For the first fifteen years after my accident, I went to sleep the same way every night.
Each night, as my body relaxed and sank onto the mattress, heavy and motionless, my mind quickly let go of the day. I have never been one to let life’s problems disturb the sweet decadence of sleep’s reprieve. In that space between consciousness and slumber, my mind would slip into a mindful dream space: random images and twisting colors streaming and swirling around each other. I was a part of the images, but, because I was not yet fully asleep, I was aware of, and could even narrate silently, what was happening.
Regardless of how this conscious dreaming began, it always ended the same: I was a passenger in a moving car. Other cars were on the road, both in front of mine and behind mine. It was always dark, sometimes pouring rain; shadows of images passed by my car’s windows. Without any warning, the person driving my car abruptly and violently slammed on the brakes. I watched in terror as our car swerved, careening out of control, as we tried to avoid hitting the car in front of us. The sound of the screeching tires, squealing as loud as a train coming to a sudden stop, jolted me out of my near slumber, always just before the crash.
My eyes popped open and I jerked awake. I felt like a landed fish, laboring for each shallow breathe. My mouth was full of metallic tasting saliva as if it had just started bleeding. I swallowed it away, took a deep breath, and looked around my room, reminding myself that I was in my bed, safe and sound. The unbidden, ghastly ritual over. I shut my eyes and saw only darkness. It was only then that I could quickly fall asleep.
My crashing-into-sleep routine waned significantly after I met Harvey, the man who hit me, fifteen years after the accident. Is that a coincidence? I still occasionally crash into sleep and even after 32 years it is still just as terrifying. I didn’t know about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome back then, but now I can identify my other symptoms: fear of being in a car on the freeway, screaming at sudden noises, startling easily. I know I drive my husband nuts sometimes with my extreme reactions, but knowing that they can be attributed to PTSD offers some relief and makes me feel a little less crazy.
I wonder about the folks around the world who have lost their limbs in traumatic ways: war, landmines, and accidents. How do they find relief from their symptoms? Are they aware of PTSD and the psychological impacts of surviving trauma?
Getting a prosthetic leg and regaining mobility is such a gift. True emotional healing is a much longer mile than I ever expected.