PTSD and the Pretending

Jake used to make me laugh so hard.  I mean, gasping in pain, clutching my stomach and pleading for him to stop, kind of laughing.  Most of those times, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I smile just thinking about it.  He would sit and look at me like I was crazy.  I am very thankful for those times.

A couple of weeks ago, something very bad and very sad happened. Some people will read what I’m about to write and roll their eyes at me. That’s okay–because all I’m saying is what happened and how I felt (and continue to feel) about it. I had two of my kids in the car. I had just picked up one from his friend’s house and tried to take my daughter to soccer practice, but there happened to be a torrential downpour at that time, so I spoke with her coach for a bit and left. I was headed out to pick up my youngest. I was on a side street. I thought I had left my phone at home so I wasn’t distracted by my phone (have to throw that in because I’m sure people will think I was texting and driving or something). All I caught was a black blur out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt it. It was big. I had just run over something big. In the seconds before I knew, I remember thinking coyote or raccoon. I stopped my car and jumped out-but couldn’t make sense of the scene around me. There was an awful, horrible wailing sound and a man lying in the street. As I ran over, I realized this awful, horrible wailing sound was coming from the man who was lying on top of his dog in the street. The dog, the black lab, that I had just run over and killed. Everything that happened after that is kind of a blur. I remember kneeling in the street beside this man and his dog. I remember sobbing and saying “I’m so sorry” over and over again. But what stands out the most in my mind was all the blood. There was so much blood. How could I have done such a thing? I killed someone’s beloved pet. He was a black lab and was wearing a collar with all his requisite tags. I’m sure he was – in case he got lost. His eyes were open-but lifeless. And he was lying in a very large pool of blood. The poor owner had presumably seen the entire thing-given that he was lying over the dog before I could even get out of my car. A few neighbors came out to help and when they helped picked up the dog to move him out of the street, I remember noticing how limp and boneless he seemed. That’s what happens when your life ends. Your eyes are open, but unseeing. Your body goes limp and grows heavy. There was so much blood. I was in and out of my car, frantic and inconsolable. I didn’t even have my phone to call someone for help. At some point, the pet owner came over and hugged me and we cried and cried. I kept saying “I’m so sorry” and he kept saying “It’s not your fault”. It was very important for him to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. I remember he had black dog hair in his mouth and on his face. He apologized to me for not being able to talk at that moment and that was the last time I saw him. I was shaking and crying. What had I done? Then the “if only”s started. I am very familiar with the “if only”s–they have formed quite a rut in my brain where the chemicals have fired over and over again throughout the past two years. If only I had chatted with my daughter’s soccer coach for 30 seconds more. Or 30 seconds less. If only I had decided to tell my friend some story I thought was funny or ask more about what was going on in her life when I picked up my son. There I was, desperately wishing for my DeLorean and flux capacitor again. There was absolutely nothing I could do. How was I going to live with myself? How could I make it up to this poor man who had just seen his dog get run over and killed by a car driven by me?

Obviously I can’t. I can’t go back in time. I will never be able to heal this pet owner, now traumatized forever, I’m sure. I’ve learned this lesson. Every weekday, at least four times a day, I have to drive past that spot, when I drop off and pick up my kids from school. That street, and that house–a house I had never even noticed before–are changed for me. Supercharged with the energy and memories of this very bad and very sad event.

I have been picturing that we are all born with a certain capacity for trauma.  I imagine it like a balloon.  Some trauma is smaller than others but it all gets stuffed into this balloon-with some taking up more space and some taking up less.  I imagine this accident like a bulge out the side of the already full balloon.  The balloon is stretching so tightly that the color is gone and you can see what’s inside.  It’s about to burst.

There are no support groups for “people who run over and kill other people’s pets with their cars”.

I realized recently that I am always pretending.  99.9% of my life is spent pretending.  Pretending to be okay.  Pretending to be strong.  Pretending I want to talk to people who I don’t want to talk to.  Pretending to be engaged.  Pretending to be interested.  One night I laid on my bed and started crying because I am so tired of pretending.  I want to be my real self.  I don’t even I think I know who that is–because I’ve been pretending for so long.  I don’t think I knew who I was before Jake died and the past two years have heaped layers and layers on top of my true self so I think I’m even pretending to myself most of the time.  I want to peel off all the layers and discover who I actually am and for those people who don’t like it, they can go away.  But what if I don’t like what I discover?  Then what’s left? I like to tell myself and others that this blog is raw and emotional and true.  But then  I wonder, is it really?  Do I really put it all out there?  Or are my words part of my pretending?

I can tell myself I’m okay.  I can tell myself I’m strong.  I can convince myself that I’ve come to terms with one thing or another.  Then, out of the blue, two months later, 4 days later, an hour later…whatever…WHAM–something hits me so hard that I’m shaken to the core.  Wait!  I thought I had that one covered!  I was done with that!

November 8th was my 13th year wedding anniversary.  After we were married, every year on our anniversary, I would make Jake sit and watch our wedding video with me.  The video is cringeworthy. The editing, the music, the special effects….so hard to watch.  It is a very cheesy video.  I know Jake hated watching it–sometimes he would even leave the room at the really, really cheesy parts.  But he always came back.  He swallowed his pride and manhood and everything he believed in 😉 once a year to watch this video with me.  I also thought the video was awful.  But as I was watching the edited version, in my head–I was back there on November 8, 2003.  Replaying memories of that day that you can’t see on the video.  Like how I was feeling at any given time during the day.  I am smiling throughout the video, but I can see through that smile and remember my feelings. I know that in that one day I probably felt a mixture of 372 emotions, not all of them “happiness”, yet I smiled through them all.  I was even pretending then.  I guess to some extent maybe we all pretend at different times.

So, in the process of trying to “not pretend”, I’m going to say some things that may not be popular.  People may not like these words.  They might stop reading.  But I can promise you-there is no pretense in the words I am about to write.  This is me-feeling what I feel and actually telling you.

Probably before Jake died, I might have been the person to recite the mantras “Create your own happiness!”, “Choose happy!”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “What goes around, comes around”.  The last two phrases make me want to throw up.  If anybody ever says any of those things to my face, I may just land in jail for assault.  But the stuff about “creating our own happiness” and “the happiness principle”–I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this concept.  I’ve decided that these platitudes are not only stupid, but harmful as well.  The stupidity lies in the notion that we actually control our emotions.  Happiness is a fucking emotion, just like sadness, anger, irritation, fear.  Nobody chooses to feel any of those feelings.  They just happen.  YOU FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL.  No emotion is wrong.  No feeling is wrong.  Because they are just there.  They make us human.  We have zero control over our emotions so why would the assumption be made that we can choose to be happy?  (Sidenote: I do believe that there are many times we can control our own behavior/reactions to the emotion.  But I also believe that there are times in everybody’s life when we just aren’t strong enough-for whatever reason-to respond to our feelings in the manner that we’d like to.)

Recently, I had parent-teacher conferences.  Not a single one went the way I expected it to.  I try to schedule them one after another.  That way I have fewer appointments to forget. As I proceeded from one to the next and the next, I went from pleasantly surprised to numb.   The numbness wore off within a day and very unpleasant feelings hit me really hard.  It turns out one of my kids is having a particularly difficult time-socially and emotionally.  I had no clue.  Apparently, he’s been leaving class in tears and spending time with the principal, but not because he’s in trouble.  He was with me during the conferences (which is a concept I totally don’t get-the teachers see the kids everyday.  Why do they need to talk to them some more?) and he cried during the conferences.  It was then that I understood that I have no grasp on the depth and intensity of this child’s pain.  My emotions were a tangled knot of sadness, guilt, compassion, self-loathing, and anger.  Asking myself–“what have I done to this poor kid?”, then “what can I do to fix it?”, then “this is too hard–I can’t figure this out all on my own”, then….fury at my husband “How the fuck did you choose to do this to your kids? How did you do this?  How could you do this to them?” I was actually in the car alone, screaming at Jake, pounding the steering wheel, heart racing, gasping for breath…like you see an actor do on television or in the movies.

It took a few days before I came back to compassion.  Although it seems to the rest of us that Jake made a choice–he didn’t.  That’s the whole point.  He didn’t see any other option.  In his brain, this was the only way.  I need to remind myself of this often and really try to process it.  If his brain thought there were other options, he wouldn’t have done what he did.  So hard to imagine.  But, we can’t choose our feelings.  We don’t choose to be happy or sad–because why would anyone choose this?  If he thought he had a choice, he would still be here.  He would have known he had a choice if the Chantix hadn’t made his brain so sick.  There are actually people behind this drug.  People who have no clue or just don’t care what they did to my 4 young children, and to the thousands of others whose loved ones’ sick brains told them “You have no other choice”.  Chantix is just a thing.  It doesn’t think or choose or love.  The people behind Chantix, the people who create it, market it, and approve it with the knowledge of what it does to people’s brains, those people killed my husband.

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