I used to think Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) mostly happened to military people. Then weeks after my daughter’s accident last year, I started experiencing weird things. I would hear a siren and start panicking, complete with rapid breathing and crying. While driving back and forth to the hospital, we’d sometimes drive right over the accident scene; and the same thing would happen. I would be trying to fall asleep at night, and suddenly visualize myself on the phone again with the police officer who was telling me my daughter had been hit by a car. Or I’d remember when we first drove by the still-active accident scene on our way to the hospital that night, seeing all the flashing lights of fire trucks and police cars, and people gathered in groups on the sidewalk, talking about MY CHILD. And remembering how I’d had to restrain myself from leaping out of the car at that point to run through the scene and into the ER (we had to drive around a city block because that route to the ER was blocked by the accident scene – weird, right??). Picture all this flooding my imagination just as I was trying to sleep after another day at the hospital, and later, another day doing whatever I was doing. I was a walking tense brick for months, having what I figured were flashbacks.
I saw my doctor often during those months, while I waited for an appointment from the public mental health system to deal with all the trauma (as I said in my other post, that hospital social worker had NOTHING to offer us, except a few parking passes). That appointment didn’t materialize for many months, and my doctor finally said I had “all the classic symptoms of PTSD.” Things were deteriorating in my mind, and the public system was not getting me in to see a trauma therapist. A friend finally convinced me to try the private therapy route. So I gathered some energy, did yet more research, and found a therapist who gave me a sliding scale fee and who completely clicked with me.
I spent January til the end of March, doing twelve weeks of Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) with a writing component. I had a ton of homework to do; or at least, it felt like a ton because it required a lot of mental and emotional work, and writing things in charts, and being precise about my thoughts. The main purpose is to learn to identify “stuck points” or “automatic thoughts” and challenge them logically. At first I couldn’t get the connection between doing that and relieving flashbacks. But as I learned, I could see. For example, stuck point: “They are leading us to a private family room, therefore our daughter must have died.” (it’s helpful to put these thoughts into if/then statements). Then you walk yourself through other thoughts that challenge this belief. Did they say she died? Just because that’s how it’s done on TV doesn’t mean it’s how it’s done in real life. Maybe they just wanted to give you three some private space away from the crowded waiting room. Maybe the waiting room was full of COVID patients and they didn’t want you to get COVID because now you need to care for your daughter. And so forth. My therapist thoroughly exercised my mind! And it was really helpful, because I started to get the hang of how to recognize a belief and challenge it. And as I did that, I was able to start working through more and more of the traumatic aspects of our daughter’s injuries and accident. It also helped that my therapist was a woman older than I am, who also had a background in art and education before becoming a therapist. She is REALLY good at working with people. And she is very funny. Like, VERY FUNNY. Inside of one hour, she could have me bawling and then get me laughing by the end. I’m grateful to have found her.
And then spring arrived, and some situations improved, and I started to feel better. Then last week, some flashbacks started happening again out of the blue. But I was better able to deal with them this time, by talking myself through and grounding myself in the present moment.
I know that many people deal with PTSD on a more severe basis; my heart goes out to them.
Photos: Some flower brooches I made in order to help myself cope during this time. I’m really glad to have art and craft to turn to. Creating gives hope.