I’m coming off the back a really rough couple of weeks. I say I’m coming off the back of it but truth be told I am right in the thick of it and hoping that if I say positive things and do positive things I will start coming out of it. That’s the thing with this bastard of an ‘illness’. We are all just waiting for the moment that things change. We think that if we can just get a good night sleep we’ll feel better. If we can do something that we’ve been putting off we’ll feel better. If we can go out of the house and smile we’ll feel better. If we can go a day without crying, a day without snapping at someone, a day without feeling like we’re a total jerk… we’ll feel better.
I have tried all these things. I cleaned out my wardrobe and organised my clothes that I have far too many of in the hope that it would make me feel better and might make me want to dress the way I used to instead of pulling on what I feel safe in, the same thing every day. It didn’t work.
I tried pushing myself to go out to a concert instead of going home and laying on the couch. I spent the entire night anxious, in and out of tears, and feeling horrible that I couldn’t enjoy it and appreciate what I was doing. I slept for the entire following day.
I have taken sleeping tablets and still woken up 4 times through the night, eventually getting up early because there’s no use tossing and turning.
See I don’t feel sad, angry or depressed. I actually don’t feel anything. And that is the frustrating part for me. When asked how I feel or ‘what’s wrong’… I can’t tell you. There is no word that accurately describes what I feel. It’s just ‘nothing’. I miss feeling happy, I miss feeling angry, I miss feeling sad. I miss understanding what I am going through, I long to be able to recognise my emotions and smile because I am happy, cry because I’m sad or feel my blood boil because I am angry. Instead I cry when I should be happy, because I know I am not feeling what I should. I give up when I am angry and walk away or go quiet because I can’t express what I am feeling. I can’t just yell or get mad. I don’t recognise that’s what is happening any more. I miss being able to have a really good cry because something upsets me, feeling that emotion, accepting it and being able to move on.
Every single day is the same for me. I don’t look forward to night’s out, to seeing people, to birthdays, events… anything. I don’t enjoy the sunshine, I don’t enjoy trips out of the house, I don’t enjoy conversation. I just do all of these things because they need to be done. I get them done by putting one foot in front of the other and just do what is expected. And at the end of the day I am exhausted because of the effort it has taken.
But even on the days that I choose not to do that… to stay on the couch all day, to have ‘a lost day’… I am still exhausted.
I have had it explained to me like this. With PTSD you imagine that there is a dial on your central nervous system… in normal frightening or dangerous moments that dial gets turned right up which is what makes your body go into flight or fright mode. It enables you to make decisions best for your safety, makes you reactive, helps to protect you. For me, in the moment my ‘shock’ hit, that dial never turned back down.
And here we are.
Try to picture what happens to your body and mind in those moments. Your heart races, your muscles tighten so that they react quicker, you are on edge constantly assessing every little thing around you, you are frightened. Now imagine that happening every day without respite for years. Welcome to PTSD.
Eventually it does become normal, you don’t know any other way to function and you adapt to what is happening to your body and find ways to work around it. You avoid your triggers, repress the memory of the even as much as you can. You become a different person. It’s not nice, but it is a way of life for so many.
We get used to our hearts racing at the thought of going somewhere new, of doing something we have no control over. We get used to the night sweats that come with the dreams. We get used to not feeling anything after years of pushing our feelings and memories down.
I can tell you the moment that I ‘switched’ but whether that was that moment that my PTSD hit we are unsure. In the moment I was told in front of Jack that Ruby had died, I felt my body shift. I had to protect him. I had to keep him safe. And from that point on, I just ‘got on with it’. In the years that followed I went through the breakdown of a relationship, I lost my best friend, I felt completely alone. I fell pregnant with Michael and re experienced every moment of the hell I had gone through with Ruby. I raced to the hospital every day to visit him and feed him when I couldn’t take him home. I worried about every noise he made, constantly worried he would stop breathing. I worried about not being there for Jack. Eventually I struggled to be the same mum I was to either of them. I worried about Michael, and found it hard to bond with him in the same way I did with Jack. I was protecting myself I suppose…. I pulled away from Jack, he would talk about her often and I didn’t know how to talk to him. My world was slowly but surely changing.
Then I left my ex. It was a night that I will never forget. After years of trying to salvage a relationship I realised that I couldn’t. I had changed too much and moved in a direction to him. It wasn’t his fault. He too had suffered from the loss of Ruby, although his suffering had been quite open and outward and I was aware of it. That night, he left the house and attempted to take his life. He called me minutes before he did it while I waited for the police to find him, and all he said was “You did this.” While I begged him not to do it. He was airlifted to hospital right across from my house.
When he got out, he was different. He was angry, violent, lost. He threatened my life over and over again. Had no regard for the way he was reacting or that he may be scaring me or the kids. Eventually after months of torment, he was out of my life.
And so began the next chapter. After years, I was on my own with my boys. I should have been able to relax, to start living life. But instead I was so wound up, so tired. I felt like a complete failure. And instead of soaring I fell deeper into something I didn’t even know was happening to me.
It is only after over a year of treatment that I now have a diagnosis and have been put on the correct path to recovery. I have been treated for anxiety and depression for over 12 months now. The correct diagnosis is PTSD with anxiety based disorders. I have months of therapy ahead of me including medication, exposure and EMDR therapy.
I am not looking forward to it, I am terrified of it. I have spent 8 years blocking out the things that have happened to me, talking about them as if they happened to someone else. And now… I need to go back and relive it, moment by moment. I need to let my body know that the moment has ended, that it’s okay to dial it back down, that I am safe.
At least now I know what I am dealing with, I can try to make sense of what has happened to me and what is still happening. I can be ok with the lost days, I can be ok with being different for now. I know it isn’t permanent, it’s not forever… It’s just right now and that won’t last – and hopefully won’t last much longer.
Jess Castree is a mother to two little boys and one angel little girl. She is the General Manager of a Plumbing Company in Melbourne. All round workaholic, perfectionist, over anxious, slightly neurotic woman trying to make it in the big bad world we live in today.