As I've written before, I first broke down in January 2010. I checked myself into the hospital then because I was suicidal and honestly checking in was my last ditch effort to stay alive.
I stayed in the hospital for five days and I was drugged to the point of being impaired and slurry. And when I left the hospital I was told I was suffering from clinical depression. I was given three prescriptions that included one pill to make me sleep, one pill to wake me up and another pill to keep me even in between. I also began psychotherapy.
I took the pills for about four months until I listened to my own voice telling me it wasn't the answer for me and I quit them all.
I continued with the therapy and spend a lot of time putting my life through the sifter looking for the chunky events I could hold onto to blame for all the pain I was (and continue to be) in.
Five months after quitting the pills, I went back to work because I thought I felt better. I didn't know then as I know now, which is that there is a huge difference between feeling better and being healed.
Six months after being back at work, my doctor gave me another prescription when I admitted I was no longer feeling better and was having trouble coping at work. I was stuck in complete isolation and loneliness. I felt like I had nothing to offer, that I was a failure and I was consumed with feelings that my life had no meaning.
It was a real battle against who I believe I truly am – a loving, caring, giving, positive and switched on person. Instead I was plagued by darkness and felt like I was faking everyday; like something intangible was dragging me down. I was wearing a mask that smiled and told people I was fine when I really was not.
So for the next three years, I took pills again. This time only one because it was all I could rationalize to myself. I felt and I went numb.
I'm describing that time now as my treadmill time. I simply went through the motions of living a life while waiting for the emotional break-through I thought was eluding me but might soon arrive if I held on long enough. The looming break-through that was coming would have me stop fighting myself everyday. That break-through would have me stop feeling like I had to push for normalcy.
And that's the trouble. Feeling numb was better than how I felt otherwise. Or so I thought.
That last year of the pills was all about adjusting and re-adjusting the dose. “Still not feeling well? Then take more.” “Oh you feel worse? Well then take less.” “Oh, maybe that was too much less, maybe you should take more.” “Oh, that's how much you took before? Well maybe all along you just haven't taken enough. Take more still.” “Okay, hmm, how about we try another kind?”
And then I listened to myself again and stopped a year-and-a-half ago. I started to believe it was actually the pills making me feel bad, so I quit taking them and I found new doctors who have more ideas than simply pulling out the prescription pad.
And for the first time, I went through a complete evaluation which lead to the PTSD diagnosis.
Then came the hard part. The immediate reaction of my new doctors to the diagnosis is that the pills I was taking were wrong for my condition – that antidepressants, in their view, are not the right class of drugs for PTSD. “It's no surprise they didn't help,” they said.
Sigh. So you can see why I'm frustrated. But at the same time, it finally feels like I've found the road leading to recovery. Oddly, being diagnosed with PTSD is beginning to change my perspective that has me thinking less that I've been damaged and more about having been injured. Being injured doesn't seem so insurmountable.
Something rather strange and new has come from this diagnosis also. I ended up in the office of a world-renowned psychiatrist for my evaluation that took several months to complete. And at one point he said to me, “Brenda, I want you to do something just for yourself. Something like nothing you've ever done before and it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you. In fact if it doesn't make sense to others, that's probably the thing I want you to do.”
So I bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle! HA!
I took delivery of it on April 29, 2016 – the same day I was diagnosed with PTSD and I haven't looked back. In fact, it has taken me by complete surprise how therapeutic looking forward through the handlebars of that motorcycle has been so far.
In two months, I have put a little over three thousand kilometers on my bike. It has managed to empower me, free me and bring me back to life. Some mornings, I get up, I brush my teeth, I scratch my belly and I go get lost on my bike on the back roads just outside the city.
And it's while being lost in my new freedom with the wind in my face that I've realized how tightly packed into a little box I've been for a very long time.
I've been told who to be, how to behave, what to believe and what to do for far too long. And while I have no plans to become an anarchist, I have decided I have to stop fearing not living up to what others want of me. And I have to stop being afraid to piss people off.
I'm on a weird segue here... but I finally tore my most opaque bandaid off in therapy this past week because I spent time on that bike feeling strong enough to do it. I know what is at the root of PTSD for me. I just haven't been brave enough to face it.
Twelve years ago, I was very badly harassed and bullied at work.
It could not have happened at a more vulnerable time in my life. That is likely why it was so successful in breaking me down to the point where my life then completely fell apart afterward. The harassment tore a huge chunk out of me and I know I haven't been the same person since.
And the trouble with having been forced into shame from being bullied as an adult, is that even all these years later I've put a lot of responsibility on myself for a flawed system of accountability that quite obviously failed me.... and the truth is I don't owe anyone such a cover-up.
And as I sit here in an internet cafe typing this, tears fill my eyes. But with a deep breath, I'm looking out the window at my motorcycle parked on the street and think that I'll likely piss a lot of people off if I talk about this publicly.