The following is an excerpt from the manuscript I am working on entitled Traumatic Episodes: Finding Grace in a Life Lived with PTSD. It’s very much a work in progress. There will be journal-like entries (as with the one below) along with narrative chapters covering different time periods in my life.
(Petros the Stress Demon is my name for PTSD. )
I woke up yesterday, got showered and dressed for church and then experienced such an onslaught of symptoms that I couldn’t make myself leave the house. The day before, I had cooked two large meals- one with meat, the other vegetarian, for the men’s group that was scheduled to meet at my home that night. There was a beef stew made with grass fed skirt steak which I had sliced into small pieces, and organic potatoes, carrots, and onions slow cooked with a box of organic bone broth mixed in for flavor. For the vegetarians, I made organic red lentils with organic brown rice mixed with organic spinach. The lentils were spiced with garam masala. There was probably food for at least ten people. No one turned up, despite it being announced multiple times at church, and me telling individual men about it. I thought I had accepted it with reasonable equanimity, but it may have been one of the reasons for my PTSD induced inertia on Sunday morning.
I really wanted to go to church. It’s Advent, and I recently wrote a blog post about my new found appreciation for the liturgical calendar after having grown up in a non-liturgical tradition. The previous week, I’d missed church as well for a different reason so I was looking forward to the service. I’d gotten up in plenty of time and had completed my morning ablutions fully intending to go. Once I walked downstairs however, it felt like a huge weight had attached itself to me. Instead of sitting down on my couch in response to this millstone’s presence, I walked around my dining room to try to get over the feelings of depression and the overwhelming feeling that there was an insurmountable obstacle awaiting me should I step out the door. That obstacle was a sanctuary full of people. Kind, lovely, supportive people. These are people who work to build community and live into the Kindom of God. They are the types of people, my church is the type of church, that I dearly WANT to be more integrally involved in (hence my desire to start a men’s group) but Petros the Stress Demon has warped my brain in ways that tend to make me a reclusive extrovert, which if you are wondering is like being pulled into multiple directions at once due to the perceived need to isolate myself to be safe and the very real need to be around people in order to feel healthy, energized, and fulfilled.
Being in a large crowd is something that I will often eschew when I am experiencing symptoms so acutely the way I was yesterday. Cognitively, I know that I likely would have felt the pall of depression lift, and the weight of anxiety drop, had I been able to find the wherewithal to face being seen. That wherewithal was hiding with Stephen Covey-like effectiveness though. I wasn’t sure if the no-show men’s group was the source of the symptoms (perhaps there were some feelings of rejection that triggered old wounds) but I there was a part of me that did not want to be asked about the men’s group by anyone, or to be asked, “how are you feeling today” because, “I feel like shit. Petros is riding my ass like a Kentucky Derby winner today and it just feels like too fucking much to carry,” didn’t seem like it would be a welcome response while in church to potential queries regarding my mental state.
I ended up watching the service being streamed on Facebook Live and really appreciated the sermon that Pastor Anabel preached. As usual she made some thought provoking observations. Other than that, I barely moved from my couch all day as I binge watched a TV show about a Jewish woman who bucks the sexist trends to go into stand-up comedy in the late 1950s, and I played a video game. These distractions help stave off the worst thoughts that Petros likes to whisper so cunningly in my ear like the malevolent, satanic force he is. A few times, I would get up and walk around to see if by moving about the house that the malaise would shift. It didn’t. Suicidal ideations were whispered and floated to my mind like smoke on the wind, attempting to tease me with thoughts of sweet release from this painful existence.
Grace comes in the form of my ability to, in spite of the monumental pain that days like this bring, to be able to say, “I choose life today even though everything feels fucked up, even though in this moment it feels like this is how it will always be, I still choose life, just in case…” I’m at a coffee shop writing this now. I don’t feel like everything is okay, in fact, I don’t feel all that much better than yesterday to be honest. Sometimes grace looks like an incremental change for the better in an awful situation and that gives me a modicum of hope to hang onto until tomorrow.
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