I have always considered myself a pretty disciplined person. It’s always been somewhat easy for me to control my thoughts and emotions. After I lost Gianna, I noticed that started to change drastically. I couldn’t control the waves of grief emotions that would surface. I couldn’t control when I would cry. I couldn’t control the thoughts of Gianna’s death that would appear in my head and cause a breakdown. I felt so different after her death and completely out of control. Who was I now? I didn’t recognize myself.
I began to notice the PTSD symptoms right away. I didn’t know much about the disorder but knew enough to realize that it might be happening to me. PTSD is a mental health problem that can occur after someone has been exposed to a single traumatic event or multiple traumatic events, such as sexual or physical assault, natural or man-made disaster, and war related combat. It started at night when I was trying to go to bed. Every time I closed my eyes, I would be back in the delivery room. It wasn’t just like a simple, passing thought. And it wasn’t just looking at myself in the delivery room from the outside, like an observer. It was actually me reliving the experience. I was back in the delivery room, on the bed, reliving Gianna’s traumatic birth that led to her death. I would think of how unknowingly, I pushed her to her death, inside of me. These thoughts were too much to bear and they would cause my heart to race, my breath to become shallow, and I would have a panic attack. That’s when I knew something might be wrong. I had such a hard time falling asleep for this reason. I was actually scared to go to bed because I knew these thoughts would take over my brain and I didn’t have a way to control them. I would become anxious and distraught during the time when my body needed to relax the most.
During the day, I would keep myself busy. I would let myself think of Gianna, of course, and feel sad, but when the intrusive, traumatic thoughts would come, I would distract myself with busywork and push them aside. At least I had control over my thoughts during the day, so I thought. But then the triggers would appear: I would have extreme emotional reactions to things that would remind me of Gianna. I would see a little girl at Target and start sobbing. I would drive by the hospital where she died and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would hear a song from her funeral and lose it. I would see a commercial about baby diapers and have to leave the room to avoid breaking down. I went to a friend’s wedding a few months after Gianna’s death and sobbed so much during the Father/Daughter dance that I had to leave. This was all completely out of my control. I couldn’t control when I would see these things and how I would react. It was scary and embarrassing.
PTSD also causes hypervigilance for cues that indicate additional danger and trauma reoccurring. Before I lost Gianna, there was certain innocence about me. Since nothing “really bad” ever happened to me, I thought it never really would. Bad things happen to “other people.” Right? I knew something potentially bad could happen to me but nothing that bad. But when tragic events touch your life, that belief begins to disappear. I now felt unprotected from pain and tragedy and vulnerable to the worst of situations, since the worst of situations already happened to me. Every time I got in the car, I thought I would die in a car crash. When Dave wouldn’t text me or keep in constant communication with me, I thought he died. When a thunderstorm would pass through, I thought it I would get struck by lightening and die. I was scared about practically everything. All I thought about was death, and dying. I was on the alert to protect myself from it and that was exhausting. It is exhausting to view the entire world around you as a potential threat.
PTSD was slowly taking over my life. Two years into the journey and I can now say it is a bit more under control. Two things have helped me the most in my journey with PTSD:
- An emotional support dog: Our sweet pup is attentive to my emotional states and when she senses the least bit of anxiety or sadness in me, she jumps in my lap and cuddles. Her presence calms me down. She gave me something to hold and nurture when my arms were empty. She gave me a reason to get up in the morning. She motivated me to get outside and feel the sunshine on my face. She gave me joy and laughter when it seemed that I would never find joy again. She gave my life meaning.
- EMDR Therapy: It is a particular type of therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less disturbing way. I have not completed the process yet but I can tell you, although I still remember what happened, it is less upsetting. My reactions to the traumatic thoughts and feelings are less intense. I am able to get in the car and not worry if I will come home alive. I am able to see little girls in the store and although I might tear up, I am able to control it. I am still not able to think about her birth and being in the delivery room without having a breakdown, but I know one day I will get there. This process has given me hope.
I will never, ever forget what happened to Gianna and myself in that hospital. Nor do I want to, because with her memory comes both pain and joy. They exist together in one space. But with help, I am able to enjoy a more peaceful, joy-filled life – a life that Gianna would want me to live. PTSD will always be a part of me, as Gianna is, but it no longer controls me in every circumstance. My mind is being healed and that gives me more space to love and remember Gianna and be present and love those around me.