Life, Therapy

What trauma feels like (for me, for now)

(This is about trauma and talks about death, with mentions of self harm and suicidality.)

I’ve had lots of upsetting things happen recently — my mom lost all the hearing in one of her ears suddenly, my uncle was dying and then died, my grandmother was in the hospital and then died — those are the main ones, but my great uncle also died, my aunt’s neighbor died, my family has been very chaotic… taken all together, within a month, it’s traumatic.

I’m used to PTSD and the anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks as a result of that. But with PTSD, it’s post-trauma. I can use opposite action to face fears because I know (at least, rationally) that I am safe now. I can ground myself in the moment with phrases like “this reminds me of something scary, and, in this moment, I am safe.” I can point out the ways that this situation is different from the traumatic one.

Now it’s different. I’m not living in PTSD anymore; I’m living in trauma. It is happening now.

Trauma is something that overwhelms your ability to cope, something that threatens your life or that of someone you love. These events have definitely overwhelmed me: I feel like everything is “too much” very often; I’ve developed new self harm behaviors; I fantasize about dying to escape it all; accomplishing little things, or even getting out of bed and getting meals, are hard. And the lives of people I know and love were threatened and taken.

I know that my subconscious agrees that I’m overwhelmed because my PTSD (from a car accident) has disappeared. I’ve heard that having flashbacks means that your body and brain are ready to process through the trauma that you couldn’t process at the time. Well, clearly my body isn’t well enough to process old trauma anymore. I’ve had one night of traumatic nightmares and intrusive thoughts relating to the accident in the past few weeks. Just one! I suppose I should thank my body for this, for not giving me even more distress that I’m not capable of handling.

On the other hand, I have had nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and lots of strong anxiety, sadness, and other emotions about the current issues.

And when I have startle reactions, like when the phone rings, or someone knocks on my door, or I hear indistinct raised voices, or my mom texts me, those reactions are actually the response that is needed in that situation. It’s not a post-trauma startle reaction. It’s not out of place. It’s serving an essential purpose. It’s getting me awake from my slumber so that I can drive my mom to the hospital. It’s preparing myself for the news that my grandmother died.

This trauma is happening now. It’s awful. Here are some other things I’m experiencing that help show what this trauma feels like.

  • Constantly high anxiety
  • Checking the facts and finding that the intense emotion is justified: people are in danger.
  • Screaming when startled
  • Splitting headache
  • Not knowing what will happen
  • Feeling like my world is collapsing around me
  • Trying to maintain any sense of constancy in my life
  • Things so chaotic that I don’t know when I’ll next eat
  • Expecting my life to be turned upside down and inside out multiple times in the near future
  • Having to always be ready to drop everything for my family at a moment’s notice
  • Waking up to my mom calling me saying she’s in the emergency room
  • And not being fazed by it because it’s become so commonplace — constant danger is the norm
  • Dissociating so much that I can’t read more than a couple of sentences
  • Dissociating the moment I consciously try to stop avoiding emotions
  • Dissociating in order to survive — because if I don’t, my emotions are unbearable, and I get very suicidal, or can’t eat, or can’t get out of bed — so, dissociating is keeping me alive
  • Needing to use my crisis survival skills toolkit many times every day
  • Almost always wanting to die
  • Crying when I didn’t call my mom because I think that if I don’t call her, someone will die — and then having my grandmother die the next day and confirming my worry
  • Not knowing where I am
  • Not being able to participate in a normal, casual conversation because everything reminds me of the awful things going on, and I don’t want to talk about them
  • All of my thoughts leading back to the trauma
  • Saying “HELP” inside my head or writing it on paper or my skin frequently
  • Wanting very badly to be able to escape and not being able to

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Life, Uncategorized

My uncle died

I don’t really want to write anything about this, but I think I’ll feel better just saying something and putting it out in the world. I’m still working on accepting that this is real, so writing this helps make it more “official.”

My uncle died about a week ago.

If anyone who I’m close to is reading this, they’ll now know that it’s me writing this blog… if they didn’t already know… I hope that no one I know finds this blog. If you do, please don’t read any more and let me know that you’ve found this…

Anyway, that aside…

I’ve been really sad. Which is understandable.

He was my uncle from my aunt’s second marriage after her divorce. He was only in our family for a few years. But he was SO loved…. he was the best uncle, such a great stepdad to my cousins, and he brought my aunt so much joy and love…

Part of my sadness isn’t just at the loss of my uncle, but sadness for my aunt and my cousins. I’m close with my aunt and my cousins, and I really feel for them.

My aunt and uncle only got married a few years ago, but they’ve known each other almost their whole lives. In my aunt’s junior high (middle school) yearbook, my uncle wrote that he loved her. They were really good friends in school. My uncle had had a crush on her ever since then. His marriage to my aunt was his first marriage. His friends told him to give up on trying to find true love and to lower his standards… then my aunt got divorced, they reconnected, and he married what he considered to be the perfect woman.

I’m sad at the loss of their beautiful, inspiring, loving relationship. I’m sad that they didn’t get to spend more time together. They only had a few years of marriage.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to know him any better. He was such a good guy. He died of a brain tumor, and towards the end, it was hard for him to understand what people were saying because the tumor affected that part of his brain. But, while the things he did say were often random and out of place, they were almost always incredibly positive and loving. He said SO many times in his last week or so, “If you ever need anything, you just let me know. I’m here for you.” “You know I’ve always liked you, right? You’ve always been good to me. I love you, you know that?”

He told my aunt, “You’re gorgeous. I’m the luckiest guy.”

It’s heartbreaking….

——————————-on a slightly different note——————————–

A lot of the things meant to be comforting at the funeral, in songs I’ve been listening to online, and in things people have said have to do with Christianity and God. I’ve had a rocky relationship with Christianity, and at this time, I’m not exactly religious. I don’t believe that my uncle is in heaven, I don’t believe he’s in a better place, and I don’t believe I’ll see him again someday in heaven. When people say these things in an attempt to comfort me or themselves or to find some meaning in the horrible situation, it just makes me feel worse, because I don’t think they’re true. I believe my uncle is GONE and I will NEVER see him again, and that makes me really sad.

So, here are my own ways of “making meaning” out of this loss, without religion.

  • I’m sad because I’ve lost someone significant
  • “Grief is the price we pay for love”
  • He’s not in pain anymore
  • I’m glad we all got to have some time together instead of none at all
  • He and my aunt did finally marry each other
  • We had lots of good times together
  • He lived a full life, especially the last few years
  • We have memories
  • We have pictures
  • We all got to say goodbye to him, and he got to say how he wanted to be remembered and say goodbye to us
  • He died surrounded by family

Of course, these things don’t make it all better. I’m not trying to make it all better. I’m still really sad.

Goodbye, Uncle [____]. I said goodbye every time I left your house and hugged you goodbye. I said goodbye on your last day when I left you there unconscious but alive. I said goodbye a few hours later when you were still warm but with no breath or heartbeat, when the funeral home men came to carry you out. I said goodbye at the funeral home to your body all dressed up and covered in flowers. I said goodbye when I put a rose on your coffin at the gravesite. I’ve said goodbye a lot, but I’m still saying it… I can’t believe it’s goodbye forever.

I miss you. We all miss you. We love you, you knew that. And we know you loved us. Your memories will always be with us… I love you…

Therapy, Uncategorized

My relationship with death

(In case it isn’t obvious already, this is about death, and it’s dark.)

We’re in a close relationship, death and I, but it’s a rocky one.

I saw you, death, for the first time when I was in 5th grade. I had heard about you before. I had heard what you had done to my grandpa, to my friend’s dog, to many others. But I hadn’t been present to see you in the same room.

In 5th grade, I saw you come and take my grandmother away. I saw her heart rate fall, fall, fall, until it got to levels at which she was surely unconscious, and we took the monitor off her finger.

I understood that it was her time. I loved her, but it was a peaceful way to go.

Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, you noticed me. Before, we were just strangers in the same room. Now you introduced yourself to me. You showed me my life. I saw it flash before my eyes. It was a good life, one I was proud of. You told me it was enough. You told me to come with you. You showed me peace and beauty, the calm in the eye of the storm. You took my breath away. I said okay. I didn’t have a choice, but I said okay anyway.

But you decided not to take me then. I don’t know why. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was God, if he exists, thinking I deserved to live longer, that there was some plan for me. Maybe it was physics, just the way things moved in that moment, and my luck of being where I was. Maybe it was that I was wearing a seatbelt. Maybe it was that I wasn’t too tall. I’ll never know why.

You turned away from me and looked at my dad. He was too tall for the car. The physics did not work in his favor. I saw and heard horrible things. For maybe five minutes, I thought you had taken him. I imagined the rest of my life without him. I regretted not loving him more. I hated you, death. You caused pain, misery, and sadness.

And yet you didn’t take him away from me, either. It was an amazing gift, one that I struggle to be thankful for today, but it really was.

Time passed. You stayed in my mind. The image of peace stayed in my mind. The horrors stayed in my mind. For better or worse, you and I were linked together.

Later, when things were too much to bear, you knocked on my door. I invited you in. At some point, we must have started dating. I thought about you often. I fantasized about you, “Death + Me” written in a heart. I wanted to be with you, but at the same time you repulsed me. I hadn’t forgotten the accident. I hadn’t forgiven you for that. But the peace was so tempting.

I kept our relationship hidden. I didn’t tell friends, family, teachers, even my therapist, what you meant to me.

We’d break up. I’d swear we were never getting back together. I’d write lists of why I wanted to stay living. I’d plan things to look forward to. I’d make checklists to follow during the times when you tempted me, so that I wouldn’t give in.

I’d go without seeing you for a while. I would try to forget. But somehow you still called to me, especially in my dark moments, especially in flashbacks, especially when I was alone.

At some point I started becoming more open about our relationship. I wrote about it in my journal. I alluded to it with my friends. I confessed to my therapist when she asked me point blank. A few months later, my therapist and I told my parents about my relationship with you. They didn’t really understand. But they loved me and wanted to support me. They wanted to help me move beyond you. At the time, I wanted to be done with you, too.

You were my guilty pleasure, death, a secret kept hidden, but also a monster haunting me. You keep proposing. You keep wanting to run away together and get married. I keep saying no. But I’ve gotten so close to saying yes.

You always ask in my weakest moments. When I’m feeling better, I hate how close I came to giving in to you.

Death, I know you will take me eventually. Subconsciously, I expect that it will be soon, but I think that’s just because the horrors you left me with make me expect to die. You’ve never left me completely. You still feel close.

In the times I’m feeling well, I don’t want to be with you. You offer peace, but it’s mixed with pain for others. You offer peace, but it’s too soon. I have plans. I have dreams. I have relationships besides the one with you. I can find peace in ways other than what you offer.

I wish I could break up with you permanently. I wish that when you finally do come, it will be many, many years from now, after a full, satisfying, joyful, loving life. I hope when you do come, I’ll be sad to leave.

For now, I am working on healing from my relationship with you.

Uncategorized

Something over Nothing

(Please be aware that the first part of this post has to do with life/death and wanting to die.)

It’s the name of my blog, so I might as well say why…

I believe something is better than nothing. That’s why I’m alive. If you’re dead, you have no opportunities, no chances, no smiles, no sunny days, no cute babies, no flowers. None of that. If you’re alive, you might have a lot of pain. It might take up almost the entirety of the day. Or the week. Or longer. But it is not like that all the time. There are still some good things. There are some good moments.

Once, when I was having a bad day, had been in the throes of a flashback all morning and part of afternoon, was overwhelmed by school and life, and wanted to die, I had a meal with my friend, and she asked me what good thing had happened that day.

I nearly started crying at the question. I thought there was nothing good. Everything was horrible. But I thought about it. It took some time, but I came up with an answer. I had had peanut butter on my bagel that day, and it tasted good. I told my friend this. She smiled, and we talked about how good and versatile peanut butter was. It was a lighthearted conversation. It lightened my mood and made me realize what other good things there had been that day. I had had other good foods to eat. I was currently talking with my best friend, an amazing person.

There were a lot of things going wrong, but it wasn’t all bad. There were still things I could enjoy in life. As long as there is still something in this life for me (and I think there always will be, since even if nothing else good happens in a year, spring will always come), I. am. staying. here.

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I also remind myself that something is better than nothing when I start to worry about making things perfect. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good enough.

In school, it’s better to submit an incomplete or imperfect assignment than to submit nothing at all. It’s much better to fail an assignment than to get a zero. I’ve been there and done that! Zeroes affect the final grade so much more than even a 50%. I once spent a whole year trying to bring up my history grade from one zero on a summer homework assignment at the very beginning of the year. If I’ve been in class a little and done some work on the assignment, I can make something. It’s much better to submit what I have than to not submit anything. Even if it’s below the minimum page length. Even if my code doesn’t execute. Even if I know it’s the wrong answer. I tried. Most teachers give partial credit. Some are even understanding when I explain that I couldn’t do it or haven’t been in class all the time because of mental health issues. Some will give me an extension so I can bring up my grade from at 50% to a 70, 80, or even 90%. Partial credit exists and is beautiful, and teachers are humans and understand struggles. 

I often worry about sending the perfect text or email, too. I delay replying until I know what perfect thing to say. But at some point, a quick, short, not-the-best-but-okay reply becomes more valuable than the perfect reply a week later… if I even send it a week later. Sometimes it’s just better to send something and let the other person know I’ve read their message. I can give a quick answer, or maybe say that I’ll get back to them later. But I’ve said something, and that counts for a lot. It’s better communication.

Even with this blog, I could have waited a few more months, or years, before starting it. But who knows what will happen in a few years?! I can do what I can and learn more as I go along. But I’m starting something now.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

Let it be good enough.

Something is better than nothing. 

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