In 2009 my husband and I realized time was running out for taking a family vacation –at least for our existing family unit. Both kids were seriously involved with their significant others and we knew it wouldn’t be long before there would be wedding bells. Change was fast approaching for family as we knew it. Happy for our soon-to-be-growing family, the vacation would be a bitter-sweet and symbolic farewell to the existing family structure.
Thus began the plans for what seemed like a fantasy trip for 4 to Scotland and Ireland. None of us had been to Europe and we all agreed experiencing a bit o’ Irish sounded like a lot of fun.
The planning was both exciting and stressful, as vacations are prone to be. However, stressful took on another level when my dad died during the planning stages and my PTSD symptoms exploded. His death launched an entire new wave of nightmares and flashbacks.
I struggled mightily to focus on planning the trip, not wanting to disappoint my kids. My mental state became fragile, my work suffered, and I spent many hours crying on the couch trying in vain to figure a way to escape my anxiety and not give up on the trip.
Somehow we got our itinerary finalized and bought the airline tickets. Three days later the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland. The volcano may as well have been inside my head because my brain felt like it exploded too. I hadn’t realized how close to the cliff I’d been until the volcano blew.
Though we weren’t even scheduled to go through Iceland, I fell into a heightened state of fear and anxiety. Things felt so out of control externally that it translated into complete internal disaster. I was convinced I would be isolated and trapped with all the flight cancellations going on across Europe. I could not envision leaving the country and being in unfamiliar territory.
PTSD has no logic. My reactions were fully illogical, yet they were very real to me.
The chaos overseas closely matched that in my head. After a horrific couple of weeks, I finally had to give myself permission to say I just couldn’t go through with it. Telling my kids we had to change plans once again because of my anxiety and depression was agonizing.
I’d already told anyone who would listen about our trip and now I had to make up a reason why we weren’t going. The trip was several months away, so most people furrowed their eyebrows in confusion when I used the volcano as an excuse. I was embarrassed that my lack of emotional strength could affect me; and worse yet, my family, in such a drastic way. I could not, would not, admit to the truth to others about why we were canceling the trip.
The thought of letting my family down nagged at me, but it was many months before I realized that disappointment paled in comparison to the realization that once again my trauma had a life of its own and I had no control over it.
Unprocessed trauma and PTSD is a bad combination and the long term effects are staggering. Mental Health in general is a seriously underserved condition, and I hope the more we speak out in truth about it, the more positive attention it will receive.
I am grateful, and lucky, for the support of my therapist, husband, kids, and best friend who have seen me through such difficult recovery and healing. Because of them, I’ve come a long way in my willingness to reveal my depression and PTSD. It is unfortunate our society continues to heap stigma and shame to those trying to heal from mental health issues. It affects all families to one degree or another, if we’re honest.
How about you? How have you seen mental health issues affect those around you?