Placid

Recovering from trauma is a process, with it ups and downs… three steps forward, two steps back… and can be unpredictable.

Yesterday was a pretty good day until, on my way home from a trip to the store, a bus pulled up right behind us at a red light.  I thought I had overcome all of my anxiety surrounding buses.  Evidently, I have more work to do.

After having been hit by a school bus while walking to my car in November, I worked with a cognitive behaviorist who recommended exposure therapy.  Right after my accident, the hair on my neck stood on end every time heard a school bus drive by my house.  This was particularly difficult as three buses pick up children in the morning and the same three drop off children in the afternoon.

My therapist suggested I overcome my fear of the bus by gradually getting closer to it until I could tolerate the fleeting feeling of anxiety that always came with hearing it.  After standing at the front door with my walker when the bus came by in the mornings, I eventually had my husband take me outside in my wheelchair when the bus dropped off my son in the afternoon.  This strategy enabled me to pass buses on the road with no physiological symptoms… until yesterday.

When I realized there was a bus behind our car, I felt a bit queasy.  Then I heard its brakes and almost immediately developed an excruciating headache.  By the time we got home, I felt physically sick and cried intermittently for the next 30 minutes.  I felt completely drained and remained on the couch for the next several hours.

Having participated in a trauma survivors’ class and individual therapy, I knew that I needed to talk about what I was experiencing.  I talked to my husband and gave myself permission to feel what I was feeling.  I forgave myself for having what I saw as a setback.  Although I was emotionally exhausted, I was feeling better before I went to bed.

I slept late this morning, and woke up feeling calm.  In fact, I had the thought that I felt unusually peaceful.  Like a still lake, I felt emotionally placid.  The day was peaceful and quiet, with no surprises.  Once again, I am grateful for a good day and the fact that there are increasingly more good ones than challenging ones.

It’s Easier to Do It, Than To Think About It

I had a dream last night.  It was what I call an anxiety dream.  It was like the dreams I have the week before school starts where I am late for school, not by a few minutes, but by hours.  In this dream, I was skinny dipping and I did not know that the owners of the pool were home.  (Not sure why I was crashing the pool, but I was mortified when I realized I might have been seen.)  I realized later today that the dream resulted from my anxiety about taking a shower.  

No, I am not afraid of taking a shower.  But I have intense body image issues and an arm in a splint that absolutely must not get wet… unless I  want to go back to the surgery center to have another one made.  I have managed to deal with my over-the-top modesty until now.  For the first time since I was a young child I would have to be bathed by someone else.  When I was in the trauma unit after my accident, there was so much pain and chaos to focus on that I was not very self-conscious.  It was the same with childbirth.

But I had been thinking about this shower since my surgery three days prior.  I didn’t talk about it, hoping not to feed my anxiety.  Obviously, my subconscious was going nuts.  As much as I was dreading it, I knew the sooner we started, the sooner I would have this humiliating experience over with.  So I told my husband I was ready. 

We went into the bathroom, me, my husband, the walker, the tub chair, and the dog.  (My husband shooed the dog out.)  I awkwardly began to undress, first taking off my shirt, then my bra.  Kelly began to wrap my splint in Press ‘n’ Seal.  Knowing I was about to finish disrobing, my anxiety level was rising.  I decided that talking openly about it might alleviate some of my physiological reaction.  

Just before I sat on my tub transfer chair,  I looked at my husband and told him how hard this was for me, to be so vulnerable.  He reminded me that it was just us, but that wasn’t much consolation for someone who is phobic about being naked.  My eyes immediately welled up with tears as I sat down on my tub transfer seat.  I unlocked the seat and slid over into the bathtub. 

I am fortunate to be married to a compassionate man who understands my fear, even though it is completely irrational.  He began washing me and I realized I wasn’t dying.  I do think it was easier for me because I had to focus on keeping my left arm out of the shower.  Nonetheless, I was conscious of the effects gravity, as well as expansion and contraction, have had on my body.  I was also very aware of all the scars from my accident and subsequent surgeries.  If my husband was, he never let me see it.  He gently and attentively did what needed to be done, including shaving my legs (they desperately needed it). 

He didn’t throw up.  He hasn’t filed for divorce.  In fact, he gave me an innocent kiss and told me he loved me.  The best thing of all is that I realized on an experiential level that I am okay just the way I am, and it is always easier to do it than it is to think about it.  This was an especially good thing for me to do, since I will not be able to shower on my own for another week or so.  (And I think to go without a shower for two weeks might prompt hubby to file.)