PTSD is a Sneaky Bastard

Content warning: fire, PTSD, anxiety, trauma

 

I almost died in an apartment fire in July 1997. The building burned overnight, the night between July 7th and July 8th. Most likely, teenagers caused the fire (accidentally) by setting off fireworks in the illegally-placed dumpster–the dumpster sitting under the apartment buildings, next to parked cars. The dumpster caught fire and then the spray-foam insulation on the ceiling–the foam that was also against fire code and acted as an accelerant–caught fire. Then the gas tanks of nearby parked cars exploded.

My apartment was right above the parking area, right above where the gas tanks exploded, right above the dumpster.

It was a four alarm fire. Firefighters from four stations rushed to the scene. When the first firefighters arrived, they estimated the fire was burning at a temperature of 2700° and spreading at a rate of 10 feet per second.

I woke up when my windows exploded from the heat to find my apartment surrounded by fire, front and back.

I don’t need to go minute-by-minute through the rest of it. I was trapped. I was convinced in every atom of my being that I was about to die. I didn’t die. I managed to get out. Firefighters are fucking heroes, man, and if it weren’t for their quick response to the scene, I would not be here.

I have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was diagnosed six to eight months after the fire by a thoughtful, humane, person-centered doctor of internal medicine who realized my physical symptoms of stomach upset, heartburn, and throat constriction were the somatic symptoms of PTSD. If she hadn’t asked all the right questions–not just questions about my body, but questions about if I felt safe in my life, how I was sleeping, if I was experiencing anger or threats–if she hadn’t probed, I don’t know how much longer it would have taken me to get help. I am thankful for her.

have gotten help. Over the past 21 years, I’ve seen several therapists and done intense work around the fire. I’ve done EMDR therapy which was, for me, very beneficial. I’ve healed and grown tremendously.

But you know what? PTSD doesn’t ever actually disappear. I can usually manage my PTSD very well–I’m seldom triggered. I no longer think about the fire every minute, every hour, every day, every week, or maybe not even every month. That’s a huge change from the years immediately post-fire. I can light candles! I now cook on a gas stove! Our new house has a fire pit and we made a fire the other day and I didn’t freak out! I watched fireworks over Memorial Day without tears streaming down my face, without my body shaking! (I even enjoyed them!) I recognize, notice, and label my PTSD when it pops its head out of the depths of my psyche.

And yet.

This is the time of year, folks. These last two weeks of June, when my animal brain recognizes the scents on the breeze, the slant of the sun, the feel of the air.

Something’s wrong, my amygdala whispers. Danger is coming.

Danger is coming, my body echoes.

I feel jittery all the time, like I’ve had a whole pot of coffee. I feel restless and I struggle to focus. I’m hypervigilant. I can’t relax. My muscles tense. My stomach clenches. I feel sick, but also hungry, but also sick. I feel like a constant lump is stuck in my throat. I feel like the other shoe will fall. Will another shoe fall? Am I okay? Is everyone I love okay? Who’s not okay? What’s not okay? Something is not okay.

Breathe, Sarah. Breathe.

It’s okay to feel like it’s not okay, I remind myself. This is PTSD. This is your old friend, your old enemy, your old familiar haunting sneaking back into the forefront to recognize this anniversary.

But what if I always feel this bad? What if this time is different? What if I’m losing my mind? I ask myself, hating the frantic tone in my voice.

Today is June 15th, I answer. Every year. Every year you feel this way. Every end of June is hard. Every Fourth of July is significantly awful, as the fireworks explode everywhere. And every year it goes away again. Every year it recedes after you move through it. Every year it clears again as you survive.

Twenty-one years, this July.

Thank all the gods I’ve been alive these last twenty-one years. Thanks to the firefighters. Thanks to the doctor who first said, “PTSD.” Thanks to the four therapists who’ve given me strategies to cope. Thanks to the friends and family who empathize, who listen, who seek to understand, who stay calm and remind me that my calm will return.

And it will. I will be okay.

But these next few weeks are hard for me, folks. They are hard. I will treat myself with care. I will remind myself to breathe. If you see me in the next weeks, please be extra gentle with me.

Sparrow on human hands

 

 

Lessons from the Weary Mover

We recently moved. Just across town, so you’d THINK that would be easier than some of the cross-country moves I’ve made in the past.

You’d be wrong.

Here are some of the Hard Won Lessons I’ve learned in the last month. I’m passing them on to you in case you’re thinking about moving, too.

1. Don’t. cd4

JK. NK.

But really, most of us move for really good reasons. Maybe you got a new job. Maybe you have a growing family and need more room. Maybe you have Nazis as neighbors. Maybe you’re tired of the basement portal to R’lyeh that keeps leaking non-Euclidean geometry into your house.

If you’re moving for a good reason like that, carry on.

If you’re moving for some absurd reason, though. Maybe…just don’t. Cuz this shit’s exhausting.

2. You own MUCH MORE STUFF than you think you do.

You own approximately 5.12 tons of stuff. Yes, you. You, right over there.

Wait, you have kids? I take it back. You now own 5.12 tons of stuff plus 13.7 tons of stuff per child. No joke. That’s an actual, scientifically-calculated number.

3. Most of all of that stuff is nothing you need.

If you move without it, you’ll literally never miss it. Give it away now. Or trash it, if it’s something no one would ever want.

If you haven’t used it in the last year, GET RID OF IT.

4. YMMV on this one, but I find the hardest things to sort through are books and things your kids used to love/play with/wear when they were little.

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At one point while sorting through our basement, I literally sat and cried over the plastic food my kids used to play with. I remember when they handed me that hot dog and I pretended to eat it! HOW CAN I GET RID OF THIS?

I’m not even talking about the nice, wooden, chop-this-velcroed-fruit fake food. I’m talking about the cheapest, flimsiest bunch of junk food.

Actual tears.

Don’t get me started on the books. Trixie Beldon, man! Yeah, yeah…no one in my house will probably ever read them again. Yeah, you’re right, my kids refused to read them when they were the appropriate ages. No, um, I’m probably not going to read them. But. But. But. But…I LOVED THEM. They had lasting and deep significance in my life! I…I…I………

Okay. Take pictures of those things. Keep the stuff someone might actually play with again or actually read again. If not? Then just keep the picture.

YOU CAN DO THIS.

5. At some point, you’ll look around, pat yourself on the back, and feel like you’ve made great headway packing up your whole house! BUT DON’T FALL INTO THAT TRAP.

The final 10% of the crap that you own takes 90% of the time to pack. And you’re going to keep discovering more and more and more and more stuff hidden in random places. Plus, you’re going to end up with a bunch of boxes at the end labeled “Misc,” “Odds & Ends,” and “What Even Is This, No One Knows.”

whatisthis

 

6. Unpacking might be worse than packing. It will take approximately 1,268 days for you to actually settle into the new house without stumbling across yet another box or something that needs to be organized. I haven’t hit that point yet. I’ll let you know when I do.

 

Um. So good luck with your move.

What Fresh Hell is This?

One of my friends at work subscribes to Snack Crate, which sends a monthly box of snacks from around the world. She hates licorice and I love it, so she handed me a bag of Djungelvral, from Sweden.

Here’s a reenactment of my thoughts during this traumatic event:

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Don’t they look adorable? Aw, they’re little monkeys. Little licorice monkeys. Covered in some sort of…powder. Hmm. Let’s take a closer look.

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Oh, yes, they are ADORABLE!

And I love licorice! And, hey, monkeys.

And I am very adventurous in my eating and I LOVE eating treats from other cultures!

Oh, wow, this is going to be awesome.

:Pops monkey in my mouth:

OMG FOISNK&4*#&GKJS:LHE*&^(*&G:LJSDF*&^(*^*&*&$&^%#$LJLHGL??!!!!!!!

Folks? I literally jumped in my seat and grimaced and did a mouth-centered double-take and head shake and shudder.

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Apparently, the Swedes enjoy coating their licorice in ammonium chloride, which tastes kind of like and also totally unlike sodium chloride (the salt we are used to). The candy has this crazy ammonia/salt zap which makes your mouth react ALMOST as if you popped in a super sour Toxic Waste candy COMBINED with that choking/cloying/nostril-burning feeling you get when you’re swimming in the ocean and accidentally gulp down a ton of water. And it makes your eyes water.

The licorice inside all that Fresh Hell was kind of good, but it took my mouth like ten minutes to recover.

Tasting this candy and realizing that it is POPULAR in Sweden? Makes me wonder:

  • Are the Swedes generally crazy?
  • What other insane combinations of foods do they eat?
  • Is it possible that Swedes HATE this stuff and pretend to like it and therefore export it with secret glee at the torment they impose on the rest of us?

Part of me wants to try another one, just to see if it is really as bad as it seemed the first time.

Part of me wants to hand one to an unsuspecting fellow licorice-lover just to watch them eat it.

Most of me wants to throw it all away.

But…if any of you are in Evansville and want to try one, let me know!

Have any of you actually tried Djungelvral and enjoyed it?

 

Just the Tip

Those of you who know me in person (or follow me on other social media) know that my husband Gary had a rather dreadful, freak accident this past summer. I didn’t want to write about it until the legal liability was all figured out.

zombiefinger02_zombiekingI’m not going into the details, but Gary was sitting in a folding chair that suddenly collapsed, caught his finger, and sheared off his fingertip. Like. Cleanly sliced through his actual fingertip including bone, which then flew across the room. He had to have a “revision amputation” the next day, where they removed more tissue and bone in order to close the wound and allow it to heal. He lost almost all the distal metatarsal.

We both cope with things by drawing upon dark, dark humor. I immediately imagined a zombie fingertip scritch-scritch-hopping along on its nail. The zombie fingertip would commit crimes, leaving Gary’s fingerprint behind, so that everyone would think he was a master criminal! But it would really just be his zombie fingertip, framing him! But who would believe that? Because there’s no such thing as a zombie fingertip!

OR IS THERE?

Just two more things to say:

1) I am sure losing a fingertip in any way is a horrible experience. But if you’re using a chainsaw or log splitter or hedge trimmer or axe or giant knife, I do think–after you’ve gotten over the shock and the medical necessities–you might think, Well, that sucked, but I always knew sharp things can do that. But…losing a fingertip while SITTING IN THE CHAIR? It’s the kind of thing that causes you to have no faith in the logical nature of the universe. Or in the use of chairs.

2) If you’ve kind of blocked the word “amputation” from your mind and been thinking LA LA LA LA CUT OFF FINGERTIP LA LA LA, when the doctor comes in and starts talking about “revision amputation” this and “revision amputation” that, you kind of want to puke at first. I wanted to beg the doctor to start saying, “When I go in and clean that up.” Because the word amputation is just not a word you want to actually hear a doctor say.

 

 

Image: https://brainzzzorgtfo.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/zombie-fingers/
Chris Zombie King

You Know What’s Stressful?

Buying a house. And, I bet, selling a house, but we’re not to that point yet.kevin-home-alone-zoom-fcf5c0ff-7273-43ee-a991-7ec9ac0b81c6

We had one house fall through in January after the inspection. It turns out that seller had a “friend” put on a new roof two years ago. As you might guess, said roof needs to be completely torn off and redone, per the inspector and a roofing company. Seller insisted it was fine, so we couldn’t come to terms.

Now we’re in the midst of dealing with a second house. We’re at the point where we’ve started to wonder: Why the hell did we decide we wanted to move? Like…how much time and energy and effort and money is this going to cost? Do we want to trade the problems we know with Current House for the problems we will inevitably discover with Future House? Whose idea was this? Yeah, we think we love Future House, but is this just infatuation that will wear off soon and leave us longing for steady old reliable Current House?

Gary wishes for some spice (a la Dune) so we could see the branching future and know for certain if Future House should be OUR future house. I alternate between ecstatic excitement and panicked uncertainty.

636080863092287060-thinkstockphotos-517934076Will this house actually go through? Will we move? If you ask us in two years, will we be glad we moved? Will it be home or will it be a money pit?
home-sweet-homeSeriously. If anyone has a crystal ball sitting around and has a clear answer one way or the other? Let me know.

Everyone says, “Go with your gut.” What if your gut says “WOO HOO I LOVE IT!” half the time and “OMG, is this a terrible mistake?” the other half? Anyone out there have really great advice on buying and selling houses?

Anyway, that’s the big stuff that’s going on for us right now. We’re getting some estimates on things brought up in the inspection report. Then we’ll negotiate and see what happens. And then, if all goes well, I guess we’re moving. And THEN comes the part where we have to sell Current House.

This past weekend, Gary and I had a lovely getaway to Nashville, TN. He had his routine neurologist appointment today (Monday), so we decided to make a weekend of it instead of driving down and back in one day–it’s nearly 3 hours each way. I’m so glad we did! Sometimes you just need to get away to a nice, clean hotel where you don’t have to worry about any household chores and you can eat lovely food and hang out with your loved one and read books and just luxuriate in time together. ❤

I’m still not 100% sure if we’re making the right decision by moving–really, if someone has a certain answer? Let me know?–but I do know that home is wherever my family is and my family can find happiness and joy in any house.

I’ll focus on that.

 

Art Matters

a creative human

My life is better in all ways when I create art every day.

For me, most days that means I write. I have two published novels, Dark Moon Wolf and Waxing Moon. I’m working on the third book in that trilogy, as well as a new novel-length project and a handful of short stories.

DarkMoonWolf_w11014_300Writing every day isn’t easy for me. I work full-time. I have three kids, ages 14, 13, and 11. My husband has Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease, a major disability which requires quite a bit of managing (and means he can’t help much around the house). His disability and prognosis cause me a great deal of stress and anxiety, though I tell myself to stay in the moment, think about today, think about this hour. We have another major stressor in our family that I’m not discussing publicly–but it’s been brutally worrisome and consuming since last…

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The Joys of Halloween and Urban Fantasy

I wonder if there are any fantasy lovers who don’t also love Halloween. Today’s a day we can all allow our imagination to roam freely–want to be a Werewolf? Want to be a ghost? Want to wear your green lipstick? Want to delight in the scary or the fantastical or the funny? Here, enjoy Halloween.

(Spoiler: I LOVE my green lipstick and love getting to wear it to work. I figure I have two chances to do that: Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.)

 

I love Halloween for the same reason I love urban fantasy. I love imagining our world with a twist. I love working out real issues by turning them on their end, warping them, and seeing them through a new lens.

I’ve been silent on this blog for a while and you may have wondered why. (Or you may not have noticed–whichever!)

I’m working on a number of projects: book three of Calling the Moon, a new novel project called Marked, a middle-grade project, and a few short stories that I’m polishing and sending off to various magazines. So…I’ve been busy!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Please Geek Out

I don’t care what you geek out over. It could be board games and dice. It could be Battlestar Galatica. (Spoiler alert: if it’s either of those two things, you might already be my buddy.)

It could be football. Or classic cars. Or poststructuralism. Or some type of music or a particular band. Or the color cerulean blue. A book or an author. Your new computer. Sushi. Minecraft. Knitting socks for piglets.

But PLEASE, geek out about your thing.

Be unabashedly excited. Be enthusiastic. Share your joy with me. Tell me all about it. Get the sparkle in your eye that shows you’d like to ramble on and on and on and on about Your Thing. Whatever that thing is.

Don’t be sullen and blasé and noncommittal and bored.

Be a geek. About your thing. Please.

happy-cat-15465

White People: We Gotta Step Up

I don’t purport to be perfect or even close. I make mistakes. I’ve grown up in a culture that teaches us all to be racist, sexist, and all the other -ists. I fight against these oppressive beliefs, but I’m sure as hell not perfect.

My voice doesn’t deserve to be heard over others–especially over the voices of people of color.

That said, however, I’ve been around several people recently who’ve asked:

As a white person, what can I do? How can I be an ally? How can I be anti-racist?

It is not the responsibility of people of color to give us–you and me–a list of Top Ten Things White People Can Do To Have Less Guilt. That’s asking too much emotional labor from a group of people fighting for their survival–emotional, mental, and physical.

So, although my thoughts are not authoritative, I thought I’d share what I can in the hopes that it be somewhat helpful for some people. (And if I mess up here, I am open and appreciative of the time anyone takes to educate me.)

What can we do as white folks? Here’s some of the things.

  • Talk to your kids about racism. Make sure they know what happened in Charlottesville. Make sure they know why white supremacy is wrong. It doesn’t matter how old they are. Talk to them if they’re 3 or 5 or 11 or 17 or, hell, 26 or 42. I’ve heard parents say they don’t want to talk to their young kids, because they don’t want them to be upset/scared/confused. Do you think kids of color have that luxury? Talking about racism doesn’t make you racist and doesn’t give your kids sudden knowledge about racism that might lead them to be racist. Silence on racism perpetuates racism. Silence excuses. Silence says, “This isn’t a big deal. You don’t need to be worried about it.” Teach. Them. Now. And continually. About racism, antisemitism, homophobia, sexism, cissexism, ableism, etc etc etc.
  • Every single white supremacist who went to Charlottesville comes from a community of mostly white friends & family. Do not look the other way if someone in your community is a white supremacist. Don’t think they’re just misunderstood. Don’t think they’re just playing devil’s advocate and they don’t really believe that. Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. As Captain Awkward says, Don’t date Nazis. Tell them their views are not okay. Do not support physically, mentally, or emotionally while they espouse hatred. Sure, tell them you’ll be there for them when they renounce those views, like these parents. But do not be part of their community, wring your hands, and say, “I never thought he’d really [fill in the blank]” on the day after. Also? If you think someone might pose a threat? Report them to the police. Like. Now. Even if they are your father, your husband, your brother, your son.*
  • Listen. And read. Seek out people of color and their views on what’s happening. Take their thoughts, fears, and insights seriously. Seek out scholars and undercover researchers and trustworthy reporters. Educate yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge you can share with other white folks–not the ones who are proud to call themselves white supremacists, but the ones who think there are “all sides” or use the term “alt-left.”
  • Read fiction. Read fiction written by people of color. People totally unlike you. This will make you a better, kinder, more understanding person. Really.
  • Speak up. But don’t speak over. I don’t mean this in a white savior way, truly I don’t. But just like men need to be responsible for ending sexism, because sexism is largely perpetuated by men and gives men advantage, white people need to be responsible for ending racism. On a systemic level, white people control many of the institutions that perpetuate racism. We gotta change those systems. We’re in charge, so we have the power to do this. Now, we shouldn’t assume we know best what needs to be fixed or how to do it–this is where  listening comes in.
  • If you belong to any house of worship and the religious leader did not devote the entire service this weekend to denouncing white supremacy, ASK WHY. Call them now. Ask what they stand for. Ask what your place of worship stands for. LEAVE if they don’t have a good answer. Find a place where people want to make this world a better place and aren’t afraid to confront the realities of what’s happening–in the name of nonpartisanship, in the name of preserving relationships, in the name of raising money during the offering. It is NOT POLITICAL to be against white supremacy. It is perfectly appropriate for a place of religion to denounce racism, antisemitism, and hatred.
  • Wake. Up. This is happening and if we can’t find a way to fix it? Then more people will die. Call your elected officials. Call your parents who voted for Trump. Talk to your neighbor. Do something. If you can do nothing else, donate your money to those who can fight these fights.

Okay. That’s my thoughts for today.

I wish you all love, peace, and joy, my friends. Now let’s get working.

 

 

*Yes, I’ve used all male terms there. I WONDER WHY?

ps. I don’t have some cute picture for this post. It’s not that kind of topic.

“The Art of Discovering What You Believe”

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

I came across this quote today and made me think. What have I discovered that I believe through writing Dark Moon WolfWaxing Moon, and my WIP?

  • Women’s friendships are the backbone of their lives, whatever the media may say to the contrary with their depictions of female competition.
  • Physical strength isn’t the answer, isn’t the judge of a person, isn’t how power should be allocated.
  • We can all handle more than we think we can. We’d be amazed to discover what we can really do when it’s necessary.
  • Sometimes you have to stand up against the people you thought were on your own team, when you realize they’re wrong about something important.
  • All people have value. All people. All. This, perhaps, is the guiding belief of my life.

I think I have gotten more out of writing than anyone has gotten from reading my writing. Maybe that’s how it always works?

the_power_of_writing_by_saragray-d8a0b3r

https://saragray.deviantart.com/art/The-power-of-writing-500539959