I have often alluded to one of my PTSD incidents, the one regarding driving in the rain at night, but I questioned whether I’d ever write about it publicly. Manee wrote a post that triggered my wretched anxiety about it, and with her encouragement, I’ve decided to post it.
In the spring of 2006, I drove from Indianapolis, Indiana to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, to spend a weekend alone with The Mister.
I am confused now, because when I pull up driving directions on my laptop, they do not remind me of the path I traveled via my road atlas then.
I don’t think my route was as depicted. I didn’t have sat nav, and I didn’t post my locations to social media, so I really can’t say how exactly I went. The trip took 11 hours and I enjoyed every bit of it.
I particularly enjoyed my mid-day view from the welcome center in West Virginia. Purple mountain majesties indeed. I stood atop with millions of yellow daffodils spread out in the valley below. Breathtaking. It was one of those things I’ll never forget.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the region, lemme just tell you, I’ve heard it said that if you flattened-out West Virginia, it’d be the largest state, and I think there may be some truth to that.
Of course, I am a biased fan, a lover of Appalachia in general. It’s an extremely beautiful place, where valleys don’t seem long and wide, but rather the valleys always seem to be short peaks to other valleys. (I must stop myself, I could go on for days.)
We had a wonderful long weekend. I sometimes wonder why all my weekends do not consist of eating crab three times a day and sexing my husband…
But the drive home was not the same experience. Several hours in, the skies filled with storms, the sun set, and as I drove up and down the mountains through Pennsylvania, I was almost crushed in a semi-sandwich.
This was the first panic loop I developed as an adult. Neither fight nor flight is an option when you’re about to be a semi-sandwich.
My car was precariously placed between two semis going down a ‘hill.’ Ahead of me, another semi. On a flat road, I could slow my speed and get some distance. In the incline, I could not get any distance. Behind me, another semi was approaching, all too fast, dangerously fast. The semi got close enough to me for me to see the driver so well, I could, to this day, pick him out of a line-up.
I don’t remember anymore where I was exactly. Reading the words ‘Pennsylvania Turnpike’ still gives me nausea, so I presume I was on or near that — or signage for it.
With great clarity, I remember those few seconds when I knew I was about to die, when I saw the things your brain shows you right before you meet your maker.
They say that before you die, your whole life flashes in front of you, but in my case, it did not. I saw specific images of my children.
Bubba, joyously opening a Christmas present, his eyes big, blue, happy, his smile, contagious. His shirt, so red.
Sissy, a mess of blonde curls and her glasses falling off her nose, as she leaned over the garden tub to clean her feet. She was looking at me for approval.
Sassy, all eyes and smiles of wonder from under a sheet on our bed. Peek-a-boo.
That’s what I saw in the flash right before I almost died.
I often wonder why I didn’t see Moo, or The Mister, but I didn’t.
It is a miracle that semi stopped in time. It is a miracle. I don’t care if you believe in miracles or God’s grace, divine intervention, or Guardian Angels — It’s a GODDAMNED MIRACLE that semi didn’t crush me like a steamroller over a skateboard.
I was supposed to arrive home that night, but I could not drive anymore. As soon as I could, I exited and checked-in at the first hotel I saw. I don’t remember the town, the exit, the hotel, any of my surroundings. I remember shaking so much that the clerk walked me to my room.
I called my MIL, who had my babies, and let her know I had to stop. I tried to tell her what happened, but she was dismissive. She said I had had a very emotional weekend and to try to get some rest.
I slept the kind of sleep where you don’t know you’ve slept until you wake up.
I have yet to recover from this incident.
In therapy, we talked about how I have successfully driven through many dark and rainy nights, how this isn’t going to happen every time, how this trigger creates a panic loop. We talked about how that semi driver was likely equally terrified. We discussed how my MIL probably didn’t feel dismissive, how she was likely concerned and grateful, but showed it by minimizing the trauma and encouraging rest.
For years, driving was a trigger. I drove pretty much every damn day, so imagine that. It’s still not my favorite. Just last night we had this conversation:
“Gah, I don’t wanna go to the store tomorrow. Maybe my husband will come with me, keep me company, drive me.”
“Maybe if you make a nice enough list, your husband will let you sleep in and have all the shopping done and put away before you even get up.”
I used to love to drive. Right up to this semi-sandwich incident. Now, I’ve come a long way from vertigo and paying people to drive me places, but I’m not recovered.
To this day, I don’t like to drive alone. I make way more stops on long trips. Rain makes it worse, night makes it worse, and driving in the rain at night is me at my most brave. I want to cover my eyes and give up, but I don’t.
I almost died.
I was not highly emotional when it happened; I was highly emotional because I almost fucking died.
My heart is pounding in my ears.
I guess I’m done.
Please don’t try to minimize the traumas other people carry. Please don’t try to one-up them as if it’s a game of surviving horrible events. Please don’t cut them off and tell them you’ve heard it before. All around you, there are people in recovery. Maybe they don’t talk about it or write about it, but they’re there.