Saturday, July 20, 2019

Panic at the Meetup: Medical PTSD is Real

Kara, the author, and Katie Whicker

By Kara Jackman
Maybe my mother was right. 

Shallow breaths, and a slick of sweat broke through covering my skin hidden underneath my new, favorite, polka dot tank blouse and burgundy cardigan. The walls of the room were closing in fast now. My stomach twisted itself further into an even tighter knot. I had to get out of here. Quick. Think. Make it look methodical. Don’t look rushed. I looked at my watch, hoping that everyone saw me look at my watch. I took a few beats of time, picked up my backpack and walked out of the room with purpose. It was a few minutes early. Hopefully, it looked like I was headed out on official business and not fleeing the scene. I was supposed to be participating in the cleft lip and palate group meetup with others born with my condition at CCA’s Annual Family Retreat, but emotions, image after image, frenzied thoughts, comments, and pain overcame me. I was having a panic attack because of this very real PTSD I was experiencing. 

I got up to my hotel room. I don’t remember how, it just seemed to happen, the magic of adrenaline. I worked hard to calm myself down. Stripped out of my clothes. Tore back the sheets of the hotel bed, and laid down for some sheet therapy. Ice water, Altoids, and generic Pepto-Bismol tablets were on-boarded over the next twenty minutes. A soothing meditation played from Youtube. I breathed and breathed and breathed. What the heck? This was not supposed to happen. I have been to multiple retreats. Why was this happening?  Was this my stomach? Am I going to throw up? Or was it more?  I think it was more. 

My mom was right. I was wrong? How could that be?

My whole life I had wanted to be in that room. To be in a room filled with people like me, to know people that looked like me, and what my life was like living with a repaired bilateral complete cleft lip and palate. As a child, I wanted a group of people just like me to share experiences, pain, hospital appointments, and so much more. The trials and triumphs, as I like to call them now. Heck, I would have been happy to know just one other person with my facial difference back in the day. It would have made such a difference. But now, I could not handle it. Maybe my mother was right all those years ago, mainstreaming me with others kids, making sure my goal was to blend in, and only be acknowledged for my mind, artistic, and athletic skills. Maybe she was right, when in the car, with her music teacher hat on, we would rehearse speaking in a lower, chest voice, rather than my usual hypernasal drone. Maybe she was right about it all, while all along the way I had resented her for not letting me be..well, me. 

Maybe she was right. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was too late for me to revel in my clefted authenticity.

No. No! I had to be right. I had to be, I felt it in the smallest pocket of my aching gut. I had worked far too hard to get here, served on boards for a New England-based craniofacial nonprofit, volunteered my time and talents in that community, and finally ascended to do the same on a national level. I was right; I had to be in that room with my people, my cleft lip and palate group, because it was where I was literally born to be. This was my tribe. Now that I decided I was in the right place, how could I make it so I did not have a complete meltdown while my truth became reality? God knows, this was not going to be my last retreat. I work with CCA. Yikes, how was I going to pull this off? 

As I lay there in bed, I thought about it. There was only one way to manage this anxiety: I had to walk through it. Each and every day I had to slowly expose myself to those thoughts and images from the past that came racing through my mind in that room. I could do this through meditation, journaling, and speaking with my therapist. This was how I had overcome other difficult emotions and pain in my life. And this would be how I would tackle my panic when encountering my fellow cleft brothers and sisters.
Emily and I with our Birthday Club hats on
during Saturday's dinner dance.

While doing this internal work, I decided to continue to write and reach out to children whom wanted to be part of a craniofacial community. If we catch them early enough, the gifts of self-acceptance, self-esteem, and kindness would be part of their everyday lives. This work would prevent them from experiencing that wicked panic attack I just endured. Perhaps we could teach them that they were enough. CCA would introduce them to other kids with facial differences, so they could swap hospital war stories and bond over the latest games, toys, and movies. 

I had to do this work. My instincts were right, it was only my execution that needed some tweaking. I had to make peace with the fact that it was too late for my younger self to experience this way of life, but it was not too late for our kids. Overall, my hope, and the hope of CCA, is that our kids continue to share their story, speaking their truth out loud for all the world to hear. A truth that will allow them to live a life free of panic attacks and inner turmoil. The work we do with these toddlers, children, teens, and adults through our curriculum and other programming is vital in the prevention of low self-esteem, anxiety, and bullying.  The earlier CCA and I reached them, the sooner we could show them how to be vulnerable and how to be authentically themselves. 

Ohhh Yeahhh! I got this!
After all was said and thought, (and boy did I think a lot of thoughts), I decided I had work to do, now. I had to get up out of this bed, wash my face, and get moving. If I could help one little girl change how she manages her thoughts, emotions, and ultimately, her behavior, I will have made a difference. 

Let’s go!

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1 comment:

  1. Our kiddos are lucky to have you as a role model, Kara. Thank you for your honesty and bravery. We love you!


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