The dreaded visitor in the night — PTSD

The other day started out great and continued that way. We went to new seasons, got our Sunday breakfast, did the crossword together, then to the store for ingredients for dinner. Getting home, we geared up for a four mile run, which was invigorating. The rest of the day and evening was lovely and chill. I went to sleep happy and content. Then she came to me and the next 24 hours went to hell. You see, she rarely comes to me in dreams. As you have read prior, she is in that locked vault of denial preserving my sanity.

Maribella Rose Maitri Willard. Sometimes I need to type that out to remind myself she existed. Believe me, I don’t forget, but my brain sometimes likes to play tricks on me (again, trying to preserve my sanity). I can’t remember the context of the dream, however, I remember the end where she was running up to me, and came so close to my face, hair wild, twinkle in her eye. She said to me, “hi mommy!” I said, Bells, it’s good to see you (not like she has been dead kind of good to see you, more like one of our normal interactions used to be). I asked her if she was ready for bed. She said, yes mommy. I told her to go up and that I would be there in a minute. She hugged me tight, one of her squish hugs that I miss so much, then bounced/skipped off. She rarely walked, it was more like I can’t decide whether I want to skip or bounce kind of movement. I remember so clearly her hair bouncing up and down, and her blue princess pajamas, bare feet hitting the hardwood floor. That was one of the matching pajamas that grandma and grandpa had gotten the girls. She bounced off into darkness as I startled awake. I immediately tried to go back to sleep to go back to her, call her back, hold her and never let go. But of course, I closed my eyes and nothing was there except my rapidly beating heart. I tried to slow it down to no avail. I reached over and touched my boyfriend, to try and ground myself. Part of his arm was out of the covers, and was a little cool. The next thing my brain did was to remember touching their dead bodies in the funeral home, and how cool they were. I remembered holding her and stroking that wild hair, tamed down then by the hello kitty hairband. Touching that cold unnatural skin. My brain then went into a tail spin that no matter what I did, I could not pull myself out of. I did not want to wake him, because, well, I did not want to put any of this in his head. I don’t know how long I stayed awake, I do remember the horrific path my brain went on…

Luckily I have the ways to deal with my PTSD pretty down, and they mostly work. It is such a regular occurrence in my life, I have had to learn, otherwise I would be in a curled up ball on the ground most of the time. It is more the rare occasion that these techniques don’t work. This was one of those. I have never been in the center of a tornado, but I imagine it may be like this. Your brain swirling around in memories, you desperately trying to get out of this vortex of pain, yet the momentum of it all keeps you in. Every time I was able to tame down one atrocious thought, another popped up much like the weeds in my garden. I got up to pee, and coming back he asked if I was ok. I said, yeah. Again, what could I say, no, I am thinking of Maribella right now, and totally freaking out, and can’t stop thinking of that little girl alive, how I found her that dreaded evening, and then at the funeral home? Yeah, no. At some point, hours later, I finally drifted off to sleep. Of course minutes later I thought I heard my dog throwing up in the living room. I had “thought” that the night before, and she had (that is what happens when she is a bad girl and eats a stick of butter, it upsets her stomach, imagine that). So I deliriously got out of bed, cleaned it up, and crawled back in. I believe I fell asleep finally as light counteracted the darkness of the night. When I finally had gotten a couple of hours under my belt, I found him on the couch where I crawled into his arms and just about cried. I told him a little, and he held me tight, which is what I needed. You see, there are no words to say in these moments. The normal words of it’s going to be ok do not apply. I got up to go home as I needed to get stuff to go to work in a few hours.

As I drove home, then to work, my brain flashed here and there, not giving me the break I was so desperately needing. I wondered how on earth I was going to make it through work. Of course I did, focusing on the care of others helps. But as the day progressed, more memories infiltrated. Checking in to say hi at the end of the day, he asked me how I was doing, and said honestly, not fabulous. I said, hey, you want to come over for dinner? I don’t know if he just loves my cooking or got that I needed him. But he came over, we all ate, and Raffi, he and I had our re-match of the game Clue. I laughed, which is so what I needed to break out of that tornado. As we lay down to sleep later, I was exhausted, felt the results of all the flight or fight hormones going through my system as well as the deep exhaustion that comes from the onslaught of all those memories. Our language fails in eloquence and depth often. Over the past almost three years now, I have had such amazing support in times like these from friends and family. And, lacking this ability to truly portray how I really feel, a deep feeling of gratitude along with what feels like the meek words thank you tumbles out. As I held his hand, my mind slowly releasing its grip from consciousness, my heart felt the first peace it had that day, and I was so grateful.

How she ran up to me in my dream with that twinkle in her eye…
Her wild hair
The blue princess pajamas

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Stephanie Willard

Originally published at on February 21, 2017.