By Jessica Behnam Hicks, MSN, FNP, RN-BC, PHN
For the first 30 years or so of my life, I suffered from classic overachieving. Do. Do. Do! Ultimately, I earned several degrees and accolades in several areas of study. I earned a whole alphabet soup worth of credentials to put after my name (Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner, Board Certified Registered Nurse, and Public Health Nurse). Why? Because I always felt that I wasn’t enough, just as I am. That I needed proof of my value.
Constantly striving to feel whole.
My whole life had been carefully orchestrated in this way. My wedding was strategically placed between prerequisite work and starting graduate school. I always got excellent grades because there was never another option. My world was very small. Carefully managed. Contained and labeled.
When I was finishing up graduate school, I was also pregnant with my first (and possibly only) child. Yes, of course I had planned it that way. Just enough time to have the baby, stay with her exclusively for some unspecified amount of time (longer than 6 weeks, less than a year), then off to start my lucrative and respectable career.
The universe had different plans.
. . .
We were at our 38 week appointment. The midwife kept rushing in and out of the room. In and out. We just figured she was busy, distracted, confused maybe. Then she sat down, looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re an NP. “ I nodded. “Ok, I’m just gonna tell you. Your blood pressure is 160/100 and you have 2+ proteinuria. Do you have a headache?”
My overly informed brain immediately thought, SHIT.
I was sent to the hospital for immediate induction because I had developed Pre-eclampsia. This is the kind of thing that women would have seizures from and stay in comas till their deaths in the old days. They didn’t even want me driving myself. This is why we have so frequent prenatal appointments at the end of our pregnancies. This. The only cure is to deliver the baby.
I would have thrown my birth plan out the window, if I even had it. No bags were packed. I had figured I’d be overdue before our little one decided to enter the world. Judging by how poorly the induction went, the baby had the same idea.
Every possible intervention was used. Nothing really worked. Four days of induction, laboring, drugs, monitoring, and a blood pressure cuff that hurt like a vice going off every fifteen minutes and alarming to let the nurses know that this one might croak at any minute! for four days. I won’t get into the details here, or possibly ever…but it was traumatic. Emergency c-section plus five more days of hospitalization because my blood pressure would not come down. 9 days, four walls, endless drugs, zero sleep, a couple hallucinations and many many problems. I discovered first-hand how lack of sleep can lower our pain threshold. Not what you want after being cut apart.
I’m still not sure if knowing what I know made the experience better or worse.
The experience was horrendous. The recovery was worse.
. . .
There are two versions of a story. The facts, and your experience of it. Until recently, I never allowed myself to live any deeper in the experience than just the facts. It was too much.
Humans have a unique ability to endlessly relive traumas in ways that other animals don’t.
The way I describe it is, during the height of the trauma, I receded as far into myself as I possibly could, into the smallest space inside myself that I could find. I hunkered down and shut off all input from the outside world. I hid away and pretended like nothing could hurt me.
It was easy to get distracted by the incessant demands, sleeplessness, selflessness, and general chaos of new mommyhood.
Just before Christmas, when things were starting to normalize, the baby was around six months old, I got a medical massage. What came next was a cracking open of the hardened shell I had built up over years and years of avoidance and repression. Cell memory had opened up a lifetime of pain.
Suddenly, that dark little space I was hiding in was no more. It was as if someone had turned on the light and I realized I wasn’t in a safe little room, I was in a giant warehouse filled with every trauma I had ever experienced. Childhood traumas, unaddressed sexual assaults, a lifetime of living in someone else’s projections all present, all at once. It was terrifying. There was nowhere to hide. I had finally slowed down long enough for a lifetime of crap to catch up to me. Not only catch up, but beat the living snot out of me while I was down.
I spent several hellish months living in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder flashbacks of everything from the birth experience moments to childhood traumas. (I don’t believe in Hell. But this was Hell.) I couldn’t make it stop. I couldn’t do much of anything about anything. My brain would just go blank without warning or cause. The ever growing Postpartum Depression was slowly taking over my life. The baby was always taken care of, but I was rapidly deteriorating before the eyes of those that loved me. There were days where I couldn’t get out of bed. Unrelenting sorrow, overwhelming sadness, hopelessness. Utter hopelessness. There’s no logic there. There’s no, just don’t be depressed. It doesn’t work that way. It’s chemical. And there was nothing I could do to make it stop.
The PTSD was the worst. It’s not a memory, it’s an actual reliving. Presently re-experiencing, or possibly experiencing consciously for the first time, every moment. And this time around it was pulling up all the other baggage it had woven itself into.
What I found was that as something would come up. Bubbling up through my skin, burning its way out… the more I gave in, and went with it, the faster it released. I would come to these points of clarity. A phrase that summed up exactly how I felt. Overarching themes started to reveal themselves about the traumas in my life. Terrified and Alone was a major one. While I didn’t know what to do with these new found points of clarity, I noticed that once it had been birthed out of me, it didn’t come back. If I truly let it be, it completed its cycle. A well-known concept in mental health, the only way out is through, became very tangible in these moments.
The only way out, is through.
When you’re in it….not only does it seem impossible to get out of, but diving deeper is the LAST thing any rational person would want to do. But it’s the only way out. You’re caught in a swell that will undoubtedly drown you or relentlessly crush you into nearby rocks unless you dive down, deeper and deeper, where you’re most sure you won’t be able to breathe, to find the passageway through to calmer peaceful waters.
Therapy and Prozac sure help, too.
. . .
I am not the same. I’ve realized that most of my outward personality was well-developed coping mechanisms that never really felt comfortable anyway. I was living small. Yes, that sounds ridiculous from an external standpoint, but in constantly striving to prove my value, I was ignoring the things that made me truly authentic. (Terrified of, actively running from, and in complete denial of are probably more accurate descriptions than “ignoring”.) The biggest realization is that it’s not about the goals and achievements, it’s about all the moments in between. All the moments of connection.
Connection to ourselves. Connection to our humanity. Connection to all of it. Everything.
I started wearing flowy dresses and crystal necklaces because I thought it only fair to warn people ahead of time of the depth of my hippy-ness. Truthfully, it just feels better. I’m no longer confining myself to sweater sets and sensible shoes. I’m no longer hiding. I’m realizing that it’s safe to be who I truly am. I’m not worried about whether people take me seriously. There’s too much seriousness in the world anyhow.
What I’m doing now, is focusing on healing. Healing myself, as well as anyone who needs it and is willing. I’ve learned the hard way not to put my helpfulness where it’s not welcome.
I want to focus on all the amazing things that are already happening in the world. And I want to share it.
When I find something inspiring, something healing, I share it. That’s all I can do. That’s all anyone can really do. Find connection and share in the healing.
My hope is that someone somewhere will connect to something that inspires them…something that motivates them to keep going…to stick around a bit longer…to do the work so that they too can know that there is love everywhere. That people are already doing amazing things in the world. That scarcity does not exist, not really, not if we all give a little to help .
I have grand ideas for Truth Love and Connection, some of which may take years to fully realize, but what’s most important to me, is that it be a safe space for healing.
**Creating inspiration on a macro level, one individual at a time.**
Spread the light.
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