Frequently, I refer to a Tuesday, May 18, 2021 quote in my journal, and am in awe at what’s transpired since: “It’s a horrible feeling to be stuck in a dark, murky pond of past painful experiences; living them day to day, not knowing when the sun will shine into the pond and bring a measure of relief. I am searching to understand what is going on inside my brain, before I rush into therapy that might worsen my struggles. I know there will be release one day, and I must wait patiently for that outcome. But some days I have no patience. I just want to see it over.”
Many professionals describe Bessel Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps The Score, as a masterpiece; I concur. I am a classic example of one whose body has kept score since I was being formed in the womb. That’s what I learned during my therapy sessions.
My body has stored all the unresolved trauma I experienced throughout my life, whether I knew them to be traumatic. But my husband Michel’s heart attack in 2018 was the tipping
point that threw me over the edge and led to my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.
Frantic, desperate research followed this defining event to know and understand PTSD. I kept asking: Would I spend the rest of my life captive to this disorder? Hearing my doctor say I would have this condition for the rest of my life was like a death sentence. The thought of living in fear and anxiety, having recurring, painful flashbacks of my husband’s heart attack and surgery, frightened me greatly.
How does someone become traumatized? I researched extensively to inform myself about trauma. Michel’s heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery was an incredibly traumatic experience for me. When it happened I did not realize I had several unresolved traumatic events earlier in life, and my life with PTSD had just begun.
How on earth did I get to this place in my life? The quick answer is the night Michel had a heart attack, so vivid in my mind. As Michel sat on the sofa having an electrocardiogram, I thought the result would show nothing was wrong with his heart. To be sure, he was the healthiest person I had ever known, a jogger for over 30 years, and a vegan for 15 years.
Hearing the words of the paramedic, “Sir, you just had a heart attack, which damaged your heart,” snapped something in my brain. That is the only way I can express it. I knew something happened to me at that moment, but I did not know what. Thankfully, Michel survived the attack and quadruple bypass surgery and is doing great.
Here we were, enjoying our twilight years together, having met 61years ago. Then in one moment in time the heart attack threw me into an unfamiliar world.
Since that day (May 11, 2018), I lived in a world of fear, anxiety, and depression. By the summer of 2019, I knew something was desperately wrong with me; something I could not fix. My research of my symptoms pointed to PTSD, but I put it aside, thinking only soldiers returning from war had PTSD. I shared this research with no one.
My melt-down came in October, 2019. Panic filled me because Michel was travelling alone for the first time since his surgery. I had accompanied him on his previous two trips earlier in the year to teach in Saskatchewan. But this time he went alone. Deep inside I knew it was right for him to go alone, but I could not imagine not being with him to watch over him and take care of him.
I planned to stay with my daughter and her family for the week he would be away. However, the day after he left, fear and anxiety escalated, to where I knew I could not drive to my daughter’s home in Oakville. I emailed her and cancelled the trip. Immediately, she contacted me, suspecting something was wrong. She asked if I was depressed and made me promise to see my doctor.
The following week, when Michel returned, we went to see our doctor, who diagnosed I had PTSD. This professional diagnosis, confirming my research, relieved me. At least I knew what’s wrong with me. But the news that it would never go away, and I would continue to have flashbacks, felt like a death sentence.
So began my journey with medications and therapy, frustration and anger, which propelled me to take responsibility for my well-being. Armed with results of significant research of PTSD and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, I started psychotherapy. Happily, after three months of this therapy that focussed on EMDR, I am completely healed . . . yes, free from PTSD. This was a life-changing journey and, as Michel confirms, I am a new person and his new wife. My desire in writing this is to encourage others going through trauma that there is great hope for them, too.
Doreen Bell and her husband Michel moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in November, 2018, both now retired. Doreen was a consultant to Hope For Life Pregnancy Center and in charge of training volunteers. Michel is a former business executive, an author, founder and president of Managing God’s Money, (https://www.managinggodsmoney.com), and volunteers as an adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary in Saskatchewan where he teaches modular courses.