Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Touch of PTSD

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.