Something Inside You Needs Healing, Not Killing

To be perfectly frank I wasn't going to write any of this.  I like a certain degree of privacy despite owning a public blog (which I let sit vacant for months at a time for just that reason--I have nothing I want to share) and I'm not even sure why I am going to talk about it.  It's not because I enjoy it.  Maybe it's cathartic, and even though I do like privacy I also like being authentic, and writing authentically.  I will take the fact that I'm open to writing this as a good sign for my health, because I've been especially withdrawn lately.



Life with PTSD

I will start with a short recap.  I have always known I've had PTSD, but I've never done anything about it except cope on my own.  Coping on your own with severe PTSD is kind of like running away, your entire adult life, from a big terrifying monster.  If you just turn your back and ignore it, and pretend things are cool on the surface while inwardly panicking, you can run pretty far.  I ran all the way to Sweden for a year and found my way back.  Years before that, I ran all the way from Tennessee to Utah.  I ran from job to job and relationship to "relationship", sometimes cutting it way too close...that monster almost got to me.

And then you decide to actually do something about the monster, which to continue painting the picture, looks something like finding a salvaged weapon on the ground and turning around to finally face it.  Really, for me, choosing to get therapy and deal with this creature was like any other "hard" choice.  It didn't feel like a choice. I couldn't keep running.  I was tired.  It didn't seem like an option.  I credit this to finding a spot where I fit, at work, and not wanting to leave that place.  I had something I wanted to turn around and defend from the tornado-wreaking-havoc monster, so I turned around and defended.  It's not like therapy makes these things go away gently.  You still have to fight it, but now you're actually standing there with like, a moldy old baseball bat or some other level one tutorial bullshit weapon, and the creature knows you're ready for a fight, so it comes at you even more enthusiastically.



EMDR Therapy

For anyone wondering, the type of therapy I started is EMDR, which sounds like a lot of witchy woo-woo to me, but if it's nothing else it's effective.  Too effective, maybe, because after just three or four sessions I was literally a broken apart mess.  We're talking making blanket forts Vietnam level of hyper-vigilant.  I won't go into the bad spots I found myself in, but there were plenty of them, and shit, I can only take so much.  Cue suicide.

I won't go over specifics, or my thoughts and feelings on suicide in general--that's a whole other rant--but at least for me, it was kind of like that moment you know you're going to lose a boss fight so you just put down the controller or maybe ragequit the game.  I was tired of fighting and not only in that time, was I a shell of myself, but I could see very clearly just how damaged I was as a whole.  That may sound cynical but it's true. It's startling for someone with a literal fortress of walls around even themselves to see the truth about how fragile and vulnerable they are.  I couldn't stand it.

I also felt like I was a burden to my loved ones.  I felt that I couldn't do anything right.  I wasn't able to do my job, I wasn't able to even have a conversation half the time.  If I wasn't being angry and volatile then I was crying or dissociated to the point of being a vegetable.  Who needs something like that around?  There were two distinct attempts I made, and again I won't go into details but I can say that somewhere in the rush of adrenaline saying GO AHEAD DO IT THIS IS A GOOD CHOICE, when I had nothing rational left, Richard Parker came out.




All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive."

— Life of Pi, Yann Martell




Suicide

That 'madness' is not only a state of being I'm more comfortable with than any other, but it's pretty much the basis of what drives post-traumatic stress.  The literal animal brain is in charge far more than it should be.  Anyway, the point is, where I had no rationality or emotional empathy for myself, and definitely no will to live and no hope, I still had that animal with thousands of years of evolutionary priming, wanting to survive--not to hear a charming baby's laugh or see blooms on trees or whatever bullshit it is your big smart human brain later recalls--it just wanted to survive, nothing more.

And usually that "just surviving" is a crippling thorn in my side, but at that point, it did save my life.  I told people that I cared about what I had planned to do.  Both times.  Naturally they protested and intervened.  My reaction to this was strange; amid all the guilt and disappointment I felt for being such a burden and such a worry, I was angry.  I don't really know why, it's probably another 'inexplicable madness', but I think that I just didn't want to worry them more.

I had already figured out in my head that people would miss me, most of them briefly, and then move on.  In my mind, I had strong, amazing friends in my life and they would all be okay.  What startled me was the adamance with which they argued; no, they would not be okay.  I may be a screeching tiger sometimes, but I still have exceptional emotional intelligence and I take pride in spotting sincerity in others.  They were really not okay with what I had planned to do.  Not at all.

This prompted me to take a step back and hit pause on the 'world is better off without you' mixtape I'd been putting together.  I wrote this post about it, but to summarize the reaction it had, my loved ones have convinced me that they at the very least need me, and I do feel an obligation to them.  I would never want to hurt any of them, and they made it clear that my death would be extremely hurtful.  So, here I am, thanks to them, and that instinct I had, to speak up.

Forward

I have no idea what that means.  I talked to my therapist (after brushing her off for two weeks to run around and desperately try to off myself) and she believes (and I know) that the overpowering urge to die, all the dissociation, nightmares, heightened awareness, panic attacks, are not just the effects of bringing trauma to the surface, but that I actually have repressed memories.  Again, it's always something I've kind of known about myself, but I was running from that monster so long I never actually thought I would have to deal with them.  And I guess my scumbag brain would rather I jump off a building than deal with them.

I recently saw this note from a therapist to a suicidal person, and this part really, really spoke to me: 

Do not trust your suicidal thoughts.  
They are not rational.
They are a symptom, a sign, a cry from inside.
Something inside you needs healing.
Healing, not killing.

I don't know what healed means.  I don't know how to envision myself not like this--I can't even imagine a life where I'm not damaged or traumatized in so, so many ways.  I can limp around in life and make a pretty good go of it and that's all I've ever known.  So to me, 'healed' still looks like a nice safe limp and I don't have any strong feelings about that one way or the other.  Any time I've considered quitting therapy I immediately counter myself--it's too late to start over.  Some things you just don't turn around from, and this is one of them.  It's one of those things where you want to walk back home but you're too exhausted, so you just keep going ahead.  Again, not a choice, at least not one I feel in control of making.

I have guilt for worrying people, and I have guilt for not being better.  I wish I had some kind of groundbreaking advice for others who are contemplating suicide, or people whose loved ones have taken that route, but I don't.  All I can say is, I've been there and I wouldn't wish that place on anyone.  You don't go because you want to.  And it has nothing to do with other people--nobody contemplates that idea based on the people around them.  It's an internal thing, unfortunately, so not something that a loved one can fix or take away.

I guess that's all I can really say on the matter.

Somewhere in the desert.

(Thank you to everyone who expressed concern at my last post.  Things have not been easy but I do have a great support system in my life.) 

From how long it's taken me to sift through vacation photos you'd think I was gone a month.  I wish I was gone a month.

We were staying in Moab, one of Utah's brightest shining gems, and we passed an abandoned gas station and cafe somewhere in the desert.  I demanded that we stop the car so I could take photos.  It was a hot July morning, with no one around and just these few remnants of the uranium boom remaining.

I absolutely adore the atomic age, this is no surprise, but I rarely get to step into frame with the buildings that have degraded so badly over time with no intervention.  It's beautiful.






The Breaking Point.

All photos taken at Great Salt Lake Marina.



"There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors."
 -Tennessee Williams



"Even if all your life is fighting and struggle, it can still have meaning."


Here I am in this same old cycle again.  But I heard it described in a more hopeful way recently; it's not a circle, more of an outgoing spiral.  Slowly revolving around my past and inching away from it slowly, in a way that doesn't seem like I'm making any progress.

And to be perfectly frank, I still don't care.  I'm still tired, I still feel like it would be best if I weren't around.  Some very fantastic people have come forward to say that they disagree, and I believe them when they say that it would hurt them if I left.  So I'm still here, thanks to them, and I'm still here because of them.

“It is because I think so much of warm and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.” 
-Oliver Twist

Look for the Helpers.

I didn't become an EMT for the glory and super hero-ness.  I'm not naive enough to have an ego in the field.  I got the certification after a long while spent moping and thinking, "What can I do to help? What skills do I have?"  Once I actually started learning those skills, I was so happy with my choice.  I felt it was right.  I still do.  If growing up traumatized taught me to jump in and act when things go south, then it was not wasted time.  Becoming an EMT meant, and means, so much to me.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"                                         
    -Fred Rogers 


Most of my experience has been very small scale, both at work and in street situations. I show up as a first responder and do what I can until more advanced medical personnel take over.  Such is the way of the EMT when they're not traveling in packs on ambulances.  And that is fine with me, to work alone or with another officer as backup, and hope for a less injured/ill patient than a more injured/ill patient.  Again, I'm not really in it for the showy effects, I just want to help people, and doing so is usually a lot less dramatic than in the movies.  Not always, but usually.

It's also fine for me to work alone because I am always alone.  Even in a room of crowded people I exist so wrapped up inside my head it's amazing I have a single social skill.  I without a doubt function better on my own than as part of a team, and I'm okay with that.  There are worse things in life than being the lone wolf.  Just the idea of shacking up in a fire house and getting cozy with coworkers makes me anxious, haha.  That's not to say I don't get lonely, because that just comes with the territory, doesn't it?  I'm alone and I am lonely, pretty basic and accurate description of my social relationships.

I have to say now, that I would much rather be alone and lonely than not know how to be on my own, to be dependent, to be constantly afraid and second-guessing.  Loneliness is a price I am happy to pay in exchange for independence, strength, and all that other crap the lone wolves get as gifts.

Anyway, the point is, an accident happened.  I was the first to respond.  It was a serious situation.  I did what I do and began working--of course, I called for backup first, but then began the long usual process of focusing on helping.  I admit I got pretty tunnel-visioned.  I knew things were bad, I knew there would have to be a lot of backup, I kept an eye and ear on my surroundings just in case things became unsafe (luckily they did not.)

But after some time, I had a chance to break away.  EMS had shown up, and were with my patient.  For the first time in however long, I stood up and took in my surroundings.  I'm sure it looked like chaos: fire truck, ambulances, police car, flashing lights, shut down entrances, screaming, glass and bits of cars sprinkled over the asphalt, the victims, other EMS workers, my partner, our coworkers, traffic directors, bystanders, the works.  I definitely didn't, and don't, see glamour in any of that, but I was shocked at how it made me feel.  I think before becoming an EMT I would have seen a lot of chaotic destruction and disorder and confusion, a whole big mess, but that's not what I saw today.

So many people there, all of them doing their best to help.  I was shocked when I saw that one of our coworkers had put down cones over the road to direct traffic away from the area.  Seems like such a random thing, but something I would have never thought to do, with my patient-oriented tunnel vision.  Firetruck and a squad car shielding us from road traffic.  Strangers who under normal circumstances would maybe force out a hello to each other, communicating with ease how to best assist, who had called who's family, what hospital they were going to.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." -Helen Keller


For the maybe twenty seconds I stood up and looked around, checked in with my partner and then went back to my patient, I took in a sensory overload of people helping, people who were a team.  I had been working on a (pretty big!) team while being completely unaware of doing so--because even though my job is helping people who are hurt, there's so much more to helping than just patient care.  I've always known that but today I saw it on a much grander scale than ever.

And I had two immediate inner reactions.  The first was more a passing thought that made me smile: being part of a team isn't so bad after all.  The second reaction was the realization that it was something I had wanted, without even really knowing it.  I think we all want to be a part of something, human nature and tribal instinct and all of that jazz, but I have never put myself in a vulnerable spot or accepted assistance since becoming an adult and shoving my life into a dark box of horrors and monsters because it felt so alien to me; a lone wolf from a family of lone wolves that at best barely tolerate each other has no place feeling sappy and thankful and humbled by all of the caring people in the world, a few of whom being people I have the privilege of seeing every day.

So, that's a good feeling and I am glad I had it.

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