I have not been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I am pretty sure that is only because I have not gone to anyone who would be qualified to give that diagnosis. According to what I have read in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), I am pretty sure I check all the boxes.
My daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in January 2016. She had surgery to remove the tumor, six weeks of radiation, and four months of chemo. I often tell people it was like our life changed tracks. Like we were set on an alternate plane of reality. It was also very much like a cross cultural experience. We were uprooted from our home. We traveled five hundred miles away to receive treatment from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. We learned a new language, the language of childhood cancer. We aquired new skills like administering IV fluids and medications. It was an awful time. We did what we had to do to survive. We did not have time to worry about tomorrow because the current day had plenty of its own worries.
I longed for home every day. I could picture our mountains. I could almost feel the cool crisp water of the mountain streams. I wanted to be surrounded by the safety of our home and community. I knew everything would be ok if we could just get home. At the end of treatment, my daugher was given a clean bill of health. We knew she may have struggles in the years to come due to side effects from treatment, but overall, she was healthy and alive.
I had no idea how hard life would be once we returned. In such a short time, everything changed. We were different. We were battle worn and scarred from it all. Where I was often the one to initiate and plan get togethers for my friends and my children’s friends, I simply could no longer. Friendships changed. I desperately needed people to reach out to me, but didn’t know what to do when they actually did. I do not know that I have ever felt so lonely as I have in the last couple of years living on this side of childhood cancer.
I do not have seasonal affective disorder. I truly believe I have PTSD that heightens and rears it’s ugly head every year surrounding the time when it all started with my daughter. I shut down. Everything becomes hard and labored. I fear snow and winter. I go into survival mode and simply do the very minumum required of life.
I hate this. I hate it so very much. Each year it seems to begin earlier and last longer. I hate it because now my wedding anniversary in December is clouded. Christmas (the day her headaches started in 2015) is clouded. My two other daughters who have birthdays in January do not get the best of me. I do the bear minimum with homeschooling and my other jobs and responsibilities. To get out of bed is a struggle. To be emotionally connected is darn near impossible. I hate it so much.
I made the comment to someone this year that I was sorry if I had not been on top of the things I had committed to. I was sorry because January is such a hard month for me and I knew that I had fallen behind. The person looked at me and said, “you know it is the end of February, right?” January had spilled into February and was threatening to take March right along with it.
March, April, and May are busy months for us. We have homeschool classes, my older kids are part of the Spring theater production. My little girls play soccer. Every night of the week is filled. I was able to get up and moving. I was engaging people again. I was keeping up with commitments. But I realized that I was mistaking busy-ness for health. I assumed because I was busy and seeing people regularly and engaging in my children’s lives, I was ok and the PTSD months were over and I had a few months of freedom. But when I wake up in the morning, I have to convince myself to get out of bed. I have to talk myself into just sitting up and putting my feet on the floor. Sometimes my bladder is the one who does the convincing and hurries the process along… even still, it is a daily struggle.
My husband asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day. I couldn’t come up with an answer. I didn’t really want to hide away and sleep all day, but I also didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to go out to eat or go hiking or see people. We settled on ordering pizza. I laid in bed and read for a couple of hours. It was supposed to rain all day, but when we realized it wasn’t going to, my husband invited me out to help plant the garden.
I noticed last year that our garden was a source of joy and purpose for me. I know I should feel purpose with all that goes on in my life as a wife, a mother, a teacher, a youth leader… so many noble callings. So many ministry opportunities. But the garden … that is where I have found my soul being fed. That is where I have found rest and redemption.
Throughout the fall and winter, we literally dump poop into the garden to get it ready for when we plant. We have twelve chickens and two rabbits. Last year, we let the chickens have free reign of the garden space in the fall and winter. They are hard workers. They till up and poop and churn it all around creating the most fertile of soil. The rabbits’ hutch has a tray that collects their poop. We simply take the tray and dump it into the garden. We have also let the rabbits run around in the space. During the off months, the ground that will help produce fruits and vegetables that will be used at our dinner table, is filled with poop. It composts down with the help of worms and rain and the occassional turning up of the soil by my husband. But mostly, we just let it pile on.
And then the time comes to prep and plant. We work with our meager tools…. a hoe, a claw like tilling thing, a small trowel, a small rake. We have now thrown lime and ashes from recent fire pit in to the soon to be garden. My husband has gone through with the weedeater to clear the way. We prep the rows that will hold the seeds. We plan what we will plant, buying seeds and seedlings from ACE Hardware. Then we work. We till and flatten and smooth and dig and plant.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.John 12:24
With each seed that is planted, I cannot help but think that it is going into the dark, poop laden ground to die. And from its death will come new life. The new life will sprout and fight it’s way to the surface where it’s leaves will unfurl and soak in the sun. Its roots will take hold and it will be ready to face the elements as they come. Strong because we have prepared the ground. We have made it welcoming and given it the nutrients it needs to grow tall and healthy and produce fruit. Nutrients that came from crap… there’s no other way to say it… crap from our animals, the leftovers from our firepit… crap.
I couldn’t help but just pause and stand still and breathe in the earthy smells as the sun warmed my shoulders while we worked. We go through season after season of death, cold and dark and in the ground, buried under poop that just doesn’t seem to stop only to come out of it reaching through the muck for the air and light.
Each year seems to be getting harder for me to shake the PTSD. I feel like it starts earlier and lasts longer. But each Spring brings redemption. The warmth of the sun on my face. The feel of the dirt under my feet. The way my chickens renew their strength and energy and start laying more eggs. The way the green comes back onto the trees and the leaves grow back, new and fresh. The flowers that come after months of no color. It brings redemption. It brings hope. It reminds me that death and suffering are not the end of all things. There is life again. There is hope for the day that death will be no more. Without hope, there is only suffering. I need Spring. I need the redemption and life it brings… even if that life is sometimes filled with bugs and poison ivy… it is life and hope and renewal. The hope of Spring gets me through the cold and dark of Winter. It reminds me that this too shall pass and I will be ok.