Editor's note: This is one individual's story. This is not medical advice.
Real talk, gang. You can’t just ignore away your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I tried. And failed -- gloriously, though.
Yes. I know it’s tempting to sweep the constant state of fight or flight under the rug. It’s much easier to forget about the flashbacks and nightmares that used to plague you.
You can try everything possible -- cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, hypnosis, group -- and still not be able to turn off The Worry that lingers long after you think you’ve healed.
I’ve named mine; I call it Peeta. Still, no matter what obstacles stand in our way on the road to recovery we cannot just S T O P. Not like I did. Life keeps going whether or not we’re on board.
I remember a time in college, a little over a year after the rape that ripped me open like a Worry Piñata, when I had crashed on a friend’s couch post-shindig and awoke to a kitchen full of snickers.
“Ooh, girl! You were groaning in your sleep last night. Who’d you dream-bang?”
“Um,” I coughed. “My rapist?”
I’d been having a nightmare, reliving the experience. Back then, it was hard to ignore what I was going through because I wore it like armor. I was a tough broad with a pit bull and, sure, I woke up screaming sometimes, but whatever!
Still, I knew something had to give.
I worked on it twice a week in therapy and group. I was writing every single day, both for my mental health and for the creative writing B.A. program I was obliterating. I applied to grad programs, performed poetry, wrote for and DJed on the radio. I felt good.
I established purpose and meaning and the nightmares stopped recurring.
Then the grad school rejections started to roll in. First, NYU, my dream program, then the rest — a full dozen. Some were kind enough to enlighten me of their disinterest while others silently ignored my plea for acceptance. Ever been ghosted by an MFA program?
I was woefully unprepared for life without grad school. Isn’t that what everyone who got a degree in creative freaking writing did? My educational goal to get a PhD in my deepest passion was smashed to bits.
An advisor on campus suggested I try again in a few years, that my youth was working against me, yet because of my Peeta I was convinced this was The Universe trying to show me that a writing career was not in the cards.
I moved back in with my folks and put the pen down.
Flash forward a few years to 2014. I had become so accustomed to Peeta’s existence in my life that I had accepted it as my personality. I was always on alert -- my adrenal glands were overworked, my kidneys made stones, my insomnia kept me awake and snappy.
I acted as if I were under attack at all times, biting off heads like a caged animal. My bowels were always tangled in knots because I could never relax long enough to digest, I had no sense of appetite unless I smoked a spliff — yet I pretended as if this were normal. It was not normal.
I was alienating all of the people I loved and cared for, all of the people who were only trying to help me and I could not see what was causing it. Worse, I’d forgotten how to feel anything — good or bad — except for Worry.
I read about a study done at the University of South Florida that suggested the active component in “magic mushrooms” — psilocybin — could be beneficial for individuals suffering from trauma disorders.
I read stories from soldiers, abuse survivors, people who used the drug to regain control of their lives. I talked with friends who took it recreationally. I read about people who had to have been committed to psych wards after bad trips. And I decided — Hey, what the hell at this point, right?
I planned a trip to the Keys for my birthday, a string of tropical islands off the tip of Florida. It’s the place where my smile is most natural and the views are beyond breathtaking. It’s hard to be in a bad mood surrounded by so much cool blue and bubbling fish of innumerable colors.
My siblings would be with me — the world’s greatest trip sitters. I felt safe. This was a good choice.
And it was. The trip wasn’t what I expected it to be at all. I didn’t hallucinate or see things that weren’t there. My inner child didn’t materialize in the room and tell me what I needed to hear. No, none of that.
What I got instead was this intense feeling of ego loss — a detachment from my life. I could do some serious truth telling to myself: What are you doing? You’re miserable. Everyone around you is miserable. Why haven’t you been writing? Why did you stop working on your PTSD? Why did you stop going to therapy? Do you really just want to wallow here in limbo forever?
Then the wind picked up. The Keys are home to a glorious breeze that whips through the trees. Salty. Refreshing. Life-bringing.
My eyes were drawn to an outcrop of rocks a tiny bit offshore where The Mermaid sat. She was a gorgeous white statue, gleaming brightly against a completely black sky, her gaze fixed downward.
What was she looking at? Nothing. She was stuck between her home below the sea and the life above. She was sad and my heart sank for her -- if only she could look up an inch and see the crystal clear skies, gently lapping waves, fish and birds and trees and not a single cloud or moon to block out the 10 million stars in the sky.
The clarity of the ego loss kicked in. She’s a statue -- she cannot make any choices. But I am not a statue. I am a person. And I can choose.
When I really thought about it, the only time I ever had any control on my PTSD was when I was constantly writing -- why shouldn’t I make it my career? I’d spent the last four years doing nothing and why? Because grad school didn’t want me? I didn’t need them to be a writer.
I grabbed a sketchbook from my backpack and hastily scribbled poetry from a spot on the beach in perfect view of The Mermaid until the sun came up. It was the most glorious sunrise I had ever seen. I established purpose again -- to feel. And then write it down.
Do I recommend magic mushrooms to everybody? Absolutely not. I did my research and was confident in my choice and would encourage folks thinking of taking a trip down the rabbit hole to do the same. But I am so glad I did.
I haven’t completely kicked Peeta from my life yet -- it’s a long road and a constant journey. But the detachment I experienced while examining The Mermaid really helped shift my perspective and I am truly grateful for the experience.
It was magic, after all.