Monday, December 1, 2008

PTSD: Holiday Recovery, Part 1

I flew back from California late last night. I arrived home around 2am after 12 hours of travel and weather delays and a long drive back from Fort Lauderdale’s airport. Suffice it to say, I’m a little tired this morning.

But here’s what I’m thinking: I feel good. I’m so surprised and taken aback by this idea I’m like a kid with a toy; I can’t stop playing with it. I can’t stop thinking about how good I feel. I make my morning cup of tea and think, “Wow, I feel good!” I make the bed, get dressed and open the shades. I walk out onto the balcony from the bedroom and pause to look at the lake behind my house and think, “I feel so good!”

This all must sound ridiculous to you, but there was a time when traveling brought me to my knees with weakness and fatigue and the general meltdown of my body. In a body that was already depleted and dysfunctioning because of PTSD - that was crippled by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and extreme Fibromyalgia - traveling just threw me into a downward spiral of epic proportions. But now here I am today having gone back and forth to San Diego twice in 5 days and when we almost missed our connecting flight in Atlanta I ran, yes, me – I ran from one terminal to another carrying an overstuffed tote bag, a laptop and two jackets. And I thought, as I was running and feeling strong and just like everyone else who was sprinting around me as we all made a mad dash for our flights, “I’m healed. I’m really healed!”

I’m still so often astonished that I am truly, finally PTSD-free. I am still so caught off guard to be healed and no longer always in pain. Every time I do something that I could not do before, or something that would not have been possible before, I’m hit over the head with grattitude and the recognition that I’m someone else now. I’m not the trauma girl anymore. Let me explain:

I always dreaded those cross country flights to visit family in San Diego. I always dreaded traveling, period, because my body just wasn’t up to it. Before I even packed my suitcase my muscles ached and my joints ground. My head hurt and my eys stung and I was bone-tired weary with just the thought of leaving the house. I boarded every plane already dreading the deep exhaustion that a day of traveling would bring, and with it, the deeper dissociation because beginning with my trauma I dealt with physical difficulty by just checking out.

By the time the trip was over and I was home again I’d be sunk into an even deeper PTSD depression because my body had me thoroughly convinced that I was, actually, every bit as weak, frail, fragile and debilitated as I thought and felt. Or more so, depending on the stress of the trip itself. Plus, the anxiety of worrying about this added to the stress I already lived with daily. Also, if I hadn’t been able to contain my anger, hide my fear, bury my sadness; if I’d spent any time during the vacation faking my feelings or defending them, then I’d be more than bone-tired weary; I’d be almost comatose with exhaustion. At least, that’s the way was for the 25 years.

But this morning I woke up as tired as a normal person who had traveled all day on the worst travel day of the year. My body’s feeling fussy from too many hours spent on an airplane, but that’s all; it needs to be stretched, it needs to get to the gym, but it doesn’t need anything more than that. And my mind is fuzzy from not enough sleep, but otherwise it’s in great shape. I’m happy this morning. As happy as I was before I made this cross-country shlep. I’m no worse for the wear and now that I’m back at home I’m jazzed and ready to resume my life, which I missed. I haven’t danced in a week. I haven’t seen Baylee. I haven’t walked on the beach.

As I woke up this morning I realized that Thanksgiving 2008 is a landmark: it is the first holiday since I was 13 that the shadow of trauma has not loomed over me, body and soul. And it is the first time I have traveled that all of my PTSD symptoms did not exaggerate and intensify my negative perceptions of myself. I was not a Foghead traipsing through the airport, I was a good traveling companion and Bret and I had fun. I contributed to the holiday dinners and festivities and, more importantly, did not feel drained, depleted or alienated by them.

All of us have so much to be thankful for: We survived our traumas; we continue to survive survival. This year I’m also thankful for the healing I have found. I am thankful that although the journey was difficult and long I believed in myself, and I believed that I could make it. I believed that freedom was possible and that I could, in fact, reconstruct myself so that I no longer live as a survivor but as a ‘joyor’. After truama I believe the most important thing for us is to feel joy so that we are reminded that our true, untraumatized selves still exist. I am thankful that this new self has emerged in me, and has lead me to you, and that together we can travel this long and winding road until we are all happy and free.

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