Last night, I slept for a total of 3 hours, 38 minutes, and an unknown number of seconds. Why do I know this? For many years now, this has sort of been my average. Now I must tell you, I did not wake because I felt rested and ready. Quite the opposite actually. You see, my mind is anything but rested or ready. It is fractured at best. And so is my sleep.
I have seen trauma. I have witnessed as it unfolds before me, just as I have arrived mere minutes after it has culminated in tragedy. For a number of years, my job was to chase trauma. Hunt it. Catch it. Stop it. I was good at it. I am not saying that out of bravado or an inflated sense of self. Really, I was. Sometimes my hands worked with a speed and precision that I did not know I possessed. Other times my mind was able to pinpoint the root cause through a maze of complexity that was plaguing whomever I was there to help. These things made me a good medic. And working with great medics made me a better one.
My ex-commanding officer was quoted recently as saying, and I’m paraphrasing here: “There in lies the paradox of PTSD – when you are busy enough, you can submerge the symptoms”.
What this meant to me was, when I was working as a medic on the road, there was always a new call. Just, waiting for me to respond to. What that call was could be anything from a stubbed toe to a stabbing or one of many overdoses that plagued our inner-city streets and alleys. I never knew what I was going to. Despite having call notes in front of me – it’s never what you think it is.
I was always busy. Burying one trauma with another.
After my failed marriage, I quit my job, and moved across the country. I had assumed that I would just pick up and begin doing the same thing here in the new city – working as a paramedic. My time spent searching for a job or waiting for the medic services to begin their annual hires, things slowed down for me. Things started to unravel. Symptoms started to emerge. Restful nights became shorter. Though, if I am honest, I can truly not recall the last time that I had what could be considered a restful slumber. My body always carries the heaviness of fatigue behind my eyes. My shoulders are always sore and my back aches. As do my knees. Everything.
I am in therapy now. Getting help for a multitude of different things. A diagnosis of PTSD has left me with an underlying resentment and distain. Thing is, it’s not directed where you may think. It’s pointed solely at me. I am the bullseye. I am angry at myself for “getting it”. PTSD. I feel weak. Weak in mind and in body. I guess you could say that outside of fatigue, frustration is my most constant sensation.
The bags under my eyes today hold a dark hue. Yesterday, they held dark images that had since bled into my restless sleep. I’ll tell you about it…
Yesterday while out at the local laundromat, you know, doing laundry, after having placed my clothes into the washer, I walked down a few meters to the local pub for some wings. Best wings in town. I have been off the booze for a week or so now so, coffee it was. I ordered my wings and eagerly awaited their arrival. When they arrived, I was pleasantly greeted by the sweet scent of my less than healthy culinary decision.
I managed to savagely devour two out of the ten wings that I had ordered. It was on the third one however, where PTSD brain kicked in. After taking a bite and pulling the delectable treat away from my mouth, my eyes caught something peculiar yet, familiar. Having just taken a bite, there was now in my hands a half-eaten chicken wing, displaying a sickeningly perfect combination of both meat, and bone. An eerily similar sight to something that I had seen before. While my eyes fixated on the exposed bone and missing meat, my wounded mind whisked me back to the side of a damp highway road in the middle of the night, where I was standing beside the mangled remains of a single vehicle MVC (motor vehicle collision). Inside, a single occupant. Where the correlation comes in, is that same and grotesque looking wing, now held in my hands, had an uncanny resemblance to the horrible jagged laceration, descending from the top of the male driver’s head, before disappearing into the concaved portion of his skull and face. Bone, and meat. I put the wing down. I wasn’t hungry anymore. Two out of ten wings were, ‘enough’.
If that wasn’t enough to feel like a freak, or to be reminded of my self-perceived weakness, you should have seen the awkward interaction shared between the server and I when she noticed that after eating only two wings, and then sliding the plate to the edge of the table to be discarded. She was naturally curious and helpful with her willingness to have the wings packed for me. That would have been of no use though, my brain had already dressed them in dead man’s clothes. I would not eat them. Perplexed by my willingness to be rid of them, the confused look on her face towards me all but solidified my self-conscious woe’s.
The remainder of my day/evening went well, despite the PTSD moment. That was until it was bed time, and the slow bleed of a medic’s mind seeped its way into my dreams. I saw that man again. Him and his depressed skull. I’ll tell you this, there are few things that rival the sight of unwittingly shining a flashlight into the inside of a dead man’s head. Truthfully, I can’t think of anything, off the top of mine (no pun intended).
Some days, I wish for nothing more than to be back on the ambulance, or back in the army, hiding the trauma. Replacing one for another. Swapping them about. Then other parts of me worry about what I would be like if I was doing that. Would I still be alive in a couple years? Impossible to say. It’s impossible to say that now – tomorrow is never a guarantee.
As I come to a close with writing this, I once again feel the sting of overwhelming tiredness. I will likely try to lay my head down and sleep once I have posted this. As many “normals” are just beginning their day, I am simply trying to survive mine. This is a fraction of what PTSD looks like. This is a hint of my everyday. Line up ladies, you’re getting’ a catch here!
Anyways – I’m going to try and lay down now. Hopefully my PTSD brain will remain on this page and allow me some rest.
If you are one of the “normals” out and about, enjoying your day – have a good one. And if you’re anything like me and simply trying to survive, remember; IGY6 – I Got Your Six.