As my doctor finished up she cleared her throat and seemed to be preparing to broach a sensitive topic.
- So, how are you doing?
I replied, earnestly, sincerely,
- Fine, fine. Things are going well.
She looked straight into me, paused, and gently said something to the effect of,
- Because it wouldn’t be unusual you know for people who have survived what you did, to experience heightened anxiety. It wouldn’t be unusual.
We talked about quality of sleep, about personal relationships, about our own experiences with illness and recovery and management of triggers. A wellness talk. I repeated,
- No, no, things are fine.
She looked into me again.
- So things are going well?
I gave her a grateful smile for caring; I know she’s busy and other patients are waiting.
One of the surgeons had warned me that there would come a time for emotional processing of the fall from Mt Haig. He suggested that this part of the recovery process might be intensely energy-sapping; maybe it would take form of a sudden onset of realization: gawd, that happened to me. He wanted me to be prepared.
My mom, a health professional, had in her matter-of-fact way laid out statistics for susceptibility to PTSD. 10%. I dismissed it; that’s not going to be me.
I am alright, I thought. I’m not experiencing flashbacks or nightmares. I’m not avoiding the mountains. Aren’t those the big signs? When C suggested that we could try going back to Haig in the summer, if you’re up for it, how does that sound, would that be okay? I was all in. And still am. I want to go slow with my return, yes, but it’s a reasonable caution, not fear. I’m over this accident. I’m tired of talking about it.
And then, just last evening, I was a participant in a training workshop, and they were talking about body management and survivor psychology. My back, already strained from a day of mostly sitting around, started throbbing in pain.
I wondered, like I did on my wilderness first aid training, whether it was “too soon” to listen to this sort of body and mind hyper-awareness discussion and analysis over and over again. It’s a strange pull of wanting to participate from an intellectual standpoint, and not wanting to be there because it feels too much like Survival Living Example Girl is latching onto my identity, uninvited.
The next topic was critical incident stress management. The presenter opened with, I know this isn’t fun but it’s very important. I thought: Not the best way to sell your piece. The printer had broken and she was doing her best to talk from notes off her smartphone. It was something like 9pm at night in a training classroom and the audience was stifling yawns and thinking about tomorrow’s work day.
A critical incident is an unusually challenging event that has the potential to cause significant human distress and can overwhelm one’s usual coping mechanism, the presenter wrote on the whiteboard, in front of a very quiet, polite audience.
The presenter started listing symptoms:
- inability to concentrate
Yeah, I get that. That’s me.
And then, a gushing of words, each one more injurious than the next due to their cumulative effect:
- trouble sleeping
- crying easily and for no apparent reason
- emotional flatness
I sat up straighter.
- mood swings
And as I sat in a chair with broken handles and felt a little stunned, hurt even, I knew that I’d just written about experiencing those things in my last posts. I’d talked to the case nurse who’s handling my transition back to work about some of those. I’d thought it was just me, my insecurities, my numb stoicism, over-sensitivity. Just regular life issues, just my partner being a typical guy and not understanding.
But in fact, all these things together have a name.