Today is the 6th anniversary of my open heart surgery. Happy birthday new ticker.
I have been told many things throughout my recovery of the new health conditions that my operation so graciously bestowed upon me, some nice and some not so much. This is something I thought that I would never talk about but it very much needs to be talked about; mental health is sometimes shoved under the rug and sat on. We are told that this taboo grey cloud of judgemental assumptions is so vastly important, yet when the symptoms present within ourselves we are often told that we are selfish, withdrawn, attention seeking or fake. Everybody in the world is different, every mind is even more individual. You do not expect any being to walk on two broken legs, and a damaged mind is exactly the same.
I have been told that I am a liar, psychotic and deluded. I survived my ordeal, so therefore I did not experience enough trauma to be categorised as a PTSD patient. I am too young – I am not a veteran of war, I am not a natural disaster survivor. I was just a 14 year old girl who had one of the most painful recorded operations in medicine. I have been told that I have overdramatised what happened to me for attention as if I like speaking out it – The Insecure, Miserable and Poorly Styled High Schooler. “A trip to the zoo or life changing surgery?” You ask the audience. You decide.
There are things that happened in that hospital that I will never speak about, at least not for now. There are feelings that I have never experienced before, until that week, that I truly hope I will never experience again for the rest of my years in this reality. In my very short 14 years, I was told I handled my surgery with “admirable” maturity, but the truth of the matter is, I did not handle it. Any of it. At all.
When I was diagnosed I shut myself down to the life that I thought I would have. I would marry my first boyfriend because that was how it always happened, yes? We would live in his parent’s old house, the big farm type place with the fields outback for our children to have a pony. We would also have three children and four dogs. I had it all planned out. But then came the ‘no children’ recommendation. So Autumn, Sabrielle and Rowan had to go. No family. No more picket fence and rope swing. Just the dogs? Okay, we can do that, let’s go. I could not have the life I dreamed of, even though my dreams were very small because I couldn’t have the nuclear family that I always wanted; I couldn’t have anything most people want in life which was to arguably be loved and happy by those you hold dearest. I felt ugly and unloveable. I had deemed myself undesirable in all forms because of my new body, my new thoughts and the way I felt about the new life I’d been given. I didn’t expect to have a job, children or to live past 30 or 40, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to. I planned for the worst. I thought I was dying, even though I wasn’t, so I prepared myself for that. At times I was so miserable I wished I was dead which is perhaps, upon reflection, a very selfish way to think considering the second chance at having a ‘normal’ life I was very graciously given.
Not understanding the way you feel is petrifying. How can you explain it to someone else if you’re not even able to acknowledge it yourself? “How’re you doing?” was a question I was asked a lot in later therapy sessions, and in all honesty, I always answered “fine”. Really, I was physically fine. I was miserable, depressed and as anxious as a new mother but I was healthy, I was “fixed”.
Having flashbacks of traumatic events and experiencing those particular emotions after triggering events or situations is something that I still experience almost six years later. Random occurrences of that week still visit me often no matter what books I read or counsellors come my way, the dreams and flashbacks remain, however it is something I am trying to work on – eventually accept. There are times where I can keep them at bay but they can also strike with a vengeance, I suppose as any emotion or traumatic disorder can. It is important to take it each day at a time, even if I feel like I have to skip years ahead to make up.
As a reminder to those who do not understand or simply cannot, it is okay to acknowledge that you have no idea what is happening to either yourself or the person you love. Unless this is something you have experienced yourself or have experienced it secondhand, it can be very hard to explain; trying to illustrate thoughts and detailing events that curdle in your mouth is a burden no one should bear. You can essentially solve a fear of heights but staying out of The Empire State Building, but you can’t pluck out your subconscious.
Similarly, as a message to those who are experiencing the same or similar or are just lost and unsure; please get help. Any help. Talk to your friends, family, teachers, coaches, instructors, pets whatever helps you. You are not alone. Your feelings are valid. You can fight this. You will get through this. I promise it does not last forever.