PTSD, Fairy Lights and Healing (Trigger warning)

A migraine descended on Friday. My head holds a portent for storms, the barometric pressure in the atmosphere causing excruciating pain. My spine decided to be in simpatico and on Saturday evening, my right leg went from under me. I managed to hit a sharp edge of a piece of furniture in the living room. Dazed, I sat on the floor as my daughter rushed over. She told me I was bleeding and she helped me into the bathroom. There was an incredible amount of blood gushing from my lip and when I removed the gauze for a closer look, I saw that I had a gash trailing from the bottom lip, down. Unable to stem the flow of blood, I arranged an Uber. I thought I was doing okay, albeit a bit stunned. I couldn’t talk in the Uber, so my daughter relayed information to the driver. He had a baby seat in the back and was a lovely fellow. We were his first customers; he needed to earn money for his family as the lockdown wore on.

I was seen by a nurse and instructed to take a seat in the waiting area, after being told the wound would probably need stitches. A couple in their 70’s were sitting nearby and my daughter and I whispered that they were the sweetest, most devoted couple we’d ever seen. The lady laughed as my daughter pulled out umbrellas, water bottles and assorted detritus from my handbag, as she searched for her headphones. “We sure cram a lot into our handbags, don’t we,” she said. My daughter chatted to her and we looked on as she fussed over her husband, her arm around him. A pregnant lady sat with her partner and they were holding hands. At one point, we began to laugh at the absurdity of finding ourself in casualty, on the first day of a long weekend. The outburst caused more bleeding from the gash and I had to have the gauze changed. We were sitting on uncomfortable chairs and the wait was long. In spite of this, nobody went to the window and asked how much longer, nor did they complain. The couples settled in and held onto each other. It was apparent by the creases around eyes, that we were all smiling at one another, underneath our masks.

An hour turned into three, turned into four. My spine was screaming, and I paced the waiting area, as the elderly couple and the pregnant lady were called in. New people arrived, with one family bringing in a very sick teenager. Poor little darling had endured surgery a week prior and it looked like an infection had set in. I started to feel panic, a chill rising from my feet. Agitation began, as did the deep desire to escape and go home. I felt trapped; I couldn’t leave without being seen to. My wound was still gushing and I could taste blood in my mouth. We were called in at 11pm and the staff were lovely. They took a picture of the gash and sent it to the plastic surgery department. I was lucky, as I was on the cusp of needing plastic surgery. As it turned out, cleaning and sealing the wound and being shown how to dress it, alongside meds, would suffice for now. We left after midnight and found ourselves stranded. There were no taxis, nor Uber drivers available. My anxiety reached a crescendo, as I realised that we would have to walk home. It was cold and drizzling, but even so, I had no idea why I was feeling so ghastly. I had been through so much worse. We have a motto, ‘The Angelou girls never give in, nor give up.’ Walking home wouldn’t kill us.

Spine aching, leg not working properly and still suffering a migraine, I paused in the empty main street. It was sublime; the golden fairy lights strewn through the trees, casting a magical glow. You could have heard a pin drop; it felt as though we were the only people inhabiting our town. I took a picture at this unfamiliar scene. Usually, the area would be bustling, but due to the late hour and Greater Sydney’s lockdown, it was a ghost town. Cheering up, I thought well, this covers both Saturday and Sunday’s walk, so I’d fulfilled my commitment to keep active through October.

We finally arrived home after 1.30pm, me castigating myself for not having driven to the hospital. I was in shock and just didn’t think of hopping in the car. I would have been in no fit state to drive, anyway. Redoing the dressing, I looked into the mirror in the bathroom. The sink was smattered with blood from earlier that night. I unravelled, as I remembered other times my lip had been split, my mouth filled with blood. On the ground the night of my fall at 15 years of age, my lip had been split; my teeth having pierced through when I landed. I spat up blood, as I tried to survive. There were other times; punches landing on my face and my head being rammed into a door frame. On a cellular level, I remembered. I recalled not only those traumatic events, but also, the conversations, sensory details and emotions. As I crawled into bed, it all came back in technicolour. No sleep was had. Sunday, I stayed in bed all day, unable to move. Whenever I drifted to sleep, nightmares would ensue.

The doctor asked if I was worried about the scarring, which would surely take hold. No, I am not afraid of scarring on my skin. My body is a depository for scars. I had not thought of the times I had a bloodied mouth, until Saturday night. Those scars are deep and much, much worse than the ones on my skin. The loneliness of endless nights, filled with flashbacks, is awful. It isn’t a collective trauma, something you share with others. At that time, as now, it was you battling to survive, alone. Saturday’s actual events were filled with beautiful imagery and shall be remembered fondly; there was the couple expecting a baby, the lovely family gathering around their child, the elderly couple whose devotion to each other was on display. There was the compassionate nurse and kind doctor. There was my daughter, calmly trying to stem the flow of blood and whose tenderness reached into my heart. There were twinkling lights and the quiet, reflective walk home. No, the spinal pain, migraine and injury weren’t traumatic. The memories this night conjured up, were what made me unravel. The violence that caused the wounds from long ago…

I scrubbed the clothes I’d worn, which were covered in blood, wiped down the bathroom and washed towels and mats. I am in the process of cleansing my soul, now that the sludge has surfaced. There is no way around what I am experiencing. You can’t avoid it, outrun it, drown it, nor drug it into oblivion. All you can do is feel it; sit with it. Run warm baths filled with lavender and rosemary for remembrance. That girl deserves her experiences to be honoured. She deserves her courage to be acknowledged. A dark night of the soul can return when you least expect it; even whilst walking empty streets, filled with twinkling fairy lights. In insurance cases, specialists are asked to provide percentages of how much certain injuries were caused by a singular event. How many panic attacks, sleepless nights and dissociative episodes have had their origins in my bloodied mouth? I hadn’t thought about it, before Saturday night. Will I be a little more healed, now it has burst open, from it’s hiding spot in my psyche? Has it been consolidated? A week ago, I felt like a falcon, flying high and free. Today, I feel like a fragile little bird, who has fallen a long way, without being able to fly. I shall hold that chick in my hands and nurse her whilst she regains her strength. Like I have done thousands of times before…

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