The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers.
Many people consider 18 to be the age at which someone becomes an adult. If so, then the year I became an adult was a doozy. I experienced the Rites of passage of graduation, and beginning university that are often associated with adulthood, and, then, for good measure, I also experienced the birth of my first child, the loss of my first child, and the loss of my first love. It was a tumultuous year.
Even though I was pregnant during my senior year, I focused on the goal of graduation with a tenacity that I find hard to believe when I look back. I was eight months pregnant when I graduated, a shocking thing in my small town. Thankfully, no matter how shocked people were neither parents nor the local school board could do anything about my presence at school. Michigan was ahead of the rest of the country in this regard. While the passage of Title IX in 1972, allowed pregnant teens to attend school in most states, Michigan began allowing pregnant teens to attend school in late 1970. So, yes, graduation day was a happy one. I felt proud and then about a month later the other shoe dropped.
Our daughter was born on July 25th and no one had told us anything about what to expect: not that it would have mattered. I was drugged against my will, not allowed to hold my baby, and my boyfriend and I were both treated as less than human. I can't remember anyone acknowledging our presence or offering the least crumb of comfort. We were deeply grieving and no one acknowledged that either, they simply told us, "you'll get over it." I started university in the fall, which went fairly well under the circumstances and, then, about a year later my boyfriend and I broke up. By August 1972, I resembled the survivor of a shipwreck who had barely made it to shore, more than I did a normal young woman embarked on adulthood.
My son turned 18 this year and, as he headed toward graduation, I realized that this event could be a big trigger. (I already wrote about his birthday and new girlfriend on an earlier post.) In some ways, it was. I had some very bad days and it wasn't always easy to attend the many events associated with graduation: which is a big deal in Vancouver. However, today was the last day of school for my son and I managed better than I thought I would. Self-awareness and self-care made the difference. I treated myself with tenderness and it worked. I got through the approximate month of events and participated in most of them with the kind of happiness you would expect a "normal" parents to show. There was the prom (June 3), the pre-graduation brunch, the graduation ceremony, the after-grad dinner/dance (June 20), the beach party/potluck (June 27), and - finally - today the last day of school. Whew!
In my life, pregnancy has been another matter altogether. The loss of my first child was such a wrenching one, that when I became pregnant again ten years later, I experienced intense emotional flashbacks, had a miscarriage, and nearly lost my marriage. Things were very tough. At that time, my husband and I were living in a remote community with no access to counseling, neither of us had heard of PTSD or had any idea why I was so profoundly upset or what the intense emotional outbursts were about. After that, I went on to have two other pregnancy losses. By then, I'd begun to understand more about the connection between my earlier loss and my problems maintaining a pregnancy. I began practicing tai chi and other relaxation techniques to get through the hard times. Pregnancy was still a potent trigger for me, but over time the strength of my emotional flashbacks relented enough to allow me to give birth to a beautiful boy in 1994.
I have other triggers: anniversaries, music, feelings, people, but life events have been the largest triggers for me and have triggered the largest and most painful PTSD flashbacks. (The exception might be people. More on that in a future post.) Music, as I mentioned, has been a powerful trigger. I can't remember why now, but when I came home from the hospital after my daughter was born, I stayed in bed for about a week, crying and listening to Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman. Why that album? I can't say. All I know is that today, the thought of listening to Cat Stevens feels dangerous. Several years ago I thought I had come far enough to be able to finally listen to the album again. I even bought a copy. It's still in its wrapper. However, I think I'm brave enough to download a video below of one of the songs that conjures up that dark moment in my life. Why bother, you might say. According to most of the things I've read about PTSD, avoidance is an impediment to healing. So, here goes.
Wow, after downloading Wild World, I can see what a good song it would be to listen to while grieving. It's not as hard as I though it would be to listen to, but I don't plan to open the CD anytime soon and listen to the whole album. Baby steps.
What are your triggers? I'd love to hear your story.