, I can say the latest storm has started to pass over. I feel myself returning.

So what happened? PTSD happened. And I was blindsided by this one. I thought I had things under control. I thought I was coping. I thought I was OK.

And then I wasn’t OK. Quick as that. I couldn’t make sense of anything. I have not wanted to die so strongly for many years. I thought I was done with the suicidal ideation. I mean I have dealt with the passing thoughts of death, the ones with no power, the why am I here, what is the point, and I’d rather not keep going thoughts. But those come and go quickly and don’t take hold. Like they blow over, I see and feel them for a moment, and that’s it, gone as quickly as it began.

But the past week? Wow. It was like Stephen King and M Night Shyamalan teamed up to direct my inner world of hundreds of ways for me to die. I was bombarded with graphic images of my own death, and they felt real. I could feel myself bleeding, hurting, suffocating, etc. It was terrible. Like nightmares while awake. It was more terrible that I seemed to feel relief by this, instead of horror. It was soothing to think of my death. Mental cutting?

I didn’t understand what was happening. I read my own words on here, and saw I claimed to be happy recently. I couldn’t remember that feeling, and I felt lost and hopeless. I felt like I could never feel happy again. It was hard to breathe. I kept doing my slow, pursed lip breathing like I have been taught, to prevent hyper ventilating and panic from taking over. All I knew was pain.

I was snapping at the kids and afraid I would hit them, their little voices causing me pain with each “mommmm . . .” I kept myself holed up in my room to protect myself from them and them from me. Hubby knew I was pushing him away, and he didn’t know what to do. He decided to give me space, and I felt abandoned. Space is a bad thing when your brain is trying to convince you life is not worth living. I thought he didn’t want to know the truth and was avoiding me.

I made it in to see my therapist, and she knew instantly. She said, you are in PTSD crisis and immediately changed into her more authoritative voice that works so well when I feel like a frightened child. She thinks the recent flashbacks I had during kiddo’s hospital procedures sent me into a full crash and depression. I thought I made it through the flashbacks and had already recovered. She said, sorry, that’s not how PTSD works.  ????

So I am still learning. I guess those flashbacks were really powerful and unlocked a whole new bunch of traumatic memories that need processing. I am not thrilled about this, really I am not. But it made sense to me, and seemed to bring me back to reality, and restore my hope that this will pass. I’ve done it before, I can do it again.

So what was that flashback? When I took my kiddo into the MRI room, I was forced to relive my own MRI from when I was 12. I had just been in the Operating room for about 18 hours. They were correcting 2 curves in my spine, so severe that my own body was going to crush my inner organs if left untreated. Something happened, lack of blood flow to the spine, and I woke up paralyzed from the waist down. I was woken quickly from the anesthesia and surrounded by nurses and doctors. No parents. I was so cold, and so numb, I thought I was dead and asked them that. One nurse tapped my hand and said ohhhh, no honey, but was too busy to do anything else. NO ONE made eye contact with me. They were trying to save my legs. Everyone was tapping on me, and I could see them lifting my feet, but felt nothing, like it was someone else’s foot. 4 guys came in and wiggled a sheet under me, and then used it to lift me to another bed. Someone said, ah she’s just a wisp of a girl, won’t need all of us, 2 guys left. I remember being happy because that meant I was not fat. (yes my eating disorder and poor body image was in full swing at age 12) We went quickly through the halls, to an elevator, and down to radiology, my second home those days. But I’d never been in this room before or seen this machine before. They lifted me again and put me on a hard table, not padded like the bed. I remember the pain. My back had been opened from neck to pelvis. 2 metal bars and many clamps were installed. I had this thick layer of padded gauze covering stitches and it hurt to lay on it on the hard platform. I remember the screaming pain in my upper half, and the eerie silence in my lower half. As they put me on it, my one leg strayed off the table and pulled on my back, I screamed and someone put it back up for me. I heard the thud as my leg dropped on the table, but felt nothing. They weren’t being rough, I don’t think, just that legs are really heavy when limp. I had no idea what was happening and no one was talking to me. I still had no parents there, not sure if they weren’t allowed in, or didn’t come in.  I heard staff talking about my legs, not wanting them to slip off again. They came in with huge Velcro straps and secured me to the table. I watched them tighten the straps and tried to wrap my head around the fact that I could not feel those straps at all. Then they gave me headphones and said to lay still. Ha, yes, funny, I couldn’t move a**holes. He gave me an apologetic look, he must be so used to saying that and didn’t think. I was in that machine forever. I still heard loud clangs and bangs even through that headset. Finally the noise stopped and the table slid back out of the tunnel. The first thing I heard from the tech was, oh crap, she wet herself in there, we’ll need to clean everything. What? I moved my hand a bit under the strap and felt the wetness. I was mortified. I peed in that machine? I didn’t know I had to pee, and I didn’t know I had peed. I let a few tears escape as reality sunk in, but sucked it back in. It was embarrassing enough to have wet myself in front of them, that they had to mop it up and clean the machine too because of me, I didn’t want to be a crybaby too. Freak was bad enough, I didn’t want to be weak. (guess who taught me that? to never cry?) I closed my eyes and must have disassociated as a bunch of people cleaned me and dressed me and got me to a dry bed and back in my room. I pretended I wasn’t there and let them do what they had to do. I heard the doctors were upset and confused. They said something about too much artifact, and halos, the image was unusable. All the metal they placed in my back made the MRI a good old waste of time. I remember thinking of Indiana Jones, maybe they found a rare artifact inside me when they opened me up? My imagination and odd sense of humor served me well.

So. I relived that when I took kiddo in there. All of it. The sounds, the smells, the fears, and the pain. Oh my god the pain. I was happy his MRI was about an hour, it gave me time to hide in the ladies room and remember how to breathe. I thought I survived, got grounded in reality. I thought it was over. I didn’t know the danger.

My therapist said a flashback like this, reliving this level of trauma, is just like it actually happened. My brain and body think I just had surgery 2 weeks ago. No wonder my spine has felt like it was on fire recently. All the fears, feeling alone, hopeless about the future, finding out I am paralyzed and may need a wheelchair and a diaper all came crashing down on me that day 26 years ago, and again 2 weeks ago. My therapist said I need more time to recover from the shock of that and she is not surprised it sent me into a depression and suicidal thoughts. She said that was normal and all a part of the PTSD. And she said she would help me through it. I wasn’t alone any more.

See this flashback has uncovered so many memories from that time of my life, with my new perspective. When my kiddo was in the hospital, me or hubby, and usually both of us were there with him, at his side, holding him, talking to him. I have just realized that my parents were not there for most of it. My dad went to work each day and brought me fast food dinner each evening and then went home. He did not allow my mom in the room, told the staff she was hysterical and not to be allowed in. He told me she was crying and making such a scene and trying to get all the attention for herself. I believed him then. Now I understand. She was being human, which he did not allow. If my baby had to have a scary surgery, and then came out paralyzed, you better believe I will cry. Anyways, I was all alone for most of my stay. They brought my brothers to visit once, and the big guy fainted when he saw me. Not the best morale booster. My dad praised me for being quiet and would ask how many times I pushed my morphine button that day. I would wait as long as possible to push it so I could make him proud when he came to see me. The doctor even had a nurse check to see if the line was ok, since so much was left in the bag. I suffered and denied my own pain relief to make him happy. Why did that make him happy? Because he is a psychopath, I may have mentioned that here before. (I shake my head now in disbelief, what he did to me)

I know which demons I need to battle now, and after some rest, I will get back to battling. I need to process the fact that no one held my hand, hugged me, or told me it would be ok. I was all alone, except for nurses and doctors waking and prodding me. I had no idea if I would ever walk again, and started crossing things off my list of dreams. There goes the track team, and forget basketball too. Can you swim with dead legs? Where do I get teen sized diapers? Does the school have an elevator? I had all those questions and no one to ask.

The suicidal images have stopped ( for now? I am so scared they will return) and I feel a bit more connected to my world and family again today. I have told Hubby the truth, and told him he needs to be proactive, for the rest of my life I think, and ask me if I have plans to hurt myself. I think I would have told him, but only if he asked. I was really close to checking myself into a hospital a few days ago, so afraid the thoughts would turn into an action plan. I don’t want to hurt my family, and today, I don’t want to leave them either. I had no idea the suicide storm could return, and we were not prepared.

I have PTSD. I can’t control everything. It isn’t my fault. I am loved. I can get through another day, and another day.

Here’s a link I found helpful to share with Hubby, please let me know if you have found any other resources. It seems I so much more to learn about my own affliction.


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Surprising Myself – PTSD Memory Theory

One of the positives (maybe the only positive actually) of having an impaired memory system is that I often surprise myself. I have the ability to completely forget something my foggy brain has done.

I think everyone does this from time to time, not just PTSD sufferers, like when you search for your car keys because you don’t recall where you set them down, and find them later – in the freezer. You get a nice moment of surprise and quick little giggle at how imperfect we really are. We try to hold so many things in our working memory at once, pay attention to a zillion details, and can easily lose the little ones that slipped away, never to be transferred into long term memory.

My happy surprise was a note to myself that I found in my purse, and that I had no memory at all of writing.

I was sitting in my therapist’s waiting room, digging for a blank card from my purse, when I found one with this lovely message on it:

“Connections make you strong within your kingdom. Castles are only strong when you stay inside of them.”

Isn’t that a great surprise to myself? I can be so thoughtful, it seems, just wish I could remember that. I stared at that card in disbelief. It was my handwriting on my card in my purse. I’m no detective, but I’m pretty sure I wrote that. I wonder where I heard it?

And then I let the meaning sink in of those lovely words. And I wondered if I had previously let the meaning sink in, when I wrote it, and I was able to now have a new reaction to it. I used to live all alone, safe in my castle, but it was a haunted castle full of ghosts from my past. I’ve written many posts about it, sometimes calling it: tower, fortress, walls, prison, etc. The meaning is the same no matter what you call it and I was stuck inside, of me, and had no outside connections.

I didn’t know how to make connections to anyone outside my castle. Not even my husband knew what was going on inside of me. And so I started this blog, to figure things out, and with the strongest hope of making a connection to someone, anyone, who may understand me. My connections here, my amazing blogging friends, not only understand me, but also accept and validate me. It was through their support that I was able to find myself and continue reaching out to others.

Brains and memory retrieval are fascinating to me, and I have learned so much since my PTSD diagnosis. And my knowledge is helping me to heal. I see the brain as needing to file and organize all of the data it receives. Ordinary data is filed in ordinary places. Extraordinary or traumatic data is often filed incorrectly. If you will, the secretary in the brain responsible for putting away the memories does a great job with how much there is to process.  But when something happens that does not fit, uses too many emotions, does not make sense, or is just too large, well it is left un-filed. Picture a secretary holding our memory folders, happily humming and filing each and every one, and all of a sudden the fire alarm sounds, and she must drop the folder and evacuate to save her life. That folder did not get dealt with properly during the trauma and now is out of place, and will be found later, once the crisis is over and the secretary resumes filing.

So to me, a PTSD flashback is simply a memory folder that was dropped in a time of crisis, that we now need to examine the contents and either discard if no longer needed, or deal with properly and store in the correct location of our brain. This is my own theory based on my experiences, and may not apply to anyone else. For me, once I actually examine the flashback, look at it directly, feel the depth of it, do what needs to be done with it – usually cry and grieve since I was unable to do that when the trauma happened originally – then I can toss out the extra baggage, and file the memory as a simple memory. When I recall a processed flashback, it no longer has power over me, it is no longer devastating once it is filed properly. And it stops coming up and demanding attention. It is just a memory that I can recall when I try, but it does not force itself on me any more.

So I now understand my goal. I need to find each misfiled memory and put it where it belongs. That doesn’t sound scary when I put it that way. I also think I won’t be completely ‘healed’ until every folder has been examined and relocated. And with so many traumatic events in my life, I still have a towering pile of folders strewn about. But I know I have support. I could not even open these file folders until I had made connections (and got out of my castle!) and found support and truly trusted in my husband, therapist, and even a bit in my blogging friends to help me sort it all out.