It’s time for a painful admission. There are moments I get jealous when I hear that someone has a brain injury without having PTSD. Not that life with a brain injury is a cakewalk, but when you add PTSD to the equation, the result can be disastrous.
Those close to me—and many who are not—know that I tend to wear my life on my sleeve. Years ago, I heard that a trouble carried alone doubles, while a trouble shared is a trouble cut in half. However, there are times that this soul-baring gets uncomfortable. For example: today.
It didn’t take long after being struck by a car back in 2010 to see that I had rather significant challenges. I sustained a traumatic brain injury and scored a very robust case of PTSD. Over the years, the narrative hasn’t changed that much. I’ve written before about my TBI and PTSD challenges. My brain injury is relatively predictable. PTSD, however, is not.
I steadfastly believe in doing whatever it takes to get well. In the months before the onset of the pandemic, in complete desperation, I reached out to a trauma doctor, one who specializes in treating PTSD. For close to three months, my treatment consisted of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) sessions. The result was life-changing. I saw an immediate improvement in the quality of my life, my night terrors came close to disappearing, and I felt better than I had in several years.
But when the pandemic struck, the thought of sitting in a small, closed, unventilated doctor’s office was horrifying, so I immediately ceased my EMDR treatments. Only later did I learn that the office had shut down for a portion of the pandemic. I couldn’t have gone back even if had I wanted to.
Through most of 2020, I did the best I could to keep my head above water. I found and used a phone-based EMDR app, practiced mindfulness as best I could, and dug deep to push through the especially tough days. Nevertheless, I learned the hard way that some things are too big to tackle alone. And I know I’m not the only one. The news continues to overflow with headlines about how we are—as a society—still in the midst of a pandemic-induced mental health crisis.
For me, there were good months and not-so-good months. If I went for a week without night terrors, I rejoiced. If I had a couple of bad nights in one week, I tried as best as I could to keep my proverbial chin up, telling myself that it was just a little setback. But, as we moved through 2021, my PTSD worsened. And several months ago, something clicked. I was no longer able to have even one week of torment-free nights. I continued to lie to myself, telling myself that I have this, that it would pass, that it would eventually get easier, that I was just in a tough spot. I tried to believe my own lies ….
You can only lie to yourself for so long.
Last month, after a couple of bad weeks, I had a week to end all weeks. Two sleepless nights in a row, tortured by unseen PTSD demons, I hit a point of near collapse. PTSD episodes, coupled with my TBI, made the very act of existing painful. There are really no adequate words to describe what I was going through. And, in a moment of what can best be described as grace, I believed that my life was no longer sustainable. Though I was not contemplating suicide, I can honestly say that I understand how some people can decide that ending their life is the only option, though we all know there are always, always other options. The shocker: this was happening 11 full years after my injury. I’ve been carrying this burden for a very long time.
In quiet desperation, I reached out to my trauma doctor, leaving a voicemail requesting a callback. My voice was shaking and I struggled to hold myself together. I think I’m a pretty strong guy and have overcome a lot in my life, so why couldn’t I beat PTSD on my own? Sadly, I felt a ripple of failure as I called him. It’s complicated.
Later that evening, he called back. The very sound of his voice brought tears to my eyes. He remains a consummate professional and, in that instant, I was grateful that I had finally surrendered. I no longer had the will, nor the strength, to fight this alone. He helped me before and I believed deeply that he could help me again.
I am still a few days away from my first session with him, but already I feel better. Societally and culturally, we are told that surrendering is weak. However, in my case, I am hoping that I am surrendering to win. And unlike a few days ago, I now have hope that I may again attain a measure of relief from the torment of PTSD.