Pizza Boxes, Ascot hats and PTSD

Trauma has a way of resurfacing when you least expect it. The strangest things can be triggering.

Last night I had a lovely evening watching My Fair Lady. I reminisced about when I would spend my summers taking musical theater workshops. One such summer, our show was comprised of songs from the movie and I remember my grandmother and great grandmother spent hours creating an Ascot hat for me out of a pizza box, fabric and silk flowers. I remembered how my pizza box hat was by far the prettiest and I definitely felt like Eliza in it. I loved it so much, it hung on my wall as a momento for years. I wish l still had it.

Anyway, after this trip down memory lane, spending my evening singing along to songs from the movie, I felt lazy and decided not to change out of the shirt I had been wearing all day before getting into bed. As I laid my back against the bed a new memory struck me.

Suddenly I had vivid flashbacks to laying on a gurney in the emergency room listening to the nurses check my vitals and start cutting off my clothes. In what felt like an instant I relived all of the terrible moments of that night and I began to cry uncontrollably. I cried more as I remembered how I tried so hard not to cry that night. Mostly because I was afraid that tears might make my eye worse, but also because I knew if I had started I likely wouldn’t have stopped.

I knew that everything had changed, but I couldn’t allow myself to feel it laying there, with my eyes swollen shut desperately listening for something that would make it better. Last night though, I felt it. I felt it emotionally and physically. All the fear and the pain and the uncertainty, it all came back to me the second I laid down. After a while I was able to calm myself enough to realize what had triggered all those thoughts and emotions. It was my fucking shirt.

The top I wore to bed was the same shirt I was wearing the night of the accident, just a different color. But the way it felt against my shoulders as I laid flat on my back felt eerily haunting. As soon as I realized I ripped it off my body. I threw on an old tank top, a fitted one full of lycra that honestly felt more like a gentle hug than just a tank top. In seconds, my heart stopped pounding in my chest and I felt like I could breathe again.

Trauma is triggered in weird ways. I wore that top all day. I wore it sitting in a car for hours up to Payson and back, but that didn’t bother me all all. Somehow the way the fabric felt between my sheets and skin sent me into a full on episode.

I always feel silly saying I have PTSD because it’s something I always associated with war veterans or survivors of heinous crimes. But I also never understood what PTSD really was. I get it now.

I don’t share this story for sympathy. I am working on coping with my trauma every day. I share because part of coping for me is using my pain to hopefully help someone else- to find meaning in it for myself. To reconcile that my challenges aren’t mine alone. To share what I am feeling and dealing with so that it gives you more insight into how someone you love might be feeling but maybe that person isn’t ready to share yet. I guess this is all to say that sometimes even though we all do our best to look like fancy Ascot hats, we sometimes feel like old pizza boxes, and that’s okay.

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