I live in two worlds that completely contradict each other. The everyday life of Lisa Nackan is the world that other people see, the world in which I am defined as a mother, wife, friend, Art Therapist, daughter, sister, aunt, writer, painter. I am told that I am calm, successful, inspiring, creative, productive… And I am flattered that people see me in this light. Yet the other me lives within the contradictory, complicated, chaos called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Up until about five years ago I simply believed I was crazy. I had lived with my internal madness for so long, hidden it so well, this heavy, fractured, splintery, agony made out of stone and suffered with the intense energy of hiding it.
C-PTSD… I sometimes wish I could put those letters behind my name on an official looking business card because it has taken more courage and strength, more struggling and brutally hard work than I believe any degree could have ever taken, to get to where I am today. I have earned those letters that have given name to my despair, taming it, allowing me to free some of what tormented me for such a long time.
PTSD is excruciatingly difficult to live with. Everything seems trepidacious and fragile, a rumbling volcanic mass of emotion that swirls, waiting for something to trigger it, yet it is so damn invisible. A massive amount of memory with no ending, known and unknown, that whips around, riling up each little neuron in my brain, agitating my heart, letting every cell in my being know that there is danger, constant and ever present danger. That nothing is safe. Fear is an overwhelming thing. Dreams play each night like a deafening IMAX on rewind. They make me scratch at my tormented body in my sleep, cry and scream silently in fear and I’m left choking on darkness, fighting back those tears, pushing them down into that swirling magma where it hisses back at me. Then I get up in the morning and make it through another day.
I’m not sure if there was a beginning. I’ve had nightmares for as long as I can remember. Not the sporadic scary dreams that are a part of childhood, but sometimes up to seven night-time terrors in a row that would wake me up petrified, as if they had really happened. And for me they had. Memory is an interesting thing. The difference between what is real and what is dreamed is not that large when your body is on extreme high alert and your existence is in a constant state of fight-or-flight. I was so hyper-vigilant and on-edge as a child that I could not ever go to sleep with my ear touching the pillow. That meant that my ear had to be free so that I could pick up any sound that might signify danger. I would contort my pillow into my neck, or above my ear to enable me to listen with every cell in my body, while I lay in the dark filled with dread.
I saw many terrible things growing up. Fear bombarded so many aspects of my life. I didn’t have anybody to help me make sense of my world so those memories piled up inside, fragments from a thousand petrifying horror shows... until there was no room anymore, no room left for me, so I did what I had to do to protect myself. I faded away and wilted into the darkness that I carried.
C-PTSD brings a fragmented child’s terror into an adult mind where it spreads like wildfire. I have so often felt lost and alone. But I’m tired of that. I’m tired of being obscure. I’m tired of nobody knowing the real me. I’m tired of keeping this massive secret that makes me feel so insane, that never allows me to fit in, or feel comfortable, or normal, or calm, or belong. I have hidden that for almost half a century. I’m tired of the fear, worn down by the constant panic, and the exhaustion it leaves behind. The shrapnel mental illness buries under my skin. AND NOBODY SEES IT. Not even when I’m drowning in blood.
I’m tired of everyone around me thinking that I am so calm, when my insides are shattered. I’m tired of being admired for my capabilities and what I do, without anyone knowing the sheer effort it takes sometimes to make it through a piece of a day. I’m tired of people not knowing that sometimes I am not well, I am not okay, I am not coping – just that they can’t see it. I want to come out and let everyone in my life know these imperfections and agonies. That I have this shadow that I carry wherever I go and it is excruciatingly heavy and I feel ready to lay it down, shine a light on it and reveal its shape.
My children know about PTSD. My husband doesn’t like it, and has a hard time seeing it, but he loves me despite it all. He understands the crazed paintings, the reams of writing that spew out of me when the words have nowhere else to go. He has seen the bouts of extreme self-destructiveness that has helped disguise the pain with other pain.
Over the last few years my doctors and therapists have stood firmly at my side while I resisted them with every cell in my body. I was unable to believe them, belligerently trying to fight them away. Change is not easy. Only now, have I learned to trust, and allow them to guide me as I unravel my heart.
And quite unexpectedly, I can recognize that C-PTSD in all its brutality and complexity, has given me this life of Lisa Nackan, and made me into who I am today. And for this, I can honestly say that I am truly grateful.