Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Horror Film that Never Ends

PTSD pops up in the oddest places eh?

I mean, I've got simple ones after my recent hospital stay - Mum's dying in books and on film aren't doing me any favours at all. You'd be astonished how often this seemingly rare narrative pops up. It's happened to me 5 times so far. A voice starts to scream in my head "YOU NEARLY DIED YOU NEARLY DIED YOU NEARLY DIED" I do actually mean that it screams. It shouts with an urgency as though the subtext might be "AREN'T YOU LISTENING YOU STUPID BITCH - YOU NEARLY DIED - THAT WOMAN LYING THERE COULD HAVE BEEN YOU, THEY COULD BE YOUR KIDS CRYING AND LOST" I can barely hear what people are saying to me over it. I shake, my hands go clammy. Physically I find I've scrunched into myself, like a little, defensive ball.

But then there are weird ones. The smell of the treats I bought in hospital. You know in a sci-fi film where the actors get sucked backwards into some kind of vortex at a speed only achieved through cgi? Well that's what flashbacks are like for me. I smell the lovely body mist and I am there, sucked back into a starched linen bed, frightened and hurt.

Weirder still is the spicy parsnip soup. The first thing that I was allowed to eat after surgery that rebelled urgently from the confines of my stomach, reappearing with spicy petulance for an hour or two. I saw a tin in the supermarket last week and bile rushed into my mouth, my heart raced, and I found myself looking for the door, to run away - run and run and run and run until the images faded. If only running were an option.

I picked up a pillowcase to put in the wash, forgetting it was the one I took as comfort in hospital. It reeked of antiseptic, sweat, pain and liquid feed. I gagged, threw it urgently away from my face, found myself shaking my head in an odd twitch, up and to the right. I realised I was trying to make a no-longer-present feeding tube comfortable. Whirling images of vomiting chemical waste, sweating so much the sheets were drenched, the tube bruising the back of my throat from the constant gagging so I can no longer swallow.

This morning, I have to see a doctor. Not my doctor; the old, paternalistic partner at the surgery. I can't tell you the details of why this will be an incredible difficult and awkward consultation, but believe me, I may as well be there to persuade him to give Dr Shipman another chance. I'm shaking and small. In my mind, I'm a little girl, lost and scared, every scenario is running through my head like the chatter of a thousand crickets. The strong, eloquent, witty me is gone, replaced by the worst kind of me. A doubtful me, a stuttering, whining, pleading me.

Recovery is not just about scars healing. Not the ones you can see, anyway.


  1. Good luck at the Doctors - thankfully fewer new ones seem to be trained in that paternalistic way. I want to ask why you have to see him at all, rather than someone else, but I know you will already have thought that one through.

    What you need is a job to take your mind off it all, deary... (Please don't mob me, I'm being sarcastic - clearly NOT).

    Hope it goes OK and doesn't add to your burden. x

  2. I don't know what to say Sue, other than this is rarely spoken about - and it should be. I hope you can get some help with coping with this.

  3. Sue - perhaps you should imagine all Spartacists are standing beside you as this ridiculous man tries to tell you how you feel. We're all shouting 'Brother, consider this - YOU CAN BE WRONG.' (Loudest of all is pusscat01.)

    We know how much you've suffered - you have been so incredibly brave in telling us - each and every one of us stands with you with our love held out in both hands. Feel our love, be brushed with its wings.

    Pusscat01 had flights of angels singing her to her rest. I want you to remember that, by your example, there are hundreds (thousands) of us non-angels whose hands are held out in support to those who need help, but can find it only in the love of the unregarded.

  4. Those comments are beautiful.

    Corinne, I was just thinking about you last night, missing you. How odd. Are you coming to Sussex any time soon?

  5. Someone on FB was telling me about her experience with tinnitus recently. Quite debilitating, and not helped by her GP advising her boyfriend to get her pregnant to take her mind off it! I really don't think she was joking.

  6. I hate this...hatey hate hate when this happens. But we're not strong all the time, and I'm not surprised with all the hellishness of being in hospital that you are so scarred from it. People wonder why I run like a scared rabbit every time a neighbour has a potshot at me rather than being the stand-up-and-get-stroppy type I can be for my son, but I do the same thing when I'm being criticised: suddenly I'm five again, and I can do nothing right. More than anything, it sickens me I still react like that. I'm 40 years old, damn it.

    Still, one has to push through regardless. The panic isn't normal - yeah, I get that. There's no real cure for it either. But if there is nothing else, at least know it's not something only you suffer with. You have company in the theatre of the film you're currently watching/living. I'll share my popcorn with you, and I'll hide my eyes and yours if need be at the scary bits, and I may even try to make you laugh by saying "Why do white folks ALWAYS OPEN THE DAMN DOOR!" or, being the black person, I'll go first into the room so you don't have to.

  7. Well written and poignant.

    I've had a feeling of intense anxiety in the pit of my stomach that is there all the time recently, which gets worse during the night. I'm wondering how much longer I can hold on for and keep going. I'm so tired of the unrelenting and never-ending pain and suffering, this evil merciless world, and I'm so tired of being tired that I feel like taking my dirt nap would actually be a relief. I just hope when it's time to go it's quick and a surprise.

  8. Stay strong... I know you will. And I know too that sometimes we feel all our strength has gone... but it hasn't. You've just been through too much, that's all. Thinking of you and keeping you in my thoughts.

  9. I hope the meeting with that doc goes better than you hope.

    Do virtual hugs help?

    I am starting a new treatment for complex PTSD next week. Fingers crossed, but mouth dry, hands shaking, etc. etc.
    If it works (for me that is, as apparently it does work for others), then I'll be sharing on my LJ blog.

  10. I had the same, after recovering from surgery & being confined to hospital for three months. Even after almost ten years the sight of overcooked mushy food makes my head spin!!!! I just keep hoping that the "good" days outnumber the "bad" days....!!!!!!!

  11. You have completely nailed PTSD symptoms. I went through being flooded out of my home, having to be evacuated, rescuing not just my cats but the local fire brigade who came ill equipped. I was out of my home for 2 months, then in a for a couple of brief weeks before it was condemned and I was homeless. At the time I was the strong one, the positive one, the one who everyone else relied on, the one who helped the Flood Warden without a thought for herself. When I was given my precious new home by the local authority (God bless all Council housing!) I was so wrapped up in moving, arguing with my landlord who had chosen the day before the flood got really bad to vanish. I don't mean he and his wife went on holiday, I mean they packed up a couple of bags and RAN. They knew what was coming where I didn't. They didn't give me any advice, any contact numbers, nothing. They just disappeared into the mist and nobody could get hold of them. Nice. I had such a lot on my plate, not just moving for myself but also for my then boyfriend who had to keep working to earn the money to help with the move that I was doing - he paid for it I put in the hard work. I was kept so occupied that it didn't sink in properly.

    After about 6 months I got a phone call from the Flood Warden - they were doing a study on PTSD, was I interested in going down and telling my story. Yeah, sure, can't think what I can do about it, but I'll come talk. Fine. Then I realised I was shaking. The phone was vibrating in my hand. I dismissed it and got on with things. I had a couple of weeks before I had to go to this meeting, so I was going to get on with things. A friend had come down to help me sort stuff out, and he started with the garden.

    I had had a lovely garden in pots on the island, all manner of beautiful plants lovingly tended and cared for. There was only one survivor now - a tiny tub of blue grass. It developed a delicious powder blue coloured leaf if you kept it out of direct light. It was brown now - covered in mud and slime still from the vile sediment that washed over everything. It was still alive, it just didn't look too good. My friend thought it dead and threw it away.

    At some time in the evening I walked past the space where the pot had stood and didn't even notice. But as I lay in bed it ate at me, my subconscious not letting me sleep, telling me something was very wrong. In the end I got up and walked out into the garden, barefoot in the dark and began a visual catalogue of what was and wasn't there. I woke my friend up and asked where the plant was. He was bemused, but eventually came up with the fact that he'd thrown it into the large wheely bin at the side of the house.

    I ran. I fled the house, into the side passage and grabbed the bin, tipping it over and scrabbling through the debris like a dog on all fours, not caring how it smelled or how it felt, just searching, desperately, tears streaming down my face. I found it. I found it and I dusted it off and I took it to a flower bed and I dug a hole with my hands and I planted it and watered it. My friend thought I'd gone insane. Why? He asked. What's so special about that? My answer? It survived. It and me survived and anything that had survived that flood didn't get tossed in a bin. My voice was strangled and angry and full of pain. I heard myself and thought what the hell???

  12. Part 2:

    I went, and I told my story, and I spoke with others who had had similar experiences, anger and tears surfacing irrationally, unexpectedly, inappropriately. Shaking, fear. It was only when one woman said she had put piles of papers up out of the way of the waters and she hadn't been able to touch them since that I remembered the dozen or so boxes still unpacked in the loft. Every time I put a hand on them I was immersed in the water again, the stench of the blown septic tanks, the brown, muddy water. The memory of opening my door to find things bobbing a foot off the floor inside the house. It was all there, like I was standing there in the past, with my hand on the door handle and not on a box, safe, in a loft, several miles from the nearest river.

    Even now, 12 years on, if it rains too hard or the wind blows in just the wrong way, I'm there again. Up to my crotch in icy water, going on tiptoes to try and stop it pouring over the top of my waders. It doesn't go away. It never goes away. It's always there, just waiting for the trigger.

  13. I *really* hope your appointment goes well. <3

  14. Oh, Sue! PTSD is hell! I suffered in silence for YEARS and then went through several years of EMDR therapy before my poor, addled head was cleansed of the horrors. My heart genuinely aches for you. "Restez fort, mon ami!"

  15. Natalie, I read your story with goose bumps. You write beautifully, damn! I was in the flood with you!

    I'm no stranger to PTSD - this is not my first hospital debacle, lol. ~This stage fades, and I'm just left with another trigger or two.

    OD, as ever, I'll share your popcorn. We won't need to talk through the movie, we've seen it before eh? It'll just be nice to sit there together. Damn woman, WHEN are we going for tea?