Giving Thanks

Holidays are often difficult when you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While everyone else is enjoying that joyful holiday spirit as Thanksgiving Day approaches, PTSD can leave you afraid of what might happen when family and friends gather. This holiday, a trigger suddenly activated my PTSD and robbed me of those good holiday feelings.

Five years ago, I went through a fire. It was horribly traumatic, and it didn’t just end when the flames burned out. There were endless financial repercussions, painful memories that still haunt me, and changes that I underwent physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One trigger that takes me right back to that night is the sound of a smoke alarm, a sound I hate. Each time an alarm goes off, I hear the sound of flames crackling. I smell the smoke. But worst of all, I feel all the horror and pain I felt that night.

This Thanksgiving Day, the smoke alarm in my home office pipped signaling the battery was almost dead. Climbing up a ladder to change the battery was daunting. I have no business being on a ladder at my age, but one does what one must. I could feel my blood pressure climbing the ladder right along with me! I changed the battery and climbed back down saying a prayer of thanks that I hadn’t fallen.

And all was well…until later that night when I woke from a sound sleep to the sound of the alarm in my bedroom. I listened with heart hammering. I sniffed – no smoke smell. The alarm had stopped, so I got up, looked around, and went back to bed convinced it was a dream. Several hours later, it happened again. Same situation, same response. Another dream. And a third time. No fire. I hoped it wouldn’t happen again and as I laid there thinking about it, sure enough, the alarm sounded. Just two shrieks and then it stopped.

It continued at random intervals throughout the night. I was so traumatized by the sound that I was shaking with panic and that made me reluctant to go up the ladder again. I finally got dressed and left the house to calm down. After I returned home, I climbed the ladder again and took the battery out.

PTSD doesn’t play by any rules. When it strikes, you are swept up in the horror of the original trauma without a choice. Holidays, anniversaries, smells, and sounds can trigger PTSD. When they do, you may feel that every step toward healing is lost. You’re back at the starting line and the feelings of grief and despair at having to go through the healing process again are overwhelming. But there is a silver lining. I know the way out now. I’ve healed in the past, and I’ll heal again. I may find myself back here again someday, but I carry the knowledge of healing with me. I can do this. I can heal. I’ve done it before, and this holiday season, I’m grateful for that.