This isn’t what I planned on writing today. I was gonna finally sit down and explain that whole “shoo fly” positivism, finally articulate the moment it all clicked. I’m still gonna do that, but there’s more here. Something relevant. Something worthy of note. First, lemme tell y’all about what happened last week when I was just going to the utility room, just going to get a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator we keep stocked with drinks. Look, we don’t keep our drink fridge on the carport anymore. We’re gettin’ a little uppity like that.
So, it’s after midnight. with Diet Coke in hand, I’m heading back to my desk to work on the book. I’m struggling. Not just with the book, but with this Big Thing that’s happened recently. A blast from my past. A moment of pure terror, followed by trigger after trigger. I think I’m dealing with it, but it hits me hard, sneaks up on me out of the blue like triggers do, you know? I’m struggling with all the information about this new diagnosis from a brilliant psychiatrist (Everybody says so!) and now, I have a sudden, brutal confirmation of childhood sexual abuse AND a book to work on too. Whew. That’s a shit storm if I ever saw one.
A shit storm’s a brewin’ and here I am, drifting out to sea on my rickety raft of reality. I’m sliding off that sucker, flailing about in the water. Kinda sinking and bobbing up for air, but not drowning. Not yet. I make it to our family room, pause behind the recliners to turn on a lamp on accounta bein’ in the dark scares the hell out of me again. This is the perfect storm. This could be the moment before I spiral into the depths of a depressive episode. This could be when I lose it, go bonkers, and see my life disintegrate into chunks of what could have been.
That’s when it hits, the realization that I have a mighty fine life. Even in the middle of a shit storm, my life is good. I look at the Diet Coke in my hand and I think, “I have a cold can drink in my hand.” A smile spreads across my face. I lean over the back of the recliner and I laugh. Out loud. Into the emptiness of the family room that’s filled with beautiful art and the reflection of my beautiful family.
In a flash, I see my sweet, middle class home in its entirety- my dream mansion. The dated rooms holding the thrifted treasures I’ve collected. The bedrooms where my mister and youngest daughter sleep. I see my older two children, off in their lives, facing their struggles. I smile even bigger, feelin’ my cheeks flex with the knowledge that these people love me, adore me, cherish me… and more importantly, I love, adore, and cherish them.
The coldness of that can passes through my skin like the promise of blessed air conditioning after a day spent in the oppressive South Georgia heat. The chill spreads through my body, bringing with it the reality that I have a good life. I walk back to my desk, turning to look at my mister who’s sleeping the sleep of an exhausted band director in the throes of his 21st marching band season. Beside him, the lamp illuminates my side of the bed. I have a spot right next to him piled with pillows where I can rest my head when I read myself to sleep. The lamp sits on a bedside table that also serves as my vanity where drawers are filled with makeup I apply with joy.
I can work that night or I can read a book. I can check in on my child down the hall or love on my dogs. I can pick out a trusty old VHS tape to watch while I write. I can snuggle with my mister who will instinctively welcome me into his arms. I can do all those wonderful things at any point in the night. I have a good life. A Diet Coke in my hand, I see my reality. I feel it in my core. I have a mind that works for me, not against me. I have a spirit that finally (at last! at last!) acknowledges I am safe.
It clicked. The truth clicked. After 20 years of mental health treatment, what feels like thousands of hours of therapy, millions of inspirational memes, countless self help books, meditations, messages from the Universe, affirmations from friends, assurances from my family… I have a good life. I reluctantly place the cold can of Diet Coke in the vintage silver daisy coaster on my desk and look around my bedroom. Craft closet, dressing room, bathroom, television, desk, shitass dogs, sleeping husband. I am safe.
No buts. No what ifs. No anxiety over whether or not bad things will happen again. Whether depression will creep up and bite me. Whether suicidal thoughts will pop in when I least expect them. The goin’ is bound to get tough and I have a good life. That’s the truth. I know it deep down in the very depths of my being. I know it at the tippy top of my most sacred soul. I survived. I have a good life.
Now, the shit storm, she’s still a brewin’. As the days pass, I’m able to mentally shoo away negativity with a wave of my hand. Lies I’ve told myself for years become meaningless. I am worthy. I am enough. I am safe. A memory is triggered by something benign. I may dwell there. Eventually, I’m capable of wavin’ my hand. Shoo fly. I have no fear that this truth will abandon me.
Trigger after trigger rolls in over the next week. I can feel myself flailing, searching for solid ground. I try to wave away the thoughts and feelings, but some things I shouldn’t wave away. Some things need to be addressed. Symptoms of PTSD begin to barge into my life. Nightmares. Paranoia. Fear. Flashbacks. I’m shocked by their strength, by this reality. I accept it. I make a plan. This is another, powerful tool is my shoo fly game.
I write copious amounts of words, pouring out what I think and feel. Once, I do this publicly and y’all offer support and empathy. Once, I make a video. Continued support. I talk to my mister. Yesterday, I decide it’s time to talk to a therapist and I make the call. My old guy, Bob Hoskins, is who I’d like to see. I haven’t heard back if he’s willin’ to work me back into what I sure is a monster caseload. Even though I am safe, I’ll need some back up for this next part as I process the reality of what’s happening.
I call my brilliant psychiatrist (I say so!). Only expecting to leave a message for his nurse, shock consumes me when she answers the phone. As I sputter, she succinctly rephrases what it is I’m asking, needing. There was an incident. A trigger. Now, I’m experiencing more triggers. I’m coping well, but know without help, I may spiral. Time to engage in some hardcore management. I’m not sure what I need, but I’m grateful she answers the phone herself, that I don’t have to leave a message. I’m grateful she makes sure I’m safe.
I never in one hundred million, gazillion years expect a follow up call from my psychiatrist. Maybe his nurse, but not him. The much sought after, brilliant young doctor calls me in the middle of the day. Not tomorrow. Not next week. He calls me five minutes later. I don’t quite know how to act. He begins, “Are you okay?”
Did I fall into some parallel universe where quality, compassionate, accessible mental health care is actually a thing?
We discuss what’s happening. My doctor suggests we introduce a medication to help with the symptoms of PTSD. He doesn’t suggest this lightly. I’m down from nine medications to two. Neither of us take the introduction of a third medication lightly. I’ve never heard of this medicine. We discuss what it is, why it’s used for the treatment of PTSD, what the side effects are. I agree to begin taking this new medication tonight. I thank him for calling. He says, “You may think you aren’t handling this well, but you are. You were able to call and have this conversation. You are doing a good job.”
And I know I am. I feel and I see what’s happening. I’m addressing it. I don’t just learn the truth when I pick up that cold can of Diet Coke, friends. I learn I can shoo away negative thoughts. Today, I’m facing a shit storm and it’s super duper, triple the shit, triple the stress, triple the Crazies bad. Facing it means making the call when I need to make it. Taking the steps I need to take to handle the situation, because that’s what it is. This is a situation. This is not my life. I’m not sayin’ it’s not rocky. I’m not sayin’ I have it all figured it out. I only know the truth. I have a good life.
Soldier on Beth! You are definitely making progress. One of the crappy things about mental illness is that it keeps coming back never the same twice but you are reaching out and that is one of the best and hardest steps to to take Love ya.
This is wonderful!! You describe a healing moment!! You have found someone to work with you (YaY!! Brilliant new psychiatrist). I am so happy for you!!
What a powerful lesson learned,moving forward taking control. Blessing to you!
Victoria Fennell Fuller
Love your writing..You hang in there..You are much loved…Vicky
I’m both happy for and proud of you. I think the world of you. I just wish I lived closer so I could enjoy your company for coffee.
You’re making it , sister ! It’s such a blessing to read your words.
Thanks for sharing. Beautiful. I don’t pretend to understand your struggle, but it seems that night with a diet coke in your hands, you came to be in the present…the Now as Mr Eckhart Tolle teaches.
Speaking of teaching, a lot of my A-ha moments over the past couple of years has come from you. Peace
Blessings to you Beth. Just keep doing positive when you can.