Dear Mr. Melissa Blake:
Isn’t it funny how things just click sometimes? It’s like someone suddenly turns on the metaphorical light bulb above your head, and everything that was once dark and shrouded in mystery is now bright and clear. Take the first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder I experienced all the way back in 2010. I couldn’t put the pieces together then, but looking back now, I can’t help but see that time as a precursor to the depression that would eventually land me in the hospital by the end of the year. What, Sweetpea? I’ve never talked much about my PTSD? Well, allow me to explain…
It can be something as little as the time I was standing in a hotel parking lot while on vacation one summer, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walking toward me. He looked exactly like my father. The closer he got, the larger the lump in my throat became. Or, it can be something a little bigger, like the few dozen times I’ve walked past the building on the campus where my father worked and pictured him galloping up the stairs with a huge smile on his face. Or, even the time when I found the blue-knit cap he wore during the course of his chemotherapy and radiation to treat an aggressive form of sinus cancer and up until the day he committed suicide two weeks after finishing treatment. Or, the smell of his clothes and how they’d remind me of his big bear hugs.
That’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in a nutshell. It’s the body’s way of trying to process the massive stockpile of emotions left in the wake of a traumatic life event. For some, the sound of a car’s squealing tires may make them jump in fright following a car accident. And with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more soldiers are coming home both physically and emotionally scarred.
Having been born with a physical disability, I’m used to labels. But PTSD? That was a label that took a little more time to come to terms with. Before my father’s death, I’d always prided myself on being such a strong person. So to wrap my head around the idea that, “Yes, admitting I have PTSD does make me a strong person instead of a weak one” took some time. I’d been in counseling for much of the time since my father’s death. In fact, I returned again after a year off. I told my therapist I thought I needed a “tune-up.” There is nothing wrong with that, I keep telling myself.
For me, in addition to the sights and sounds that remind me of my father, I’ve also grappled with spiraling thought patterns. Because of my physical disability and the fact that I was only 21 when my father killed himself, I worry constantly about losing my sister and mother. Being alone is my worst fear, and even though I know it’s irrational, I just keep thinking sometimes about the “what ifs.”
What if I lose my mother and sister too? What if I’m all alone?
That’s why I’ve always pictured PTSD as a sort of carousel. I’m sitting on one of those colorful ponies going around and around in circles. You eventually come back to the starting point. You see it, and sometimes, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Other times, you see it and can pass it without even registering it in your mind.
It’s those latter times when I start to think I’m “over it,” which is sort of the insidious way PTSD operates. I know I’ll never be “cured,” but sometimes I can go for weeks or even months feeling just fine. And other times, like last year, for instance, every little thing sets me off. I’ll find myself crying over seemingly minor stuff. It’s times like these that remind me that I’m still trying to learn how to integrate my PTSD into my life rather than plan my life around it. It’s a constant struggle, but one I know I need to fight with all my strength. I know my father would want me to.
One of the common misconceptions about PTSD is that you can just “snap yourself out of it.” Time has passed, so it’s time you move on too. Maybe I even tried to convince myself that at one time or another. Sometimes my mother, sister and I will drive past our old apartment. It’s the apartment I grew up in — where I recovered after all my surgeries, where my father taught me how to balance an equation in high school algebra. It’s also the place where he killed himself on a March morning in 2003 while I was sleeping in my room.
Driving by it now, it’s easy to see that, on the outside, everything has changed. The parking lot is filled with different cars. The building looks like it’s been repainted. Even our windows look different. Life has gone on. As if nothing had ever happened.
But deep down, the memories are still there, memories of everything that happened inside, and that’s what makes the trauma still feel very raw and very real for me. It may be chronologically almost 9 years after my father’s death, but sometimes, especially when I think of that old apartment, it feels more like only a few months. In those moments, when I’m spinning on that carousel, all I can do is keep going. Maybe the next time I come around, I’ll see things from a different perspective.
Does that make sense, Sweetpea? I often wonder if I’ll be struggling with these issues when we meet, or if I’ll be in a different place in my life. I suppose only time will tell. Until we meet… xoxo
[Photos via We Heart It]
hello, Friday says
I enjoy reading your letters to future husband. xoxo
it's crazy how times passes. it's been over ten years since my grandpa who was one of favorite people in the whole world passed away and it feels like just yesterday. i see little things that remind me of him and it reminds me that he's always right next to me, still watching over me. the same is true for your father 🙂
I've never commented before.
I have never been diagnosed PTSD, but they have slapped every other label on me.
My father died unexpectedly when I was 10. My mother when I was 17. I almost lost my life at 20. Now nearly 25, most days are great, but I've been stuck on what I call repeat, all month.
I needed to read this today. To know as messed up and damaged and I can convince myself I am when I'm down here, I'm not alone.
Rebecca Martin says
Your post is wonderfully written and I completely relate to what you are saying. I have had PTSD ever since my mothers death and it is a daily struggle to deal with. I found a lot of great information about PTSD and ways to cope with it at http://onlineceucredit.com/edu/social-work-ceus-nd . I hope this is helpful for others who have PTSD.
Wow! It took several reads to understand your point. I guess that what PTSD does. It is unpredictable and hard to follow. And understand. Please don't think I'm putting you down for saying this, but I think you should get control over your PTSD and depression before you start dating. It is a challenge for a guy to look past your disability and appearance. You already know that. You have never been on a date yet. To add your emotional baggage would be too much for anyone to handle. I looking forward to your next post.
Hi Melissa! Thank you very much for your comment – I'm really glad you commented, since I actually found your blog a few weeks ago and really loved it. And then I somehow lost the link to it, couldn't remember the name of it and then spent ages looking through other blogs trying to find out how I came to your page in the first place!
I had nearly given up, so I'm so glad you found me so that I could find your blog again!
This is such an honest and lovely post, this is one of the reasons why I like your blog. I lost my father too, when I was little and I've been dealing with it badly recently. Your idea of it being like a carosel is spot on for me.
This post really helped me out with how I feel and put a new perspective on it, so thank you 🙂
Oh, I have chills up my spine. I can't even begin to fathom the unimaginable pain you have suffered. Suicide in a family is devastating. The affects it leaves on the loved ones last for an entirety. I saw it firsthand in my brother-in-laws family. It trickled down to my nieces and had a rippling affect on their lives. I am glad you are in counseling. There is great help in talking through your emotions. You would not be normal if you did not have post traumatic syndrome after such a earth shattering event. Clearly you loved your Dad. He sounded like a good man and a good father. I understand your fear of losing your Mom and sister. Thanks for sharing so candidly and openly. You seriously need to write a book. You have a gift for the written word. Lots of love to you. xo
I sympathize with all you have gone through. You stated that one of your biggest fears is of being alone. This is not meant to be "mean spirited", but let's face facts. Statistically speaking, there's a very good chance that you mom might pass away while you are still living. You need to prepare for that reality….not necessarily the emotional aspect, as grieving is certainly a personal journey for everyone, but taking the time to planning how you will live your life if and when you do find yourself "alone." Maybe you and your mom and sister should sit down and have a very serious discussion….does your mom have a will…..do your rent or own the home you live in….if you own, whose name is on the mortgage….your mom can include you so that the property wouldn't go to probate should something happen to her…..do you understand and know how to pay the household bills, the property taxes, the insurance….would you be able to keep up with the home maintenance on your own….would you have to sell the property….does your mom have life insurance…..would you need personal help and would your sister be willing to care for you for a lifetime….can you cook….do you alone earn enough money to pay all the bills…are you saving/investing money for an uncertain financial future…..do you need to advance your education so that your earning power could increase should you need it. These subjects are not easy to discuss, but knowledge is power, as they say. If you are prepared to tackle life on your own, it's alot less scary. Unfortunately, life is so much more than riding carousels, twirling in a meadow and curling up on the couch with a cup of cocoa while Mom handles everything. Learning to be as independant as possible can alleviate alot of your fears. It's the adult and responsible thing to do. I wish you and your family the best!
Cafe Fashionista says
I think that everyone needs to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best – that is truly the only rational way to deal with bad experiences that may, or may not come our way. :/
Lisa Griffin says
wow what a touching way to explain what you've been through! i've been trying to catch up on these love letters and you are truly an amazing writer!
in dramatic fashion
Melissa Blake says
Jillian — sending you lots of hugs through the computer!
Melissa Blake says
First Anon — interesting point. Although, I'm not sure it's so much getting control over PTSD and depression as it is learning to integrate it into your life. And we all have emotional baggage, don't we? No one who has lived can escape that.
Melissa Blake says
Debby, a book is something I've thought about! 🙂 Thanks!
And regarding being prepared for future, yes, my mother does have a will, so we've discussed that.
Your letters are always filled with such love, heart, hope and inspiration, love this! <3 Reading about all you have been through in life just reinforces how strong you are, and that you too have the same worries that so many of us do. Thank you, once again, for your honesty and bravery! 🙂
This is very beautifully written & so candid…it's refreshing. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences I really enjoyed reading this. ♥♥♥S