In my last post I wrote about the traumatic experience that caused my PTSD.
This post was very hard for me to write. The weeks and months following the trauma were marked by suffering at a level I had never experienced before. It was like I was walking along on a beautiful, sunny day, happier in life than I ever had been, when suddenly I fell into a deep, black, seemingly bottomless pit.
After the traumatic experience, I entered into what became the worst season of my life by far. Because of the intensity of the trauma, I developed PTSD, but I didn’t know this until much, much later. The first few weeks following the traumatic experience were the most extreme. It was like my whole being was gripped with tormenting fear.
Several times throughout those weeks my heart would suddenly begin to race like it did on the day of the trauma. I could be watching a movie or reading a book, just sitting peacefully, and suddenly it would shoot right up. It was terrifying. Along with the racing heart, I had nausea, chills, and dizziness, but mostly it was severe fear – gripping, awful fear. There was nothing in particular that I was afraid of, it was just the all-consuming feeling of fear, and it would not leave.
I was sleeping on the sofa because I couldn’t easily get up and down the stairs with my broken foot. I was surrounded by so much anxiety that I asked my husband to sleep on the floor by me, which brought me some comfort. I would wake up and have full on panic attacks in the night, and he would help me get through them. I asked a few trusted friends of mine to pray for me. I felt desperate. I am not naturally a fearful or anxious person. I have always been very peaceful and even-tempered. All of these feelings were completely foreign to me.
At one point I went into A&E again with a racing heart, fearing that I might have a blood clot. They did loads of tests and ruled out a clot. A nurse suggested that I talk to my GP about the possibility that anxiety was causing these symptoms.
I talked to my doctor about what was going on and he diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (later I realised that it was not GAD, but rather, PTSD). He told me that it would most likely be a long time before it went away, if ever. He said that my only options were medication or psychotherapy. He prescribed a drug and sent me home. I promptly had a bad reaction to the medication, feeling like I could hardly breathe for hours.
What followed were several weeks in which I was prescribed two more anti-anxiety drugs, and had adverse reactions to both of them. My symptoms persisted; heart racing at random times, sometimes for the entire night. On two separate occasions I became so weak that I could hardly move from my bed at all for over a week each time. These days were scary because I had never felt so weak, or so terrible in my life. I lost my appetite completely. It’s a very strange thing to look at a plate of food that you would normally love and literally not be able to eat it. To make yourself put a bite of food in your mouth, make yourself chew, make yourself swallow, and then give up after a few bites.
The fear persisted. It was torturous. At one point my husband had to go to London for a meeting. He left me with the kids. I got into such a state of panic, that I called him and begged him to come back. He had to leave in the middle of a meeting.
Not only did I struggle with daily debilitating anxiety, I also had physical (somatic) symptoms every single moment of every single day, without any relief or let-up. The symptoms were: head pressure (like someone was squeezing my head), chest tightness and pressure (like someone was sitting on my chest, making breathing difficult), neck tension, fogginess in my thinking, dizziness, or lightheadedness, chills, intense anxiety, and awful insomnia (up literally every hour, sometimes for hours at a time). And at the same time I was dealing with the difficulty of recovering from a broken foot: hobbling around on crutches everywhere, crawling up and down the stairs, giving myself nightly anticoagulant injections, sleeping on my back with my leg elevated every night.
Somehow I had to find a way to get on with life, while in the state that I was in. And so I tried. Each day was a huge struggle.
I home educate my children which has never been a challenge, but only a joy to me. Suddenly this became very trying, but I did my best. I taught them from my reclining position, either from the sofa or my bed. Of course we couldn’t do any of the hands-on projects like science experiments or art, but we still ploughed through the curriculum. I couldn’t go with them to any of the educational outings we normally go on with our Home Ed community, but thankfully, I have a friend who took them to some of those events.
I tried to go to church. I made it twice in those weeks, and found it a struggle to get through each service.
It was so hard to explain all of this to friends and acquaintances. Suddenly, I completely dropped off the face of the earth, but what was I to tell them? I didn’t even know what was really wrong with me, just that I could not function at all in normal life.
Everything felt scary. Every little thing. I am someone who loves nature and who needs to be outside and get fresh air. I remember being desperate to just sit outside for a while, even though it was the middle of November. I wrapped up warmly and sat outdoors with a book, but just doing this made me feel horribly fearful and anxious. My heart started racing like crazy, but I just made myself ignore it and sat out there for as long as I could.
We tried to go for a walk as a family (or rather a ride in the wheelchair for me) at a park that we like to visit. I felt so anxious the whole time that it made me nauseous.
At the end of November it was Thanksgiving. My husband made the whole of Thanksgiving Dinner himself. We Skyped with my family in America, and there were several times throughout that Skype that I thought I might faint because of how anxious I felt, all the while trying to be friendly and enjoy talking to my loved ones. I joined my husband and kids for Thanksgiving Dinner. I tried to be cheerful, but inside it was turmoil. I was gripping, white-knuckled, the edge of the table, trying to get through what should have been a happy family occasion. I forced myself to eat at least a few bites.
I got my cast off and was finally able to get around without crutches or a wheelchair. This brought some relief to the intense strain of every day.
We were now into December. I was dreading going to my husband’s birthday dinner at one of our favourite pubs, but somehow made it through. I attempted to go to church again, and was talking to someone on the way in, when I was hit with horrible dizziness and had to leave. The symptoms increased from this point on.
The kids had been looking forward to a Christmas pizza party with their Home Ed friends. They really wanted me to go and so I made myself. It was hellish. A busy pizza restaurant. I feigned happiness about getting my cast off and about seeing everyone, but inside I was a total wreck. Again, I clung to the edge of the table and just made myself get through it.
Christmas came. It was a beautiful, happy time for the kids, but extremely trying for me.
I had been blessed that my husband was able to work from home for those first few months, but after Christmas, he had to return to work. I had to face doing each day on my own. It was tremendously difficult.. Although it was hard, I think it was good to have the routine of homeschooling the kids each day, because it helped me to pass the hours, which were exhausting. Each day when I woke up I would cry because I had to get through another day. And I looked forward to bed each night, because at least I could escape from it all for a few hours, with what little sleep I got. I had horrible insomnia, so it wasn’t much of an escape.
From the moment I woke up each morning I would be gripped with intense anxiety. If you can think of the most nervous you have ever been, say before public speaking or something like that? That is how I felt, every second of every day. Getting the Sainsbury’s food delivery was terrifying. I would sit for the hour before it came with utter dread about answering the door. Walking out to the garage was scary. Attempting to do art in my studio was scary. I was confined to my house, because I could not cope anywhere else and could barely cope in my home, as it was. I felt like I was being sucked into a whirlpool; sucked under water; that I couldn’t escape. I am someone who likes to deal with problems as soon as possible. If there is something wrong, or something I need to deal with in my life, I try to identify it quickly and find the solution. With this issue, there was simply nothing I could do to make it go away. There was no “mind over matter” with this. I just had to keep walking through it.
My son and I both had our birthdays in January. He was turning ten and he was very excited. I wanted so badly to be able to come to his party with all of his friends at a rock-climbing centre, but I couldn’t. I had my fortieth birthday at the end of January. Months earlier we had planned a trip to Vienna to celebrate. Our opera tickets were booked, and we had been looking forward to the trip for a long time. We had to cancel. We went to the beach on my birthday instead. I felt so panicky in the car that I almost asked my husband to turn around, but pressed through it. It was lovely to see the sea, but exhausting with my symptoms. I came home after that trip and just lay in bed for hours, my nerves were so frazzled, simply from a little day trip to the seaside.
Throughout this whole time I would pray every few minutes and just imagine God there with me. I would listen to the words that He would gently whisper to my heart. I don’t know how I would have managed without His constant love and presence with me. There were two Bible verses in particular that meant the world to me:
I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘do not fear, I will help you.’ Isaiah 41:13
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4
I had the comfort of my family and the comfort of my God, who I clung to with all that was within me during this time.
I have shared just a glimpse into what life was like for me during the worst stretch of my experience with PTSD.
In the next few blog posts I will tell you how I began to (slowly) turn a corner. I will tell you how I sought healing for my body, soul, and spirit. I will tell you about my big breakthrough, and finally about what I have gained from this experience.
In the next post I will focus on how I sought healing for my body.
- From Fear to Freedom: Part 1
- From Fear to Freedom: Part 3