I have never been silent about my battle with mental health. But, as a writer, I have never been as open as I am going to be with you today. Sure, you can pick up pieces that inevitably make it into what I write, but today I’m going to be a bit vulnerable with you because I know you’re probably struggling too.
I am triggered. What does that mean? That means I am struggling. I am fighting a war within myself that knocks me to my knees and leaves me tired, cold, and hungry no matter how good I treat myself or how much chocolate and sleep I get.
After a long grueling process that lasted almost a decade on its own, I finally found an answer to what this all means: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Names have power, but this one isn’t going to help me today. Today, well for the last month or so if I am being honest, and I need to be honest with myself if I am going to stand up again, I have been triggered.
I haven’t been doing as great as some years, but some years have been much worse than this. You see, there are three or four months a year where my body remembers what it is like to peer into the darkness of humanity and barely escape alive. At least, three or four months of the year I can expect. Sometimes it just happens for no reason, other times, something – a smell, a taste, a noise, a word or song – triggers me.
I have the added bonus of not only psychological scars that threaten to reopen randomly, but what was identified by a medical practitioner as ‘idiopathic autoimmune disorder’. Most likely, it is linked to the PTSD.
Symptoms of this combined malady can often mirror the artistic personality of the average writer: a need for solitude, moodiness, questionable hygiene commitment, writing late into the night, insomnia and caffeine addiction. But those are the ones most manageable. There’s the anxiety and depression that I also manage. The agony and lonliness. The numbness, I’m not sure which is worse.
The general flu-like symptoms and migraines that come with it are probably easiest to face.
I used to get flashback, intense ones. My entire body and brain scarred beyond recognition, would suddenly relive horror, terror, pain. I had no warning: out shopping, at work, at school, at supper with friends I would slip into another world. As if it was happening all over again, my assailants would appear before me with their weapons tangible and intangible and take from me. They tried to take my dignity. They aimed to take my power, to possess my joy and my spirit. They haunted me when once wasn’t enough and came back to take more.
I relived ten years of being stalked. Phone calls, texts, emails, looking over my shoulder. Learning six types of martial arts to stay alive. No where was safe. They showed up at work, they emailed me right before my honeymoon, they created fake Facebook accounts and tried to connect with family and friends and friends of friends to get information about me. Even now, I’m not entirely sure it is over; after all, there was more than one.
I relived starvation, exhaustion, isolation. The snapping of a belt, the sting of an open hand across my face. The prison a body became during an unwilling sexual encounter more than once. Outrunning a knife, being trapped in boxes. Once, I was pelted with oranges up against a cement wall. Humiliation and bullying on top of it all. Now, the flashbacks are quieter and only come once or twice a year.
Then there is the conversion. I didn’t talk for a year, couldn’t summon a word. Touch felt like I was burning alive. Now, I just have boughts of early morning paralysis after the worst of the common nightmares I have resigned to being partnered with the rest of my life. I deal with excruciating muscle and arthritic-like pain, alternating between feeling like I am freezing to death or like I am burning up.
But all of this passes. Eventually.
For a while, I am okay. For a while, I have conquered it.
But today. Today, I am not okay. And there is nothing wrong with that.
I know I am not alone in this. You or someone you love struggles with illness like I do. Know this. You are not alone. It is okay to be struggling today. It is okay to hurt and not know what to do with it. It’s okay to just accept today and let it pass-by without saving the world or conquering anything. Just surviving is enough. You are enough.
So, I am going to stay here and wait until it passes and tomorrow, or the next day or even a week from now if it takes that long, I am going to get to my feet and live because I won’t let the darkness have my power. I won’t live in fear. I won’t let the pain decide when I go. And because, as all writers do, I have another story to write. Also chocolate. And coffee. Those are worth it too.