It’s mid-afternoon on another day in which the Texas weather can’t make up its mind about what to do. This morning, the air was thick and hung heavy over the ground, flies and grasshoppers rattling in the fallen leaves. The sun peeked through a web of thick clouds and it was bath-water warm. But now, as the afternoon tips towards sundown, a gray blanket coats the sky and I don’t think I could point out where the sun is in the sky if I tried. The air’s gone dry and the trees look like they would crumble if you so much as tapped their trunks. Old, fragile stone: everything looks and feels like old, fragile stone. A graveyard.
I feel exactly like what it looks like outside right now: an old statue unearthed in some new archaeological dig which was once very strong, but time and circumstance has stripped away her strength. All the archaeologists handle with the utmost, latex-gloved hands because so much has broken off this statue already, we wouldn’t want to lose anymore of it. If we did, it wouldn’t even be worth shipping to some museum, representing a long forgotten and colorful past that I’m sure some people are interested in learning about; but mostly I represent something that doesn’t exist anymore.
And like a statue, I feel stuck. Stuck in a pose that someone else crafted me into, forever reaching my hands in the same direction, clueless as to what could be behind me. I’d ask to be turned to at least see what else is out there, but that would risk breaking more of me. I think sometimes, passerbyers look at the expression on my face and feel something, but far and beyond, I feel once I’m glanced at, I’m forgotten: just another ruin pieced together as best she can that once meant so much to people and now…well, now I’m behind glass panes watching everyone pass me by, reaching for them, but never having anyone reach back.
This is what healing from medical trauma feels like to me: like I’m frozen against my will in time and silence while the world continues on, colorful and noisy, around me. I feel as if I’m reaching for something—maybe that’s strength, or healing, or just a good, long hug from someone who remembers me.
In my last blog, I told the story of two surgeries: one intentional, one not, and how my hope was that the new year would start off as a reminder of just how fleeting and fragile this life really is while also bridging back the gaps of community because it’s so hard standing in this place alone. I’m grateful to my friends and family who have helped take care of my farm, my son, my house, and even me, but I’ve reached this weird part of healing where I’m far enough away from the trauma where I require less assistance but am still very limited compared to what I was before all of this. I’m at the point where the cognitive dissonance between my brain telling me, “you should be better by now, you’re not creating enough, you’re not doing enough” and my body saying, “whoa, hold your horses, we’re still in defcon one down here, sit the f*ck down and chill,” is so profound that I feel mentally and emotionally paralyzed. My brain is the one who’s used to calling the shots and she’s not happy taking a back seat to a body ripped apart.
I have a therapist and I love her and I’ll never, ever be ashamed to admit my need for counseling and neither should you. I actually think the world would be a much better place if everyone went to therapy, at least for a while, or a few times a year or something. Anyway, last I saw her, I was describing this weird place I’m in where I feel frozen and lonely, even though my friends and family do continue to check up on me (which I so appreciate, thank you). Like I have medical PTSD because every little tinge I get in my body right now sends me spiraling, wondering if oh sh*t, you might start hemorrhaging (or whatever) again. But beyond the physical fear, the stillness I’m forced to endure right now has allowed suppressed bubbles to wiggle out and make their way into my consciousness and I find myself reliving some of my worst times. I’m feeling rejection, heartbreak, trust lost, self-consciousness, non-medical traumas in ways that I haven’t felt in a long time. And I guess that’s not that uncommon? My therapist tells me that medical trauma can trigger that same fight/flight/freeze reaction as other types of PTSD and that results in stress hormones and adrenaline exploding everywhere and f*cking everything up, including making space for past traumas.
I realized several years ago that I’m a freeze person in most cases. I shut down. I go cold. The blood drains from my body and before I fully realize what’s happened, I am that statue behind the glass, stuck forever in an expression of fear.
My body is in shambles right now but the world we live in makes it incredibly difficult to give it the time and space it needs to right itself again. I remember this after my son was born—how quickly the world around me expected me to be okay as if my whole life didn’t just change in an instant. At least I have a little human to show for that one. But this? All I have are some gnarly scars on my belly and things to do that I just can’t because I feel stuck behind this window pane, again, watching the world pass me by.
And then I think, look, it’s only been three weeks. Quit putting so much pressure on yourself. That’s a lot easier said than done, though. Depending on your vantage point, three weeks is a finger snap or an eternity, and this has felt like an eternity.
I’m craving for someone to reach out towards my frozen, extended hand because at least then, I’ll know I’m seen, but when I jump out of the metaphor, I don’t know what that looks like in real life. I don’t know what I need. All I know is that I feel lonely, scared, isolated, pessimistic, and not worth anyone’s time, and that is a very sad and pitiful admittance. I say it though because I know I’m not the only one.
For some time now, I’ve been on what I thought was a side quest but maybe it’s been the main objective of the game the whole time: to pull back the covers on what it means to be chronically ill in a world not built for us. I want to shine light on the parts of us that our brain tells us aren’t good enough even though our bodies are doing the very best they f*cking can and we should cut them some slack. But like I said, it’s hard to do that in a world that moves so fast. No wonder we feel left behind. Frozen. Passed by.
I’m healing, slowly, one day at a time. Sometimes there’s been no movement and sometimes I’ve moved backwards, but overall I think I’m healing. But medical trauma / PTSD…that’s an entire other beast that churns in its own way, no matter how much healing has happened or how much time has gone by. And so I guess at the end of all of this emotional vomit, I’ll say this: if you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD from medical trauma, you’re not alone. You’re not doing anything wrong. Your body is trying to heal while also protecting you. So (although it’s easier said than done), go a little easy on yourself, okay? And don’t be afraid to ask for help. We can’t do this alone. We just can’t.
I love you (I really do),