I have said this before: I thought I’d got through the hospital phase of my recovery, and then I discovered that wasn’t true.
It happened again.
A fortnight ago I allowed myself to get tired from working too many hours, under too much pressure, with too much travel, and then I followed that up with a weekend of activities which pressed a number of my PTSD buttons.
The following Monday I felt largely unaffected, and I was exultant. I knew I’d taken a risk. I thought I’d made it through. (My therapist thought so too. We celebrated.)
On Tuesday my brain started to close down. I was at home on my own, shaking violently, crying, filled with nameless despair. I was absolutely sure that this was how I was meant to be, that all the hope I had recently started to feel was a chimera, that I’d been fooling myself that I could have a happier life. My energy levels fell until I needed to hold onto walls to walk from one room in my flat to the next.
Sometimes it happens this way.
It is, of course, better now than it was in the past. That is to say, I didn’t harm myself to stop the despair, to make myself numb; instead I got myself to my doctor. Out of the flat, down to the Tube, along the Bakerloo line, up out of the Tube, over two roads. Shaking, crying, holding onto walls wherever possible. It took a long time.
I couldn’t manage the stairs to my doctor’s office, even with her secretaries holding me up and pulling me forwards. She came down to the waiting room to see me. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t stop crying and shaking. She and I, we have a routine for when this happens: she touches my hand and says my name loudly and repeatedly; she asks yes/no questions, and with immense difficulty I nod and shake my head.
The questions always end the same way: ‘You have to come into the hospital; do you agree with that?’
I always resist.
In the end, unable to move the rest of my body, or to speak, I always make some tiny movement that she is able, legally, to interpret as ‘yes’.
The hospital is next door to the consulting rooms. She calls over that she needs a bed, and a nurse comes to collect me. The nurse, with the secretary, walks me down the street and in through the hospital’s doors. My eyes are closed. I can barely shuffle. I am shaking. They are holding me on both sides. Sometimes I hear passers-by asking if there is anything they can do to help.
They put me on a bed. And that is when my willpower usually gives out. I become completely unable to respond. The shaking intensifies. If the nurses or the admissions doctor touch me the shaking worsens, I cry harder, sometimes I scream. As it happens, this time they took my blood pressure during this phase: it was 172/117.
But, as I say, it’s a phase, it passes, it is never forever. Eventually the shaking settles, I drink the water they give me, then a cup of tea. (This time, a few hours post-admission my blood pressure was normal again.) I usually miss a few meals, am given some tranquillisers and sleeping pills, then begin to settle. I start to move more confidently (I leave the room without needing the walls for support).
It’s a pattern that my doctor and I both know well. She visits me, we talk, we agree what stage it’s got to. When I am no longer crying, when my voice is stronger again, she discharges me. I go out into the world, blink at how bright it is, and try to carry on.
Usually nowadays the sequence takes twenty-four hours. This time, as it happens, the attacks came in waves, and took three days to play through. There was more shaking, more crying, more cowering in corners, pulling away from the nurses in fear as they tried to help me back into bed. After each wave I am exhausted. I drink more tea. I cry. I try to eat.
So it goes.
I am lucky I can pay for the hospital. I am lucky that it is a familiar place. I am lucky I have a doctor who knows me, who knows this passes, who is able to remind me of that when my brain and body are blocking that fact out.
(I am not lucky that I need the hospital and her support.)
Anyway, I was discharged from hospital on Friday morning. On Saturday I travelled to Edinburgh. On Sunday I ran the Edinburgh marathon. As I’ve said elsewhere, I was proud I was able to start the race, to enjoy it, to finish it. I was proud that I finished it in good style: not dehydrated, not depleted in energy, able to sprint over the line. (The time I took and the sunburn were incidental.)
It was important to me to run that race.
There has been so much that I have lost in the last few years. (There were losses before that as well). So many times I have put in all of the effort and had the prize taken away.
I had trained for the marathon. I trained gently and appropriately, always following my doctors’ advice, never risking my stability and health. I deserved to be able to start that race, despite all that had happened earlier in the week.
And, yes, when I crossed the finishing line, I cried.