Childhood Friendships

I was away from home for a long time. After growing up in a small town, I graduated from high school and college early and left before I was twenty-one years old. I left emotionally long before that, after a traumatic event in my life caused me to withdraw from my school and friends. At little more than seventeen, I was already gone from those childhood friends to whom I had been closest. Even though I finished school in my hometown, I had little or no contact with them. The physical and emotional trauma didn’t involve them, but due to embarrassment and shock, I cut them off.

As soon as possible, I left my hometown and never looked back for over ten years. I had little contact with my childhood friends. I had gone to a very small private school through twelve grades, a laboratory model school on the local university campus. Each class was only 30 students. We knew each other well and were much like siblings. We were all extraordinarily sheltered. In order to survive after I left, I put them out of my mind for longer than I’d like to remember.

I eventually settled in a nearby city and through my job, my husband, and my efforts to seek an advanced education, I developed new friends. Good friends. Many of whom I still call my friends. Some my best friends. Except for a few, my childhood friends were lost to me by choice. In my rear view mirror. When I saw them, I saw the trauma I’d experienced.

As it happened, my parents still lived in my hometown and after my father passed away, my mother and other relatives were there alone. I returned there to work, but I didn’t live there. I commuted from the city. I didn’t seek out any of my childhood friends. I didn’t attend class get-togethers such as reunions. I went to work, cared for my relatives, and commuted back to the city. My career blossomed at the university in my hometown. Off and on, I would run into a friend from my past, but I still didn’t seek them out.

Through some accidents of fate, I ended up having to move back to my hometown to finish up the last third of my career. I built a house a few miles out of town, went to work, and still had my social life in the city. I traveled widely and knew people all over the world. I still did not attend class reunions, talked only rarely to childhood friends, and continued my life without them, except one or two. The trauma I had experienced was so bad that, even after decades, I could not see my childhood friends without remembering it.

Then, two years ago, a childhood friend sought me out when there was a reunion that was supposed to happen. She convinced me to attend. The reunion didn’t happen, but we continued our renewed friendship and that put me in contact with other friends. I began talking a little more to these friends. I was still not really comfortable, but I was trying. Recently, one of my classmate’s mother passed away. She was one of the mothers who I particularly loved when I was growing up and I loved her daughter as well. I decided after much reflection, to attend her funeral, knowing I would see a number of my childhood friends. I very much wanted to be there for her daughter.

I finally put my embarrassment over the trauma I’d experienced aside and went to the funeral. Not only did I see a number of my childhood friends but the funeral was in my childhood church. I was very glad I attended for my classmate whose mother had died, but it was also wonderful to see my friends. They were sweet and accepting even though I had been gone so long. It was also nice to see some of the townspeople I had long avoided and to be in my hometown church.

I’m very sad for my friend, Carla, and will miss knowing that her mother is in this world. But, I’m glad that I went to say my goodbyes to her mother and pay my final respects. It was the vehicle I needed, something I couldn’t miss, to reconnect with those people who helped make me who I am today. I’ve missed them.

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The Trauma

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Liz is over it now. The breakup of her relationship with the man who meant so much to her. She goes on with her life and is happy most days. She doesn’t even think of him. She thinks of the life she has ahead of her and all she has to look forward to. He flashes through her mind occasionally, but that doesn’t bother her much. He’s a stranger. A stranger in a tragedy that seems like it never happened. Often, she feels that must have just happened in her imagination. Until night time comes.

Liz has had other traumas in her life. She doesn’t remember them. She has no idea what they were except for one incident, but her doctor thinks there was more than the one incident. That something happened way back, maybe in her childhood that she has buried deeply. She hasn’t been able to sleep for a long time, not without medication. If she falls asleep without medication, the night terrors arrive.

After the breakup with this man, the night terrors got worse. A man became front and center in them. She isn’t sure if it is the man who hurt her so badly. She thinks it is.  Their breakup is not what hurt her. It was the way he let her go that was so painful. This trauma on top of the other traumas has caused the sleep medication not to work. She supposes she is going to have to revisit the doctor as she is once again going without sleep and remembering the terrible night terrors.

Sleep deprivation, along with the PTSD that Liza suffers from due to repeated trauma, can cause all kinds of problems. Even though Liz feels like she is over her breakup and over the other trauma in her life, she probably isn’t. She realizes that. Liz always laughs and says she is the queen of repression. That she can repress almost any memory and it does seem to be true. She tells her friends she has taken these painful memories and locked them in a little box she stores in her heart and head. Once they are put away, she goes on with her life. Don’t we all do that? Liz isn’t sure.

Recently, Liz has started to feel strain in other areas of her life and she isn’t coping with stress very well. She has found herself wondering if the memories she is repressing, and can’t remember if she tries, could be bothering her. The details of her most recent trauma, the relationship and breakup with the man, are even leaving her. How could she possibly forget that? But she is. But, the night terrors remain. Sleep is elusive. During the day, her coping mechanisms are failing.

What now?

 

 

With No Memory: A Story of PTSD

It was so frustrating. Liz got up every morning, sometimes at 4-5 a.m. Sometimes at 7 a.m. It didn’t matter the time. She never slept more than three or four hours a night. Still, she managed to function normally. This had been going on since she had been a graduate student. She blamed graduate school. Liz and her fellow students had stayed up late night after night studying, often at her dining room table. Then, she woke up only a few hours later to go to work. She thought she had developed this bad sleeping habit then. Thirty years ago.

There were brief periods during the thirty years when she did sleep somewhat normally, but thinking back, she couldn’t isolate them. She only knew of one. After her divorce, but that was short-lived.

The problem? Liz talked to her doctor. She talked to more than one doctor but that was before the days when sleep studies were popular. Before the days when doctors got specialties in sleep disorders. Liza knew this could not be a healthy lifestyle but she didn’t know what to do without a doctor’s help. She tried to sleep. Her brain just wouldn’t shut off.

There was something else. Liz had recurring nightmares. They were worse than nightmares. She had heard them called night terrors. Her nightmares were so terribly severe she imagined she must be having night terrors instead of nightmares. She had the same night terror every night and it woke her every morning. She could make no sense of it. She always remembered it. Recently, a second night terror had been added to Liz’s repertoire. It was more horrifying than the first. Still, Liz went on with her life. Reasonably normally.

As Liz got older, the sleep deprivation and night terrors started affecting her more and more. It became harder to concentrate during the day. She seemed to be able to nap, although briefly, during the day, but her sleeping problem was just as bad at night. She started having other physical problems. One was a problem with her shoulders. A painful orthopedic problem. Her orthopedist gave her a mild painkiller. Not a narcotic. Just something mild. It helped with the pain.

Liz began to notice she was sleeping even worse than usual. She could trace the decline in her sleep back to when she started taking the painkiller. She had to go off the drug. Apparently, she was having the opposite reaction to it that it was supposed to cause.

Liz was starting to feel desperation. She was showing increased symptoms of sleep deprivation. She was falling asleep at inappropriate times. She was increasing irritable and was showing poor judgment. Her performance was not what it used to be. At about this time, Liz heard of a doctor who had joined the neurologists in the practice in which her own neurologist practiced. This new neurologist had three specialties. He specialized in neurology, psychiatry, and sleep disorders. Liz made an appointment to see him.

This new neurologist had her file from thirty years past. He walked into the examining room the day of her appointment. He said he had spent hours examining the plethora of information contained in her file. He knew, without further ado, what her problem was. Liz practically jumped for joy. If he knew the problem, they could fix it. Couldn’t they?

He diagnosed her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was absolutely sure of his diagnosis based on her medical records. Liz sat back in her chair. Of course, she knew about PTSD. So many of the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan were coming home with it. But, wasn’t PTSD an ailment of war veterans? What would have caused it in her?

The doctor asked her if she had any trauma in her life. Of course she had. Hadn’t everyone? He explained that some people reacted to it differently than others. He also explained that there may have been trauma that she could not remember on a conscious level which would explain the nightmares. Often, only one traumatic event, if it is bad enough can trigger PTSD. Often, people have more than one event in their lives. Liz could remember perhaps two events that met what she thought were traumatic enough to cause PTSD. She could remember one of them distinctly. The other was back in her childhood and she had only vague memories.

Liz’s doctor said he suspected there were memories she was repressing. He told her that those memories would be hard to tap into and he suggested, at first, they try to deal with the sleeping problem. He prescribed medication. After they conquered that, they would decide what to do about repressed memories. He based his opinion on the fact that Liz could not remember large parts of her childhood and teenage years. There were even blocks of years as an adult she had blocked out.

For a few months, the sleep medications worked wonderfully. As time went on, they worked less well, until now, they weren’t working at all. Back were the sleepless nights and the night terrors even when taking the medications. Liz was not young anymore and this was bothering her more than ever.

 

This is only part of the story of an unlikely woman who has Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). It is prevalent among veterans, but not exclusive to veterans. Many people who have PTSD don’t know they have it and never know why. If you have some of the symptoms mentioned in this story, seek help from your doctor. Keep on seeking help until someone helps you. Stay tuned for the story of Liz.