Sometimes it’s hard to sit down to write and explain what is going on with me. There are always several different stories bouncing around in my head, so I’m never short of ideas. What I lack is providing a good description of things to people who have no experience in the realms I have been in.
For the past 11 weeks, I’ve been writing, mostly in my journal, but there are also a few poems and few stories that will likely never see the light of day. Most of it is deeply personal. A lot of it graphic and in detail I just don’t care to share. One of the things I’ve learned over the past two years is I communicate better with the written word than I do with speech. In October, I relied on those skills to get me through and out the other side.
I was talking to a friend of mine over the weekend, who mentioned how people who don’t have PTSD will never truly understand what it’s like to cope with everyday life. When the bad days come, you feel like a shell of a human being. You might have to put everything aside for a while, sometimes months, before you can even begin to start picking up the pieces again.
On the outside, everything seems fine, but it’s practically impossible to explain what is happening on the inside,. Everyday tasks are exhausting. You’re exhausted when you wake up. You’re exhausted from doing the basics to get through the day. Mundane things, like rescheduling a dentist’s appointment are impossible to cope with.
You struggle to function and you feel like no one understands you. You know that fact is true. The people you know have never had the experience of struggling every day. They don’t understand why you stay home where it is quiet. They don’t understand why that grocery cart full of food was left behind at Safeway when “that” Bruce Springsteen song begins to play through the store’s PA system.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be constantly haunted by the past. It’s not something you just get over. The diagnosis helps, but it’s only a starting point. There are so many disparate pieces that have to be put together.
As October loomed, it became more difficult to hold it together. Fortunately, my job provides the freedom to choose when I work. After a night of terror and the exhaustion which goes with it, there is no judgment or shame in taking the day off. I might need to write two stories another day, but the ability to say, “I can’t work today” and be able to put self-care first is invaluable.
Nearly every night in October, the horrors returned. It was difficult to write, to put the pieces of a story together. I had to. It’s my job. But the pieces of the McLaren had to wait. The pieces of terror wedged their way into all the small parts of life.
Sometimes, you think you have the right pieces and put things together before moving along. Then, a little while later, you realize those pieces are wrong or were in the wrong place. It becomes difficult when you thought you knew and understand what was happening, but, then, you realize something different was unfolding all along and it wasn’t until you stumbled that you saw the truth.
Sometimes, you can’t see the bigger picture because everything is blurry and out of focus. An innocuous comment or thought triggers a memory and you’re thrown right back to 1984 or 1979 or 1975. It’s dangerous to let the mind wander too much.
Some days, I could do a story interview. Instead of sitting down and writing it that day or the next, it was a week later. Some days, the thesaurus in my head wasn’t working and I felt repetitive.
When you look at the McLaren, it’s a beautiful Formula 1 car. You don’t notice the slightly crooked stickers. You don’t see the imperfections unless you look closely. Most people never will.
You will never see the two missing pieces. They are missing support pieces which disappeared when they were needed. Now, 53 steps later, you find the car can support itself without those two supports.
In total, it took about 16 hours to build the McLaren. I received the box in February 2023, and began building it on August 20. The car was divided into four sections. Each section had 3-4 bags of parts.
I built bag 1, but had to set it aside until August 26 when I could do bag 2. I had the time to put it together, but I was just struggling to function.
The day after Labor Day is a significant trauma anniversary and I had to place the car aside for a while to focus on my mental health. I thought I’d be able to get back to building the car in a little while.
On October 29, with the flashbacks subsiding and having some clarity once again, I sat down and spent eight hours putting the pieces of sections 3 and 4 together. At times, they didn’t seem to fit correctly, but upon closer inspection and small adjustments, it all fit where it needed to be.
October was a battle. I suspect it will always be. The battles behind the scenes – finding where something fits, being guided in the journey – are never seen. It’s why people find it so difficult to understand what the experience is like.
Regardless of how long it takes to build something, it takes a lot of perseverance. It may sit unfinished for a while, but, hopefully, the end result will be something beautiful.