I spent time with one of my dearest friends today. She didn’t have an easy childhood. As a matter of fact, it was quite horrible. She is bright and bubbly. She is a friend that you know has your back. You know that you can count on her. We can talk about anything. No subject is taboo; no matter how bizarre or off-the-wall or awful.
During our conversation today we started talking about PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. That phrase is bandied about on occasion but it never seems to be addressed with depth and seriousness.
At one point during our conversation my friend said that she was “broken” because of what she experienced in her childhood. Her word broke my heart and I started to cry because my big-hearted, strong and beautiful friend viewed herself this way. She clarified saying that she WAS broken but that she has worked really hard to become the person that she is today. But, even now, a couple of decades later, there are still unexpected triggers that throw her off her stride. PTSD!
I understand what my friend was saying when she described herself as broken. I feel the same way. There is no time limit. No expiration. No explanation. It just happens. You never know what it might be that will trigger you. It could be a story in the news. A song or a smell. A season or a particular date. You could have heard that song, smelled that smell, been through that time of year a million times before but for some reason – you didn’t sleep well, you fought with your spouse, the alignment of the stars… – it sets you off down a path that you never would willingly take. Your heart starts pounding and you feel as though you can’t breathe. Your head starts spinning and your balance is off. You feel like you want to vomit. You feel scared and angry. What you really want to do is go home, lock the doors, curl up in a ball and cry. And, cry and cry… You feel all alone. You feel as though no one could possibly understand how you feel and what you are going through.
Tonight I was scrolling through FB and read a post from another friend of mine whose four year old son died from brain cancer. Nine years ago today the doctors told her that there was nothing more that they could do for her son. The cancer had taken over his brain and spine. They were working on making him comfortable. She had to decide if they should try one more chemo to buy some more time with him.
This post was my “trigger” today. My mind is speeding a million miles a hour and I’m back in the doctors office where they confirmed what I already knew – Gabriella’s tumor was not only growing again but it had metastasized. I feel the despair of knowing that my precious time with my daughter is running out. I feel the desperation from calling doctors from around the world begging for them to help save my daughter’s life and hearing them tell me that there is nothing that they can do to help us.
I feel helpless and hopeless. I feel as though I have failed as a parent; because our job as a parent is to keep our kids healthy and safe. But, cancer viciously takes our job as a parent away from us. It emasculates us and leaves us in a broken heap. I imagine that every single cancer parent feel the exact same way.
PTSD is real. It needs to be acknowledged and addressed. It is not something that we are “imagining”. It’s not something that we need to “get over”. It’s our life. And, our “getting on with our life” oftentimes includes avoidance of things and situations that are our triggers so that we can attempt to lead our “normal” life. Not in the least of which include everyday things like certain stores and restaurants, certain people or family events, holidays and specific dates like birthdays.
We do what we need to do to survive. Don’t tell us how we should be feeling. Don’t tell us what we need to do to “get better”. Don’t make us explain the decisions that we make. Don’t make us feel bad for our choices. You don’t need to fill the silence with trite sayings and meaningless words. Just BE with us. Don’t disappear from our life. We need you. We need you to sympathize with where we are, what we are doing and how we are feeling at any given moment. We realize that we are emotional roller coasters. Don’t make us feel bad because we are so sad. And, for goodness sake, if you see us in a happy moment, don’t make a big deal about it. That just makes us feel guilty for having a positive emotion. We understand that it is difficult for you. But, stop for a minute and really think about us. You might be sad for some of the time when you are with us but you get to go home and leave that all behind you. We are living this every second of every day for the rest of our life.
It is a living hell having a child that has died. We miss them. We love them. Our love never dies and we never forget.
I miss my girl. I miss all that she should have gotten a chance to do. I miss her hugs and kisses. I miss her sassiness and her attitude. I miss her sense of humor and her laugh.
Dolly, I love you twice as much as yesterday and half as much as tomorrow.