It feels almost disrespectful to say that I have PTSD.
All of my life, I equated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with a soldier coming home from war and attempting to live in a relatively safe, uneventful world, but continuing to feel unsafe after seeing and hearing and doing everything he or she saw, heard, or did.
War attrocities seemed to be the only thing that would warrant such a diagnosis. I recognize there are other people who do live in a relatively safe, uneventful world who are also diagnosed with PTSD: even people who didn’t live in an actual war zone felt like they did.
I am not one of those people. And yet, even I can recognize that I have it. I did recognize it. I do still.
But it feels weird to say, even though I know it is real. I feel unqualified. After all, it was just one person who left. I wasn’t even there. I didn’t see it.
But like aftershocks from an earthquake, my one thing, my one person leaving continues to steal my stability, making me feel like the ground underneath me could crack open and swallow me whole at any minute.
And I never know when they will come.
So many of my posts up until this point have lead me to this one. Though I wrote it in an early post, I don’t think I believed I actually had it.
After all, its a veteran thing. It is the worst-of-the-worst thing.
It still feels almost silly to say, because I have a scale, as we all do, and my worst-of-the-worst thing is not nearly as awful as other worst-of-the-worst things.
But it is mine.
And when it happened, I was unprepared, unequipped, and uprooted. And now I know what has lead to my anxiety, my need for precautions, my reliance on My Tribe, my fear of a door and of crowds, my attempts not to feel, my isolation.
It has a name.
I can tell you, I don’t have it all figured out. Not even close. I’m sure there are a whole lot of things lurking below the surface that I have yet to discover.
But this is what I do know:
Visitation at the funeral home was to last for 2 hours. I dreaded those 2 hours. I’ve been to visitations in that same funeral home all of my life, so I knew what it would look like.
At least, I thought I knew.
The wallpaper was the same. The carpet was the same. The chairs and couches were the same. But I didn’t know what it would look like. I didn’t have a clue.
Daddy’s visitation did not last for 2 hours. It lasted for almost 4, with people who didn’t even make it through the door to see us. And for almost 4 hours, every person who walked in was someone who carried a piece of Daddy’s story into the room, and I could have never anticipated what that would look like.
I never could have known what that many sad people–sad for us, sad for themselves, sad for my Daddy–would look like all together in one place.
And I really had no way of knowing what seeing that would do to me.
A friend of Daddy. A client of Daddy. A colleague of Daddy. A person who had known Daddy all of his life. A person who had only known Daddy for a short time. A person Daddy had never met. A person Daddy loved. A person Daddy respected. A person who respected Daddy. A person who loved Daddy.
Memories in the form of people flooded the funeral home, and those memories hugged me and cried with me and were devestated beside me. The sheer number of people that his leaving affected was staggering. And for a few hours, not even close to all of them came and went through one room while my family and I did our best to greet them all.
We appreciated each and every one. We still do.
But all of those memories all at one time all in one space has now become a trigger for PTSD. I don’t even remember it well. All 4 hours are a complete blur. I remember certain people vividly. I remember being hot. I remember drinking water, and I never drink water. I remember in between greeting people who had walked away from me and waiting on those who were still talking to Mama, leaning onto Scott’s chest so I didn’t have to look at the next set of faces.
Because they all broke my heart wide open. Every. Single. One.
Because they were memories. They were stories. They were not-my-daddy.
Because they were almost as destraught and bewildered as I.
Their hearts were broken wide open, too.
Maybe it wasn’t the room or the people or even the memories and stories.
Maybe all of those people in one space at one time for so long affected me to the very core because each one represented a person who Daddy should have known would miss him.
Maybe it was the volume of love in that space that should have been so apparent.
Maybe it was because each one who hugged me was yet another reason to stay.
The funeral was a different kind of crowd in that, I didn’t have to interact, but I knew everyone could see me. Hundreds and hundreds of weeping eyes, seeing me.
Seeing me broken. Seeing me in angst. Seeing me angry. Seeing me completely and totally destroyed.
I wanted to be invisible.
At the cemetery, sitting in a chair in a row of chairs set atop uneven ground, covered with green funeral carpet, and the casket right in front of me, so close I could touch it, I remember not wanting to look at anyone, and I didn’t want anyone to look at me.
The eyes that could see me belonged to people were all memories. They were all stories. They were all not-my-daddys.
And I felt like I was fixing to lose my mind.
And I remember wanting to kick the casket over, almost being afraid that everything simmering inside of me would force me to. For a few panicked seconds, I remember thinking it was inevitable.
I was going to kick that damn casket and watch it tumble. I would hear the shrieks of the people and see the look of horror on my mother’s face.
And then, I would be a spectacle.
And I couldn’t be.
I couldn’t be.
So, I remember despearately needing for it all to be over.
No more people. No more stories.
No more fear of kicking a casket.
I needed it to be over so I wouldn’t have to be afraid that I would be a spectacle in front of all of those people, all of those stories, all of those memories, all of that love.
I needed all of the people to be gone so that I could be a spectacle and not a soul would know.
So everytime I step into a room with a lot of people, I am back at visitation.
It doesn’t matter that the familiar Breeland Funeral Home wallpaper, carpet, couches and chairs are not there. It could be any room. It could be a wide open space. It doesn’t matter where.
It is the sheer number of not-my-daddys all in one place. Or just a couple of not-my-daddys. Sometimes, just one. Just one is sometimes enough.
At first, any crowd did me in.
Now, it is crowds–small crowds, big crowds, even a single person can make me feel as if I’m in a crowd–of people my Daddy loved. Because they are still walking stories, living memories.
At my sister’s engagement party, the house was full of dozens of not-my-daddys.
Triggered. Back to visitation.
Back to all of those people all in one space all at one time.
Back to all of the reasons that should have kept him here.
Back to the reason that he isn’t.
The baggage of my grief is not just full of PTSD.
It is not just the trauma of being told after the door to my courtroom opened.
It is not just the moment of realizing that I didn’t even have to be told, outloud, how he left, that moment of realization that I already knew.
It is not just the memory of running up my parents driveway, barefoot, screaming for my daddy.
It is not just the shock that ensued, or the conversation with Mac, or the wailing into the storm that first night of living without him.
It is not just the crowds that take me back to visitation.
It is more.
It is how he left.
It is trying to decipher why he left.
It is the guilt that swallows me when I try to figure out what I should have done.
It is the depth of the guilt that comes when I recognize what I could have tried and didn’t.
It is the selfishness I feel when I remember the days and weeks before, when I just didn’t see what I should have seen.
It is the lack of desire to figure out how to enjoy all of the things I used to enjoy with him.
It is the insepid anger at him.
It is the despair I feel when I see Mac missing him.
It is the sadness that comes in the music that reminds me of him.
It is the pain that comes with feeling deserted by the one man I trusted with absolutely everything since I was born.
It is the questions that creep in about the afterlife and all that comes with them.
It is the futility that comes with recognizing I have such little control.
It is that split-second of, “Well, there he is!” when driving past the golf course and seeing someone who looks like him about to tee off, and then having that hope die…..again and again and again.
It is the empty fences at Mac’s ballgames that make me feel just as empty.
It is the helplessness that overwhelms me when I recognize yet another thing he has left my mama to unravel, put up, fix, move, take on, miss, and decide.
It is the debilitating realization that the worst things that you could ever imagine happening, can.
So no. It isn’t just the PTSD. But the other stuff, the other stuff feels more normal, I suppose. It feels like what everybody probably feels at one stage or another when they lose someone the way I did. And a lot of it has to be the same stuff everyone feels at one stage or another when they have lost anyone they love. The universal stages of grief.
Anything universal has to mean you aren’t crazy.
But my particulars make me feel crazy a lot of the time.
Because the PTSD compartment of my suitcase full of grief makes me feel terrified: terrified of retreating to a place in time to which I never want to return.
The PTSD makes me feel anxious: anxious that I am going to feel that feeling of fixing to be a spectacle and knowing I can’t be, not wanting to be, but so afraid I will be anyway.
The PTSD makes me isolate: I can’t be a spectacle if I’m not out in the open.
The PTSD makes me panic: I know what I am fixing to feel, and I will avoid feeling it at all costs.
The PTSD makes me feel embarrassed: the fact that I am trying so desperately to be invisible is more noticible than becoming a spectacle, which results in the opposite of what I am trying to achieve, and then I get unwanted attention because I’m trying to avoid attention at all.
The PTSD makes me feel guilty: having people worry about you when they are so full of their own stuff feels terribly unfair, and I hate it.
The PTSD makes me feel selfish: to make it get better, I can’t take a pill or just decide it is time for it to end, and the ways that I know that make it become more managable are things that scare me more than the PTSD episodes.
This is what I wish I could say, outloud, about all of the above:
I didn’t chose it, and I don’t choose it; it is as involuntary as crying or laughing spontaneously. I wish I could make it go away. I would never do it on purpose. I don’t want you to be angry, hurt, sad, or worried because of it. I don’t want you to think I want attention, because it is the last thing I want, and I really, really don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I am trying so hard to still be me, even though everything about me feels different.
I want you to know that I am learning about different ways to deal with it the best way I know how, but the dealing can only come in increments because of the thing, the thing that started it all, the thing that may be able to help begin the healing is the same thing that carries all of the everything that brings the most heightend, excrutiating pain: the memories.
Imagine you were sick, but you were functioning. You were going to work and rearing your children and attending almost everything you want to attend. You knew you were missing out on some things, but you were also laughing and talking and spending time with your friends and family. You were able to enjoy a lot of your life. You were able to not feel sick a lot of the time, and you knew that was a big deal.
But you were still sick, and you knew you were.
However, your illness was not a matter of life-or-death; it just made you different than you were before, and you knew you were not the same, but you also knew you never would be.
But you knew you could be “better.”
But the only way you could get “better” was to go through the most excrutiating surgery ever with an undetermined recovery time that had the potential to be as painful as the surgery itself.
And on top of that, you had children to rear and suppers to fix and weddings to be in and a job to do, and you had no idea just how bad the recovery would be, but you knew it would interrupt all of the things that you are currently doing and managing and handling while feeling pretty proud that you are able to do and manage and handle them.
Because the recovery would most certainly, at uncertain times, cause you to be a spectacle.
How anxious would you be to schedule that surgery?
Yeah. Me neither.