Religious PTSD & fighting the darkness with acts of love
The world events of these past two weeks have triggered a significant PTSD event for me. Growing up, our End Times eschatology was closely tied to whatever was happening in Israel. The details of what we believed are fuzzy to me now, but one thing remains: whenever Israel goes to war, I go crazy. This usually means scanning the news for "clues" about whether this is THE END, desperate urges to stockpile food and emergency supplies followed by an urgent compunction to put my affairs in order lest Jesus return and I have no clean socks to wear because OBVIOUSLY.
Sometimes my PTSD is mild and manifests itself through detailed housecleaning (this past week I powered through all the laundry AND cleaned my room from top to bottom--which was not an entirely bad thing, ha ha). But sometimes, my PTSD goes viral.
This past week, it did just that when, on the same day, I had a devastating conversation with my father (he called me a self-centered and self-indulgent woman) and then I heard the news that Israel had invaded Gaza and also, a passenger plane had been shot down.
Winner, winner, chicken dinn--OH GOD THE SKY IS FALLING.
At first, I was stunned. I continued my morning routine in a daze.
But two hours later, my body broke down.
When this happens, there is nothing I can do but hang on and ride it out.
First came the blinding migraine that felt like an anvil had smashed into the center of my forehead. This was followed by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. I have not cried that hard in a long time. I was balled up on the bathroom floor just hanging on for dear life.
I took Excedrin for Migraine and the headache eased just enough for me to go to work that night. Yep, no matter what is happening, a Mama's gotta keep going, am I right? So, off to waitressing I went.
I could only hope that the PTSD wasn't going to last long.
Well, that night, the nightmares and obsessive thoughts started. I dreamed of dead babies and my grandfather roaring at me to repent. When I woke up, the question running through my head over and over and over was: Why doesn't my father love me? Why doesn't he love me? WHY? Why doesn't he....?
It wouldn't stop. During the day, the anxiety was so severe--everything seemed like a threat--that I got a second headache.
Then the mean voices started: You're a horrible person. You deserve Hell. Your own father doesn't love you, how could God love you? Your book is pathetic. You've ruined your chances of becoming a "real" writer. Look at how fat you are. You're disgusting.
I have a friend who once told me: "Send those voices straight back to Hell where they belong."
The only way I know how to do that is to fight the darkness with acts of love. Burrowed under the covers, I could see that I had two choices: 1. I could let the lies poison my heart and fill me with hatred or, 2. I could choose love--which meant, ACTING from a place of love.
In my experience, love is the only thing powerful enough to conquer my darkness. I was feeling so physically ill, though, that I couldn't get out of bed. So, I started with words:
First, I spoke these words into the darkness:
"The Lord my God illumines my darkness." (Psalm 18:28)
Then I prayed this:
"Mary, pray for me."
Then I said:
"Jesus, have mercy on me."
I had to say it a bunch of times before I started believing it. It seemed laughable that mere words of love could break the shackle-hold the mean voices had on my brain. Then, I opened my journal to the place where I've copied kind words from readers.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courage and clarity to tell the world the truth. --Amanda
I hope you come to realize what a help and encouragement your book has proven to be for people like me. Your book is so beautifully written, so relatable and so so discretely enlightening. --Lisa
You are a passionate, creative, generous, beautiful soul designed by God to tell your story, your truth. Do not let mean words steal away your spirit. And don't let mean words create hatred in your heart. I wish I could tell you in person all the beautiful truths about you. --M.
After reading these words, I asked God to give me an idea for a way to fight the darkness with an act of service. I wanted to do something pure and good.
That afternoon I got the idea to start a ballet fund for my daughter. This gave me something tangible to do and it got me out of my racing, obsessive thoughts. As of today, you've donated $1,288 to Jewel's YAGP prep fund. Thank you!
When I'm feeling this badly about myself, I try to keep a list of all the good things I've done each day as a way of reminding myself that I am, in fact, a good person. [I also put together a list of things I do as PTSD self-care. I will share that list with you in the next post.]
And then, there's this: spontaneous love-gifts from my children. "Mama, we picked this lab-ender for you and tied it up with ribbons. Also, this card. We made it."
So, this. THIS is what saves my life: this mothering, this being of service, this being loved.
My children are my reason for living, their health and well-being are my daily motivation to fight the darkness and to make the world a better place. I love them with all that I am. Even little things like a trip to the library or cuddling up on the couch watching "Sophia the First" heals me and gives purpose to my life. Their joy helps me find MY joy. They teach me how to live. They teach me how to love. Motherhood saves my life every single day.
Mary heard my prayer. She sent my children to comfort me.