A couple weeks ago, my daughter had a medical emergency. I was four hours away. My husband and I had just hiked in to a remote location, eager to spend a few days in silence and contemplation. It was also much-needed chance to re-connect with each other. The last few weeks had been especially busy, and my C-PTSD brain was barely hanging on as it was. I was exhausted in every way, and this trip was the carrot I had been dangling to make it to the holiday. I knew after a few days of recharging, I would get the rest I needed. It was a healthy gift to myself and to us as a couple.
I had one bar on my phone, which was enough to push the message through that our daughter was in the hospital and they planned to operate in the morning. So, we packed up, threw on some snow shoes, and hiked out in the dark. I was straining to not think about the mountain lion I encountered on my last trek in. After a driving on narrow highways full of oncoming high beams piercing my migraine, we arrived at the hospital at 2:30am. We made it. My daughter’s surgery went well, and after a few sleepless nights in a hospital chair, we took her home.
Here’s the thing about high-stress situations. For someone like me, they feel good. My brain is wired to spring into action for emergencies. In spite of the pain, I handle them well, and they make me feel alive. The boost of adrenaline that goes with it give me energy and makes me feel like I can do anything. It wasn’t until the following week that I crashed. Hard. It was the middle of the afternoon, after all the excitement had passed and my daughter was back at school, when I collapsed on the couch and didn’t move for several hours. The deferred aches and pains of pushing too hard flooded in. The fog of depression and disappointment over canceled relaxation plans drifted over me. Anxiety over facing another busy season without a break poked and prodded away. My husband handles emergencies well, too, but he didn’t crash like I did. Once again, I am reminded that my brain is different from his brain. I need to take better care of it.
I knew the crash was coming, but that information didn’t make it easier. All I could do was acknowledge that yes, what I just went through was difficult for me. Acknowledgement is progress. The old me would probably feel a lot of misplaced guilt and shame on top of the mental and physical exhaustion. The old me would run the old tapes. “It’s not that bad.” “Other people have it worse.” “What are you complaining about?” “At least your daughter is okay.” “Just suck it up.”
I spent much of my life jumping from one high-stress situation to another. I went from an intense childhood home to an intense university to an intense career, and my way of coping was to just handle all of it. I was constantly aware of all the things. I never learned how to not be on constant full alert. Turning off meant I was left directly or indirectly vulnerable to attack. Because of this pattern, I don’t have an off switch. The only time I shut down is when I blow circuits.
I wish healing was easier. I wish I could find a healthy balance between rest and activity. This is not an invitation to offer me suggestions. Yes, I’ve tried everything. Yes, that too. I’m aware of all tricks, tips, and tools. I need people to understand that complex trauma makes my brain different from their brain. My healing path is different from their healing path. I need people to stand by me and acknowledge along with me that sometimes, healing is just hard.