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A Touch of PTSD

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

If you live long enough, stuff happens to you.  For me, most recently, it\’s been the breast cancer diagnosis and surgery of my daughter A.  The great good news is that her lymph nodes are clear.  I had never thought very much about lymph nodes before, but now I think about A.\’s all the time, and send them messages of gratitude and encouragement.

These have, needless to say, been trying weeks.  Never had Francis Bacon\’s saying, \”he that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune\” struck so close to home.  Happily, my particular hostage is doing very well. I, on the other hand, surprised myself after the good news about the lymph nodes by going into a sort of decline.

Before the surgery, I spent days of panic in which I only assumed the worst.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn\’t talk myself into imagining a less-than-dire scenario.  All attempts at rationality failed, reducing me to a trembling, gnarly tangle of dread.  The only explanation I can think of is that I was acting out of a deep well of primitive superstition, believing that if I allowed myself to picture a happy outcome, I would instantly jinx its chances of happening.

My strategy apparently worked, and when we got the good news I felt that Atlas himself had removed the weight of the planet which had crashed down on me the day of A.\’s initial diagnosis.  I also expected that I would immediately begin to feel much better.  Instead, on subsequent days my dark emotional state persisted, as if my body–and the feeling did, in fact, seem largely physical–had grown so accustomed to being in alarm mode that now it couldn\’t shift out of it.  I felt raw, exhausted, yet unable to rest.  I finally concluded that I was experiencing a minor case of PTSD, and that I would just have to wait it out.

I\’m happy to say that the dread is subsiding.  The other day I was driving through Vermont\’s annual foliage extravaganza, with a Bach piano partita playing on the radio.  The assault of so much beauty on eyes and ears simultaneously almost forced me to stop by the side of the road.  For a moment I didn\’t think about lymph nodes, Francis Bacon, or the need to perch serenely on the knife-edge of uncertainty.  There was only the visual buzz of the sumac, the honey locust and the maples, and the measured, majestic gracefulness of Bach.

19 Responses

  1. You have been through a profound thing, Lali. Healing is not instantaneous. Not for you, nor your daughter. So glad about the lymph nodes. You will both be fine and have a wonderful winter. But maybe a slightly up-and-down autumn. XO.

  2. I’m very glad to hear the good news about your daughter’s cancer, and pray that her treatment continues to go well.Your reaction following the surgery sounds to me not so much PTSD as business as usual for people with ME/CFS. Adrenaline is like kryptonite for people with ME/CFS. It may get you through a stressful time in a tired-but-wired state, but that is almost inevitably followed by a crash. Healthy people get a version of this, such as when they narrowly miss a car crash, and afterward they shake all over. Later that day they will feel mentally and physically exhausted. But a good night’s sleep and they are recovered. But for people with ME/CFS, the aftermath is much more profound, and recovery make take days or weeks.You’ve had a whole series of extremely stressful happenings in your life lately. That would take a toll on anyone, and it is magnified when you have an illness which is affected by stress. I hope you have many peaceful days ahead, filled with natural beauty to soothe your soul and rest your body

  3. I'm so happy that you and your daughter got the news you wanted. Ice tried both the \”don't tempt fate\” and the\”think positive\”approaches with the same results, so I'm now a firm believer in just trying to be as relaxed as possible. Of course, that's easier said than done! I'm not surprised that after so much stress your body needed time to recover. And I am pleased that Bach and nature are doing their healing work. What a perfect combination.

  4. So very, very, happy to hear this wonderful news. Like Indigo, I have been waiting, wondering, worrying. So interesting that you were not immediately able to go on your way rejoicing. I do think the body gets set in patterns, and I can well imagine that after so many weeks of stress you collapsed, but compound that with your CFS, yikes! Bach, indeed, I don't know any other composer that makes me feel so deeply that the resolution of a chord implies order in the universe, within and without. Many, many hugs of joy and rejoicing for you and your family.

  5. (from HCB) Ahhhh, the healing effects of nature! Practically my mantra 🙂 And music, too! About PTSD: I recently heard something very interesting on a radio program, regarding PTSD and war veterans. It was explained that, in some circles, PTSD is referred to simply as \”PTS\” because it is NOT a disorder—and that anyone in war who does NOT experience some time of stress or negative reaction would be someone you might consider has a disorder! I agree completely. So. . . . your experiencing stress is normal in this situation. I now try to leave off the \”D\” if I ever use that term 🙂 There are far too many \”Ds\” in the psychological lexicon these days anyway!!! And now I am off for my nature walk in Sandy Point State Park!—did you ever go there, Lali?

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