I received this entry in my inbox from Anonymous today and if this doesn’t explain what it’s like to live with PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, I don’t know what does. I had to absorb this before I was ready to post, so I will give a warning that this is a very intense post. Anonymous told me it was very cathartic and helpful to write, so I’m glad to provide the medium for this person to share. All I can say is wow. I won’t be writing a closing to this post. Thank you, Anonymous, for sharing. I hope sharing this helps another, like it’s helped you; maybe if someone reads this, they’ll know they’re not alone.
Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
When I was a child growing up in western Nebraska’s “Panhandle”, our family lived in a house on a hill on the outskirts of our tiny, isolated railroad town. Just down the hill, there was a small lake, called Lang Lake. One winter, when I was around ten years old, I found myself walking home from school alone. I came to the edge of the frozen lake and stood there for some time, listening to two voices. One told me to take the snow-covered path around the lake and up the hill, and go home. The other voice came from the middle of the lake, calling me out onto the ice. I listened to that voice, and, with my backpack and Muppets lunch pail in hand, took a cautious step out onto the ice. I discerned the spot where the ice was most thin and perilous, and walked directly out onto the middle of the lake. The ice was so thin that the lakeweeds underneath eerily brushed the top of the ice, and I stood, as frozen as the lake itself, on that spot of clear, thin ice, staring down at dead lakeweeds in the frozen water underneath. I was alternately filled with horror and hope—horror at the thought that I could plunge any second into those murky, icy waters, and hope that it would indeed happen. There is no more to remember after that. I must have gone home. But, twenty-five years later, I still see those frozen lakeweeds in dark waters beneath my feet, and sometimes, today, the ice cracks and I sink below into the depths, and the ice closes over my head.
It has come to my attention recently, at age thirty-five, that there are Two. I realized this a couple of days ago as I was leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee with my mom on a lazy weekend morning. I mentioned to her that someone different was living inside my body—someone I hadn’t seen in twenty years. I told my mom that I had to somehow find the Other One again, the one that I had created, patched together, invented. This One that I have desperately worked so hard to create is utterly unlike the Other, Ancient one. The One that I have come to know and love is extraverted, outgoing, funny, wild, adventurous, joyful. The Ancient One hated people, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, was terrified and was powerless. I thought she had died when I was fourteen, and a started out from scratch to make a new One. But here she is, very much alive, and very much living inside me.
I called the twenty-four hour crisis hotline three days ago, because my therapist had a family emergency and was out of the office for a few days. I told the crisis counselor on the phone what was happening to me, and asked her if I was going crazy. I told her I have memories that are intense and overwhelming. I told her that sometimes, the memories cease to be memories, because that would imply that they are firmly placed in the past. Instead, they become my present, and everything about my past is suddenly real, I am reliving it, and there is danger all around. She told me that this is a “flashback.” Okay, so I’m having flashbacks too. What else? I wake up every night at two or three in the morning, and can’t get back to sleep. I often spend days coasting on three or four hours of sleep a night.
And I startle! I work as a cashier at a bookstore, and, the day I called the crisis line, a very tall, imposing man came to the register to pay for his items. He leaned, quite suddenly, over the counter to toss his coffee cup in my trash can, and my heart stopped. I jumped two feet backwards. After I got my bearings and my heartbeat slowed down, I was consumed with rage at this man. How dare that bastard . . . . . how dare he . . . . how dare he! I wanted to hit him. Later in the day, I was sitting alone in one of The Rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, having arrived first. I was sitting in my favorite, comfy recliner in the room, waiting for the others to arrive, drinking a cup of hot coffee. Suddenly, R. opened the door loudly and came in. I threw my cup of coffee ten feet in the air, soaking my hair, my clothes, my purse, and the recliner. R. was baffled and felt horrible. I was baffled and felt horrible.
The most disarming thing, though, is the rage. In my program of Alcoholics Anonymous, we often talk about resentments. But these are not resentments—this is RAGE. The New One can now recall what happened to the Ancient One—she remembers now that when the Ancient One was ten, he would separate her from the rest of the kids on the playground. He would bark out her last name and would take her away, off in the distance. He had very muscular, powerful arms, and he would wrap one of his arms around her neck, while he did things to her. And the New One steps into the shoes of the Ancient One and sees the sinewy bicep, feels the tightness around her neck and the terror of being strangled, senses the unreality and disbelief as the touching begins, and hears the questions he asks: “How are things at home? Do your parents fight a lot? Do you hate it at home?”
Now at age thirty-five, for the first time, there is rage. The New One and the Ancient One fuse frequently these days, and they, together, add a new scene to the memory. The Two come together, rip that muscular bicep right out of its shoulder socket, and beat him to death with it. I told my new sponsor yesterday that I think I might be homicidal, and that I wish the motherf*@#$ weren’t dead, because now I don’t have the opportunity to kill him. I don’t have the opportunity to make him feel the terror little children felt as he screamed, hurled objects like chairs and basketballs at us, touched us and told us he would kill us if we told.
But I told. In the three-and-a-half year brutal litigation that followed, as my parents and I fought to put this man behind bars—unsuccessfully–I listened to the song “Invincible” by Pat Benatar a lot.
“This shattered dream you cannot justify
We’re gonna scream until we’re satisfied
What are we running for?
We’ve got the right to be angry
What are we running for?
When there’s no where we can run to anymore.”
The upshot of PTSD? I’m gonna scream until I’m satisfied.