Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When you live in fear, at a certain point you come to a crossroads. You can allow it to overwhelm you, or you can try to fight against it. Can you believe that there is still a little voice in my head, that questions if I am over-reacting? Still? It is quieter than it has ever been. But it still murmurs, from time to time.
If I had acknowledged my own little hell, I could not have coped. Would have lost the ability to function.
But now the reckoning has come. Simply by virtue of being in a safe enough place that I can acknowledge the truth. Or at least, begin to pick out the little lies I told myself.
And all the fear I pushed aside, that I buried, or ignored, or dismissed flippantly… I am facing it now for the first time. Looking into the darkness of the abyss, half wondering what I will find staring back out at me.
In the midst of an episode my hands take on a life of their own. My fingers twitch and fidget, my hands wring, jewelry rasps as it slides between two fingertips. Usually it holds the tremors at bay, but sometimes nothing works to restrain the shakes. It is hard to breathe, and I have to fight to force my lungs to open. My words hang on the tip of a tongue held hostage by breath. My world narrows to my most immediate surroundings: the ground before my feet, if I am walking; the couch beneath my thighs, if sitting. The room around me gets hazy, as if I’ve donned glasses of the wrong prescription. Then come sweats. Hot flashes. And in the worst ones, my whole body trembles.
Today my counselor asked me what I was so afraid of specifically. And speaking became impossible. I couldn’t meet her eyes. For a moment, my mind went blank. The panic attack came so suddenly it seemed like I would not be able to vocalize my fears. She waited. Gently reminded me to breathe. Assured me I was in a safe place. You would think that it would get easier with repetition. But it gets worse.
It is not easy to say that you fear death at the hands of your husband. Or that he once threatened to cut your throat in your sleep. I realized she is only the second person I actually have vocalized that too. The first was my father, six days before I left. (And I only shared that because I felt he might think me over-reacting, otherwise.) The next time I shared it, was writing all my previously ‘dirty’ secrets in the Protection order.
Note: they were my ex’s dirty secrets, in reality. Not really mine. I’m only just now coming to terms with that.
The third time it came out, the judge spoke it. I was so grateful she didn’t make me speak the words aloud, but I hadn’t told the two women who flanked me, my mother and another friend. The following two times, I wrote an explanatory letter to my ex. Who claimed confusion over my leaving. I sent the final copy to two friends to review… but also because I wanted them to know what I could not find the strength to talk about.
Today, however, I told my counselor.
And then the dam broke. Suddenly I felt the fear I had tried so hard to flee. Admitted that the sight of certain vehicles make my heart pound, as I worry when I see that particular hue and type of vehicle if it might be him. If he has finally snapped free from this temporary calm and cold restraint. If he has finally realized that he can’t win me back.
I am afraid when I am alone in the office at work. The door stays closed until others are around. I am hyper-vigilant when I step outside my door. I worry for those who let me stay with them. I am afraid I may put them in harm’s way.
Looking at apartments yesterday, there was a certain relief in the thought of a secure building. Of being on the highest story. And a little fear of being alone there, too. Of being alone anywhere really.
And it all feels like overreacting. Because he ‘only’ hit things around me. He ‘only’ punched walls. The threats were ‘only’ words. He ‘only’ shattered the windshield twice with his fist. When he was in ‘more’ control I rolled the dice and bet that today wouldn’t be the day that I was next as a target for anger-spurred knuckles. But there were times he was unpredictable. Where sanity was a single taut thread straining under the pressure.
That is why, despite the civility, despite the ‘right words’ he sends through the only venue we wrote into the protection order… I am afraid. I do not know if he will snap. I walk down the street, and find myself wondering what would happen if our paths crossed. Would he lose his mind and run me down with the car?
PTSD doesn’t seem like something that should apply to me. It is for veterans in war zones. Or car accident victims. Or those who have experienced real trauma and tragedy.
But it is there. And it is real.
I do see that little light glinting at the end of the tunnel. There is a long way yet to go. But recognizing and acknowledging my fear was a big step today. If my troubles were a pack full of stones carried on my shoulders, I think I lightened that load. Just a little.