It’s been quiet in this space for a long time. The night I wrote this post, I was mugged outside our home.
It was traumatizing (to put it clinically), and resulted in PTSD and a massive resurgence of anxiety that was previously well-managed. Immediately after, it felt like the world had
been magnified while I shrank; places I had been before were suddenly unfamiliar, I felt small and vulnerable and swallowed up by fear. I was drowning.
We still had to move. Trying to find a new place to live while struggling to feel safe anywhere- it felt impossible. Sometimes it felt like in the movies, when a bomb goes off and the character can hear nothing but a high-pitched ringing, and sees nothing but the soundless movement of other people’s mouths.
I dealt with and continue to struggle with feelings of guilt. Aside from my body being sore from struggling with the attacker in the street, I hadn’t been physically harmed. It could have been different, more violent. Why did I have the right to be as messed up as I was when other people struggle with far worse? I was angry with myself, my body, that I wasn’t able to keep myself safer, that I wasn’t able to sheild myself better from the psychological aftermath and will all of these feelings away.
I spoke with my incredibly kind, accommodating psychology professor after it happened. She explained that for people with PTSD, your amygdala sends out the panic response even when you’re not in danger anymore, like when you’re anxious, taken by surprise, or just thinking about your trauma or the trauma of others. Your brain keeps sending out the message: “you are in danger. you are not safe. you won’t ever be safe again.”
It sometimes feels unfair. I wish I could go back to a time when I felt safer. I think about when I could walk alone without pepper spray in my hand, without looking constantly over my shoulder, or when I could leave the house at night. I used to like to go to the movies by myself after Josh and I put the kids to bed. I don’t think I will ever be able to do that again.
Some things have become easier. My focus and enthusiasm for school are returning. I enjoy reading and solitude again. The deep trench of isolation that trauma causes has been filled and I feel reconnected with my family and friends. I go places alone now, and generally keep my panic response at bay. I don’t feel the sudden roll of tears anymore when I round a corner and someone is walking by. I’ve started sleeping through the night again, and the nightmares and flashbacks of myself, screaming and screaming while no one comes- they’re less frequent.
Some things are still hard. Exercise, something I had really begun to enjoy before, is emotionally complicated and frustrating. Sometimes, when my heart starts beating hard, I can feel tears welling up and my body becoming scared, and I have to walk into an empty room and sob. I plan my days and my schedule around safety and being home before dark. When I hear a noise in the night, I feel compelled to get out of bed to check the locks on the doors and my sleeping children in their beds. It’s exhausting.
I went back and forth a lot with myself, deciding if I should write about this. It’s perhaps the most personal thing I’ve shared. I’ve written it piece by piece, taking breaks when it became too overwhelming to collect my thoughts and my words got fuzzy and confused, a knotted yarn ball of thoughts trying to string together exactly how I feel. Some of it I couldn’t write at all, either I couldn’t untangle the mess and get the words right, or those parts were too upsetting to repeat. It’s hard to say your truth when it’s not what you’d like it to be. Moving forward feels good. Making progress feels good. I like to imagine a future where I look back to this time and feel healed from this experience. I like to imagine that someday I will walk though the door and go home to myself and who I was before. All of those parts of me, the strong and resilient and insouciant, that feel frozen or lost in trauma and fear will make their way back to me, and I’ll welcome them back with a long overdue “hello.”