Part 1: “Trauma Journey”
I’ve stopped & started trying to write over & over again for months now. I feel like I’ve been standing in a blizzard & whichever direction I turned I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
It has taken me months to start separating my emotions, months to start working out which piece belongs where, months of feeling unable to speak & months of trying to stop the piercing ringing in my ears.
When they told us that Dylan had cancer, time donned a dark veil & the endless wait started; twenty one months later I had to break the news to Ruari that his father had cancer & the veil darkened further; six months after that I had to tell Ruari that his father had passed away & the veil blackened everything.
I found myself on the beach again, desperate to find a way to prepare for that ultimate conversation.
I walked for miles throwing stones into the sea, then sat for hours in the same spot as I did in September looking out across the water, thinking & reliving all the cancerous by-products we’d been dealt so far, arrested by an overwhelming deluge of feelings & not knowing which one to deal with first.
“Ruari, sit down darling; I need to talk to you…”.
The first was a face-to-face conversation in September 2018 to break the news to him that his father had cancer. The second was indescribably harder; a FaceTime conversation in March 2019 (whilst he was on the other side of the world) to tell him that his father had passed away.
Each time I was gripped by utter despair at what I was about to witness & blinded by headache inducing flashbacks to the dialogue I’d had with him after Dylan’s diagnosis.
Each time he was so unprepared, his shock was harrowing.
I honestly don’t think I will ever be able to explain the feeling of sheer desolation in not being able to prevent either of my children from hurting so much. There’s no sticking plaster, there’s no healing lotion; it’s just stark, raw, brutally life-altering agony that makes you ache permanently from head to toe. I knew that I couldn’t let it break me but the scars were getting harder to conceal & I didn’t know how to drown out the noise.
It was after the conversation with Ruari in September that I realised I needed to speak to a professional again. I needed to find some sort of confidence that I had the skills to manage this secondary pain, different but equally arresting to the one I have been trying to manage due to Dylan’s diagnosis. With everything that has come since that point & just as I’d got to a place where I felt I could almost keep up, life slammed on the brakes once more & my head hit the dashboard again; the controls I’d previously been using were smashed in the process.
I stopped sleeping & when I did manage to sleep I had the most vivid nightmares. I was overwhelmed by flashbacks & was now plagued with panic fuelled feelings of complete helplessness for not one but both of my boys.
We’re lucky, our paediatric oncology department has two specialist clinical psychologists; I had my first meeting in October 2017, ten months after Dylan’s diagnosis & three months into his maintenance plan. I had been in the threat zone for so long & then all of a sudden maintenance started & Dylan wasn’t in hospital as often which ramped up my fear; hospital had become a safe place & the staff a source of comfort.
I was plagued by even more “what ifs”. What if I couldn’t look after him properly, what if he got even sicker, what if it was too early to be at home, what if I failed him (an ongoing irrational feeling that I still experience), what if I forgot to give him his meds or got them all wrong…it went on. Eventually, after months of living in fight or flight mode & surviving on pure adrenaline I broke down.
I couldn’t get to grips with anything; I was doing everything I could to avoid how I felt, I went out of my way to avoid almost everyone, I wouldn’t make eye contact with people, I couldn’t stop crying, I didn’t want to leave the house, I purposely muted my phone, I wanted to hide, I couldn’t sleep, I felt trapped & removed from everything & everyone I knew.
Notwithstanding the fact that since Christmas Eve 2016 after watching Dylan literally clinging on as his vital stats dropped significantly & they hooked him up to oxygen having only just started his first gruelling round of chemotherapy; after they called in the consultant cardiologist from his home that evening; after they wheeled in the portable X-ray machine & another huge piece of equipment to scan his heart; after I quietly deciphered the concerned looks from the doctors & all of the nurses filling his room; after slowly realising what I was witnessing, I found myself repeatedly planning his funeral in my head & I couldn’t shake it off.
It helped to talk to that lady; it helped to talk to a professional & someone who didn’t know me.
I gave her a blow-by-blow factually detailed but emotionless account of what had happened & I remember sitting there thinking to myself that it was futile…but looking back, I know it really helped.
Nearly two & a half years have passed since Dylan’s diagnosis & he now has ten months of treatment left; this is currently a concept that I can’t begin to engage with but it is one that is starting to torment me; I also know I will need to talk to someone again…for some time.
I’ve hardened yet again to the realities that life throws up; I know I will never make sense of any of it, I know there is no reason as to why any of it has happened, I know there is nothing I can turn to to blame for any of it & even if there was, it would change nothing.
By September 2018 I was doing “ok” & believe me, “ok” is really good. Unfortunately, there have been so many triggers over the last few months that doing “ok” shifted gear & sharply slammed itself into reverse.
I found myself running in circles bombarded by every single conceivable emotion all at once & then I just ran out of steam.
Whilst I might have looked like I was handling my shit, my internal monologue was basically chewing me up & spitting me out.
So I went to get more help:
“I just don’t know how to do this anymore,” I said.
“You are on a very long trauma journey & it has been interrupted with yet more trauma,” she replied…