Tuesday, May 28, 2013

PTSD Or, As I Like To Call It, Hell On Earth

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not for sissies. Imagine the worst, absolute most horrific moment of your life. Now imagine living it over and over and over. Living Color, smells, sounds, the whole 9 yards. The movie you never want to see again on an eternal loop in your brain. This is my best explanation for PTSD as I know it.

I am not speaking for anyone but myself. I hope it isn't like this for others but I really do not know. If it is high five and a shot of tequila to all of you. You deserve it.

The source, or sources, of my particular hellish state of mind are the death of two of my children. 34 years ago I awoke lazily, the sun shining through the blinds across my face. I stretched luxuriously and then realized something was horribly wrong. I jerked up, ran to the crib in the corner and touched the stiff cold back of my 2 1/2 month old son. I saw his purple face, frozen in a grimace, white spittle on his chin.

I was in a state of shock for four days. Family was called, arrangements were made, leave was taken. I could not look at my daughter without crumbling but I felt split in two. The part 'dealing' with it, and the part that was frozen in a block of ice that I feared would never melt. Not sleeping was my only option. If I closed my eyes I found him again, and again, and again. I never knew a head could hurt that much. I never knew there were that many tears. Every night for years when I lay down I would see him swimming in front of me, my glorious little fella his lively smiling self and then he would turn blue and cold. I woke to that same panicked sensation every day. Every single day for about four years I knew no peace.

From time to time throughout the years that little blue face would come back to haunt me. I would wake in the middle of the night, that vision in my head, my heart pounding so hard the bed would shake, tears streaming down my face and my own choking sobs sounding like the wail of all the dead in my ears. My life was busy, my other children growing and changing and LIVING kept me occupied during the day but the nights and early mornings were a descent into a painful swirl of dread and fear and pain all over again.

Who do you discuss that with? Psychologists wanted me to talk about it. I would sit there and say yep, I feel terrible, I feel worse than terrible. I still see him, I hear him, I feel him but he turns cold every time. What is there to say after that? What do they want to hear? Talking about it doesn't change it. Bringing it out in the open did not lessen the terrible sense of loss and overwhelming fear that accompanied the visions. I knew why I felt the way I did and it didn't take a lot of education for me to decipher it. Over time, with the help of my growing brood the fears and panic attacks eased bit by bit. I still saw my boy, still saw the grim blue visage ut I had wonderful images too, they swirled together making the awful ones easier to bear.

In August 2008 my youngest son took his own life. He put a gun to his head, right in front of me. He looked at me with the saddest, most sardonic smile, he shrugged, and he pulled the trigger. I had turned away I couldn't reach him, my husband was trying to get there but we were both mired in the quicksand of tragedy while he seemed to be in fast forward. I will never forget his smile at that instant. My husband begging and crying, my son's girlfriend shrieking and screaming and falling to the ground. I made the call to 911. I remember the lady asking where he shot himself, and I kept screaming his head, his head. She wanted a location.

It took him two days to die. Two days for us to say our goodbyes. He was conscious but on a ventilator, his spine shattered just below the base of his skill, his poor destroyed head and face swathed in rapidly bloody bandages as he tried to nod in answer to our questions. do you want to die? Do you want to turn off the machines? Repeating over and over that we loved him. You really cannot say it enough, ever, and certainly not under those circumstances.

I found out that the hospitals have Ethics Committees. We can't get congress or our state legislature to go for ethics committees but hospitals are all about it. The question was, basically, is it ethical to let someone who tried to kill themselves die.

We explained how tortured he had been, how his mind was so far in another dimension most of the time that to leave him with the only truly alive thing being the one thing that made his existence sheer living hell would be the cruelest thing any human being could do to another.  I still thank God daily that the doctors listened to us. They spoke to him, they gave us the go ahead. to remove the machines.

We were a crowd. I couldn't touch him. Not because I didn't want to, but because he could not feel anything and I did not want to touch him without him knowing. It seemed almost criminal so I didn't. We spoke to him, we told him it was okay, that God and his grandmother and his big brother were waiting for him. We watched the monitors as his heart went crazy for a minute or two, then slowed and stopped. I ran away.

The moments that haunt me are not these, not his dying moments, but his last truly alive moments. The gun being raised and that horrible sad sad smile. They come to me morning and night. They come to me in the darkest nights and the sunniest days. They come to me when I least expect them and bring me to my knees with such loss, such sadness, such hatred for the moment that stole my boy away from me.

I can talk about it, but like before, it doesn't change the fact and the fact is a soul killing one. That image twists like fog in and around all the good memories, all the good times, all of the pleasant moments in my new normal.

I wrote this because today someone made an offhand remark and I found myself fighting the demons again. One second everything is fine and the next I am fighting to stay afloat in the sea of despair that is my loss. That image comes unbidden and I just want to run away but I know I can't. I wrote this instead, to allow my children to walk this earth for a moment again, and to help myself to breathe.