Death is never a pleasant subject. I have never handled death well and it seems to be knocking at my proverbial door more than ever. Not in an ominous/grim reaper way, but as a reminder of past suffering.
The aftermath of Marjorie’s early birth and cancer, resulted in PTSD that manifested in massive anxiety about what horrible thing was next to happen. This was evident every time I got behind the wheel. My mind would constantly create and play out horrible crash scenes with blood and injury to myself and those I love most. While the PTSD movie reel played in my head, I calmly drove and thought through every move I would make following the impending accident.
“Okay, so the car is going to flip four times. I will wait until it has stopped and jump into the back to help the children escape…”
My planning was meticulously and thankfully, never put into action.
After a few months of EMDR, the visions slowly subsided and only popped up on occasion. Last week on my drive to West Palm Beach, my horrific visions returned. My sweaty hands gripped the wheel as I tried to stop imagining the worst happening. I worked to focus on my podcasts or music, but nothing helped. I made it in one piece, but arrived extremely rattled nonetheless.
I found myself angry these ‘visions’ had returned, assuming it was a result of Marjorie’s latest PICU stay. Of course, nothing in our heads is ever as it seems.
Thursday afternoon, I plopped on my therapist’s couch feeling joyful about the success of the Southern Smash: Florida event the day prior. After talking through some other things, I remembered my drive and mentioned that my scary visions had returned. When I explained the visions, I instantly felt like I was being dramatic – which is par for my mental course, always minimizing my experiences and emotions.
However, my therapist, being the amazing human that she is, immediately responded with validity saying “OF COURSE this happened. You haven’t had time to process through what happened a few weeks ago.” I knew she would validate me and help me validate myself, but what came next threw me for a BIG loop…
“You know,” she started, “I think your experience with these thoughts goes beyond your experiences with almost losing Marjorie. Have you ever thought about how many times YOU have escaped death? And just how lucky YOU are to be alive?”
“Um, what?” I responded. I went in to my session knowing all the visions were because of what I went through with Marjorie.
Me? Death? Oh, shit. Yep. She is right.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Nine years into recovery, I rarely think of the death defying moments – like the ‘never going to share’ dark details of my fifteen year dance with death. Sure, I speak publicly and often about my story, but that is the highlight reel – it is authentic, but nonetheless an overview.
As I sat across from my therapist, my reel started: all the nights bargaining with God after taking too many diet pills, the days spent laying on bathroom floors, the sick game of ‘how many days without food can I go’, the lies, the secrets – my constant dance with death.
“What if you playing out these accident scenes,” she began, “is your mind recapitulating the past, taking the steps to know that you WILL act accordingly if something were to happen. All those years, you suffered alone on the brink of death. No one was there to help you take those action steps and save you. Then you went through everything with Marjorie and added to what you had experienced. And it makes sense this arises on the heels of Marjorie’s hospitalization.”
Therapeutic. MIC. DROP.
The mind (or maybe just my mind) is a crazy thing. And while this might not make sense to you reading this, it makes TOTAL sense to me. It is a humbling reminder that my therapeutic work is never finished.
Throughout my fifteen year eating disorder battle, I danced with death more times than I can count. I’ve never looked at it from the perspective that was presented last week.
It’s not exactly “fun” to think about those really dark days in my eating disorder. But there’s power in viewing the past in a different lens so as to move forward with greater self awareness.
This session is another stark reminder grief, trauma and any lived experience does not have a timeline. Life moves on, new experiences happen and we bring the past with us. My goal is to not let the past keep me from living life, but honor it and give it the space it needs and deserves. And this is why I keep that therapy appointment every other week.
Therapy is not a band-aid or a magic cure. It won’t make anything I’m struggling with ‘disappear’. Therapy gives me something so much greater – the gift of self awareness and validation. It gives me permission to not to be okay and to make sense of the non-sensical world I live in. I’m not thrilled these ‘visions’ and thoughts are back, but like my therapist reminded me – I now have a place (and space) to process to prevent my tragedy dress rehearsals from taking over my mental well being.
No matter how many times I try to dress rehearse tragedy, life is simply out of my control. What I CAN control is how I tackle on life’s ups and downs. I’m thankful to have found a great couch to process. Whether it is life knocking me down, or a new growth-edge discovered, my work will never be done until death does actually become me. So for today, I will take a break from planning life’s next disaster and embrace the imperfect present life before me.
And HAPPY HAPPY 8th birthday to my precious Manning! How on earth are you EIGHT!? You are such a light and JOY to our world!!! We love you!