When the Mind Breaks

There’s a sign in ASL. It’s the same as the sign for “scar”. But it’s done across the forehead. It’s the sign for “trauma”.

Because isn’t that where trauma lands? The deepest wounds, harshest scars. Right across the mind.

When everything happened last year, there was a distinct point when I realized it, I knew it, it was done. And I told it to my husband: “My mind broke.”

“Your mind isn’t broken,” he was quick to sweetly reassure me, desiring to comfort.

But something was beyond off. Deeply different, markedly marred. And unlike blood streaming and stitches healing and tubes showing, I had wounds that couldn’t be seen.

I remember my sister in law coming to help. I had just gotten the catheter put in, and was mostly on the couch, trying to find a position of comfort with a new tube, and glued-together surgery wounds still healing. We normally talk about everything, share and cry and reveal. I remember telling her soon after her arrival, that I couldn’t talk about it, couldn’t discuss the last few months, couldn’t go there. We talk about everything. And now with some of life’s biggest stuff looming in the air, silence.

But I couldn’t talk about it because I couldn’t even think about it, couldn’t even talk to myself about it.

I remember mentioning to her my anxiety. Her gently saying, you probably have PTSD.

I blinked. Couldn’t think about that.

My husband one day mentioned counseling. I readily agreed. Once the tube came out, if I didn’t need another surgery, if this ever, ever ended. Counseling next.

And I remember that first session very clearly, hysterical, having to talk about it, having to think about it. And then the counselor gently asking me, had I heard about Complex Trauma?

There’s something strangely comforting about a diagnosis. I came home after that hour and began researching my new label. Add it to the list: Hope mom, barren, and yes, my mind was broken.

Reading about Complex Trauma Disorder- a complicated type of PTSD- brought a wave of strange relief- that’s ME. Instead of feeling crazy, I began to realize that among my wounds was an unseen one, but just as physical and real and valid as the rest.

This… this complex trauma… the neuroscience… explained so much to me. Why I didn’t want to come home from the hospital after surgery… though everyone was so excited and happy, and I knew I should be. But what about those stairs? I would walk in that front door and be faced with those stairs. The ones I could still feel my back gliding down as they dragged me out in a tarp.

And what about that bathroom? How could I see it again? Be in there again?

What if something happened again?

And it explained my emotional disconnect from everyone. Even my children- you know, the ones everyone keeps saying I must be so much more thankful for now? But how could I connect with them when emotionally disconnecting from them helped bring about my survival? When my son’s and my most terrifying moments were the same moment, and I had to give him a job instead of comfort him?

And it explained why the future didn’t exist to me. I couldn’t- literally, could not- talk about the future with any grasp of it. “Maybe” became my new mantra to an extreme. But when life changes in a split second, not just once, not just twice, but four terrible times within just a few weeks- yes, the future becomes meaningless to you.

It’s been hard-memories-anniversary season. The one-year-since.

Since we found out we lost the baby.

Since we found out I needed chemo to keep from dying from that loss.

Since I almost did die.

Since my mama-in-law couldn’t be woken up.

Since. Since. Since.

One year rememberances, again and again.

The Complex Trauma in me reels. This season stings. Not just the dates, but all of it. The graduation posters. Spring flowers. Summer break. I’m braced. Locked in emergency mode yet again. This is the season of terror. What’s going to happen next?

A year, and so much healed, but so, so much still scarred.

Right across the mind.

A few days ago I had a bloody nose. To most people this is not a big deal. For me, it was debilitating.

Blood triggered panic. Catastrophic thinking filled my mind. I lay back on the couch as I was supposed to; but then that laying there, with red, it took me right back. Right back in that moment on the bathroom floor.

And though the scenes were drastically different- one a tragic horror scene, and one a basic bloody nose- the Complex Trauma shuts down the parts of the brain to reason with this, and ignites the parts that scream “EMERGENCY”.

Thanks to all that counseling, I knew things were probably going to be okay, and that this was PTSD attacking me. But the sorrow of even that awareness rocked me. I sobbed and sobbed. Because I’m still so wounded.

It happens often and it happens hard. Regular doctor’s appointments, sirens wailing, kids singing “Jesus Loves Me”, baby aisles, using the bathroom, family leaving, basic sickness, loud places. I could go on, but just know that Complex Trauma means complex triggers. And they don’t always flatten me in a sobbing, hyperventilating mode. It’s a sliding scale of responses, but it does always, always mean a battle. Life, a near constant mental health war.

And besides panic, depression and anxiety reel strong. Yet these are but symptoms. Symptoms of this deeper diagnosis. This way my brain has formed and mapped itself, unchecked itself, heightened itself, in all of these wrong ways from all of these wrong happenings.

There’s a song, “Just As I Am”, that is often associated with us sinners being able to bring any wrongdoing to the Lord. But there’s a couple paragraphs in this hymn that bring me such other comfort, as they remind me that I can also bring to Him all of my brokenness, even the brokenness of my mind. I sing it:

“Just as I am, though tossed about,
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind,
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

Healing of the mind. My Healer, He’ll heal this too? He’ll receive me like this too? He’ll relieve me?

Every passage I read on His healing takes on new meaning. He heals all our diseases (Psalm 103:3). All of them. All of me. He’ll heal it all.

He’ll heal my broken body- the womblessness, the cut through stomach, the lingering pain. And He’ll heal the brain that’s numb to pleasure, silent in happiness, screaming in terror, disillusioned to reality.

He, the Great Physician, the greatest Neurologist, creator of these systems that have gone awry, He will fix it, He will fix it all.

And even better than that: He’ll redeem it.

Yes, even this, all of this, all used for some greater good, for an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Not only will this one day be gone.

It will one day be worth it.

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