I have not posted anything recently because I simply haven’t had anything to say. Which is actually a good thing. My anxiety level has been very low. And I haven’t had an emotional “episode” in months. I’ve cut my therapy sessions from every week to every other week and, in fact, between my schedule and my therapists schedule, more appointments have been cancelled in the last 3 months than attended. As I said, this is all really good. It means that I have made progress. I can go several weeks in a row without a therapy session and survive.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a setback…….
In the last week, I’ve had a couple of fairly minor emotional episodes. One triggered by a news story that set me off before I could hit the button to change the radio station while I was driving. I was able to work through it quickly and move on. (Proof of progress!).
The second was triggered by a song on the radio that caused me to snap at my son for no good reason. (For the full story on this particular song, see my previous post: On the turning away….A trigger, a flashback, an incident at church, a sermon, and a Pink Floyd song…Update: Recently I had a great conversation with the young man mentioned in the post. This was the first time I had seen him since. Of course he did not remember me from the incident but was very appreciative of my help when I told him about it. He is happy and as healthy as he has been in years.) I have not been able to listen to this song since the episode described in the post. On this particular evening though, I was in a great mood and feeling really good. I was busy doing something around the house and the radio (actually Pandora) was playing in another room. I noticed immediately when the song came on but quickly decided that, since things had been going so well, I should be able to handle it and went about my tasks, without really paying attention to or even thinking about the song. Part way through the song, my son interrupted what I was doing to ask for help with something. I snapped at him. It was at that point that I realized the song had effected me. I noticed then that my entire mood had changed. I apologized to my boy and went to help him. But the fact that the song had effected me really bothered me for the rest of the evening.
These two incidents really bothered me. They really were not a big deal compared to many of the emotional episodes I have experienced, but it did feel like a set back. Last night during my first therapy session in a few weeks, I talked about the episodes and described the feeling of taking a step or two back. My therapist pointed out that I was able to process them and move past them quickly without letting them “take over”. She told me what a great indicator this is of the progress I have made over the last two and a half years. I commented that I had hoped I had moved beyond these types of episodes and that I was “over it”.
Her response: This is all part of your story now. You cannot change this – it will always be a part of you and who you are…..
Her comment hit me like a ton of bricks. I had the very sudden realization that my PTSD will never go away. I will never get over it. Of course this makes complete sense and I think I probably knew it at some level. However, I had never consciously thought about it in this way. I think I expected that at some point, it would not longer affect me. That after “X” number of therapy sessions I would no longer have to worry about a song on the radio or a news story that has nothing directly to do with me or any of my experiences; That I would be able to go to a party and not have to be concerned that someone might say something or ask me a question about my experiences that I was not prepared to answer…….
Apparently, this is not to be…….ever.
Sitting in my therapists office, as this sunk in, I broke down. It hit deep and it hit hard. Later, watching a TV show with my wife, the point was driven home even more dramatically. The title character, talking to another character whose girlfriend had just been killed, ended the show by saying: “The pain you are feeling will never go away. It will always be with you. It will be the first thing you think of every morning when you wake up. But, some day, it will be the second thing.”
Wow. I now understand that this is my life. This is who and what I am – who and what I will always be. To some degree, PTSD will define me for the rest of my life.
Of course, I completely lost it. I haven’t lost it like that in a long, long time.
During my meltdown, a very powerful question came to mind: Was it worth it?
Was it worth it to spend more than a decade of my life responding to and dealing with the most horrific things anyone can imagine? Was it worth it to work so hard to save people who could not be saved? Was it worth sacrificing my mental health and, to some figurative degree, my life?
Today……I’m not sure……