Saturday, October 29, 2011


I've been struggling for two weeks now to write this post. I've given you the details of the accident and the details of the injuries, and I was planning next to write about the emotional experience of that night and the aftermath. There was a lot to get used to; a lot to mourn. My daily life and foreseeable future, my body, my mind, my physical appearance had all been changed against my will in a blind, violating moment. 

How did that feel, I keep asking myself. How did that feel? 

I'd been very nearly killed, for one thing. At 19, the height of my adolescence, I'd lost my youthful sense of immortality. I'd been given firm proof that bad things can happen to people even when they're following the rules, even when they're doing everything right. I could die; my friends could die, my family. We had no say in the matter. Not one of us. How did that feel?

I was incapacitated for months. I had to quit my job, drop out of school. My beloved car, of course, did not survive the event-- not that I could have driven anyway, at that stage. I couldn't move well, couldn't see, didn't know how long any of it would last.

Also, there were two huge scars on my face.

They were dark, angry, reddish purple. They were visible from across the room. One ran along my jawline, and although it was less visible unless I raised my chin, it was thick, raised, and twisted. My mother had insisted that a plastic surgeon perform the closure to lessen the impact of the scars, but it had been a rough-cut wound and it wasn't smoothly repaired.

The other scar began at the bridge of my nose and arced upward across the center of my forehead, ending just below my hairline. My skull had been pieced back together by a neurosurgeon, and his closure had been expertly done. It was as minimal a scar as could be expected. It was still a dark red line through the middle of my face. It was the first thing I saw when I looked in the mirror. I assumed it was the first thing everyone else saw, too.

How did that feel?

With a diminished vocabulary, a ruined face, no mobility or independence, there was nothing left of who I'd been before. My life-- my face-- was unrecognizable to me. How did that feel?

Here is the truth, and the reason this post has been so difficult and confusing to write: it didn't feel like anything. 

Or rather, it felt like something antithetical to emotion. It felt like floating. It felt like watching a vaguely interesting movie about someone else's life from a great distance. It was just a calm acceptance-- a zen state, of sorts. No tears or grief over what had happened, no rage against the drunk driver who hit me, no nightmares, no terror or joy or gratitude. I just woke up from that surgery and went back to my shattered life without a second thought, and I seemed to those around me to be fine. 

It didn't feel strange to do this. It felt almost like nothing at all.

The only response I do remember during that time, in fact, was the very strong sense of the loss of feeling. When I compared myself to how I'd been before the crash, the difference was striking. 

I remember describing myself as "monotone." It was as if someone had turned down the volume and evened out the treble and bass; as if everything in my emotional register had faded to a single, mellow, mid-range hum. The upper and lower ranges were wiped out, and nothing moved me much beyond a raised eyebrow or a puzzled frown. "Fine" became more than a placeholder; it was the way of this strange new life I led.

Looking back, I have two reactions to this. My rational mind now knows what science has discovered since then about trauma and PTSD and dissociation, and I understand very clearly, from an intellectual standpoint, what neurological medicine hadn't yet learned to watch for:  that this was a disturbing response to what had happened to me and a sign that something was very, very wrong.

My emotional self, though, sees nothing wrong or surprising about this blank response at all. In fact, I can't imagine reacting any other way. Twenty years on, my emotional self no longer operates on that level; no longer even feels the loss of what came before; no longer mourns who I was, pre-monotone. 

I don't remember what it felt like to really feel, anymore. I only remember remembering, and there's not much feeling in that.

This brings me, I suppose, to the reason for this blog. Neuroscience has caught up with me, and Post Traumatic Stress is no longer thought of as a Disorder, but as a biologically normal and even advantageous Response, and one that can be completely resolved with the right work.

I am doing that work. I want back what's left of the life I lost.

I've been immersed in this process for the past 6 months, and have already seen many changes in myself for which I had never even dared to hope. I'm writing this all out to give you the back story and set the stage for what's coming. Eventually, I'll be able to blog about what's happening to me in real time. 

And it's happening. It's happening. Finally, after all these years, I am coming back to life.


  1. (Cont) beautiful young woman you had always been. My prayers are with your progress for continued healing.

  2. Katie, I remember the joy of knowing you had survived that awful nite. We were so thankful. You seemed to have recovered so well. Goes to show you, you just don't know what is going on in someones head, do you? Afterwards, I didn't notice your scars, but that was because I just saw the

  3. I'm wondering if neuroscience catching up with you is about a traumatic brain injury? It sounds like you had one--a lot like the vets describe, but without the agro.
    I had this image of your internal scars, like big keloids, rerouting your life force, up and out so that it is swirling around you, instead of inside of you, and now you are pulling it back in. Awesome.

  4. Weird that I can love you more each time you post, without ever having really been close to you.

  5. I have an image of you locked in ice, but now I can hear the ice cracking, and see a puddle forming on the floor. My writerly self loves the repetition, "how did that feel?" You are able to convey the experience of dissociation, which is such a lack of experience, so well. And, as with all your posts, you keep me wanting more - teasing me with what's coming, literary foreplay!