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.

Two Years Later

I say a lot of shit on this blog. Occasionally, I realize that I don’t practice what I preach. I didn’t expect this second year mark to be quite so hard as the first one. In fact, in a lot of ways it has been harder. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure this summer was happier. I knew better! Yes-I make choices throughout my daily life. I choose to focus more on some things and not others. But, as much as I’ve said this since I started writing, GRIEF IS NOT LINEAR. So, why should I think that the further away we get through the event, the happier I will be?

I believe I went through all the “firsts” in a fog and a continued state of shock. That fog was like a layer of protection for me. (I was also drinking a lot more so there was that…). As the second year mark has approached, I have been choosing to get certain parts of my life back in order. I’ve let myself slide by, not really caring about anything. I don’t mean people–I mean stuff-like finances, nutrition, health, and organization. However, as a result of this less “foggy” state of being, I am also feeling things so much more acutely than I had been. In my efforts to be less overwhelmed, I am, in fact, more overwhelmed. I need to do these things. But, I’m so fucking tired. I push myself towards physical exhaustion every day, hoping that I might sleep through the night sometime soon.

I’d like to share a Jake story that someone shared with me recently. I am so grateful to this person, for telling me this story because it’s so classic “Jake”. I am going to quote her exact words, otherwise, I would not do it justice.

IMG_2885

“Going through old photos I found this one…my absolute favorite memory with Jake. Of course the Daryls were over and beers were definitely involved, but it ended with Jake, with no hesitation whatsoever, taking on a dare of running around the front yard in his boxers with the Christmas tree skirt as his cape. The really funny part is that across the street was the “Christmas House” where people came from all over to tour every night. Needless to say, Jake became the top entertainment that night and I don’t know if I ever laughed so hard! ❤️

I read her story and look at this picture daily-usually more than once.  Look at his socks!  He stripped down to his boxers but kept on his white socks pulled halfway up his skinny calves! Classically Jake.  I love this story-it makes me laugh.  Then, I get confused.  Because this Jake, this classic Jake, the one we all knew and loved…he is not the same person who did what he did. My brain can’t reconcile that this is the same person.  Probably because he’s not.  The Chantix altered his brain so significantly over the course of 6 weeks-that he wasn’t even Jake anymore.  Just like my life turned into “BEFORE” and “AFTER”, I can tell you the exact date that the “Pre-Chantix Jake” became the “Post-Chantix Jake”.  Fucking Pfizer.  I don’t believe in heaven and hell.  I don’t believe in fate or karma.  But I really want to when it comes to the Pfizer people who fight to keep Chantix on the market.  Greedy mother fuckers.  Not a care in the world about actual people.  Grrrr.

With the second year mark fast approaching, I realize I am trying to dig my heels in–slow things down because I’m just not ready?  I ask myself “Ready for what?” It doesn’t make sense.  I know that the dread of that day is worse than the day itself is going to be.  August 27 will never be “just another date” again. For weeks, I have been stuck in that spot. Rewinding and replaying the events. Maybe that’s why I’m digging my heels in–if I can slow it down, maybe I can prevent it from happening.  Rewrite the story.

My brother suggested I listen to a song. I have probably listened to it ten times since yesterday.  I feel like the song was written for me-but I also know that anyone who has lost someone they love, will relate to the lyrics. There are no words to describe the depth of pain and sadness that a person feels when they lose someone they love.  The lyrics in this song are gorgeous.  I’ll post them along with the video.

You’re smiling at me
From your picture frame
And I miss you
My life keeps on changing
But you stay the same
I miss you
So many moments
That we should have shared
I miss you

And the days turn to years
And it hasn’t stopped yet
The memories we shared
I will never forget
No I will never forget

There’s a hole in my heart
That will never be filled
I miss you
This all should get easier
But it never will
I miss you
I float through the days
And the long lonely nights
I miss you

And I hear your footsteps
You’re coming down the stairs
Lost in your laughter
The sun in your hair

A brief recollection
The light in your eyes
I see the reflection
But it passes by
It passes me by

You’re smiling at me
From your picture frame
And I miss you
Every morning I wake up
And I whisper your name
I miss you
You’re in faces of people
I see on the street
You’re everywhere
You’re everywhere
You’re everywhere

This week, I am going to do the things that Jake loved to do. I am going to hike, run, climb, swim and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in the pacific northwest.  Maybe I’ll even run around in boxer shorts, white socks, and a Christmas tree skirt as my cape:-)

Proof

Jake Valentine 1 insideJake Valentine 1

I came across this yesterday and can’t let go.  This. This is my proof that the Jake that I knew and loved existed.  Very accurate picture portrayal of the two of us–I have to say!

Some days I walk around in a fog wondering “How did I get here?”, “How could Jake be gone?”, and most disturbingly “Was he ever here in the first place?”.  This is my proof.  This was my Jake.  He was here.  And now he is gone.

I’m still extremely angry.  But, my anger is directed at Pfizer (maker of Chantix) and the Federal Drug Administration.  The number of suicides directly linked to the drug, Chantix, is staggering.  We’re talking thousands of people who have taken this drug, reported suicidal thoughts, and/or committed suicide.  These “adverse effects” have been reported in patients who have taken the drug for as little as two weeks.  I believe Jake was on it for 4-6 weeks.  In that last month, he wasn’t my Jake anymore.  He was a walking depiction of every “adverse effect” listed in the “black box”.

I copied the following directly out of the medication guide I found in Jake’s office after his death:

“Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix.  Some people had these symptoms when they began taking Chantix, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping Chantix”.

What the FUCK?? SOME people?

“If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression or changes in behavior or thinking that are not typical for you, or you develop any of the following symptoms, stop taking Chantix and call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Thoughts about suicide or dying, or attempts to commit suicide
  • new or worse depression, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • feeling very agitated or restless
  • acting aggressive, being angry, or violent
  • acting on dangerous impulses
  • an extreme increase in activity and talking (mania)
  • abnormal thoughts or sensations
  • seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • feeling people are against you (paranoia)
  • feeling confused
  • other unusual changes in behavior or mood”
Jake experienced every last one of these adverse effects.  He did as directed.  He went to the Emergency Room on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August (4 days BEFORE it happened).  I was with him.  I heard everything he told the doctor and the social worker.  He told them he had been taking Chantix but had stopped.  (Please refer back to above warning listed above that some people have developed these effects “or after stopping Chantix”.  Jake told me, the doctors and the social worker that he never, ever in his life had a thought about killing himself until he went on that drug.  Jake was not seen by a psychiatrist that day.  The social worker gave him a pamphlet telling him to take a walk or a “nice bath” when he was feeling sad.  She also told him to start calling psychiatrists on Monday to get an appointment. Wait. What?
I could dissect everything I’ve mentioned so far into all of the things that are so very wrong about this story. But that will take a hundred more blog posts.  On that Tuesday, the 26th, Jake went to another doctor.  He went to see the doctor who had prescribed him the Chantix.  The primary reason listed for the visit was “Major depression”.  I don’t know exactly what transpired, I only have medical records to rely on.  But this doctor also let him go.  That day he ran 14 miles.  He was able to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for Thursday August 28.  But on the day in between–Wednesday, August 27th, 2014, those “adverse effects” got the best of him.
Why the fuck is this drug still on the market?  Pfizer holds no liability in Jake’s death, because he was “warned” that he might kill himself while taking it.  This is okay with the FDA? Several years ago children’s cough medicine was pulled from the shelves because a small group of parents weren’t following the dosing instructions accurately.  A few years ago, my favorite weight loss pill ever was pulled from the shelves because one person in Hawaii didn’t follow the dosing instructions and developed kidney failure (I miss you my magic purple pills…).  How does the FDA justify keeping a drug that actually causes people to kill themselves on the market?  Thousands of people (even more if you count loved ones) have been affected by this drug in the worst ways possible.  Oh, I remember now.  It’s because they put the warning about these “adverse effects” into a black box so physicians who prescribe or treat people using the drug will know what to look out for.  Yeah.  That worked wonderfully for Jake. Two doctors with their little black box warnings and they just said “take a relaxing bath”.  Another major issue with this drug is the insurance companies.  Most insurance will cover the cost of Chantix itself, but will not actually cover the cost of the doctor’s visits in order to monitor the patients taking the drug.  Everything.  Every little thing about this drug, is so wrong.
I might be biased because it is ultimately what took my husband’s life.
My brain gets stuck often on what happened to Jake.  The details of the time immediately before, during and after what happened run through my mind day after day.  That’s why I need to keep finding cards like the one I posted.  Because that was my Jake.  That’s my proof and a reminder to try hard to remember more of that Jake.
This is not over people.  I may not have cause to sue Pfizer or the doctors who “treated” him.  But I have a really big mouth (I’m a Jersey girl after all) and I am going to be talking.  A lot.