It’s sunny outside and the dead baby girl is fading. I’ve been living with her day and night for three months because of a horrific relapse. PTSD knows no sense of the passing of time. It will return full force, even as your doctors tell you progress is being made. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what brought her back to me.
I met the poor child on a mountaintop in Honduras. She was piled atop a mound of dead adults in a shaded corner of forest. They were all killed in the same disaster. They were nude. At first that puzzled me and then it made so much sense. The village was the size of a hockey rink, no bigger. It was cut off by a mountain slide, and everybody was third world poor. I was tagging along on a Canadian military helicopter making a food delivery. In a place that poor, that isolated, that desperate, the clothes of the dead are treasures to be kept and used. Yes, we live in that world, we just choose not to know it.
A relapse isn’t remembering a scene like that. It’s being there again, with the sights, the smells, the sensations, the out of control adrenaline that makes you want to run. You relive all of that, for hours and days. Thats PTSD not memory.
I’m breaking my own rule here by sharing that much of this particular flashback. I’d apologize or even delete it, but like I said the dead baby girl is fading, she’s not gone and I’m not out of this relapse yet. Just a little stronger today. Maybe strong enough to post. I’m still nauseous with the deep rage that comes with the relapse and maybe that’s why I leave it there. Because I’m just angry enough. Still the point of these posts is to shed light on life with PTSD, not shed light on my triggers and nightmares. Let’s look at rage.
PTSD rage can cause external harm, but it is always inwardly focussed. It grows from the question that cannot be answered, and should not be asked. Why me?
The best example of how it works, short of suicide, can be seen through a soldier I share this journey with. Before treatment he had a way to deal with the sickness and nervous energy that come with a violent rage that is not acted on. He would go to a bar and get a little drunk, the whole time sizing the place up. He’d pick the one guy he was absolutely sure he could not take, and then go start a fight. He’d end up beaten and jailed, every time. His family disowned him because of it. That’s inwardly directed rage. He’s one of the nicest, most charming men you’d ever meet. But, he hates himself.
This may be a mistake today. Too soon. But I’m trying to dig my way out of that relapse. I don’t know how much longer I can handle it. Writing this has brought the village back to life, if not the child. I’ll wash this iPad screen in tears if writing on it will give me a moments peace. That’s a relapse. Okay let’s talk about that.
A relapse is by far the worst part of this thing. Therapy gives you hope, teaches you that you will control and even master your symptoms. You won’t have your old life back, but you will have a life without constant terror and agony. Then bang relapse, and a full on fight or flight horror show. It takes away that hope. It breaks your spirit and crushes your soul. It feeds the self loathing and leads to self harming. By far the worst of it is what you see in the eyes of your loved ones. Broken hearts and despair. They knew you were improving and then see you fall. That leads to an indescribable shame and regret. Because make no mistake, PTSD is about self blame.
Don’t underestimate that blame. I hatched a very real plan to leave home, leave my family and just move, keep moving, alone. Take a bag and go nowhere. It wouldn’t matter where, the nightmares would be with me. I wanted to leave my loving supportive family to spare them another relapse. I still look at that plan and wonder if it would do more harm than good. Relapse.
This isn’t working. I can’t focus, can’t find a narrative thread or a strong point to make. Any point. Maybe that is the point. I am struggling today. My hands shake as I type. My insides are hollow. My mind is clouded with images of a little girl who never became a woman. I’m trying to write my way out of a relapse, yet here I sit worse than when I began. As I crawl through this nightmare I hear a voice. Go ahead, I’ll be back. That’s relapse, even as you fight to free yourself you know you will have to do it all again. In my case the flashbacks are always different so it won’t be that little girl next relapse. But, it won’t be any better.
Still, here’s the thing. It’s sunny today, and I managed to string a few sentences together. I have not been able to do that for months. Hope? Maybe not. But, it sure as hell is reason to keep crawling and stop listening to that voice.