By Jana

August 11, 2022


Sometimes I have a difficult time admitting when I’m struggling. I still get frustrated with myself when I feel like I’m backsliding. This may have something to do with my abandonment issues, which unexpectedly rose to the surface about ten days ago. With a shocking onset, my PTSD symptoms began flaring up again. I felt myself succumbing to vulnerability and fear. It took me a few days to realize it was the old strings of abandonment wrapping themselves around me.

When I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD I assumed it was a result of the psychological trauma I experienced from my years treating Lyme disease. While that trauma may have been a catalyst, it wasn’t the true underlying cause. Abandonment was at the root of my disorder.

Why do I suddenly feel so alone?

Ten days ago, for no apparent reason, I suddenly felt like an out of control train speeding towards an intersection. Moderately loud noises had me jumping out of my skin. While at work, a job which I love, I felt insecure and disengaged. Depression enveloped me like a dark shroud. Social activities left me feeling exhausted. All I wanted to do was hide out in my bedroom, crawl into a tiny ball and sleep.

What’s more, I had a restriction in my pelvic floor causing severe pain in my low back and hips. (For a deeper understanding of this strange symptom you can read about it in Part 2, The Cystoscopy of my book.) Worst of all, the fear of a return to chronic illness had me in a constant state of panic. I was back on the treadmill of hyper fight or flight. Where did this come from? Why am I feeling this way? I’m happy with my job. My marriage is strong. Why now? It wasn’t until I was driving home, after an evening visiting with my parents, that I realized the cause. My mom had told me a few days before that evening that they were heading back home to Kentucky.

My mom and stepdad have been visiting here in Montana for the past few months. It’s been truly wonderful having them around. I’ve felt a connection to my family that I didn’t quite realize I had been missing. I became accustomed to having them around. When I was driving home that night after our visit, an image flashed before my eyes. I hadn’t thought about this significant moment in my life in over two decades. Immediately, I recognized the old weight of abandonment dragging me into hopelessness and despair.

The mental image that triggered my relapse

Driving home that night an image of my stepdads cherry red pickup flashed in my mind. Then, I watched my parents slam the tailgate closed and walk over to my sister and I to say goodbye. After a tearful goodbye I watched them drive away. They were leaving our home in Florida, for an unknown amount of time, in order to find their new home in Montana. My sister and I had already moved our belongings from our mom and stepdad’s home to my dad’s house. In effect, we abandoned the quaint home we had built for ourselves since my parents had divorced and my stepdad had moved in. While I know that my mom wasn’t intentionally trying to cause harm, I know that that day was a traumatic moment. It doesn’t help that their departure came only about a year after my mom and dad’s divorce.

When my mom told me they were leaving again, even as an adult with years of therapy under my belt, my mind still equated this present departure as abandonment. When I decided to write about this very real emotional paralysis, I did some research. I was somewhat surprised to find a plethora of articles about the connection between PTSD and abandonment. This one in particular hit the nail on the head as far as my emotional state leading up to my parents’ return home.

Abandonment and PTSD

When I began therapy two years ago, my therapist Deborah immediately diagnosed me with chronic PTSD. She employs a type of EMDR therapy that utilizes alternately vibrating fobs. The alternating stimulation allows the brain to disconnect from its usual routes of communication. What I discovered when the fobs began to vibrate was a little girl, recoiling from the world, curled up in an inky cavern of fear and vulnerability. I felt untethered from the world, as though I was floating away without an anchor. It would take me a year and a half of therapy to begin to recognize the signs of the traumatic stress of abandonment.

In my day to day life, my abandonment issues manifest in a number of different ways. My first instinct is to hide from the world. I go inside myself, where nobody can hurt me or leave me. As time goes on, insecurities begin to overwhelm me. This causes me to seek out approval wherever I can find it. Like I’m looking for any affirmation that I am needed. If I’m unable to find this affirmation, I become paranoid that I will be deserted or forsaken. Which leads me right back to my first instinct, which is to hide out and shrink from any possibility of being left behind. It removes the threat of disapproval.

Physically I become exhausted. All I want to do is sleep. Then, I lose my appetite which only adds to my exhaustion as my body isn’t getting the energy it needs from food. Adding insult to injury, I start having disturbing dreams that wake me up in the middle of the night, further adding to my exhaustion. Now, exhausted, emotionally distressed and hungry, my hands start to shake. I start getting dizzy spells. My muscles start to ache from all the tension. And then, the panic sets in. The panic that my Lyme disease is re-emerging.

So, what do I do now?

If you have ever experienced anything similar, my very first suggestion is to seek help. Find a good therapist who can help you through and develop the tools you’ll need to dig out of the abyss. It is only because of my therapist Deborah, who led me on an amazing journey to healing, that I’m able to recognize the signs. I don’t always recognize them immediately. Sometimes it even takes a gently nudge from my husband. But, once I’m able to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing, I can remove the wool that was pulled over my eyes. Understanding your own emotions is a powerful tool.

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