Writer’s Block.

tumblr_l6ba2tL1d21qb4a07o1_500

I haven’t been blogging very much recently.

One reason is that I’m incredibly busy working full time and single parenting full time.

Another reason is that I have both so much to say and so little coherent to say.  I have all these ideas, memories, flashbacks, feelings and thoughts floating and swirling in my head, but haven’t been able to conceptualize a theme for a single blog post.

I started writing a post on Tuesday, which was the three year anniversary of my separation.  The day I told him I was leaving.

I never do well with anniversaries.  My PTSD gets worse, my flashbacks get worse, I think a lot about the past, my progress, where I have been and where I am going.  I am particularly impacted by holidays and anniversaries.  This is common for many people with PTSD because we don’t just remember things, we relive them.   Thus certain anniversaries of traumatic events are literally unforgettable.  I navigate my year around the anniversaries of various traumas, the deaths of my friends and family members, their birthdays, times when I was abused, anniversaries of meeting and leaving my abusers…it’s all stored in there.

The post I started was going to focus on how far I have come and the things that I have gained since leaving my ex-husband.  I was feeling particularly discouraged and demoralized after experiencing re-traumatization and further abuse from CAS and indirectly from my ex-husband.  I was beginning to feel like my entire life would be controlled and navigated by his abuse, until either he dies or I die.

But this week I feel a bit more hopeful.  Having a plan of action, even an imperfect plan helps ground me.  I wanted to write a bit about what I have gained through this three year, ongoing leaving process.  But even those thoughts weren’t properly formed and they were marred by intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.

I wasn’t sure if I should just write down a disjointed list of some of the flashbacks I’ve been having.  Because a disjointed post might accurately represent the way I’m experiencing life right now.  On the other hand, I really wanted to write something infused with gratitude.

In the middle, the blog post will meet here: a description of a flashback and why PTSD is so damn challenging, which will flow into some ways in which I am now better able to cope.

I want to describe the utter banality of some flashback triggers, because it illustrates how very unpredictable PTSD can be.   We all think of the obvious triggers, seeing the perpetrator, seeing people who look like the perpetrator, someone smells like the perpetrator, events remind you of the abuse etc.  But triggers can be literally anything.

Last week I was driving downtown and I saw a man walking down the street.  The man was unremarkable.  He was wearing a hospital bracelet on one arm and was gingerly holding his other arm which was wrapped in a clean, white gauze bandage.  He didn’t look unhappy or upset, he didn’t look like my abuser.  It was clear he was walking home from receiving treatment at the emergency room.  Nothing unusual, strange or threatening about it.

But I had an incredibly intense flashback which engaged all my senses.

I was back in time, I was leaving the hospital myself after receiving stitches for self harm.  I could feel the numbness in my arm from the local freezing.  I could smell the gauze and the tape they use at the hospital to secure the bandage.   I could feel the pain in my arm from where the stitches went in, as the freezing wears off and the swelling and bruising begins.  And I was overcome by an extremely intense urge to cut myself.  So intense that I felt dizzy.

Realize that all this took place in a matter of a few seconds.  The only trigger was seeing the man with the bandage and I had a complete physical and emotional reaction. Body memories, emotional feelings from the past and a motivation in the present to harm myself.

It’s quite incredible to me that this happened.  But this is what PTSD is.

And now the gratitude.

Living away from my ex-husband has given me the strength and motivation to resist those urges to destroy myself.

4-5 years ago if I had that strong an impulse to cut, I would have acted on it.  I would have used the flashback as an excuse…I had to do it….I would have given my power away to the urges.

Now, in recovery I can rationalize with the urges and I can ground myself and make an empowered choice not to harm myself severely.

I never could have made these shifts living in an abusive home.  I didn’t realize how unsafe I felt 24/7 until I moved to my new home and suddenly relaxed.

I have so much gratitude for being able to sleep at night without being assaulted.  I have gratitude for being able to make choices based on what is good for me.

I am so thankful for my ability to work.  Essentially, leaving my ex-husband allowed me to go from being psychiatrically disabled, to working full time in a demanding, challenging job, within a little over a year.

I love being employed.  I love having the privilege to help other women survivors.  I love being able to enter spaces where before I never would have been taken seriously, and be seen as a colleague and sometimes even an expert.   I occupy this mysterious space.  I am a psychiatric survivor and a service user while at the same time being a mental health service provider.   This is  a gift and a privilege that  I never forget.  Every single day that I work I am grateful for the opportunity to turn my negative experiences into a powerful way of finding meaning in the suffering I endured.  I find meaning in knowing that what I have survived has allowed me to help others with empathy, compassion, wisdom and joy.

Most people who know me now would have a hard time believing that 5 years ago I was unable to work, dependent, depressed, self destructive, suicidal and being abused.

Sometimes people who know me now forget.  They see me functioning and they forget that I struggle and constantly grapple with PTSD.  I function well with a very high level of symptoms and for that I am also grateful.

Ultimately, the last few months have been extremely difficult for me.  I’ve felt lost, depressed and hopeless at times.  But I have gained so much since leaving.  I have gained not just a career, but job that brings meaning to my life.  I have a safe home.  I am able to keep my children safe much of the time.  I am able to raise them with the values of social justice, equality and openness that I believe is right.

And even if this post is disjointed and unfocused, it is written, and for that I am thankful.

Dental Floss. When the truth is I miss you so…

Wonder-Woman

I met my dear friend MJ during the summer months of 2002.  We were both patients in the Post-traumatic Stress Recovery Program at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph.  We became friends very quickly, even though we were both struggling.  In so many ways she was struggling, coping with the impact of years, a lifetime really, of abuse.  We were close in age, we were both looking for hope and for something to hold on to.

I won’t write too much about MJ’s story, because it is not my own.  I will say that she was also a survivor and spent a good portion of our friendship hospitalized in various places.

MJ and I would write letters to each other, cards mostly.  Words of encouragement.  We would speak by phone, sometimes almost daily and sometimes months would go in between.  The amount of contact varied along with our health statuses at any given moment.

MJ was the person who I felt completely understood my experience of living with PTSD.  She never judged me.  She was always so grateful for our friendship.  I could tell her my strangest thoughts and she knew exactly what I was going through.  She was one of the bravest people I’ve even known.

MJ and I had an inside joke.  I don’t remember anymore who started it, but I think it was her.  We both struggled with near constant thoughts of suicide and self harm.  But we would talk about holding on and about being there for each other.  She used to say “hold on to hope, even if what you are holding onto is as thin as dental floss.”  We often talked about holding onto the dental floss, each of us holding one end and clinging to life.

I supported MJ through many hospitalizations and numerous suicide attempts.  I always knew in my heart that MJ would not be with me forever.  I almost lost her too many times to count.  We had a special connection, one that I’ve only had with a few other people in my life. I would dream about her, nightmares about things happening to her. Waking with a terrible, panicked pit in my stomach, I would know the dream was true. We were so connected I often knew something was wrong or something had happened before she told me.  I would call and find that she was in hospital.

MJ died one year ago.  She died from complications from chronic, terminal PTSD.  I was not there, I did not get to say goodbye.  For some reason I was not invited to the funeral.  I found out over a week later when her Mom answered her cell phone.  I was sitting in my car and I instantly knew.  I cried as her Mom described what happened.

MJ did not die alone.  Her family was with her and she was peaceful.  I take great comfort in this.  I said thank you hundreds of times.

But my heart aches and aches.  I can’t believe she is gone.  I feel devastated that some people don’t survive violence. There are days when I think if I pick up the phone to call her she will answer.  If I get on a plane and fly to her city, she will be there waiting for me.  I dream about her still and wake up crying when I realize she is dead.  She will always be a true survivor to me, even though she didn’t make it out alive.

I still have all the cards she ever sent to me.  I have about 25.  I keep them, along with photos of us together, under my bed.  I’ve read and re-read them, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude that these small pieces of her, her words of encouragement to me, will always be with me.

If I could have one wish, to speak to anyone, living or dead, it would be her.  Just one more time.  I wonder if anyone else will ever understand me so well.  I know I won’t ever have a friend just like her.  The bonds that are formed through shared experiences of trauma are difficult to break.  And I don’t want to break them.  As much as this hurts, I don’t regret being her friend.

I miss you MJ.  I miss you so much.  I’m still here, I’m still holding my end of the dental floss.  I’m still trying to be the Wonder Woman I know you believed I was.  Thank you for being my friend.

Cowboy take me away
Fly this girl as high as you can
Into the wild blue
Set me free oh I pray
Closer to heaven above and
Closer to you closer to you”   -Dixie Chicks