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fast as I could, elbow and knee also ripped open, and then lost another couple of weeks in the PTSD black hole - sad, withdrawn, and lethargic.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.  


  1. I am sending healing and loving thoughts your way.

  2. Sounds like some stressful weeks! Waiting and patience - hope you continue to the brighter side of things!

  3. love and light and all the best blessings for you - I hope you can stay in the light and it is calm and beautiful for a very long while now.

  4. That sounds perfectly horrid! I hope the physical wounds have healed as well as the emotional.

    I have been in the ozone for months now, with no energy to even try to go back to therapy. Waiting to live is a good description of how this feels. Something needs to change.

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  6. I'm sorry I have not been commenting but I have been reading. Life is always so busy during the good weather days, when we get them!
    Your experiences and your subsequent struggles to cope fill me with sorrow but also with admiration. Sympathy is cold comfort for you but it is there for you in spadefuls. Well done on just getting up and dressed each day and extra well done on coping with everyday life. I've never had as bad an experience as you but have had a series of incidents which also left me with PTSD. It has never gone away but the triggers have become fewer and fewer and the reaction to the triggers much less each time although they are still there: exhaustion, depression, shutting myself away and comfort eating have never fully given way to something healthier but they are so much less severe now. I do hope that the same happens for you:)

  7. Oh, 8, I'm so sorry. I tend to agree with you about management vs cure. Still, as you have proven to yourself yet again, you have gained immeasurably in your ability to manage. That has to be comforting on some level. Would a cure be better? Of course. But, in the meantime, the ability to handle the flare up and go on living your day to day life has to be counted as a huge win. You have made enormous strides in healing in the last several years. Please give yourself credit for that.

    I'm sorry you had such a potent recurrence of the PTSD. I hate that it crops up -- unexpectedly and unpredictably. Being blindsided is terrible. Please be gentle with yourself. Go outside and breathe the cool autumn air, admire the flowers and the trees and feel safe in your skin, in your yard, in your community. I wish I could help you in some way. Truly, I wish that.

    Thinking of you, my friend...

  8. This reminds me of one of those sayings one sees all over FaceBook that said something like:

    Lifting weights didn't make me strong.
    Getting up each time I was down did.

    And you, my dear, have got to be one of the strongest people I know.

    Happy you are up and about again.

  9. 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? Yes, all those things. And I am so sorry you have been dealing with sadness and re-visited trauma. Thanks to the therapy and your hard work over these years you have managed and you will regain your footing. My thoughts are with you all.


  10. Oh, our powerful minds, If only they would entertain us in a more carefree manner.
    The suggestion of 'rape van' was certainly of no help at all, of course you felt threatened,
    Hey, thanks for coming by, and your sentiments for Bad. Take carel

  11. I know you are intelligent to know that there can be no cure. The mind is such a tricky enigma and so filled with valleys and springs that run differently in each of us that there is no way to curtail anything for sure. What an incredible therapist you have had to have been able to achieve such success in working with your trauma and what a heroic person you are to be willing to work so hard to achieve where you are now. I've only worked a small bit with PTSD, just enough to know that each person has to have tailor made coping devices. I have always admired both you and your therapist. You didn't get where you are without back breaking work.

  12. hello my friend, boy, how easy to understand your panic. the term of that black van is bad enough but to fall near it and then to see a face: scary under any circumstance. and built upon trauma--that you cucooned for as short a period as you did is a tribute to how far you've come.

    do i believe in cure? i'm not sure. i can tell you in my work as a psychotherapist, helping with some pretty horrific traumas, the assaults can get further and further away; sometimes even dim and cloudy. but triggers--hopefully you will have fewer that throw you back-- think that is very possible--triggers do have to be managed.
    8, you know something deep and true and few of us can touch and in some way i imagine that has also highlighted how precious life is. i know you know that and live that. for that i applaud you

    your pal

  13. As you know, I deal with PTSD too. All I can say is that it will rear its ugly head, not when you least expect it, but when triggering things happen or show up. It shocks the daylights out of me, as I always think I've learned how to manage it completely and then something happens and I'm right back in the dark cave.

    I am glad you are okay. Sitting with you on this one.