Natalie Nyquist is a brave young woman. She’s a single mom, an editor, and she’s healing from years of trauma, abuse, PTSD and depression. She’s fighting to make a life for her son, and she’s writing to help give a voice to others in trauma. I am so honored to have her as a guest on the blog today, writing about some words which changed her world.
My bravest act wasn’t negotiating with the gunman in my apartment or the bull moose in Alaska. It wasn’t when, breathing with the help of an oxygen mask, I used my last tendrils of strength to push my son into the world—after the nurse insisted I couldn’t do it.
Those moments are part of my history. But the choice requiring the most courage? The one I’m most proud of? When I held the power to end my torture in my hands, stared down the temptations of suicide, and chose to push into the pain.
Survivors of trauma and mental illness do this every day. Those who live despite intense pain lack strength to shout what our life is really like, and few hear our whispers. We’ve been branded by media and culture, shelved and forgotten before we can speak. Neatly marked with pre-printed labels: Mentally ill. Victim. Damaged.
One of the most terrifying aspects of PTSD and depression: fear I was losing my mind. Three years ago I developed amnesia and lost most memories of the previous decade. I spend weeks barely sleeping, trapped in my mind. At first I didn’t realize I’d shut away my emotions, preferring numbness to pain and a black hole to memory. Anything but numb was shut into a room and padlocked into forgetfulness.
We expect to spend most days pushing through pain, but over time the strain becomes visible. We’re tired. Death is our favorite daydream and (seemingly) only escape. Relief never comes.
Then the roof blew off my locked room. To be heard—no filters, no judgment—can begin healing. My therapy session with Dr. S. began normally. I wove my usual circuitous route, talking about everything semi-relevant while avoiding the deep pain. Finally I processed myself into a corner and realized I’d accidentally leaned against the locked room Dr. S. had been trying to help me approach. Confused, I mentally reached inside.
Pain flared and I jerked out to safety, wanting to slam the door on all hurt. Then Dr. S. said the words which fell at the perfect time to hold the room open and allow the suffering to finally ease. “Natalie, in here you are always heard.”
The door swung wide—the lock broke?—and that room was mine for the taking. How could mere words enlarge my inner world in a heartbeat? One moment the hated panic, the familiar feeling of being trapped. The next I felt my emotional reserves explode outward. Someone heard me. Here I was safe, and when I left this room my words could stay here until next time.
Before therapy I rarely cried—maybe four times a year I’d leak a few hastily rubbed tears. Perhaps one real crying session around the anniversary of my long-ago wedding. But most emotions were locked up with MIA memories.
I hated crying. But the moment Dr. S. said “you are heard,” sadness burst free. His words loosened the lock enough to let old parts inside run loose. And I cried. For weeks I cried over things in the present, random memories, music, anything.
We compared my new, much-hated propensity for tears to an internal glacier melting. After months and years of emotions, memories, and pain remaining frozen inside, therapy and a safe life provided the warmth to start melting the ice.
I felt. Not just pain and grief, but also desires: to make a new life, build good relationships, do things just for fun. My year and a half with Dr. S. helped begin a new life—in no small part because he said, “you are heard.”
Natalie Nyquist is the single mom of a little boy and works from home as an editor. She writes to share space with survivors of trauma and mental illness after experiencing two divorces, abduction, amnesia, and years of depression. She continues healing and writing in downtown Chicago. You can find her at her website, natalienyquist.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.