The Darkness of PTSD

PTSD, short for post traumatic stress disorder, comes into a person’s life in a variety of forms. Every person on the planet has encountered someone with PTSD. Perhaps they have it themselves. It is very commonly associated with military, men and women alike. I cannot speak for others, I find myself getting annoyed with those who claim to understand what the military but have never served time in any of the branches of the military. Not many of us civilians have seen what our servicemen and women have seen, so what gives us the right to “understand” what they have experienced? I digress.

I can only speak of what has traumatized me in the short duration of my life and how I’ve learned to cope. I won’t even try to relate to those who have seen the fine art of war, the macabre of death, or the exclusiveness is killing. I simply cannot relate. In all situations, it’s a horror that defies description. Cannot. Be. Explained.

I have been abused. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. I am NOT a victim of those circumstances nor will I allow myself to be victimized again. However, the trauma I experienced has helped me grow as a person. Each situation was different. Each situation left an impression that is unique and distinctive. They allow me to empathize with other women who have been through similar experiences. I chose to take my trauma and learn from it. It was an opportunity to grow and become stronger. Women are strong and resilient.

Every day, I struggle. You can’t see it. You can’t fathom what I’m thinking. You cannot understand the darkness I live in from time to time unless you have personally experienced it for yourself. Today’s struggle has me in darkness.

No, I’m not suicidal. Suicidal people don’t make future plans. Especially not with people they care about and love. I also do not have a plan for that shit.

It’s just a weird dark place where I can’t communicate what’s in my head. I just want to be held. No talking. No words. Someone just wrap their arms around me and let me be. I might cry. I might be stone-still in your arms. Please don’t tell me to suck it up. I’d never say that to you.

Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Right now, I’m taking a short trip through that dark valley. I’m not reliving my past but rather, I’m feeling crowded by the darkness swirling in my brain. PTSD, for me, comes with residual darkness. It’s a jumble of negative emotions that rise to the surface of my being. The positivity I try to express on a daily basis can overwhelm me. I cannot be happy-go-lucky all the time. When the darkness emerges, I struggle to contain it. It’s not who I am. It’s not the real me.

Can I cry right now? Will you hold me while I cry? Please don’t tell me that it will be okay. Just be understanding and know that this happens on occasion. All I want to do is cry. Crying helps me. It’s very cleansing for me. Once I’ve shed tears, life resumes some semblance of normalcy. I can be me again.

Wait. I’ve never had anyone hold me while I’ve cried. Strange but true. Not even at a funeral. Sad but true. I wonder if my darkness would be less frequent and shorter-lived if someone did wrap their arms around me. I’ve had others cry on my shoulders. Yet, I’ve never done the same. Perhaps it’s part of my struggle in my darkness.

NaNoWriMo

Okay, folks!  It’s that time of year again where I indulge in self-torment, high quantities of caffeine, demonstrate my ability to not forage for food, and agonize over all the crap that has to be done before I can even sit down to write.

This is your warning.  Your only warning.

I may or may not be blogging at all for the wonderful month of November.  I’m pretty sure my stress levels will be determined by how I have failed to do laundry or dishes or clean the house.  Hopefully my boyfriend will get the hint.  Or not.  I can anticipate him providing me with provisions though, as Adele (or Queen) mourn their tales of woe through my iPhone while the clacking of the keyboard mounts a tempestuous tale of its own. Maybe I’ll include some BlackBriar, Sara Barielles, Ellie Goulding, or Eminem to proffer as the muse for my novel.

Sylvia Plath and Hemingway simply will not do as an audible.  But, by the end of November, I may find myself at the end of a rope.  Not to hang myself with but more as a cliffhanger in anticipation of my next novel.  The line is dangling and the fish are already biting.  I’ve had a few read the first few rough drafts of my current novel.  They are begging for more.  One of them even slapped me on the arm, wanting to know where the rest of it is.  I simply tapped my temple and said, “In here. Locked safely away until next time”.  She was mad at me.  Until I promised her the first signed copy.

She will be getting the very first signed copy.

I’m on the hunt for an editor.  Someone majoring in English Lit at a local college will suffice as long as there is the understanding that I can only pay in coffee or use of my culinary skills.

Yes, I have skills.  Guys like girls with skills.

The Life of a Retail Worker

As the holidays approach, do you think about the people who assist you in retail stores or even scan your items for purchase?  Working retail is a very thankless job.  It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever worked.  There is no gratitude in it. When is the last time you said “thank you” and meant it to someone who helped you?

Although not everyone can be pleased, there are a handful who are satisfied with the service they’ve received.  At many stores and restaurants, have you noticed the website and code on your receipt?  It’s a survey. If you’ve ever had good service at an establishment, by all means, PLEASE fill that survey out!! Many jobs rely on providing wonderful customer service and by letting the company know about the service you’ve received can determine how the company can grow.

As much as I have protested against pronouncing my profession, I am a pharmacy technician.  I do my best to assist my patients (I prefer to call the people I help rather than customers) with excellent customer service.  I work at a very high volume establishment and often deal with cranky, albeit polite, patients.  I am the friendly voice that you hear on the phone.  I am the smile you see at the window or cash register.

I understand that you’re tired.  You may not be feeling well either.  I empathize with that.  I’ve had days where I’ve worked with one of the most intense migraines or perhaps a vicious bout of insomnia.  However, I don’t let that deter from my service.  I have no reason to treat anyone poorly.  I do no like making any patient wait for their medicine.  I may be having a horrible day but I want you to feel important.  You are important to me.  Why?  Because without you, I would not be able to feed my family or have a roof over my head.

I have encountered some of the most awful retail workers around.  I was polite but determined to change how the cashier treated me.  I’ve had many examples but what impacts me the most is how I can make a difference in someone else’s life.  I want you, as a customer, as a patient, to remember me when you come into my pharmacy.  I want to be the one who changes your day and makes it better.  It does not matter to me what kind of day I’m having.  Your day is just as important to me as mine is.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working the drop-off window and had to answer the phone.  My greeting is always the same:  “Thank you for calling your pharmacy, this is Mia.  How can I assist you today?”  On this particular day, a woman was on the other end.  Her first statement to me was, “Wow!  You are so friendly and I really like that.”  She then proceeded to tell me how her experience with my pharmacy has been so bad during this past year that she really didn’t want to get her medicine from us.  I was apologetic and asked how I could make her experience better.  Then, she said if my coworkers could be as kind as I am, then she would continue to come to my pharmacy.  I then proceeded to take her refill request and gave her a time to pick it up.  Unfortunately, I was at lunch when she picked up her medicine but she told the cashier that she enjoyed talking to me and hoped to see me next time.  What the woman didn’t know, was that I was stressed to the point that taking my medicine was useless.  I was so stressed, that I spent my breaks and lunch crying in my car.  She never knew that.  None of the patients I was waiting on knew what kind of day I was having.  Their day was much more important and if I can make them smile, it makes my day.

On the opposite scale, last week I received a phone call from a customer (she didn’t have any medicine to be ordered) who was looking for a particular OTC (over-the-counter) product.  I had a patient at the window and a few others in line.  I asked the woman to hold for a moment as I had to finish with the person in front of me, then I could go to the floor.  I finished with Mr. Smith, then informed the next patient that I would be right with them.  I went to the floor to find the product the customer wanted and memorized the pricing.  I resumed the phone call with the information the customer requested, let her know that there were a variety in stock along with the request that she come in to find which exact item she wanted.  She then told me that I wasted her time and I was totally worthless as a person.  I politely thanked her and told her to have a nice day.  Honestly, there is no point in being mean or rude, despite the desire to bite back when a customer is nasty.  The next patient at the window more than made up for what the mean lady said.  Yeah, she was a mean lady and I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with her.

I did tell my manager that a customer said I was totally worthless.  I was laughing as was she.

It’s not every day that I get thanked for what I do.  At least not by patients or customers.  Think about it for a moment…  The cashier who is ringing up your purchases says nothing.  Not a single word.  Not to the customer before you (as you witnessed the transaction while you waited in line).  Not to the customer after you.  Not to you.  The cashier has their head down as they scan your items.  No eye contact.  No smile.  Just a simple “thank you” as they hand you your receipt.  I’m willing to bet it does not make you feel very good as a customer.  You most likely won’t return or keep your business to a minimum (if it’s the only store in town).

That cashier feels defeated.  At some point during his/her shift, a customer was mean, rude, and downright nasty to them.  The customer most likely complained about the products or services.  It is situations like this that make retail workers feel like they don’t matter.  We do matter.  We are just as valuable as you are.  It is the customers who make us feel like we are doing something worthwhile.  It is so simple, to make someone who works hard for what little they make, for them to feel as important as the customer.

Over the many years I’ve worked retail (in all capacities – cashier, manager, etc.), I have performed a social experiment.  While I’ve not kept track on paper of my study on humanity, I have come up with some helpful tips.  These tips or ideas if you prefer, will help you survive the upcoming holidays as you shop along with any other time you shop at a retail establishment.

  1.  Greet your cashier/assistant by their name.  It’s on their badge.  If the badge is flipped or missing, ask them their name. Saying their name makes them feel human, like a person.  Like more than just a retail worker.
  2. Ask them how their day is going.  They are will ask if you’ve found everything you needed but beat them to the punch and ask them about their day. They may respond with something as simple as “fine” or “good” or “busy”.
  3. Smile at them.  Even if you are struggling to find your smile after a long day at your job or your child is in the cart screaming because he/she didn’t get that toy they saw.  The cashier often will understand and provide you with sympathy about your day. (You will get the cashier that doesn’t understand what you have dealt with during their day but don’t let that stop you from coming back – you never know when I’ll be providing excellent customer service to you.)
  4. Thank them for their assistance.  A THANK YOU can change everything for a retail worker.  It sounds easy but sincerity in your “thank you” is the kindest thing you can give a retail worker.
  5. Do not hesitate to fill out a survey or tell a manager about the service you received, especially if your cashier/assistant was helpful.  Also, if they were not cordial, a manager that is not aware of the issue cannot rectify the situation.

Retail companies depend upon shoppers to stay in business.  I enjoy my job.  Particularly because I believe that something so small as a genuine smile can make a person feel better than any other type of medicine.

The holidays are coming, so please be kind to the person assisting you with your purchases!

Edit: Today, when I helped a patient in the drive-thru (there were two), I received this note when she returned the carrier:

This made my day (as the other patient yelled at me). I really appreciate this note.

Falling

Wise men say, only fools rush in

But I can’t help, falling in love with you

That’s such a good song by Elvis Presley.

Are we foolish for falling in love with someone? What makes love foolish? Is love only a game for fools?

It’s easy to love someone. My friend K once said that I am a very easy person to love. Looking back on my life and relationship history, (sorry if I sound narcissistic here), I can see how someone could fall in love with me.

As I’ve gotten older and have experienced the hardships of life, falling in love hasn’t been easy. I’ve been more jaded and cynical about love. I can love someone I care about fairly easy but it’s a different kind of love. It’s a way for me to say “I care about you”, “I’m concerned about your wellbeing”, or “I want to know what is going on in your life”.

It’s not necessarily about romantic love and intimacy. It’s a way for me to draw closer to those I genuinely care about.

I’ve surrounded myself with an invisible wall over the last several years. My heart has been barricaded and I’ve not had a reason to take a sledgehammer to the bricks. It’s as if a cast-iron chastity cage has been erected and oxidized with no hope for rusty disintegration.

Love is a risk. I believe my walls have come down, brick by brick but the cage is still around my heart.

Am I a fool for falling? Or is it the wisest thing I could do for an amazing man who deserves my whole heart?

Communication

Talk to me.

The problem is I can’t verbalize it. I cannot speak the words necessary to convey the overwhelming thoughts in my head. I’ve always been this way. Even as a child, I couldn’t feel anything to express myself. The words never came.

I still struggle with this but I’ve gotten better than I once was. I write. My written expressions are far better than what comes out of my mouth.

There is pain. There is a guarded wall around my heart. I can show and speak love, but I do not always feel it, no matter how it’s demonstrated. I felt love as it was spoken to me last year, after spending a few days in a mental hospital.

I had a nervous breakdown. It felt peaceful being there, despite the damage. I am broken. I am damaged. However, that doesn’t meant I’m beyond repair. I cling to that hope most days. The staff didn’t understand why I was there. I’m not an addict. I didn’t have a death wish. I had no plan of action for suicide.

I was just in a tremendous amount of mental anguish and emotional pain. I was overwhelmed by life. I knew suicide wasn’t the answer. Hence, no plan.

My need for self-preservation was greater than my need for self-harm. I kept repeating that as it was how I felt. I still feel that way. Please allow me to repeat myself…

My desire for self-preservation is greater than my need for self-harm.

I’ve been through counseling. I was studying to become a therapist myself. Those studies were abandoned when I realized I couldn’t help anyone until I fixed myself. Instead of fixing myself, I dove deeper into my self-created spiral. I created it by my actions. The detriment of myself. The degradation and devaluation of who I was. I had lost control of my life.

I feel as though I’ve failed. Failed in relationships, not just the romantic ones either. Failed as a woman. Failed in my general existence. It’s depressing and overwhelming.

Don’t worry. I have no intention of ending my life. No future plans of it, either. God will take me home when He’s good and ready. I have a lot of reasons to live. I have an amazing and supportive boyfriend who gets me and understands what I’m going through. I’m sure it scares him at times, especially being so far away. My two best friends are incredible too. They know how to make me laugh until I pee my pants. They also have been through hell with me. I know my parents love me. I love my niece, D, and there’s another girl in the way. How would my brother explain that the pain I was feeling destroyed my self-preservation? Without certain people in my life, I’m not sure how I would survive.

In the meantime, I will shed tears for no reason. Shutdown emotionally so I can sort the mess in my head. When I learn how to talk and find the words I need in order to express myself without destroying relationships, I will know how to convey what’s in my heart.

Imagine a cassette tape. Your cassette player has pulled out the magnetic strip to the very end. The end that was once glued to the wheel. Now it’s a jumbled mess that no pencil can wind back inside it’s original container.

Yep, that’s what’s inside my head.

Motherhood

One of my deepest heart’s desire is to be a mother.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” – Psalm 37:4

I’ve had two documented pregnancies. I lost the first at 10 weeks and was required to have a D&C. I was absolutely heartbroken. I fell into an abyss of depression. The doctor said I was young, there would be others, but I needed to let my body heal. The physical healing took about 8 weeks; the emotional healing took many years. I’m still not sure I’m over it.

After I was healed, I was ready to try again. My then husband refused to touch me for a year. That added to my depression. I later found out that he was terrified of becoming a father, despite his friends telling him that having children and becoming a father was the best thing that could ever happen to him.

I pushed to try again. To the point of attempting in-vitro fertilization. It was unsuccessful, as one can see. We didn’t have the means to try a second round. I could only sit back and watch my friends have babies.

We saw another doctor, who could not explain my lack of pregnancy or the infertility. I could explain it pretty well. Sex was so infrequent that there was zero chances of pregnancy. I kept a record. I can count on one hand how many times we had sex in the last year of our marriage. That’s painful to think about.

Shortly after we split, I was with someone new. It didn’t take long to figure out I was pregnant. I was scared to get attached to this pregnancy. A month afterwards, the day after Mother’s Day in 2015 to be more specific, I felt the tell-tale signs of a miscarriage. I walked into the back room, where my very pregnant (7 months) boss was working on some phone calls to clients. I was holding my stomach, trembling, as I told her I needed to go home.

“Why? You don’t look sick and I need you here,” she said.

“I’m pregnant and losing it,” was my reply.

She whipped around in the chair with a look of shock on her face.

“No way. You can’t be pregnant. What?!?”

I could feel the tears welling in my dark brown eyes. I choked them back.

“Yes, and I don’t want to do it here.”

She just stared at me, stunned. I decided I wasn’t going to wait for her permission. I punched out and left.

I went home to an empty apartment, grateful my roommate was gone. I sat on the toilet, feeling a very intense cramp. Laying on the toilet paper, was my baby. I was a few days shy of second trimester. I took a picture. I’m not posting it for personal reasons.

I laid in bed, wishing my roommate was home. I soaked my pillow, draining the pain of my heart from my eyes. When I woke up, I set off for the local urgent care. I wanted confirmation of my loss.

The doctor on duty confirmed I was about 12 weeks along. I left the clinic feeling empty and numb.

I haven’t been pregnant since. I keep telling myself that it’s okay, that life is good without being a mom. I love other children as if they are mine but in reality, it is different.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be a mom. I’m not getting any younger. I’ll never get to hear a heartbeat in my empty womb. I’ll never get to feel the baby’s first kick. I’ll never get to see the baby’s gender on a sonogram. I’ll never be able to choose between a VBAC or a cesarean, or an epidural or not. I won’t get to experience the pain of childbirth or the joy of holding my baby for the first time. I won’t get any of that.

Instead, I have resigned myself to sitting back and watching my friends have their babies.

I don’t think I’ll achieve my heart’s deepest desire.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

The hardest part is waiting and accepting my life without the chance of motherhood.

Not knowing if I will ever receive the desire of my heart, only fuels the never-ending ache. The festering, open hole in my heart.