Today is the oldest I’ve ever been and the youngest I’ll ever be.
I try to write this sentence in a journal daily. Blank paper rests upon my lap as I sit on top of a large granite rock that meets the river’s edge on a downward slope. The breeze gently hums across the air, ruffling both the pages and the veil of green leaves that decorate a horizontal row of trees across the river. The sun peeks out from a long stint behind the clouds and instantly warms my skin with its touch. I direct the soles of my feet to morph into the earth beneath me.
The key word though is try.
I have a problem with spending too much time in the past, to the point where some days all I do is lay on the couch like an anchor on the ocean floor, beating myself up in my brain. It’s hard to think about today on those days. Not on purpose, though. PTSD isn’t something I chose. I don’t sit, head in hands, twirling my hair and nostalgically recollecting on all the things that could’ve been different, all the things that were unjust, all the things I must now process and grieve. No, PTSD is not a pondering, like many might think it to be.
PTSD, instead, is an alligator floating along the surface of a swamp that an onlooker will mistake for a wandering log of wood. They might even try to move, step on, interact with the “log” in some way, and then become bitten by the creature lurking beneath. That’s how I feel when a certain song plays through the car radio, and my teeth grit together as the melody dares me to remember, and how I feel when my boyfriend kisses me for too long, sending my heart into a sprint while my legs, automatic robots, retreat away. My robotic legs also show off their computerized skills in the bedroom, as tender touches turn my flesh to impenetrable metal. That’s how I feel when I close my eyes to sleep and the nightmares begin, like a horror movie projected on my eyelids. That’s how I feel when the environment is so abnormally safe that the room begins to spin, my arms tingle, and my shallow breath sends me onto the floor in a faint.
Trauma is a fabric interwoven into your skin, something that stays long after you believe it to be gone. The fabric in my skin is stitched with barb wires, repelling kindness and love away with ease, clashing with my desire to experience them, as if I am saying “go away” and “come here” within the same breath. Kindness and love become poisonous when they were the very things used to manipulate, only present in apologies that followed another screaming match, a prolonged silent treatment, or another instance of physical violence. They become mistrusted when they are masks for backhanded compliments and criticisms. They become confusing when holidays, times of joy and comfort, are filled with the remains of the eggshells I learned to walk on, worried about if I bought a good enough present. Love and kindness become total lies when the one who the world says is supposed to protect you the most is the one slowly suffocating you, both literally and figuratively.
A mother’s love is the most divine, they say. Either it’s a lie, or I missed out on something incredibly special, something that an internal, unfillable hole, that’s become as much a part of me as my limbs, screams for every day. And PTSD makes sure I hear it.
But PTSD has also let me in on a secret, something I believe to be a universal truth: everything comes from within.
We are told that a life worth living is found in the next job, romantic partner, or child. We’re told it is found in Instagram likes, a huge social circle, and in riches. However, by following the footprints that a lifelong anxiety disorder, depression, and stints of self-harm and suicidality have left, I’ve found that closure, forgiveness, balance, and peace are all found internally. While painful circumstances are things we can thank fate for, the only ones ever responsible for our own personal healing is ourselves.
Perhaps this reality is easier for me to grasp as someone with barbwire stitches in her skin, who has learned that depending on anyone is a dangerous game. Simultaneously, there is a part of me that will always silently cry over this truth. The soft, maternal caresses, and lessons in womanhood will never be there. I must soothe and teach myself. Despite how unfair this may be, it is a truth nonetheless, and one that most never realize. Most people chase all their lives and find nothing. I’m quite fortunate to have the awareness to at least try and consciously reach for today, instead of obliviously watching the days go by.
Thus, I see this granite rock I sit on as a palm, put there to hold me, nature’s gracious way of providing what I lack. Most would see it as just a rock, but I must see it as a mother. My unfillable hole leaves me with no other choice. When I am too tired to be my own mother, I must find her in the majestic tenderness of the trees, the caress of the wind, and the singing of the birds. They always accept me as I am, barbwire and all.
You more than your pain, more than what happened. You are strong enough to heal from the heavy you carry. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.