PTSD, Part 1

Let’s be honest, everything I’m writing these days is touched by what’s happening on this planet with COVID, and all of it has to do with the Grief post I did a few weeks ago. And some of my thoughts are longer than a single post. So this is technically Grieving, Part 3, but I didn’t want to do PTSD Part 1 (Grieving Part 3) so here we are. If you have a problem with my inconsistency over numbering, I’m sorry.

Ever since all of this started back in early March, I’ve been having incredibly vivid dreams. I can’t remember any of them, but I know that they’re happening, and I know that they’re vivid. In chatting with others, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one. In fact, it seems to be a bit of pandemic, if I may use that word. The point of this story, though, is that I use my dreams in therapy. So the fact that I’ve been having them but they’ve been elusive has been frustrating. So the other night, as I was going to bed, I put a request into the ether: please let me remember my dreams.

Holy crap. There is a reason my dreams have been hiding.

I spent my time asleep in the kind of horror movie that you can still feel in your belly a decade later. Then I woke up at 1:30am and didn’t get back to sleep for the rest of the night. No thank you, ma’am. I will stare at a dark ceiling for the next three days if that means that I don’t have to participate in that terrifying experience.

After taking a couple days to recover, I dutifully wrote them down and yesterday picked them apart with my therapist. Two things happened. One, I had a “typical pandemic dream” as she described it. All of humanity is facing an unraveling on a massive scale: our institutions, our way of living, our beliefs — all of what we “know” to be “true” is coming apart at the seams. And our collective subconscious is handling that nightmare literally — as a nightmare.

The other thing that happened was a huge surprise to me and not at all surprising to those close to me: I discovered that I have PTSD. It’s really specific, so I have not been triggered since the precipitating event, but walk with me a bit, and I’ll tell you about it.

For those of you who’ve read my book, you know that I almost died multiple times in a single day, all around a literal hole in my heart. For the past almost six years, my general response to that day is that I’ve developed a healthy respect for trauma surgeons, and my greatest fear isn’t dying, it’s dying on a hospital bed.

Turns out that last part isn’t quite accurate. There were two moments specifically that horrific day that have wedged themselves into my brain and body and when triggered, I go back to those moments, and I become so terrified that I split apart. Literally PTSD.

And those moments are (drumroll please), almost dying ALONE in a hospital bed, and being on a ventilator.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a lot of news lately about people dying alone and on a ventilator.

I’ve stopped watching and reading and listening to the news, but the damage, as they say, has already been done.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which I will write when I’m no longer lightheaded and nauseous, sobbing uncontrollably, and losing feeling in my extremities.

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