After close to 3 years, I realized I was actually traumatized by my father’s death. I’m pretty sure I was going through some serious PTSD all of 2018 and 2019.
I didn’t realize it at the moment, but looking back it seems really obvious. When he died in December 2017, I didn’t know how to process my emotions, I didn’t want to face the music; I didn’t want to lean into my own pain and vulnerabilities. I couldn’t even bring myself to cry. It was the result of years perfecting how to control my emotions, so much so, that when a real life tragedy happened in my life, I couldn’t express it.
But it was not just that, I had a mental block that was not allowing me to be emotional. Part of my mind was telling me that he was gone forever and the other part was telling me it was all a dream and I’d wake up one day and he’d be there and it was all a cruel joke. I was going through the motions but really just waiting for him to show up one day and everything would be back to normal. And sometimes something would happen and I’d think it was so funny or so annoying and I’d almost pick up the phone to call him and tell him the funny thing that happened before the functioning side of my brain would say, he’s gone silly, you can’t call him. It was really hard to process internally because I was stuck in the denial phase, I just couldn’t reconcile all the events in my mind, it was too much. And I couldn’t tap into my emotions because I was emotionally blocked.
This trauma creeped into my entire life becoming pervasive. I couldn’t get excited about anything at work; everything in my life seems so lackluster; nothing brought me happiness or joy. I don’t think I was depressed, I didn’t feel a deep sadness, I just felt a void, like a deep black hole that was never ending. Relationships failed, friendships fell apart. The patient, level-headed person that I considered myself to be had turned into a grumpy, impulsive, madwomen who couldn’t get a grip on anything. I was also hopelessly lost in my life, I didn’t know what my next move was, I had no direction. Everything felt like it was caving in on me and I don’t think anyone really notices. Now my friends will say “I noticed!,” sit down Sarah, you didn’t notice…I know no one really noticed, because I didn’t notice. I knew something was off inside of me but I couldn’t put my finger on it and I couldn’t quite figure out how to feel or why I was so distraught.
Then something really healing happened. I joined a writer’s group and we met once a week, and I started writing. At first I’d write about just nonsense or things that vaguely interested me. Then I started writing a short story about a daughter who loses her father. The short story became a little long so it turned into a long story, then a novelette. The story started in 2015 and ended in 2017 — 2 years of my father fighting cancer. In the writing group you were meant to write for an hour and then share your story with the group for feedback. So I found myself sharing my most vulnerable moments and thoughts with mostly complete strangers. It felt really healing, like a weight was being lifted off my shoulders. I remember writing down some parts of the story and getting really emotional, and then smiling at other parts of the story. It was the self reflection that I never gave myself. It was so powerful to free myself from the burden of carrying all that emotional baggage by myself. I remember my mom would say, you think I’m weak because I’m crying all the time but I’m letting out my emotions and acknowledging my pain and sharing the burden with my loved ones meanwhile you are keeping everything locked inside— that’s more dangerous. And of course she was absolutely right.
I’m sharing this because I know someone out there can relate to my story and know they aren’t alone and know they will get through difficult times. I really believe human beings are extremely resilient and adaptable. To build up that resilience, it’s essential to do the inner work, whether that’s journaling, mediating, therapy. For people like me, it can be so uncomfortable to reflect on ourselves, but if we just ignore it we would be doing ourselves a disservice as we will be limiting yourself from our full potential.