Why Mince Words? PTSD Sucks.

Why Mince Words? PTSD Sucks

by David A. Grant

Hanging on the back of our bedroom door is a calendar.

Just like the kind you see everywhere, there is a section under the date to add a note, mark a birthday, or simply write a little reminder.  At first glance, it all looks pretty average.

But like the very fabric of life, looks can be deceiving, so very deceiving.

Looking closer you’ll see one of two notations on every date. Every date is assigned one of two cryptic notes. You’ll see either a smiley face or you’ll see the letters N.M. Turn back the pages in time over this past year, walking backwards through the year through November, October, September and hop, skipping and jumping all the way back to January, you’ll be hard pressed to see a day without one of these two notes.  We can travel back in time through the now dusty 2011 calendar and see the same notations – ad infinitum.

You may be wondering the significance of this.

Sarah, my best friend, lover, hand-holder, sharer of half my heart, constant companion as we walk though this life… Sarah has taken on an unasked for role as she chronicles my PTSD. The smiley faces mean that the night prior was a good night. That I fell into restful sleep, my arm wrapped around her until morning. This is the way life is supposed to be. She wakes up, heads over to the calendar and dully notes a good night with a smiley face.

So what does N.M. mean?

Grab on to your seat and hold on. Time for a peek behind the curtain. Follow me to the dark side.

Three months after my accident, I was diagnosed with PTSD.  So much of our post-accident life is defined by letters. MTBI, PCS, ABI, PTSD.

Just like there are a myriad of flavors of ice cream, so it is with Post traumatic Stress Disorder. No two cases are alike. Unlike so many, I can bike by the exact spot where my soul was bruised in a cacophony of broken glass, twisted metal and wailing rescue vehicles… I can pass that exact spot, and do several times a week, without any real issue. Sure, there are still times I bike up Granite Ave and think to myself, “this is where I experienced the last few minutes of a life I now mostly forget.”

So many others are haunted by ghosts of memories of the actual event that caused their own PTSD.

But my personal nightmare manifests mostly after dark. When the world is getting ready to slumber. When boys and girls are getting ready to visit the Land of Nod. That is when my own personal demons start their warm-up rituals and wait for me to fall asleep.

The N.M. on the calendar, so deftly annotated by Sarah refers to those nights I wake up screaming in terror. Afraid for my life. Covered more often than not in sweat and sometimes unable to stop shaking. Over the last year, each month has seen between ten and fifteen notations of N.M. on our ever-present calendar.

N.M.

Night Mare.

And yes, today’s date on the calendar is not marked by a smiley face.

1:30 AM this morning. “Wake up, David….. wake up…. please wake up,” her arm over me, trying to pull me back into the realm of the living. Into a world where it is safe. And away from my night terrors. Some nights I pull out of it quickly. Eyes wide open, panting, but present. Then there are nights like last night. My dreams won’t release their stronghold and coming back is difficult. My terror wrapped around me like a noose, trying to strangle all hope from me.

The common theme, the corrosive thread though most of my night terrors involves my imminent death. Most are so richly textured and vivid that they feel over-real. But the worst ones, the ones that all but guarantee that I wake up in tears, involve harm to Sarah. Words cannot describe what it is like to wake up in the midst of such overwhelming anguish or grief.

“Still I find this narcolepsy slide…into another nightmare.” ~Third Eye Blind

The timeline is stunning. I am now well into year three since my life was shattered.  And there has been no measurable relief.

Those who know me know that I am a chronic over-comer. I beat things. Not much is beholden of the power to hold me back for long. Not even a brain injury. But I need to share that this one is kicking my butt.

Always and ever the obedient patient, I have heeded all medical advice. This time last year, I was just winding down on a years’ worth of therapy, to no avail. Also suggested and tried: no caffeine after 2:00 p.m., limited or no technology in the bedroom, chamomile tea, hot showers before bed, winding down my day with a period of mediation. Hitting my knees bedside begging the Power behind the Universe for a measure of relief for the upcoming night.

Yet, again last night, like the night before… and many other nights just this month alone, my nightmares torment me.

I have made the decision again to reach out into the professional community to get help. I have met many doctors along this new road- some good and some abysmal. My neuropsychologist has a recommendation for a new PTSD specialist. I will be in touch with him next week.

How I wish that was the end of this chapter, but there is so much more…

As our health insurance is strictly a catastrophic plan, with a deductible high enough to buy a decent car, the first step is to see if the new doctor is “in the budget.”  As my accident has left me working only part time, life is different. Smaller. Funds are tight and tough decisions have to be made. I rarely experience envy. Blessed beyond measure, Sarah and I have each other. There is food in the fridge, and she is in the kitchen baking holiday cookies as I write this. But man o’ man, what I would give to have traditional insurance, to pay a co-pay, see a good doc, and not worry if it became a choice of the mortgage or health care. Just this month, I made the final payment toward the medical debt from my accident 2+ years ago. It felt like I had paid off a small mortgage.

Sarah has offered to dip into her retirement fund to pay for any needed health care. I have adamantly said no. Yes, we have today, we also have to care for our future. And will for the rest of our lives.

Why share in such vivid detail? There is an easy answer. Brain trauma is not an episodic occurrence. There is no, “get it, treat it and move on,” reality to all this. This is a chronic condition that even years later requires care. And I know from many of the new friends I have met along my new road that the challenges I face are faced by countless others. Called America’s Silent Epidemic with 1.7 million new TBIs in the US annually, I willingly put a face on this. I raise my voice so that others can learn.

Sarah and I will do what we have done since the get-go. We’ll talk, hold hands… prop each other up and continue to move forward.

About the Author

David A. Grant is a writer based in New Hampshire and the author of Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury. A survivor of a harrowing cycling accident in 2010, David openly shares his experience, strength and hope as a brain injury survivor.  Recently recognized by the Brain Injury Association of America, David’s book offers real-world insight into life as a brain injury survivor.

For more information, and to preview several sample chapters, please visit www.metamorphosisbook.com

One response to “Why Mince Words? PTSD Sucks.”

  1. Stephanie Smith says:

    My husband is 64, I am 40. He served 3 tours in Vietnam. In 2006 he was in a near fatal motorcycle crash that DID kill our 33 year old friend. My husband was in a coma for 3 weeks and a long road of therapy and recovery after that.
    Most importantly, part of him did die that day. His PTSD from Nam is worse than ever. He has had several injuries in the years since 2006, resulting in multiple TBI. I, as a nurse am his caregiver.
    He is my heart, but recently, his VA doctor looked at me and said “you know you have secondary PTSD…”. I hadn’t thought about it, but it is true. Caring for someone with PTSD & multiple TBIs is exhausting, lonely and just plain hard. It would never occur to me to NOT do all I can for this man whom I love with my entire being, however, I am learning that it is taking its toll & I don’t know how to fix that.

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