Their hold on me had long since loosened. Their grip on my mental health used to be tight, like his gloved hand pressing hard on my nose and mouth every time my voice rose above a whisper. I can smell the metallic odor coming off his filthy work glove. I can feel the PVC dots on my skin.
For a long time after the break-in and violent robbery that we suffered when visiting my parents, I did not recognize the toll this traumatic event took on my mental health. The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms crept up on me steadily and stealthily.
In a nightly ritual, I would relive the moment two of the burglars burst into our room in the middle of the night. A real-life nightmare. They tied our hands behind our backs. One of them pulled me up from bed. “No, no!” I pleaded. “We’re not here for that,” he said. “We want money.” No other explanation was necessary.
The ordeal lasted about thirty minutes. Long enough to beat up my father, to find our money, to put a gun in my face and tell me to give them everything if I valued my father’s life. I gave up my engagement ring, among other things.
I still feel guilty about that. Like I betrayed my husband to save my father. Looking back, I understand it was not like that. I did not betray my husband, and it probably did nothing to save my father’s life. The criminals played God and spared him. Yet, the guilt lingers.
Sleeping problems followed the recurring, unwanted memories. I took both prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids.
I also had trouble concentrating. Writing became a chore, as did reading for fun. At the time, I wrote for a local publication. I dreaded the editor’s feedback because I felt like a fraud, an imposter. I could never please her, I thought. I eventually stopped writing for them.
This anxiety affected other areas of my life. I am a fairly confident and competent club tennis player. However, I started to have negative thoughts about my game. “I’m not good enough for you,” I told my usual partner. She looked at me and said “I can see something is wrong; you’re not your usual self. I want to help, but I don’t know how.”
The comment, made by a caring friend, made me realize for the first time that I needed help.
With my friend’s support, I reached out to a wonderful yoga and meditation instructor. I was late to the first class. Something in me resisted that much needed help.
A lump of anxiety squeezed my chest. Tears fell unchecked as I did each pose. A tightly closed door inside my mind burst open. Feelings and memories flooded in. As the class progressed, the burden began to lift until it disappeared. An image formed in my head: a photo of one of the burglars in my phone. I swiped with my finger. His face disappeared. I had taken the first step on my healing journey.