Ok. Deep breath. :)
This is the more difficult post for me to write.
It's not easy to be such an open book.
But it needs shared.
So HOW did we get PTSD?
We experienced a shocking, scary and dangerous event. That event could have been the death of a loved one, war, tornado, fire, child abuse, sexual assault, life threatening illness or injury, surgery that was complicated or long.
Everyone experiences these with a wide range of reactions. Most recover naturally & more quickly. With few if any complications or lingering effects. However, if we continue to experience the reactions there is a possibility that we have PTSD and/or anxiety disorder.
PTSD can strike anyone at any age, no matter the traumatic event.
*Please remember not to self-diagnosis. Yes! Educate yourself. If you suspect PTSD? See your doctor. Discuss your concerns with him. Visit a counselor who specializes in PTSD. Get a medical diagnosis before this consumes you! YOU ARE LOVED!
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
1. Flashbacks to the event. *One of mine was every time I tried to lay down in the bed, the flashback was to being on the stretcher into the surgery room. Or seeing Rick laying on the stretcher at the back of the hearse that came to take him away.
2. Nightmares that somehow involve pieces of the event. *For me, this was (and continues to be, but not as often) a dream of being in total darkness. Feeling immense pressure on my body, as though tied down. Hearing an urgency in the voices around me. Knowing my son was calling to me as though he were hurting and I could not get to him.
3. Frightening and/or fearful thoughts. *Feeling like I was waiting for "the other shoe to drop". Knowing something bad was going to happen, waiting for it.
4. Intense drive to stay away from the places & people that remind you of that event. *I still never want to go to Houston, TX again. Nor do I even want to get close! It took me 4 years before I could step inside the funeral home where Rick was.
5. Strong guilt (as in survivor guilt), or depression. *Why did I survive uterine cancer and he died from kidney disease? Why did I survive cancer when so many others did not? How did I have my hand on his chest and not feel him leave that morning? Why did I turn my eyes away for those 3 seconds?
6. Losing interest in things that you previously enjoyed. *Reading. I used to devour books. For 7 years now, I have struggled to focus and finish a book.
7. Trouble remembering details of your life, except for that event. *It's like living in a fog, a thick pea-soup type fog.
8. Being easily startled. *I have always been jumpy. Rick used to love it, cause I would be so focused on what I was doing that he could sneak upon me, say something and I would scream. Lol. This is not that. I have found myself literally jumping at every noise, no matter how small or great.
9. Feeling constantly tense or on edge. *Listening intently to hear anything, or everything. Or when cross words are spoken between those I am with. I think that is still the worst. Takes everything out of me to control the emotions at that point.
10. Difficulty sleeping, insomnia. *For me, the best sleep has been when I can hear others talking, or when the TV is on. I sleep 2-4 hours, then wake up. Often finding myself awake around 2 a.m. and not going back to sleep until night time.
11. Angry out bursts because you can't find the one point of blame. *No one has heard my outbursts. I've kept those to myself. But oh. Yes.
12. Extreme quietness. *I have hours that I don't say a word to anyone. Not mad. Just do not feel like talking. More times than not, or so it seems to me, I would rather just be quiet - because my tolerance for bullshit is so low these days.
13. Distress at anniversary dates. *I never have to think about the day, nor the hour. I don't have to look at a clock or calendar. I just know the day, and the hour. I can tell you how long it has been since my surgery, and how long it has been since Rick died. I don't try ... it's just there. There is a "countdown clock" that lives in my head.
14. Showing affection too much, or not enough. *I tend to be the "too much" kind of person. Skin hunger. Fear of more loss. Loneliness. Emptiness. As well as a type of grounding myself.
15. Excessive irritability. *I find the irritability the worst when I am really tired. When my mind and my body are on overload.
16. Extreme difficulty in concentrating. *It is difficult for me to concentrate to read, or to watch a movie. I do good at watching a 30 minute or hour long show. But still struggling with a movie.
17. Beginning or increase in physical ailments: high blood pressure, rapid breathing, muscle tensions, nausea, bowel changes, body aches, allergies, headaches, vision changes. *This is what took me to see Dr. Pierce in the first place. It was as a result of the tests and all his questions that PTSD was diagnosed.
Remember, PTSD lasts longer than a few days, or even a few weeks. We are talking months and years here.
Also, PTSD can fade away, lie dormant within us, and then a trigger can make it rise again.
What are those triggers?
They are different for everyone who has PTSD.
A smell that is associated with that event. A noise. A news article. A conversation about the event. A reference to that event in any medium. A song. There are literally thousands of triggers. That's why it is so important that you find Yours.
What are mine?
*Seeing MD Anderson mentioned anywhere - in the news, on Facebook, etc...
*Hearing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" - that was just one of the many songs that Rick would wrap his arms around me and sing.
*Smelling Black Suede cologne (Avon product).
*I was in Barnes & Noble not long ago, and it was all I could do to stand upright, to not collapse on the floor in a crying heap. I was walking down an aisle, looked up to the top shelf and there was Rick's Bible cover. It was the EXACT one that he had last. Same color, same size, same wording on the front. I stood there, forcing myself to breath in and breath out. Then, I took a picture of it. Just so that I could force myself to look at it again when I got to the house and tell myself all those positive words.
*Smelling a cherry cigar.
*For a while, hearing the word "cancer" was a massive trigger.
*Standing in the room where Rick died.
*I was in Walmart one day and walked past the aisle that has all the feminine products. I stopped. I couldn't breathe. I instantly felt dizzy. Since I had had uterine cancer, and the surgery was a radical hysterectomy, I no longer needed those items - however, they were a reminder to me of what had happened.
What makes you a Survivor of PTSD?
1. You have an optimistic yet realistic outlook.
*I know what happened. I know when it happened. And I know that I survived both. Not sure why yet. But I believe there is a purpose for my life yet. Being optimistic doesn't mean seeing life thru rose-colored glasses. It does mean that even on bad days, or in the darkest of moments, you know "this too shall pass". Good always follows bad. Always.
2. You face your fears.
*The greatest fear of my 58 years has been the thought of losing my husband. That happened. April 23, 2015. I faced it. I survived it. What else is there to really be afraid of? Death is a part of life. A real sucky part!
3. You have an inner moral compass.
*I know right from wrong. I have always had a code that I lived by. And as Woodrow says in Lonesome Dove: "I can't tolerate rude behavior." So, I refuse to be rude myself - to others, or to myself.
4. You are a spiritual person.
*I don't consider myself religious. Rick always said, "Religion is man reaching up to God. Relationship is God reaching down to man." I do have a relationship with God. I can't imagine navigating these waters of grief and PTSD without that Anchor. But I am also a very spiritual woman. As an empathetic I can be no less.
5. You have social support.
*I didn't have support after my cancer surgery. It was a difficult time in our lives with Rick, so all the focus was on him and me being his 24/7 caregiver. I was told repeatedly by others that they did not believe I had had cancer. When questioned as to why they believed that, each time their answer was: "Because you didn't have to have any treatments." Well, according to the path report and the oncologist? It was caught early, which was a blessing considering it was the most aggressive form and he said I had at the most 6 months to live! But I guess what does an oncologist know, right?
*I did have social support after Rick died. Because I sought it out online in widow/widower support groups. Having been told time after time that "it is high time that you let him go and move on with your life" (and this started at month 2!), or "it's your fault he is dead! You didn't love him enough! You didn't give him proper care!" I did not seek out support face to face, nor from any of those near me.
6. You have role models.
*This was a difficult one for me. Thankfully, one of my dearest friends was a couple of years ahead of me on this road. And SHE called me. She walked me thru that first year, the thoughts, the emotions. She held me when I cried. She was there when I reached out, but thankfully, she didn't wait for me to reach out - she did a LOT of reaching in to me.
*The role model I chose for the uterine cancer was my momma. She had had uterine cancer in 1996. She faced it bravely, even with the treatments. Her's was the less aggressive kind. But she never complained. She endured. And I was determined to face it head on. I would have cancer, but no way in hell was cancer going to have ME!
7. You are more physically fit.
*I wasn't very fit when cancer hit me, we had been on the truck (long-haul) for a couple of years. So I was probably in the worst shape of my life. Then as I became full time caregiver to Rick, any taking care of me beyond the absolute necessity of just surviving, went on the back burner - the way, way, way back burner.
*After Rick died, in the first 2 years I lost about 150 pounds. I wouldn't recommend the widow-diet to anyone, just saying. Then in the next 2 years I gained about 50 pounds back. But just before Thanksgiving 2019 I made ME a promise - to lose the weight and KEEP it off. I want to be the best I can be for ME @ 59 years old.
8. You find a way to accept what cannot be changed.
*What else can you do? Louis L'Amour said in one of his books (I can't remember which one right now): "If you fight against the desert, you will surely die. If you learn to live with it, you will!" I read that years & years before all this happened, but it made an impression on me, and I have taken that and made it a mantra of sorts for my life.
*The song "Let It Be" by the Beatles. That song plays in my head and in my heart all the time. A lot of the time it is playing on my phone, too! :) There is so much truth and wisdom in the lyrics of the song. And the music, it is peaceful and calming. I love it!
9. You look for meaning and opportunities.
*My website has taken on new meaning to me. If no one ever reads it, it is my therapy. Hopefully someone will read it and be helped - that was Rick's desire, and my prayer to honor him.
*I'm still looking for something to do with my life. Still feel much like a fish out of water no matter where I am. But, I keep going - moment by moment, breath by breath.
10.You keep mentally sharp.
*I have a game on my phone that I use daily. Wood Block Puzzle. It is a bit like Tetris. I try to get the highest score, and there is always a game running. Lol. I may not play but 5 minutes at a time. But it is my go-to for focus and concentration exercising.
11. And as Rick would say: "Honey, you are too damn stubborn to give up or quit!" Lol
*He was right. LOL Just don't let him hear me admit it!
It's not easy to be so open about my trials and struggles with PTSD.
I haven't arrived anywhere. I am still on the journey - and I accept that it will be a lifelong journey.
Will I ever fully recover? Perhaps.
But even if I don't - God is still God. And He is still good.
I don't have all the answers - for my cancer survival, for being a widow, for living this life.
But I know it's ok to have questions without answers.
And really cool when an answer finds me!
One of the most important lessons I have learned in life is when dealing with a medical "condition", you neither take the word of the doctor as absolute, nor do you entirely self-diagnosis/medicate.
When it comes to matters of health it should be a combined effort, a joining of mind and hands if you will, to provide the clearest diagnosis, and the best care possible, for yourself or your loved ones.
If you read the paper on the wall of your doctor, it will say "Practicing Physician". That means your doctor, or mine, is NOT God. Their word is NOT definitive. I have experienced this "practicing" time after time. And honestly? Any doctor worth their salt will absolutely agree.
Now, before I go any farther, don't misunderstand me. I thank God for our doctors & nurses, as well as the researchers. I simply don't leave everything to them. God also gave me a mind to think with, and the abilities to research articles and papers written. After all ... this is MY body, not the doctors. Right?
Also, when you have received a diagnosis, after much research, testings, talking with your doctor and listening ... do NOT take the word of someone in your family or friend's circle, or someone on a social media site, who says, "I don't believe you have that! I won't ever believe it! You don't need to follow those instructions." Best one I've heard yet? "I know you didn't really have cancer, cause God didn't tell ME that you did! You just wanted the attention."
Hmmmm...what do they REALLY know about your body? Where were they during all the tests, the questions and answers, the meetings with doctors? Everyone has an opinion and most of the time? Those don't need to be shown or expressed, unless asked!
Now, having said all that, lol, I will explain why I said it all. I have not talked much about this. But it's time to, as Rick has said often enough, "get out of your comfort zone, honey. Someone else might need to hear this."
7 years ago after having major cancer surgery, I was diagnosed with PTSD. At the time, I was under the impression that only our military could get PTSD. Or maybe someone who had been a victim of a vicious crime? Or perhaps a severe natural disaster. I had no idea that a "common" girl from East Texas could have it because of cancer and the surgery. My impression was wrong.
My oncologist told me that because of the severity of the cancer, and how close I came to dying because of the cancer itself, as well as the fact that I bled out during surgery (had to receive 11 units of blood) - he wanted me to be aware of PTSD and what to expect. Saying that it would make it easier when it started manifesting itself to me, and he believed it would because he had seen it too many times in other patients as well. It didn't take long. I am so thankful that he did prepare me, because it was scary as hell! And if I had not known anything about it? OMW! So, yes! I will forever be grateful to Dr. Michael Frumovitz at MD Anderson hospital in Houston TX for being blunt, honest and real with me.
4 1/2 years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD again. Different situation. Different doctor. A doctor who knew not one thing about the original diagnosis. A doctor who diagnosed me only after talking with me, and running the tests. "Margaret, you have PTSD & Complicated Grief. You will be ok. We will find a way to get you thru this. You are a strong woman. You got this!" As I sat in Dr. Pierce's office with tears running down my cheeks, and shaking like a leaf.
Thru my own reading and research, as well as the info given to me by the doctors, I want to share with you what I have learned.
1. PTSD seldom disappears completely. It often lies dormant until something* causes it to rise up within.
2. PTSD demands that we learn a more effective way of coping with it, and with those triggers that cause it flare up time and time again.
3. You may have PTSD - but PTSD does NOT have to have YOU!
So, how do we cope more effectively?
1. Educate yourself. Knowledge is powerful. But you must do more than simply "know". You must use wisdom and "do" what you "know".
2. Do not skip exercise. No matter how bad you feel. No matter the weather. No matter what! Get up! Move! If all you can do is lay in bed, then move your arms, move your legs. If all you can do is sit in a chair - move your arms, move your legs, do some neck rolls. Something! Move!
3. Find a distraction. This could be a funny TV show, like "I Love Lucy" or "Friends" or whatever you find funny. You need to laugh! It could be an interesting old movie, think John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart, or Humphrey Bogart. Read a book, even if it is a comic book like "Calvin & Hobbes". Play a mind game on your computer or phone, think Tetris type games. Listen to calming music - the blues/jazz, Celtic, Big Band era, Southern Gospel, Old Country, Old time Rock-n-Roll.
4. Consult an expert regularly. Don't miss a doctor's appointment. Talk with a chaplain, or a pastor. Visit a counselor. Gary Roe is a great online counselor, who will chat and email. There are others, too.
5. Find a confidante. Preferably someone who has walked your path before you. Someone you trust with your darkest thoughts. This one can be difficult if you don't already have someone. Be careful opening your mind and heart to someone you don't really know. Test these waters with much care.
6. Spend time with family and with friends. These people knew you before PTSD knew you. This is a time in your life that you need to USE their knowledge of you, USE the love they have for you. Do not isolate yourself!
7. Increase your body awareness. Know your triggers. Know what the beginning of a PTSD flare up feels like. For me? My heart begins to race. My thoughts are swirling like a tornado in my head. My hands become sweaty, or severely cold all of a sudden and for no good reason. I get a sudden urge to either cry, or just start running like the wind.
When you realize what the beginning of a PTSD flare up feels like, what can you do to alleviate it? To make it calm the hell down?
1. Remind yourself that YOU GOT THIS! You can do it! You can take control.
2. Take a deep breath thru your nose, hold it to the count of 3, let it out slowly thru your mouth. This forces oxygen thru your body, and it calms your breathing as well as your heart rate. Often I have found doing this several times will stop the flare up completely. I choose to focus on my breathing and the trigger loses its power over me.
3. Stop any negative thoughts & replace them with positive and rational ones. I keep a folder in my photo album on both my phone and my computer of positive encouraging memes. When the negative thoughts begin to scream at me, I open my photo gallery and I go to the folder marked "Fight like a girl" or "Life Wisdom". And I read them over and over and over again. Then I think about them, and let them take hold of my mind and heart.
4. Use positive reinforcing statements. "You got this!" "You can do this!" "I have PTSD but it does NOT have me!" "I am strong enough to handle it!" I also use Bible verses about trusting in God. Psalm 31 is one of my favorites.
5. Divert your attention. Again - read, watch TV, play a game, go for a walk, talk to someone. Find something to draw your attention away from PTSD and this particular flare up BEFORE a flare up! Have it ready. Install the game on your phone or computer. Keep the book handy. Have someone on speed-dial. Or keep their name at the top of your Messenger list.
In my next blog post I will discuss HOW we came to have PTSD. As well as what the symptoms are.
Until then ... YOU GOT THIS!
Life isn't fair, nor is it easy. Especially when that final good-bye must be said.
For me as a widow, any death takes me back to that fateful day of Rick's flying high moment.
Even if I don't know the one who has just died.
The helicopter crash on this past Sunday that took 9 lives, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter, shook me to the core. I felt that "golden hour" when the EMT's worked on Rick all over again. Every moment of that day replayed in my head on Sunday as though it were just happening.
A few days ago a young man connected to our family thru marriage, 29 years old, took his life. The song, "How Do You Get That Lonely", by Blaine Larsen, played over and over in my heart for hours.
There have been other deaths since the beginning of 2020. My heart is grieving. My soul is heavy. I feel the grief that others are now going thru. I feel their questions, the loss of hope, the emptiness they must now live with, their pain.
And these 2 are especially close to my heart:
My cousin Ruth. I got the message Monday morning at 1:04 a.m. that she had passed. Memories flooded my heart. She was 30 years older than me, so in many ways she was more like a beloved aunt than a cousin. Her son and I grew up together, and have remained best of friends thru the years. I will greatly miss knowing that Ruth was just a phone call away. She had the biggest heart to help, and a total no-nonsense, no-bullshit way, of telling you what was right or wrong. Yes, she will be forever loved & always missed.
Nick, where do I begin? I haven't always known you, but the last almost 20 years makes it seem as though it has been forever. You were one of the many who called me "Momma". My heart is forever broken.
I think about the times you would wrap me in your giant gentle bear hug, hold me close against you, and say, "Momma, I love you." I will miss that so much in the months and years to come.
The way you teased Josh that you were my favorite son. The way you took Rick's hand in yours and shook it like a man. The honor you had for him. The love he shared for you. Again, thank you for being one of the first to call me when Rick died. I still hear your voice, of worry and concern for me. You told me, "Dad is in a better place, Momma, you know that. But are YOU ok? I'm 4 hours away, but I can leave work and be at your side in 2!"
The joy and pride you had in your boys. Thank you for sharing them with me.
Oh, Nick. I have loved you with a Momma's love since meeting you that very first time. I will always. You had that special way about you to make every girl, no matter her age or any thing else, feel like she was Princess of your heart & the only female in your life. I love you baby.
Gone too soon. Never to be forgotten. Always to be loved.
Sitting here this morning wondering what to write. I feel that I need to write something. Because I told Rick I wouldn't stop, I wouldn't give up - good days or bad, or simply indifferent ones.
Dessie had emergency gall-bladder removal surgery almost 3 weeks ago. She is doing good now. Received a good report from her doctor last Wednesday.
Mandy had surgery on Thursday last week for the removal of 3 cysts on her scalp that had started growing and causing discomfort & pain to her. She returns to the doctor this Thursday for post-op check up and path report.
Staying here in Sulphur Springs, where I was born and raised, where Rick was, too, and where we lived a great portion of our life together ... and where he died ... is different these days.
Surrounded by friends, school-mates, & family ... and I have never felt so alone and lonesome!
Thousands of miles away from here I felt closer to each one than what I do this trip here.
I know that life goes on for everyone. I get that. I don't expect, nor ask, for anyone to change their life, nor to even interrupt their schedules for me. However, it would be nice to be included on occasion. Sigh.
Sometimes I think I remind them that Rick is gone. If I am not here, it is easier to tell themselves that he is just working out of state, or still driving the truck. Or at the least to put his life & death out of mind, and not deal with their own loss and grief. And without me here they aren't put in a difficult situation of not knowing what to say, or how to deal with my grief.
Hearing the stories of my Rick would bring such comfort and many smiles to my heart these days.
If only his name is spoken it gives me hope that he has not been forgotten.
But everyone seems to refrain from mentioning him - almost like they don't want to remind me that he's gone. Well, guess what? I know he's gone. I know he's not coming back.
But I'm not gone.
I'm still alive.
And I'm here NOW.
Doesn't seem to matter though.
Driving on these highways and back roads makes the memories intense sometimes. Often makes a soft tear, but more often a big smile. I feel him here. I hear his voice, his laughter. All those late night and early morning rides. The Sonic runs. The trips to the parts store for a vehicle he was working on. Motorcycle rides all hours of the days and nights. God, I miss him! I miss our life. So thankful that we had the time together, and that we valued our times.
I'm struggling with having a direction and purpose for my life.
Staying with the kids, or with family/friends - it's different. Not being the "woman of the house", not knowing whether to cook or clean (I do, because I want to help as much as possible - but at the same time, I don't want to invade, interfere, or cause any friction).
I miss having "me things" about me.
I miss having a voice in decorating, cooking & cleaning.
Makes me wonder ...
But all I can do is wait ... hope ... pray.
Speaking of praying.
I have started that again. Praying for me.
I have always prayed for others. But after Rick died, I stopped praying for me.
But a couple of weeks ago, I returned to my roots of prayer.
I know 2 things without question -
*1. There is a God.
*2. I am not Him.
I must simply trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways acknowledge Him. He has promised to direct my paths and make them straight. It also means trusting in HIS time.
I pray that this waiting time will not be wasted time. As I wait to see what He will do with me, with my life, that I will work on ME - to become the best ME I can be, this age and this point in my life.
Lord, Bless me ... and bless me Indeed - for Your will, Your purpose, Your praise.
Every blessing that You give, I will turn back to praise to You.
On the drive from Joshua's to Mandy's last Wednesday, I spent the time listening to music - all genre's. God really spoke to my heart thru some of those songs. I cried more that day than what I have cried in a long time. But they were HEALING TEARS. Oh so precious healing tears. I am so thankful for that 4+ hour drive. Makes me look forward to the trip back at the end of this week.
My life is complicated right now. Perhaps it always will be.
It's not okay, but yet it is.
It's like everything is falling apart ... but falling together - all at the same time.
I will forever miss Rick in my life. But I know he is in my heart. I have a greater sense of wanting to hear him say, "You've done good girl".
My mind and heart are open to a 2nd chapter of Love and Life - but I am not going to spend my time searching and seeking that.
I am believing that if there is a 2nd chapter for me - God already knows that, and HE knows who & when & how to make it all happen. I don't want to get in His way, nor do I want to miss anything He has for me - no matter what or who it is. And if there is not a 2nd chapter? Then HE Himself will be my constant companion and life partner.
God is God. He created Eve from the rib of Adam and the dirt on the ground. He doesn't need me to interfere with this. :) I am simply going to stay open with my mind and my heart, and let HIM order my steps and direct my ways.
Perhaps Rick will be allowed to have a small part in making it happen, if it is to be. That would make me smile even more.
I'm working on my health. Being more careful with what I eat, and how much I eat. Also paying closer attention to WHY I am eating.
For comfort? Reach out to someone. Read a book. Spend a little time in my prayer journal.
For boredom? Reach out to someone. Read a book. Spend a little time in my prayer journal.
So why "Scattered Feathers" ? ? ?
You can read it here