It seems a bit obvious to say that once a disease, or a disorder, has been named, even acronymmed, it exists as a real, recognized condition. For me, this has become an inviolable truth.
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder and it affects, in horrible ways, those who have been victims of wars, violent crimes, child abuse, terminal illness, and accidents (to name just a few).
When people come out of an experience where they could have died, but didn’t; where they could have been permanently injured, but recovered, there is an unspoken expectation that rejoicing is the correct response.
But is doesn’t happen like that. I wish it did, but it doesn’t.
When my son’s car accident injured four of his cousins and a friend last October, it altered the microcosm of our family world in ways that have been profoundly good, profoundly bad and sometimes a strange mix.
Naively, I thought/hoped that once the children had recovered from their injuries, once the court case was over, once we all forgave each other for allowing that joyride, everything would go back to normal.
But it wasn’t that simple. One mother was in another country that night and had to hear the news on the phone; I was busy in the kitchen and didn’t know my son had taken the kids for a ride; everyone else was outside on the front veranda, drinking, eating, talking and having fun. At some stage, the joyride was casually approved, ignored, disapproved, cajoled, forbidden, unnoticed ….
….until the phone-call: “Mum, I’ve had an accident – everyone is alive.”
I thought he was kidding; I thought he was in his shed with the kids; I even laughed at what I thought was a joke – until I realized. And that was when the rest of us got into our cars and raced off before we even knew where the accident had happened. On the phone, my son had told me the road (just around the corner), but my mind went to mush and I ended up on a nearby gravel road and rang a friend, sobbing, terrified, and she went straight to the accident scene to join my brothers and I went home to tell my mother and sister-in-law.
I found the two women frantic so we then went straight into town to the hospital, all of us crying. When we got there and found all of the children injured but alive, the relief was something I will never forget. I then had to go to the police station and wait (with my beautiful friends) for hours until my son was released from questioning. He was as white as a sheet and shaking and his remorse (he had lost control on gravel) was overwhelming. I then took him to the hospital to see the children after reassuring him that they would all eventually be okay.
And now? Yes, all of the children have recovered after having to be in various spinal braces, leg splints etc. One niece had to be in a brace for months! All of them are fine now, physically, and don’t mind talking about that night but….
We adults are more aged and less resilient and each of us deals with the pstd aftermath differently, and sometimes in ways that are incompatible with each other. The remembered shock and horror of that night will always be part of who I am, and my absolute fear for, and love of, each and every member of my family that night is fierce.
The aftermath has been, and continues to be, a challenge for many of us but, with all my heart, I hope the pstd can abate soon for those of us still having nightmares, crying in our sleep, and waking up with the thud of fear.
I sometimes recreate my mother, my brothers and their families, and my son, into a huge lego castle of compassion and forgiveness and glee in the hope that pstd will dissipate in the sharing of words, company, or alone-seeking mountains. We have all dealt with this near-tragedy in different ways because each of us is an individual and, ultimately, alone. Alone is important and necessary I guess and I love it, but, since the accident, I have discovered loneliness in all of its intensity because I have recognised it in someone else.
When someone wants to be left alone, LEAVE THEM ALONE! Love doesn’t need proximity and sometimes its distance is a gift. It is very difficult sometimes to cope with the love and attention of well-meaning friends and family when you just want to be in your own space and deal with your own stuff without the burden of other people’s compassion.
This is to you, to me, to all of us.