I have a story to tell. I’m not sure why I feel like I need to tell it now. I think it’s because, the other day, a friend of mine said, “You’re someone I feel like I can trust with my story. I can trust you with what’s in my head.” And she told me her story. It was a story of struggle and perseverance and triumph. And, because it was a real-life story and not a Lifetime movie…at the end of that came more struggle and more perseverance and then triumph again. And…you get the idea. It was raw. It was real. I was honored to have been trusted with it. And I started to think about that. About how there are people I’ve known for years, talked to almost every day in some cases…who I don’t really feel close to. And there are other people who I don’t see very often…but when I’m with them I can rely on the connection. It’s real and it’s dependable and I know THEM. I know who they are. And THEN I was thinking (because I tend to overthink) that the difference between those relationships is usually that someone took a risk. Someone took a chance and shared their story.
So…here’s one of mine. Not a super-private one…because this is a blog…but one of them.
Ten years ago, my son was born…and it was a doozy. I gave birth to a beautiful (in a newborn sort of way) 9 lb 9 oz healthy baby boy. Routine c-section…and everything was amazing. For about 20 minutes. And then I hemorrhaged. It is not an exaggeration to say that I nearly didn’t make it out of that hospital. They transfused 7 units of blood that day. Which is to say, there are 7 people out there somewhere to whom I owe my life. Quite literally.
It was years before I remembered much about that day, but here is what I remember now: I know that because it was an emergency, they took me back into the operating room and they had to get started before the anesthesiologist arrived. I know that, somewhere upstairs, someone lost their doctor mid-delivery, because she needed to come back down to me. I know that my doctor, who I had only seen as a funny, efficient, professional woman before that, apologized repeatedly and constantly….so that her “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…” washed over me like a mantra. I remember telling her, “It’s ok. Just do what you have to do” and I remember that..pretty quickly – and well before anesthesia got there – I could’t feel the pain anymore…but I could see it. I know that’s strange. My best bet is that, between the loss of blood and the pain, my brain did a beautiful thing and just cut that part out for a while. (It was a kind of grey-blue, by the way. The pain. Just in case you wondered. 😉 ).
After that day, I had visiting nurses and medical equipment in my house for weeks. I had 2 toddlers who were the worst behaved children you have ever seen (no, I’m not blaming them…they were little and they were scared. Nevertheless, the 2 and 4 year old conspired to lock one of the nannies out of the house and sprayed her down with a hose. Just saying. That happened. They were little stinkers. 🙂 ) I poached nannies from all over town and people pitched in. And I healed. And I was fine. And 3 months…almost to the day, after my son was born, I was at home, alone with my newborn and my 2 and 4 year old…and all of the sudden I was not ok. Not ok at all. My body felt strange and my thoughts were a mess and I didn’t feel like myself. I had no idea what was happening and so I called my husband at work and said “I need help” and he said “Ok….do you want to hire someone long term?” and I said “no…I mean professional help. You don’t need to come home…but I’m not ok”. And he came straight home.
What I didn’t know then, but do now, is that that day had left me with what was rather quickly diagnosed as PTSD. I’m sure there’s a spectrum and I am in no way comparing my trauma to those who have served in combat or endured horrific abuse…but here’s what happened for me. That amazing day when my son was born rewired my brain a little bit…and, as it was explained to me, “Your brain desperately wants to keep you safe. It knows that, for a little while there, you weren’t. It doesn’t know why…but it doesn’t ever want that again. So now it’s misfiring a bit…over-compensating to make sure that it keeps you away from danger.”
For years, sometimes my brain would hijack my body. All of the sudden, I would be hyper-sensitive, hyper-aware. Sounds where louder, lights were brighter, everything was just MORE. Overwhelming. I couldn’t control it, but I learned that I could ride it out. I learned tricks and triggers and time worked its magic. Its been a while since it happened…I can’t remember the last time. But it will. Someday I’ll be standing in the cereal aisle on a random Tuesday and it will happen again. And that will be ok….because I’ve walked it before and I know how to do it again. But that first day and for a while after…it was really scary.
The reason I tell that story is this…You might not guess it now…that all of that happened back then. But it would be ok if you did. I’m not ashamed of the way my hands shook in the middle of those times. I’m not embarrassed by all the deep breathing I had to convince myself to do. (Literally tens of thousands of breaths. So. Much. Breathing.) All the tricks and tools and times when it didn’t work and I just had to wait? It’s all ok. I don’t mind. I don’t mind for a couple of reasons. One…I lived. And I’m a big fan of that. Two…I learned to manage it. I got help. I found tools. I figured it out. I’m convinced that managing your own mind…particularly when it’s been rewired with out your consent…must be one of the hardest things to learn. But I did it. And the third thing is this….my friend’s story? There were some mental health issues involved. For better or for worse…I get it now. Oh…not all of it. I don’t know what it’s like to be her. But I know those feelings. I’ve walked that. I have felt it on my skin. I know what it’s like not to be in control of your feelings. And the gift I get to pass on now is letting people know…”it’s not just you…and you’re not alone.” I tell my story so that, if you have one too, you’ll know that you’re not alone.
The stories she shared with me? I think that may be the greatest gift any of us have to give…our private self. Those things that make us flawed and fearful? They’re also the things that make us beautiful and vulnerable and sensitive and real.
And brave. Her sharing showed me the depths of her courage.