Warning: Graphic Content
David A. Grant
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
I found myself doing something that I don’t usually do. This morning, I just stared at my keyboard and waited. Most of the time, putting virtual pen to paper is easy. On a good day, I can pour out a thousand words in under an hour.
One of the most unexpected by-products of this new life is my PTSD (post traumatic-stress disorder). Since time out of mind, I’ve heard the term PTSD. But like so many, perhaps even you, I mistakenly associated it exclusively with veterans, with those that had seen the unimaginable.
Never did I expect to be walking daily with this newfound friend. Some things you just can’t see coming – like a speeding car driven by a sixteen-year-old driver. Its onset was abrupt. It was unrelenting. It was unexpected.
And it’s more than a bit insidious.
Early on, as my physical injuries began to heal, like a dark flower blooming under a full moon, my PTSD began to blossom. Professional help did little to stem the terror tide.
The nightmares remain the worst part. For a couple of years after my accident, “bad PTSD nights” came anywhere from ten to twenty nights a
month. When I say “bad,” I mean bad. These aren’t your “Boogeyman-under-the-bed” kind of dreams.
Not even close.
Over the years, I have had most every sort of Stephen King horror inflicted upon me after dark. From being burned alive to drowning after drowning, from severed limbs to vivid dream pain that feels more real than reality, it’s been a real shit storm. My apologies if profanity offends, but better a four-letter word than a vivid description of life after dark.
The sound of an ambulance passing by our home drove me to tears for the better part of a couple of years – stopping me dead in my tracks if happenstance found me working in our yard.
Crowds? No more. Action-packed movies? Maybe for you, but not for us. Sudden or abrupt noises? You’ll find my shoes on the floor and me long gone.
Time does have a way of offering clarity. Today I know that I live with a textbook case of PTSD. Like other challenges I face, it’s invisible. Meeting me today for the first time, you’d never know. “Hey, I see that you live with PTSD,” said no one – ever.
As time passed, Sarah and I developed compensatory strategies to help. It is good for us both.
Known by few is a condition called “Secondary PTSD.” Those close to a trauma survivor, though not physically hurt, carry their own deep and painful scars. Sarah has a pretty classic case of secondary PTSD.
Circumstance, rather than virtue of any kind, has reshaped our lives. Our
lives together today are smaller, but none less rewarding. We shun most crowds, but do not live reclusively. We spend a lot of time outdoors – crowded music festivals replaced by nature walks. Our yard has been transformed into a sanctuary with waterfalls, birdfeeders and flowers abounding. It’s now a sacred place for us – a place where we both continue to heal.
Life today is more enriching than before. I still startle easily. I cry less often at the sounds of a siren wailing. And we are both cautious about what we allow ourselves to be exposed to.
The events that have unfolded in Paris over the last few days are heartbreaking. It’s at times like these that the rubber meets the PTSD road. I need to be careful of getting sucked in to wanting to know too much detail, balancing it with the very human need to know what is happening in the world at large. I watch “just enough” TV to know what’s happening. I read “just enough” of the news online – very often going no further than the headlines.
Just this morning, as I read the USA Today news on my tablet, a content block caught my eye: WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT. Suffice to say, I passed that one right by, knowing that honoring my condition is good for me and good for those around me. I am praying for those who are part of the horror. Blasts mean that there are now new members of the TBI club. Hundreds, if not thousands – perhaps an entire nation – will now live with PTSD. My heart weeps for them.
But even with the most dutiful of diligence, I am reminded that I am forever bound to PTSD.
Last Thursday night was our weekly Date Night. Our cinematic choice this past week was the Peanuts Movie. We’ve seen just about every animated flick released in the last few years. It was a smile-filled night out. Just dinner and a movie. Just us two. Hand-holding and quiet whispers – just the way we like it.
At 10:00 PM, I leaned over, gave Sarah her good night kiss and fell quickly asleep. Though I no longer dread bedtime, I live in the reality that any night can be a bad night.
At 11:30 PM, Sarah woke me up as I lay next to her crying out in pain, my feet sinking into molten dream lava, being burned off my torso as I looked down in abject horror. I could smell my own flesh burning. Unable to move, I screamed in mortal terror.
“C’mon David, wake up. Wake up, David,” she called out – again coaxing me back to the relative safety of awakeness. We’ve danced this midnight two-step hundreds of times.
And so the rhythm of our new life goes – enjoying those sacred moments between the tougher times, and hunkering down to ride out the occasional PTSD storms.
In the bigger scheme of things, fate could have been much more harsh. I could have died that day – leaving Sarah to walk through the recent five-year anniversary of the day alone, her memory of me beginning to fade.
But we have each other. And in having each other, we have all we need.
About David A. Grant
David A. Grant is a freelance writer, keynote speaker and traumatic brain injury survivor based out of southern New Hampshire. He is the author of “Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury,” a book that chronicles in exquisite detail the first year-and-a-half of his new life as a brain injury survivor. His newest title, “Slices of Life after Traumatic Brain Injury,” was released in 2015.
David is also a contributing author to “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.” As a survivor of a cycling accident in 2010, he shares his experience and hope though advocacy work including a public speaking as well as his weekly brain injury blog.
David is a regular contributing writer to Brainline.org, a PBS sponsored website. He is also a BIANH board member as well as a columnist in HEADWAY, the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire’s periodic newsletter.
David is the founder of TBI Hope and Inspiration, a Facebook community with over 15,000 members including survivors, family members, caregivers as well as members of the medical and professional community as well as the publisher of “TBI Hope and Inspiration Magazine.”
Thank you, David A. Grant.
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)
(Photos compliments of David A. Grant)
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