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Alicia on experiencing post traumatic stress disorder during COVID-19

woman holding baby and a sign

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

PTSD in the time of COVID-19:

I’ve decided to collect my scars like precious stones.
Gather up the healing lacerations on my mind and skin like jewels
And create myself a crown.
One that I’ll wear with my head held high.
One where I can point to each pearl, each shimmering abalone, Each piece of red coral and remember what treasures I have retrieved from the depths.
Remember what it is to survive, and to overcome.
And remember, what it is to learn to breathe water.

I wrote that piece a few months back. I had completely forgotten about it. I hadn’t even finished it. I stumbled upon it this morning, lazily scrolling through my phone trying to feel better after spending the evening before battling my PTSD symptoms.

Related: You might be experiencing trauma these days, and you aren’t alone

This morning, I do not feel like the girl who wrote that piece. I do not feel like holding my head proud and high. I feel like a scared and broken little child. My back against a wall, my arms hugging my knees and my forehead resting upon them. A small little girl, wondering if she will ever feel whole again. This has been my third episode in three weeks, and it’s starting to wear. 

My tummy was a tiny bit upset before bed and laying on it always makes it feel better. So that’s what I did. I got in bed, lied on my stomach, chatted with my husband, turned out the light, and went to sleep. Well, tried to go to sleep. My mind slowly became flooded with the memories, emotions and uncomfortable physical feelings of all the times I had been in that exact same position, almost exactly a year ago—trying to fight off nausea, trying not to throw up, trying to go to sleep.

They started out just as a trickle at first, beginning with the one time I needed Cheerios in the middle of the night. I had to ask Ben to get them for me because somehow, I was both starving and nauseated at the same time and knew that if I moved, I’d throw up. I could feel the clamminess in my palms. The usually dry cereal became sticky as I lied there, head at the foot of my bed, on my stomach, for the next 30 minutes shoveling Cheerios into my face.

That one played on repeat several times before the levees broke.

Related: How motherhood myths impacted my struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety

Suddenly, I was no longer being forced just to remember. I was being forced to relive all the times I had ever felt nauseous in bed, all at once. I could feel, smell, and see it all, on repeat—on a never-ending loop. Whenever I tried to escape, I was pulled right back in to the memories of:

Lying in bed, spitting into toilet paper, tissues, and tissue boxes because Ben wasn’t there to get me a bowl or cup and I didn’t feel like walking to get one was worth throwing up for the fourth time that night.

Being on the edge of sleep only to be jolted awake by the sudden and violent need to vomit.

Feeing my mouth fill with so much saliva I wasn’t able to swallow it. I tried and threw up, again.

Wondering when I’d ever stop throwing up. Yelling “STOP. STOP. STOP” into my head or “Shhhh. Shhhh. Shhhh,” just to stop the thoughts. Just to try to stop the nausea and vomiting.

Wondering if I’d wake up still pregnant. Wondering if I’d wake up at all. The feeling of uncontrollable shaking. The feeling of uncontrollable shaking, even when you’re no longer shaking. The feeling of accidentally snorting water up your nose and into your sinuses. Choking. Repeating “Shhhh. Shhh. Shhhh.” To myself again so that I didn’t cry. If I cried, I’d throw up.

Related: The hidden risk of postpartum depression during quarantine (and how to get help)

I woke up this morning after having “Shhhhh’d” and “Stop. Stop. Stop’d” myself to sleep. In my body, I felt the same weakness and hopelessness that had filled me when I was pregnant. I decided to get back into bed after smelling the scent of the electric motor on my toilet and being thrown into memories and nausea once again. After remembering my house is one giant trigger for my PTSD symptoms. After feeling like a child because I had to wake up my husband just so I could finally fall asleep, because my own memories and the feelings triggered by them were just too much.

I got back into bed this morning for as long as my baby would allow me, so that I could write this. So that I could give words to this story that has been unfolding within me since the quarantine began. I got back into bed so that I could regroup. So that I could take that so familiar feeling of wanting to cry, and do something constructive with it. I got back into bed so that I could fight another day for my crown.