The heat flashed. Moisture prickled my forehead and under my arms. Flames rose up my neck and consumed my face. Nausea gnawed at my stomach. The Dragon had arrived. Its red haze fogged my mind. Heart racing, I could feel its claws sinking deep into my chest, squeezing my heart. Lights stabbed behind my eyes. The air was thinning, and it was becoming harder to breathe. I was drowning. Sirens screamed in my ears and tears leaked out of my eyes. I was sinking into the haze as the cage around me shrank, squashing me. It would break all my bones. I could not escape. I could not breathe.
Raphael, a ten-year-old boy who lives in my novel, Dangerous Salvation, suffers from PTSD. Up until about thirteen years ago, I had never experienced anxiety or a real panic attack. In my mid-teens, imitating Marsha Brady (Brady Bunch) I faked a panic attack with great success. In my mid-twenties, whilst I was having scuba diving lessons, I became a bit unstuck when, at ten meters, I had to remove my mask. Thankfully, my instructor knew what to expect and had a firm grip on my vest stopping me from losing my head (or blowing up with expanding gasses). Happily, within moments, all was under control.
However, in my mid-thirties I had a rude introduction to extreme trauma and the experience has left me somewhat scarred. During the birth of my eldest, a complication was allowed to go unchecked for too long. At a critical point things went pair-shaped very quickly. The following morning the hospital sent a psychologist to help me deal with what had happened. Sadly, I was too naive, exhausted and probably overdosing on baby hormones to understand what on earth what was going on.
Several weeks later, whilst still recovering I was regularly haunted by flashbacks and nightmares. Within the piles of reading paraphernalia I had received, I came across an article explaining Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I climbed into all the little boxes listed and found a new home. All of a sudden a lot of things made sense. Thankfully, assured that my next birth would be a Caesar (the only way I could be convinced to try again), I felt that everything was manageable. This was mostly true except for when people asked me to share my birth story…or shared their birth story…or if anyone talked about birth…at all…at any time. Then, everything went to hell in a hand basket…very quickly.
At the first hospital visit for my second pregnancy, I was told I did not need a C-section for this birth. Apparently, it would not happen again and I would be ”just fine”. I was not fine. For the next six and a half months, I was a mess. I hardly slept, I was an emotional and physical wreck. Regular hyperventilating, stress rash, no sleep, frazzled nerves were not the best conditions to be growing my next baby. Which of course made me stress more. God intervened miraculously in the eighth month (pregnancies version of the eleventh hour) and sorted the whole mess out, and our second son arrived under very different circumstances.
When my baby making days were well and truly over, I was confident I could put that whole “disorder” thing behind me. And, as you would expect, the older I got, the further I moved away from birth stories. It obviously was no longer going to be an issue. I was home and hosed. Until as a chaplain I attended at a mental health workshop where PTSD was covered. And it all came flooding back.
I created a litany to drown the panic:
- It’s in the past. You survived. You are okay.
Lying awake in the middle of the night:
- It’s in the past.
In the shower:
- You survived.
Driving the car:
- You’re okay.
- Your babies are okay.
Doing the shopping:
- You survived.
I got over it.
I’m no longer a Chaplain, I’m not having any more babies, it’s no longer an issue. I was so grateful that ugly chapter was closed.
The Unwelcome Lodger
However, due to a genetic propensity for mild insanity, an inflated sense of “possible”, and an unrealistic understanding of “doable”, I spent the following eight years running myself into the ground…repeatedly. The results of this foolishness are told in When Your Brain Goes to War. I am now coming to up to three years of recovering, restructuring, and retraining my brain. Whilst I have come along in (figurative) leaps and bounds, the jury is out as to whether I will ever make a full recovery. Another ugly result of this crazy episode is the unwelcome lodger who’s taken up residence in my head; anxiety. At times it’s like living with PTSD. Other times it’s just sickening, burning, heart pounding, suffocating hell.
The Cat’s Claws: Anxiety
I love my cat. But there are definitely things about him I’m not fond of, like his sadistic nature. Like all cats, he likes to play with his food. When an unsuspecting morsel crosses his path, he’ll hook it with his claws…then let it go. The poor creature believes it’s received a reprieve and so, after testing the waters, runs for its life. Only to be snagged again, and again, and again. I feel I can relate when it comes to anxiety. I think I’m in the clear; I’ve escaped…only to be clawed again…and again.
So Raphael has a special place in my heart as I journey with him and his twin sister, Sariah through the Armour of Light Series. They have not only survived atrocious horrors, I relate to his experience of anxiety, or as I like to think of it, the Cat’s Claw. You think you’re free, you’ve escaped from its clutches…and then it strikes again.
- Do you live under the Cat’s Claw?
- How do you cope?