This week we have a guest post from my friend Danielle Dewitt who so graciously and courageously volunteered to share some of her story with PTSD.
“You’re a mess.”
Those three words stung like no other. They came from the mouth of a neuropsychologist following a cognitive test in the late summer of 2015.
They were followed by these words: “I believe you are suffering from PTSD.”
My story of PTSD began in January 2015, when I suffered a post-operative infection, eight weeks after bariatric surgery. I had “popped a hole” in my gastric sleeve and developed a large abscess. Five days in the hospital and about 30 bags of IV antibiotics later, I went home with a drain.
Scratch that. I went to my parents’ house with a drain for six weeks. Yes. At 37 years old I was relegated to my childhood bedroom because I needed help as I recovered.
Don’t get me wrong – I am extremely grateful I have loving parents who were there for me every step of the way as I worked towards feeling better and healing. But having to depend on others has always been difficult for me.
After six weeks of healing, the drain was removed on March 6, 2015. I was ready to head home and resume a normal routine. I returned to work full-time and rejoined society. The dark cloud that had been hanging over me for the previous six weeks had lifted.
But not for long.
Fast forward twelve days after I said goodbye to my drain. I felt so good that day I decided to skip the elevator and take the stairs after my first meeting. Within about 10 seconds, I soon found myself falling backwards and down several stairs, hitting the back of my head on the edge of one of the stairs. I clearly remember lying on the ground, hearing a lot of yelling for help. That was the day my life would take a sharp turn.
My first ambulance ride took me to the same ER I had visited about 7 weeks prior. [Sidebar: When the radiologist recognizes you, it’s not a good thing.] A CT scan that showed no bleeding or broken bones in my head, so the doctor diagnosed me with a “mild concussion” and sent me home.
But not MY home. The doctor felt I should have some supervision, so there I was – back at my parents’ house. Again. And yes, I was grateful, but that was definitely not my favorite moment.
The “mild concussion” continued with persistent headaches, vision difficulties, and a lot of difficulty with processing information. I had several visits with a concussion specialist, which led to eight months of physical therapy, five months of occupational therapy, and three months of speech and language therapy. When I was still having trouble with memory and other simple cognitive tasks, I was sent to the neuropsychologist for some formal cognitive testing.
And that brings us to the diagnosis of PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Something I had only every heard used when describing war vets or women who suffered a very violent act. He sent me home with a recommendation to “find a therapist” and start working through all of this.
I went home that day feeling lost, sad, and confused. Then came anger. I was mad at the entire situation, which quickly escalated to anger with God. I wondered what I did wrong to deserve all of this. To put it mildly, I had one epic pity party. It was almost impossible to believe that life would ever be as it once was.
It didn’t take long before I fell deep into the pit of depression. It took all I had to get through the days, going from work to the neuro rehab to home. I went through the motions of the day, often feigning happiness so as not to tip anyone off about how I was really feeling. There were moments I truly did wonder if it was all worth it and some days I just hoped that I would fall asleep and just not wake up the next day because I didn’t know if I had the energy to do it all over again.
And then I prayed. A lot.
After many conversations with God, I realized it was time to move forward. I found a remarkable therapist, Andrea, who I still see today. From our first session, we talked about the effects of trauma and the fact that it does not discriminate. We not only talked about these most recent traumas, but looked back throughout my life and worked through traumas going back as far as I can remember. Some were smaller and less traumatic than others, but there were many of them I never really took the time to process.
Talk therapy was extremely helpful. But Andrea felt I could also benefit from yoga therapy. I was willing to try almost anything, so I agreed to meet Raechel, a yoga therapist. I was very cynical going into the experience, but I can now say with confidence that yoga has played an incredibly important part in my healing. It was not so much about the “downward dog” or “child’s pose” but rather it was about taking the time to get to know myself.
Self-care has been a big part of my recovery. I’m a big caretaker for everyone else, but rarely did I give myself permission to take care of me. The whole “you can’t pour from an empty vessel” cliché was exactly how I could describe myself. I was giving so much to others and leaving very little for myself, which left me very tired, unhealthy, and depressed. After some conversation and self-discovery, I came up with a very solid self-care plan and followed through on it. I could not believe what a difference even the tiniest acts (reading a book for fun, coloring) made.
Through all of this, I have learned a few things…
- Trauma and PTSD do not discriminate. Anxiety and depression are very real. What is important is that we recognize when we need help and not be afraid to ask for it. Find someone you trust and can confide in.
- Every trauma is different. We all experience it differently and it affects us all in unique ways.
- I learned that we are most always stronger than we think we are. Strength comes in all forms, and it was in this experience I realized my mental and emotional strength.
- God truly will provide what we need, even if it isn’t something we know that we need. He will put us where He knows we need to be, and send us the people we need around us in good and not-so-good times.
- There is something joyous to be found in every single day. Sometimes you have to look a little harder for it, but it’s there.
My hope in sharing this story is that it might help someone else wherever they might be in their story. PTSD is a journey, and it is a journey you do not need to take alone. Share YOUR story. Together we are stronger.
Danielle Josephine DeWitt is a lifelong West Michigan resident and is currently the Senior Foundation Specialist for Donor Relations and Stewardship at the Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She’s the daughter of Tim and Margo; sister to Kathryn, Elizabeth, Tim, Erin, Gideon, and Monica (in Heaven); and aunt to Brynn, Isaac, George, Jillian, Graham, and Frederick, a fur niece Breslin, and a fur nephew, Leo. She is passionate about raising awareness around the areas of mental health and encouraging people to tell their story and keep the conversation going! #benice #iunderstand