When Illness Becomes Traumatic


Hello to all you amazing Canvas readers!  Remember me?  Maybe?  Just a little?  Clearly it has been a long time since I showed my lovely face around these parts.  Some of that has been life, part of it has been Blog For Mental Health 2014, but most of it. . .  Well, here goes.

The last post I wrote for Canvas, well, I started composing it at the end of 2013, moved on to actually writing it into March 2014, read and re-read the 1,800 words I had managed to knock it down to, and after all that I finally shelved it.  You see, as some of you know, I was incredibly ill from September 2013 well into January 2014.  I wanted to write about it, to somehow put it all down in words, because I have never been so ill in my life, and the experience became one of severe trauma.

You see, as well as I thought I was faring (and all things considered, I was faring well), I still had a visit from a not-so-old, not especially friendly phenomenon.  I had three or four Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES).  These have very aptly been described as “bodily idioms of distress” (Medscape), and I first met up with them after my electroconvulsive therapy in 2010.

Without going into detail, essentially your body is screaming at your mind that all is really not well and you need to deal with it.  I thought I was forever done with the PNES a couple of years ago, after working through my PTSD as far as was possible.  But as I have told more than one friend, PTSD is the gift that just keeps on giving.  I realize that while I am healthy as I am ever going to be in respect to that issue now, certain pieces of it will stay with me forever.  Strange though it may sound, that’s okay.

Particularly those seizures, I think, are here for the duration, and for them I find myself weirdly grateful.  They clued both my doctor and myself in to the fact that no matter how well I was holding on in the moment, I was scared on a very deep level as far as the degree to which my body was shutting down.  It’s important to realize and to be prepared for this.  If I’m honest about all that is going on, I have a better chance of tackling and treating it.

As far as the physical illness triggering everything, that experience I tried for months, with thousands of words, and ultimately in vain to explain?  We have no idea what it was.  None.  At the time all indications pointed to a severe recurrence of mononucleosis, and I am grateful that’s what I believed it to be, even though I was wrong.  Had I been looking otherwise at what was going on, staring down what was ultimately an unknown making me so ill, I know that my mind most probably would have shattered.  It took me about two months into my recovery to admit my doctor was right, that what I went through was not mono, it was something strange and foreign, a disease process that we will probably never have a name for.

That, in and of itself, is a different kind of trauma I am processing now.  There is only so much I can do with it, and I know it’s going to be quite a while before I’m through this part.  But through it I will get, of that I haven’t any doubt.

What I went through, what I’m still recovering from, I may not be able to communicate it adequately, but it deserves acknowledgement and recognition, if for no one else but me.  Because though the illness was physical in nature, it turned into something profoundly traumatic for me, mentally.

Eventually, the mental distress and dissonance resulted in a trip to the Emergency Department on the 16th of December.  Physically, I was absolutely ill enough to warrant a trip to the ED.  Ostensibly, I went in because I was so damned sick and tired of being sent to this doctor and to that one, of getting inconclusive, contradictory, non-answers altogether.  I went to the ED because I figured they could do a better job of checking every system, at least the basics, and giving me a full workup that would hopefully result in some answers.

Honestly, though, I went because I knew if I had to stand even one more day of chaos and uncertainty, that tenuous, thin hold I had against a major mental health crisis, all the fighting I had done up until then, it would be lost.

That was the first time I have ever known the deep need to take myself to the hospital because my very survival hinged on it.  In all my 33 years, I had never wrestled with hurting myself or become suicidal — a major miracle in itself — but that day I knew my mental state depended upon answers about my physical state.

I didn’t actually get any answers, at least not any new ones.  And yet I somehow left the vast majority of my anxiety on that hospital bed along with the gown I had worn.  There were no seizures after that day, and that alone had a tremendous impact on me beginning to heal.  I cannot imagine a stronger argument for how intimately and inseparably mental and physical health are linked.

© Ruby Tuesday and A Canvas Of The Minds 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ruby Tuesday and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


34 thoughts on “When Illness Becomes Traumatic

    • Janice, I don’t feel like an inspiration so much as I feel like an unholy mess of a girl.

      But thank you just the same. Support from friends like you, knowing that you were fighting the good fight with CGP, I am honored to have such passionate people to go forward with. You both remind me of why I do what I do and allow me to focus when I have stress like to deal with such as this one — we’re all in this together!

    • Janet, truth be told, sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around all that happened to me lately. Probably some kind of safeguard in the brain.

      But it is what it is, I made it through, and that means now we all live happily ever after, right? 😉

      Thank you, by the way. It’s always lovely and it warms my heart so when you stop by and say hello.

  1. I’m glad for you that at least that trip to the ED provided some sort of catalyst or uncovered some piece of information that was helpful in some way, and that you haven’t had the seizures since, although I’m sure it’s been very difficult to try to find the balance between looking for answers, and trying to deal with the symptoms. Sometimes the not knowing can be so debilitating. It’s hard to know how to heal, if we can’t define what is wrong. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and hang in there. A year from now, you’ll be able to look back at this whole block of time, and be amazed with yourself at how you managed to get through it. Keep going. 🙂

    • Thank you. A big part of what helped about the ED, I think, was the doctor. We spoke a bit about my history with anxiety, and after she ran all the tests and did the various workups, she sat down and very frankly discussed how much of a role that could be playing. And not in a “you’re a crazy patient” way, just honestly and frankly in the same way she was considering all of my other symptoms. We need lots more doctors like her.

      It is hard for me to find the balance, like you say. I always really, really want that answer, because when you don’t know what you’re dealing with, not only do you not know how to heal, but my mind likes to play all sorts of nasty tricks convincing myself that it’s the worst thing ever.

      Thank you so, so much for stopping by and for your encouragement. It’s a process, but yes, every day goes by and puts a little more distance between what happened and me, and it will turn into one of those things I look back on and shake my head with amazement.

  2. Thanks for putting words to your experience. They’re good ones that describe something many trauma survivors experience, but also struggle to understand… including me. 😉

    • ~meredith, I’m glad you found something of value in my words. Sometimes the hardest thing about dealing with trauma is the fact that we cannot find or do not know which words to use to describe what we’re dealing with. Too often it seems no words exist. And without the words to explain, we feel like we can’t grasp the concepts to understand, as you say, and to work through.

      Take care of yourself, and hopefully your own understanding and healing will come to you. 🙂

  3. My husband linked me to this post. I will be out of the hospital one month tomorrow after a 40 day stay. I’m recovering from ARDS and was diagnosed with PTSD. Thank you for sharing.

    • Lisa, wow, you are simply amazing. I confess I had to do a bit of reading on ARDS, but clearly you are a fighter. Just remember to be gentle with yourself. One of the hardest things for me in this episode and when I had my first official PTSD diagnosis was not being able to immediately start doing everything I had done before. But my body and brain very emphatically let me know my limitations, and I found that if I respected them, I did a lot better.

      I’m so glad you found something worthwhile in my words. You keep on fighting and being amazing, and taking care of your beautiful self.

  4. Ruby, I’m so glad to hear that you’re finally getting a handle on what’s making you so awfully sick. The mind, body, and spirit are one continuous manifestation of being. Nothing happens in isolation. Spiritual illness causes illness in mind and body, and so on with the other two. Emotions, yes, of course, also. Healing happens holistically, in the sense that all systems must be included in the healing path. I benefited from Carolyn Myss’s book “Spiritual Madness,” when I was completely trammelled by my illness and could not untangle the mess I was in. Sending you healing energy–Laura

    • Laura, I agree with you so emphatically that nothing in our body happens in isolation. As I said in a comment reply above, I think one of the things that really helped me that day in the ED was the doctor who sat down and discussed my anxiety as a factor along with everything else. Not in a “mental illness” sort of way, but simply as another facet of what was going on — which it was. All the different parts and pieces are involved and need to be considered and taken care of accordingly.

      Thank you for the book recommendation, I’ll have to have a look. And thank you so much for your healing energy. It means a lot. I send back lots and lots of love to you. ❤

  5. Nice to hear from you!

    It sounds very traumatic what you are going through and have been going through for many months now. M

    I just sincerely send you much love and support and hope that you improve in the ways that will help you move forward and not have to worry about the stress of your physical and mental health.

    All the best xx

    • You are so very sweet, and it’s wonderful to see you here. One thing I discussed with my therapist was the fact that I think I didn’t let myself feel a lot of that panic and anxiety when I was so acutely ill, and so it’s kind of just sinking in now.

      Fortunately, though I know it’s not all over, I do have the tools now to deal with it, and even just acknowledging all I went through was a big step.

      You’re wonderful, and I send you my love and so much strength back to you right now. You are an inspiration to me in fighting back against life, and I’m so grateful to have you as my friend.

      • I am so glad that you have the tools now to deal with these times.

        Thank you sweet lady 😉 you are ever so kind too. I’m so happy you are a part of our blogosphere. We would be missing you if not!!

        All the best, friend x

        • If I got nothing else positive from my mental illnesses (and I have), I would still be grateful because they brought me you, and others as well. You add so much to my life!

  6. I’m glad things are improving – you’ve struggled so long without any kind of assurances or answers, it’s simply mind-boggling that you’ve held on so well! I’m proud of you, you know.

    • Would you think I was silly if I told you that really means a lot to me? Because it does, your being proud, I mean.

      I admit I had to fight with all I had in me, but then if I had slipped, I would have been so lost, so I was highly motivated.

      In any case, here I am now, and that’s what matters. Thank you for being proud, and for being such a wonderful friend to this scatterbrained failure as a correspondent who still loves you very dearly, despite my failings.

  7. Love your take on the absolute nature of the link between mental and physical. Here’s to them working in concert!

    • I thought of this when I read your recent post about getting ill, and I knew you would understand so completely. Neither the mind nor the body exist in a vacuum, and the more we acknowledge this and treat them together, the better we will be. 🙂

  8. It’s quite crazy how the human body reacts to a stressful situation, isn’t it? It gives us something that’s a warning, but if the warning sign doesn’t go away, it causes further stress. I’m glad that your trip to the emergency dept helped somehow. Maybe it was just being seen by different medical professionals that helped?

    • You are so very right about the body warning us of stress. Unfortunately for me, I seem to be the queen of ignoring and repressing these warnings, so I get things like the seizures, migraines, I used to have ulcers, and the list goes on and becomes a vicious circle. I am trying to learn how to deal with things instead of creating such a vicious circle of somatization. However, after almost 34 years, it’s a difficult thing to change. Difficult, but absolutely worth the trying.

      I do think seeing another professional helped. I adore my primary, I’ve been with him for 18 years, but I think having “new eyes” on everything was really a relief — especially because they belong to someone so sympathetic and caring. They need to make more doctors like that. 😉

      Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Since I’ve been so ill I’ve really missed all of my blogging friends so much. It makes me so happy to see your lovely presence here!

  9. My Sparkly Ruby! I liked this post and pondered about my comment and then time got the better of me.

    I don’t have the right set of words to express how happy I am that you’re back, that you listened to your body and did what you thought was right for you. You are a household of strength and inspiration for so many people out there. And yes, me as well. I admire your outlook on life and how you keep fighting. You’re an amazing example and thank you for sharing this with us. (You know how I’ve been struggling with a piece of my own, which will be up after I’ve e-mailed you!)

    I’ll always be cheering you on and I’m sending gazillion hugs and magical sparkles your way! May they always softly light the road ahead of you.
    xoxoxoxo ❤

    • Tahira, you make me blush and feel so humbled with all of your lovely kind words! Honestly, I feel like all of those fighting so tirelessly for others are my inspiration, and that includes you and all that I have seen you do for so many different amazing causes. (And don’t worry about your piece. You know I’d love to see it shared, but only within your own comfort zone and of course in good time. 😉 )

      You are the best, most sparkly cheering section anyone could ever hope for. I am grateful and delighted and so full of joy to you for all the amazing power your spirit holds and that you send out to lucky people like myself!

      Sending you sparkly, twirling, rainbow hugs, and so, so much love along as well.
      xoxoxoxo ♥ ♥ ♥

      • I mean every single word and I can’t thank you enough for yours. I’m sending you lots and lots of love back and of course the sparkling twirling rainbows. They color the sky so beautifully ^_^ xoxoxo ❤

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