At this weekend's Light My Fire event, I had the chance to sit next to some incredible people, old friends and new ones. Because most of the attendees are members of the insurance industry, we had to explain our story when asked, "What company are you with?" This conversation led to another one about PTSD, and one of the women at the table shared her own story, unrelated to fires, but heartbreaking nevertheless.
"Are you better?" she asked, the desperation in her tone only audible I imagine to those who have walked that path.
"Yes," I said. "Mostly."
It was then I realized that I hadn't talked much more about my PTSD here, even though there are a number of other fire survivors who have found me specifically because I HAVE talked about it.
For me, the worst part of the PTSD was the dreams. I could try to escape fires all day long, making conscious choices that kept me from having to relive the fire. But the fires always came to me in my dreams, burning my house down more frequently than Channel 2's repetitive news reel. Two years later, the nightmares are finally gone. Do I think it's likely that I won't ever have another fire dream? No. And I'm sure when I do, it will be jarring. But at least for now, I can sleep at night.
The anxiety is still present. After Kellen's swim lesson this morning I heard several fire engines screaming down the road, and I panicked. Please don't go to my house. I think I have gotten a little better about not needing to look out my bedroom window every time I hear sirens, but it is a conscious effort not to do so more than it is because I am not concerned. I still take xanax frequently, especially at night when my anxiety seems to escalate. I've stopped fighting my need for this medication, but rather look at it as a tool for recovery.
I don't like when Dan goes out of town. I worry about what I would do in the event of a fire, if I trusted myself enough to go into the smoke to get Kellen and get out of the house. I know it's a sick thought, but it keeps me awake when I am home alone. Sometimes I bring him in with me, and then I worry if I were to die in my sleep what would happen. Sometimes this PTSD kicks your ass, you know, even if it's irrational.
I still don't know how much of my health is related to the stress and anxiety after the fire. My nervous system seems to be having a hard time finding normal, and it operates mostly in a hyper-alert state.
But I am better. Mostly. I spent over a year in therapy. I went to a hypnotherapist, which has worked to reduce anxiety. I write frequently about the fire, the emotional trauma, the reasons it caused me so much pain. I think that helps make sense of our loss. I try to focus my energy on helping others who have to go through this experience. And on the days that are really bad, I remember that this is just one day, that I am only required to tackle the moment immediately in front of me. With PTSD, that's enough.