As I drive down the road, the flashing Christmas lights make me feel nauseous. Inside my typical suburban home stands a four foot fake tree. Its top is slightly shorter than the TV. I bought the tree in a fit of energy. I felt festive, but only for a bit. That was a month ago. The sad Charlie-Brown tree has no decorations and a strand of lights burnt out. No presents lay under the tree. I feel like a scourge this Christmas.
The question at work is always, “So what’re you doing during the break?” I force a smile and pretend like oh yeah, just going to visit family, no big deal. I try to pretend I’m one of them.
The truth is I have no idea what my husband and I are doing for the holidays. I dread the idea of being in proximity to her. I thought my PTSD was in check until a few days ago. On the drive to a social event with co-workers I had a PTSD incident. I could only clearly see what was right in front of me. Upcoming flashlights looked blurry. My mind did not want to stay present. I slid into my seat five minutes before the wedding began. I could hear the blood pumping in my ears. I did not want to stay present. During the reception, I had to try extremely hard to be present.
After an evening of hell, I slept for hours. Today, I forced myself to brush my teeth, get dressed, and go to a meditation class. I returned a few hours ago. I feel calm, yet quietly sad. I’m ready for this week to pass. In a few more years, perhaps auntie will be right and I’ll learn to make my own holidays.
How is everyone coping with the holidays?
I felt anger towards my grandmother as she lay dying in the nursing home waiting for the inevitable. Mentally, I was unable to handle it. I’d drive to the place in which I grew up and my mind began to splinter.
Soon I see everything in tunnel vision. All I see is the small car in front of me. I feel like I can’t drive. Hands white-knuckle the steering wheel, the same fear and paranoia of the past takes over.
Over the past year I’ve spent time at a psychiatric hospital. The PTSD became debilitating. By the time I entered the hospital, the major depressive aspect of PTSD took on the appearance of Schizophrenia. I wrote this piece in an attempt to understand and come to peace with the events leading up to the hospitalization.
I’m not safe. I clutch the cool stainless steel kitchen knife in my hand, pause, take a deep breath, and walk through the living room. I hear something at the door. I stop, stare at the front door, and hold my breath.
Several tumultuous events have taken place since the first time I landed in LA to the most recent visit. The following is a revised journal piece I wrote during this time. When this was written, I had only been back to work a few months. I started back to work shortly after Christmas. I went back part-time because it felt like a manageable amount of hours. However, at times four hours a day felt like too much because many of my nights were restless and filled with things I’d rather forget. Many of my days I struggled to keep my mind present, not wander off into the dark corners of my mind…
I have agonized over what would be my next post. Writing has always been a very private thing for me. As a child and especially as a teenager, I wrote what felt or in most cases was forbidden to say much less write.
In late middle school and early high school, I began writing about my home life in papers for school. I don’t recall how deeply I addressed the issues. I lived for the notes from teachers at the bottom of the page. These notes kept me going even when it felt difficult to keep moving. My writing had given me a voice once I was brave enough to share. I was always nervous and extra careful to keep my mother from seeing those papers. There were moments she did and her anger erupted.
Frank struts in front of my desk, stares down at me and grabs my purple marker. It is my favorite marker. My eyes well up with tears, and my bottom lip quivers as I stare down at my desk and raise a shaking hand.
“Mrs. Hatchback. Frank took my marker!” I finally shout across the classroom after waving my arm impatiently in the air for what felt like forever. Frank sits behind the teacher and stares me down. He is black. Sometimes we drive through neighborhoods and mom points out the window saying, “This is a black neighborhood. Scary. Roll up your window.” Frank leaves greasy marks on stuff and probably left it on my marker. He has hid the marker inside his desk.
I don’t remember the exact age when she began filling my mouth with Dawn soap because I “had a smart mouth”; it happened multiple times. The sensations are forever embedded in my body, a harsh bitter detergent taste, and a fiery burn in my throat, and then later a mild sore throat from the lingering soap. Perhaps the sore throat could easily have resulted from the crying and yelling I was trying while it was happening? It is hard to say for sure, but here is my memory…