wings and things


on August 27, 2014

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.

45 responses to “PTSD

  1. Hugs to you Julie. And Ming. And all your family. ❤
    Diana xo

  2. Terry says:

    Excellent post about tragedies and the after effects

  3. “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 I understand entirely.
    You have reached me tonight and I thank you.

  4. FlaHam says:

    Julie, what a wonderful post. I vividly remember this happening, and the ongoing anguish you and your family suffered. That you and your various members of the family suffer from PSTD isn’t a surprise. And sometimes closure isn’t closure, just another door openning. I hope and pray will all my heart that your internal suffering comes to an end. Please take care, Bill

  5. Vicki says:

    Yes, I have to agree that other people’s compassion can be a weighty burden (when all you want is space and ‘lightness of being’).

    It’s a fine line to tread in ‘meaning well’ and ‘listening well’.

    Most people don’t know how to be silent. They feel this compulsion to verbalise. Sometimes out of discomfort. But mostly………because they don’t have the experience to see the bigger picture and understand human nature beyond their own.


  6. Such a good post, Jules. Sobering. I don’t know why “we” expect things to be different than they are and why “we” are so uncomfortable with the unknown of what will be. There’s no switch to lessen the pain or duration of the experience, during and after, no control to turn it off and create what we want and on top of that the expectations we place on ourselves and others do layers onto the healing. I know about PTSD personally and with close family. I know about the aloneness of which you speak. I know about well wishers wanting to help, do something, and can’t seem to listen to what’s being presented and step back to allow space, well intended as they are. For some reason you’ve entered my life, my heart, and I relate to you in a very down to earth, open heart place. I sincerely hope that all who went through this horrible accident, directly and indirectly, fully recover. Love, Paulette

  7. That was brilliantly written, powerfully felt and above all else filled with the essence of who you are; full of love, compassion, strength and empathy. An amazing post Jules HUGS to you, Ming, Anthony and the rest of your family.

  8. Judy says:

    It’s so healthy to express your feelings like this, Julie. My guess is that if you were getting TRUE compassion – you wouldn’t have need to write this. When someone cares, they don’t push you into a corner where you feel the need to say, “Leave me alone!” Someone who gets it says things like, “I’m here when you need me.”
    I often hear a lot of grieving people complaining that no one remembers or cares; how they want less avoidance. Of course, your situation is different and everyone is individual in what they want. But my guess is that some well-meaning and well-intentioned people are saying things that are not comforting or helpful to you. Retreating is a coping mechanism and that’s fine – but targeting those particular people and statements might be even more beneficial.
    After my son died, I hated when people told me how lucky I was to have a baby afterwards – like it was a replacement. I remember how I wanted to be left alone! I wish I could have said what I was really thinking. Like – “Let me tear off one of your fingers – you’re lucky that you have nine more!”
    Sometimes the most well intentioned statements made me crazy. I can totally understand that you’ve reached a place of hearing enough about how lucky you were that it turned out okay. Pointing out the trauma is tiresome to people who have no idea what you went through.
    Honestly, solitude can be glorious. I wish you peace and calm. Feel my hug and my love!

  9. It takes time. People heal.

  10. susanpoozan says:

    You write so well about the whole horrible business, I hope it helps to have put your thoughts on paper so to speak.

  11. Colline says:

    And sometimes a little space is needed for emotional healing.

  12. ksbeth says:

    this is very good advice –

  13. The secret I believe lies in letting that person that you are “there’ for that person when they need you … and letting them have their quiet or alone time without convincing them that they shouldn’t be… Diane

  14. oops…sentence got a bit mixed up but I think you get what I was trying to say…. Diane

  15. Lynda says:

    Message received and understood, Julie.

  16. PTSD is something I know nothing about because I have never suffered from it I have had not traumatic events in my life. What I do know is that when someone wants to be alone they should be left alone and you shouldn’t hang around trying to help because they are not in a place where they feel like they need or want your help. I have a sister who wants to rush to someones side and be there and around and she becomes annoying as she doesn’t get that the person wants to be alone

  17. Great advice for us all.

  18. Judith Post says:

    It always amazes me that there’s no one right answer for anything. I guess that would make life too simple:)

  19. I have not been one to quickly label PTSD when so many of our soldiers are coming back with severe cases, but really . . . that is me. When my husband is supposed to be home and I hear a siren, I don’t assume it is someone else having trouble. I can’t relax till I hear the garage door go up. I can relive the motorcycle accident in a flash.

    When my youngest son calls at an odd time, I feel it in the pit of my stomach. I can pull up the image of his mangled body in a sec. When you have experienced trauma, it is not just being a worry wart anymore, because you know it was and could be again. I try to relax, but I’m not sure I will ever get to that place. All I can do is pray, Lord, help.

    • jmgoyder says:

      You are so right! The realization that near-tragedy could strike again has made me a bit hyper-anxious, but your reminder about prayer is timely since I am beginning to do that again and have been since the accident. I cannot imagine what you went through with your son’s accident and your empathy means a great deal to me.

      • I hope that it is normal and doesn’t show a lack of faith. I am kind of suspect of those who have experienced trauma and are super positive all the time. I know I am more of a glass half full gal and feel deeply, but realistically, this life is often almost too hard to bear. I do not know how people cope who have no hope in God. Press on, Julie!

  20. janeslog says:

    Sometimes I want to be alone to gather my thoughts. This can be quite difficult with friends wanting me to go cycling, golfing, to the cinema, for a coffee or a meal out or a night out.

    It’s good to clear your head once in a while, so I love to go mountain-biking by myself in the country park near my home. I can pedal at my own speed and don’t have to cycle at the same speed as the others in my cycling club. I can think out work problems and enjoy the scenery.

  21. PTSD can be horrible, and I am sorry it has come to roost at your house. As with most things, it will get better with the passage of time. How much time is the only question. For some it’s months, for others it can be years. You’re absolutely right, sometimes what someone needs is some alone time. I know my husband does not review tragic episodes. They happen, then they are over, and never spoken of again really. He was very traumatized by his father’s death when he was 17, his father just 47. For two years before husband’s 47th birthday, and all that year until he turned 48 he suffered the most debilitating panic attacks, certain he was dying of a heart attack. Those were some of the toughest years we ever went through.

    I send good thoughts to you and your family. I hope their healing continues apace and all can put this incident behind them.

  22. Sending everyone involved positive thoughts and good vibrations from across the ocean.

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