Sounds of sirens (police, ambulance, fire) guide me right back to the horrific scene of July 11th, 2020. The flashbacks are so real - filled with the intense emotions of the moment. I, like so many others, found that the accident was always waiting to reappear - similar to a lion lurking in the background, waiting for the right moment to pounce upon its prey.
The pit in my stomach grows larger, sweating palms, shortness of breath, dry mouth, anxiety, heart palpitations, panic, and tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. I am experiencing what psychiatrists call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD. PTSD seems a rather abstract concept, especially if you have not felt its tentacles take hold of your own life. It is easy to dismiss the implications of PTSD until your world comes crashing down.
According to the American Psychiatrist Association - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. The condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions. There are huge risks involved if one chooses to ignore the effects of PTSD.
The good news - the symptoms associated with PTSD can be overcome. Peer support groups, family support, exercise, eating healthy, prayer, meditation, medications, seeing a therapist - all this can help. Again, looks great on paper. But with everything traumatic or related to mental health - recovery is a process. There is no quick fix, no magic pill, no immediate results.
How do I allow my brain to let go of the pain and trauma? Despite my best efforts, there are days when the trauma of that day is all too real in the present. There are moments that I feel as if no progress is being made. The path of weariness and pain is completely unavoidable.
It’s easy for me to advise the kids “you are no longer in the throes of that terrible day”, “breathe”, “relax”, “focus on me”, “let‘s pray”, “everything is going to be ok”. It’s very hard to take my own advice. I continue to re-live the trauma of that fateful day. The nightmare continues for me. Lost dreams, missed opportunities, alternate scenarios cloud my mind. I am unable to lift myself up from the trauma and intense emotions.
I’ve been told that healing is a choice. I need to strive each day to overcome the pain and trauma. I need to accept the pain - both visible and invisible. I need to uncover the scars. Only by facing my fears head-on will I be able to overcome them. I’ve been told that I possess the strength to handle life’s unpredictable moments. I’ve been told that “you are greater than what happened to you and hope is greater than fear”.
At this moment, I don’t feel any greater for losing Lilly. All the hope and fight I had left in me vanished when Lilly passed away. I don’t feel that I possess any strength. I wish I could say that I have all the answers; yet, that would be the furthest thing from the truth. I don’t have a path planned for healing. My Life is filled with uncertainty. I have not met anyone that can promise me that the symptoms of PTSD will eventually recede into the night.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to hear a siren for what it is - just a signal signifying that help is on its way. For now, I will have to be patient with myself as I tread the path of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.