Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Part 2 - The Rape Van

After a summer of sadness and stress that had me totally worn out, Martha and I headed to our lake house for some much needed peace and quiet.  Our little camp is located at the end of a mile long, narrow, roller coaster hilly, dead end road.  Most camps are barely visible from the road, tucked into the woods and closer to the water.  Visitor’s cars are often parked along the road, especially on weekends, since most camps don’t have much on-site parking.  This summer a large black van was sporadically parked on the side of the road, seemingly not associated with anyone’s camp.  My daughters labelled it the ‘rape van’ because of it’s size and the rear windows being blacked out.  They would say this and make comments whenever we drove past it but I would just let the phrase pass as I have been well trained to do.

At the lake I always take my dog for a walk, up and down this entrance road.  Early one morning I put her leash on and started our morning power walk.  I was paying attention to the changing light and morning bird songs and did not even notice the van.  As I walked a couple feet next to it,  a dog suddenly stuck its head out the half opened window and barked, which scared the crap out of dog. She bolted in the opposite direction in front of me which caused me to be upended over her leash.  I landed hard on my head, sending my glasses flying and opening a huge gash over my right eye. I lay on my belly stunned for a moment and then panicked when a man’s face appeared in the window.

All my anxiety calming training disappeared as I scrambled to get up and away.  Blood was blinding my right eye and when I could taste it I was in full panic attack mode.   I limped home as fast as I could, elbow and knee also ripped open, and then lost another couple of weeks in the PTSD black hole - sad, withdrawn, and lethargic.

I am better now and trying to look back to understand what happened.  I am aware that a man’s face appeared at the window but I have no memory of him being at all threatening. Was it the power of suggestion (the rape van)?   Was I just emotionally exhausted from the previous weeks of sadness and stress?  Was it finding myself suddenly face down and hurt, struggling to get up?   I really don’t know.

What I do know is that even with an extraordinary therapist who got me through the worst of it, and trained me relentlessly on how to cope with trauma anxiety, there will apparently always be some circumstance that will trigger fear and memories far greater than my ability to manage them.  

It is unsettling to say the least.

It is a common debate among PTSD therapists whether PTSD can be cured or just managed.  As much I hope that there is a cure, I am generally of the belief that it can only be managed.  There are times when I have breezed through situations that previously would have knocked me down for a long, long time and I feel cured.  And then there are times that I feel those black dogs lurking behind unseen corners waiting for the slightest letting down of my guard.

(I don't think I will ever be able to stop pushing that effing boulder up the hill)

Yesterday was the anniversary of the assault.  Knowing how fragile I've been lately, I forced myself into my management routines.  And I did get through the day, melancholy but relatively okay.  

I'm finding it interesting as I age, how clearly I can see my journey with the benefit of time and distance. Only weeks ago I was paralyzed with fear and anxiety and my reaction was to withdraw and check out. Then I turned a corner and life is calm and beautiful again.  They say that time stops at the point of trauma, but you can’t live in a place where time has stopped.  

You can only wait.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Absence explained - Part 1

My dear friend’s email gently reminded me just how long it has been since I posted anything or even commented on other posts.  I have had a difficult month but her email reminded me that writing is a big part of my continual therapy and so I will catch up on what’s been happening during my internet absence.

Part I

This summer has been hard for everyone in my family as there has been a lot of illness and death in friend’s families.  One of Martha’s coaches, 38, died suddenly and unexpectedly from an aneurysm,  a man I work with, 52, died of complications from a colon issue, a friend 58, had some back pain and found out he is filled with cancer, Peachie’s best friend’s grandmother passed, not unexpectedly but certainly heart wrenching for those of us who were privileged to know her, one of Beaner’s friends from college died of an overdose  And the list goes on and on.  It seems we spent the summer either at wakes and funerals or running food to extended families.

And then I had a few delightful days when my sister and her daughter spent several days at the lake. Always a little melancholy without my mom there who loved this annual women’s week but still we had days filled with love and laughter and way too much junk food.

But during the visit my sister got a call that her husband’s brother’s son, Justin, was in the hospital because of some strange debilitating infection that no one could diagnose.  Justin lives a couple of hours from me in what we call “the north country”, a sparsely populated mountainous part of the state.  He was in a small community hospital more suited to birthing babies and setting broken bones than dealing with rare infectious diseases.  Everyone kept asking why he wasn’t moved to the bigger hospital near me.  His parents had flown up from Virginia to be with him and apparently they have very little monetary resources and were able to stay at Justin’s apartment, saving a considerable amount of money.  We of course invited them to stay with us if they decided to move Justin to a better hospital.  They declined.  But then apparently the infection spread to Justin’s heart and he required open heart surgery.   And so Justin was medi-vacced to a major medical center and his parents came to stay with us.

I have known both of them since high school so it wasn't like inviting strangers, although I hadn’t seen them since my nephew’s wedding years ago.  What I didn’t know was that they were in the midst of an ugly, ugly divorce.  So instead of being able to put them in one bedroom, they needed two.  We have a very small house (about 800 sq. ft) with 3 tiny bedrooms, one bathroom, and a futon in the basement. This created quite an imposition for everyone but hey, their son was literally fighting for his life so you do what you’ve got to do.  

For sixteen days we lived like this.  They were at the hospital most of the day but when they came back to the house the tension was thick.  They were both sick with worry and they would argue about everything, which was impossible not to hear in our house, and their anger and stress started to spread throughout my family.  My normal nightly routine of calming was shot to hell and I couldn’t sleep.  My daughters started staying other places but we were still stretched to the max just trying to get to our clothes or move in our tiny kitchen or just to take a shower.   Nerves were becoming exposed and extremely raw.  

Finally Justine recovered enough to go home to recuperate.  His mother went with him and his father flew home.  But the summer of loss and the stress and lack of sleep of those couple of weeks lingered for quite a while and was probably the reason my emotional reserves were so low when I was sucked back into that black hole of PTSD and the past . . .