As we’ve entered October, it marks a significant milestone – a decade since I last endured the trauma of exploitation. Most of the time, it feels like a distant memory, a lifetime ago. But there are moments when my mind and body abruptly tense up, vibrating with remembered pain, my lungs gasping for air in panic, and I slip into dissociation.
There are things in my life that have just become normal. Living with hypervigilance and avoidance as constant companions, they occasionally resurface uninvited, like unwelcome guests at my doorstep. I’ve learned that a day, a week, or even a month can be hijacked by overstimulation, irritability, and hopelessness.
There’s a part that rejoices in adventure and harbors hope for the future, reveling in the life I’ve forged. But at times, this hopeful side gets subdued, hypnotized by the parts that yearn for the end of suffering, convincing me that the world is and always will be unsafe. I become disillusioned with my efforts to find meaning and the ongoing process of reframing my experiences. Despite my resilience, I’m exhausted from the constant need to be strong to navigate life.
It’s as if I live within a Newton’s Cradle, perpetually oscillating between hope and despair. Each loud clack thrusts me into existential dread, and another sets me into relentless motion, toiling, goal setting, and striving.
This may be the first time I’ve tried to express with written word what it’s like to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Throughout my survivorship, it often felt crucial to present myself as capable and minimally impacted by my past experiences, focusing solely on my accomplishments and capacity to achieve. And I have indeed achieved a great deal, overcoming so much stigma and doubt.
For years, I’ve walked into offices with closed doors, where white noise machines buzzed just outside the threshold, connecting with healers. I’ve delved into therapeutic work, talking through trauma, creating art, and exploring somatic modalities. Each session brought me closer to myself, healing the inner parts of myself. Despite the progress, and the moments of healing, the kind of moments that feel so sacred to me, they feel my body with warmth and peace, an undercurrent of agony persists. My body holding on to the suffering it endured and the ways it fought to protect me.
Maybe life is just like that. Maybe life is just like that for survivors. I don’t really know. How can a person hold such profound hope and despair in the same body?
The journey of surviving and striving can, at times, feel overwhelming. I yearn for more than just survival; I long for thriving, for a life of ease and comfort. So, I cling to those sacred moments when healing and wellness draw near, embracing their warmth and peace. And I continue to explore new avenues.
In February, I visited yet another office with closed doors, nervously anticipating a procedure that might quiet the parts of my brain and body that have protected me so well but have sometimes made life difficult to live.
All my life I have been a source of shame for phlebotomist. The nurse struggled with his needle as he tried to coax my defiant veins into compliance. It took 30 minutes to place the IV, but once twilight sedation set in, my worries dissolved, and I sank into deep relaxation.
Once I am properly carefree, I entered another room filled with medical equipment, vital machines, and monitors. I am here for a Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). A procedure meant to reset my overactive sympathetic nervous system, signaling to my body that it needn’t persist in a perpetual state of fight or flight.
I feel my neck go numb in preparation for the injections of local anesthetics. I don’t feel the injections as they go into my neck and find the nerves that have been responsible for my survival and for unintended hardship. The procedure takes less time than the IV placement.
I am led to another dimly lit room, with a closed door. Here, I recover and my partner joins to offer me comfort. Over the next few hours, I grappled with the unusual sensation of numbness in my face, neck, and, most strangely, my throat. Drinking water proved difficult, and my voice grew so raspy that I could have been mistaken for Natasha Lyonne.
Some people I know have had what they describe as life changing experiences with Stellate Ganglion Blocks, my relief has been more subtle. It hasn’t served as a magic cure, but rather as another step on this journey. As time has passed since the procedure, I’ve noticed ongoing changes. I don’t really sleep better, I still get flashes of memories I wish I could forget, I still experience moments of reactivity and irritability. But I do feel more at peace. My companions hypervigilance and avoidance visit less often. The last time I was confronted with a major stressor, I imagined disappearing from my life, moving far away, rather than ending it all. I feel a greater degree of control over the pendulum that swings back and forth, or at the very least, over my reaction to the shocks that set it in motion.
Living life after trauma is complicated and the path to healing and wellness is unique for each of us. There are so many pathways and the process is far from linear. I had hoped that after a decade, the effects of my past wouldn’t loom as large in my life. And at the same time, the life I lead is undeniably enchanting.
Maybe life is just like that.
Even though SGB didn’t bring the complete relief I was hoping for, I still believe it is worth pursuing. It still brought some relief and for a trauma survivor, relief is sacred. SGB is being used off-label to treat PTSD, which means it isn’t covered by insurance. It is an expensive procedure but it isn’t out of reach. You can learn more about SGB and apply for funding at ErasePTSDNow.org.
~ Post contributed anonymously