At any given moment, life can be turned upside down by one event. Not only by events that affect thousands or millions such as war, a large scale terrorist attack, tsunami, fire and plague, but by things that happen just to one person or family like the suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast member, Taylor Armstrong. He no longer has a voice or an opinion because he killed himself – no second chances, replays or do-overs. Russell is gone and it is final.
When I was growing up, there was a family on our street that kept to themselves, were very quiet, but seemed happy. The handsome father would always be doing something with and for the family: cooking on the grill, teaching the children to ride bicycles, building a tree house, washing the car, flying kites, playing catch or a hundred other things.
One day, the father took the children somewhere and the mom stayed home. It was just a regular excursion. Nothing out of the ordinary. Well, at least that is what they all thought first thing in the morning as the family car backed out of the driveway.
Not too long after they had left home, life dramatically changed for the family. As the car with the father and children were driving down the highway, a car coming from the opposite direction drove over the concrete median and became airborne. The little family was in the wrong place at the wrong time because the airborne car had a head on collision with them.
The father and one child immediately died.
The family would forever be different.
Unlike the Tsunami in Japan or the terrorist bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City, Presidents, Kings and Prime Ministers of nations did not call and offer their condolences to my childhood neighbors. I remember her friends, family and people from her church visited, but the flags at the Capitol in Washington D.C. did not fly at half-mast. It was not that this family was not important, but it was just one family that had a terrible misfortune so the rest of the world had no knowledge of the tragedy or the pain that the living relatives suffered.
The mother had lost a husband and a child, so the catastrophe may not have included thousands of people, but it was still a heart-wrenching, soul-piercing catastrophe for the family.
The other day, I wrote about the first time I went “insane” which was at the end of my parents marriage and shortly before their divorce. While writing the post, I could feel all the emotions from those moments. The scene was like a movie and I seemed to hover above the whole room. I watched as I freaked out and felt great compassion for the thin redheaded child whose heart was breaking and mind was filled with confusion.
My fingers stopped typing and I just let the whole scene play out while I felt all the emotions come and eventually dissipate like fog on an early morning in Autumn. After taking a deep breath, I resumed typing the rest of my post thankful that those days are over.
The next morning as I read the comments, I found one from my sister which said...
“I feel like I’m going to throw up. Reliving all that is heart-wrenching. I wish I could wash all of those memories out of my head.”
I immediately thought of Job from the Bible and Helen Keller. Job had everything – possessions, riches and family – and he lost it. Job was determined not to curse God and insisted on believing that he would be blessed in spite of what others, including his wife, said about his circumstance. Eventually, Job once again acquired great wealth and even had more children.
Helen Keller, like Job, suffered. Before Helen Keller was two years old, she got very sick and it caused her to become deaf and blind. She was very frustrated, but eventually learned how to communicate with others. Life was not easy, yet she became a world-famous speaker and accomplished author.
Both Job and Helen Keller suffered through adversity, but in the end used what they had learned to mold themselves into better people.
I am not Job.
I am not Helen Keller.
I am not the mother who was my childhood neighbor.
I am me and that is all I can be. I have my own unique set of traits, strengths and weaknesses. No one else will ever inhabit the Earth and be just exactly like me. I am completely unique. None of my unique characteristics make me better or worse than anyone else – it is just me.
A little over fifteen months ago, I had a very traumatic event happen in my life which was followed shortly thereafter with yet another very traumatic event. Both were completely unexpected and have totally altered my life. In PTSD and Slap Yourself, I revealed to some extent the hellish nature of my affliction due to my body’s reaction to the trauma I experienced. Since writing that post, I discovered that I am even more unique than I formerly believed.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) flashbacks usually happen at most a few times a day. During those moments, it is as if the person is living through the traumatic event all over again. Their heart races, breath quickens, blood pressure rises and all the chemicals related to the “fight or flight response” are released. Those moments are very anxiety producing and can cause the person to feel physically ill. Usually all normal activity comes to a halt until the flashbacks end.
I too have suffered flashbacks. Not just one, two or even three times a day, but constantly. When I say “constantly,” I mean every minute of every hour of every day that I am awake, I have a one minute moment of the most traumatic event of my life replaying in my head. Stop and think about what I just said. From the moment I open my eyes and all during everything I am engaged in doing throughout the day, that awful and sickening moment is happening. I say that it is happening because my body has the same response it did when the event actually occurred. This continuous loop, I have just recently discovered, is not the normal PTSD flashback.
The extreme number of PTSD flashbacks has definitely taken a toll on my mind and body. A human body is not made to withstand so much trauma day after day and if forced to do so, eventually the adverse affects take their toll.
I have been almost catatonic some days as I struggled to pay attention to the present while my mind replayed the past traumatic event. Insanity was so close and on many days, I felt that I could not live one more moment of the agony. Nothing would stop the continuous flashback of my child’s limp gray body, not breathing as her lips turned a darker blue with each passing second. Not only do I have this visual flashback, but I also can hear myself screaming in a voice that sounds so filled with pain that I can’t hardly stand listening. However, I have no choice but to see and hear the scene because the flashback is persistent and will not go away.
I think that even the most sane individual would find this type of existence hard to live.
It has been nearly impossible.
Only knowing that my daughter still needed me, kept me trying to hold onto sanity and life…barely. There is only so much that a mind and body can actually take before it freaks out completely. Some things are completely out of our control and when insanity takes over, nothing matters any more.
It is not just depression, although I have been very depressed.
It is not just hopelessness, although I have been unable to see past my flashbacks.
It is not just physical exhaustion, although my body has been depleted as my heart raced all day long.
It is not just lack of memory, although fighting the scene in my flashbacks has made it nearly impossible to remember things that are currently happening to me.
It is not just disappointment with my former bosses, who could have helped me in many ways and instead chose to make my employment circumstances harder.
It is not just my former therapist, although he obviously was not that versed in helping someone with extreme PTSD.
The insanity has been a combination of all these things and more. Although killing myself would be quick, easy and completely end all my current hellish struggles, it would also be very final.
When my daughter graduated from high school, the entire event jolted my mind and PTSD flashbacks that were happening every second of every minute of every day, started only happening three or four times a day. You would think that was a completely positive thing, but it was not. My body no longer has the huge rush of adrenaline throughout the day, so I dropped into an even worse depression. Because there started to be hours when I was flashback free, I realized how awful my circumstances have been. Extreme emotions filled my mind as my body felt the effects of having been revving in high gear for so very long.
I desperately tried to just “fake it,” but it eventually became completely impossible to have any semblance of a healthy facade. I have not been a fully functioning individual and desperately wanted my old self back.
At times I felt that I was going to die either from a heart attack or by my own hand. While in some of my darkest and most unclear moments, I became the most clear about depression, anxiety, regret, hopelessness, love, selfishness, death, life and suicide. At one of my weakest moments, I reached out one more time for help and was not rejected. I sobbed on the phone to a stranger for a very long time and then she gave me the phone number of someone else – someone that specializes in PTSD and recovery.
I am starting to feel something akin to hope which has been completely absent from my life for a long time. Visions of my own demise are not torturing me day and night any longer. The lack of continual flashbacks has allowed a silence like a warm blanket to wrap around me. The traumatic event with the terrible visual and agonized screaming plea to God for mercy, arrives in short-lived flashbacks that I understand and cope with more sanely.
Life is still hard and the healing is slow.
My body is weak.
My emotions are raw. No one will ever know the full extent of my hellish agony.
My mind is a bit foggy.
My soul has been pierced and will never be the same, but I am alive. More importantly, I want to be alive.