It’s time I got rid of two pillows in my life. At first I thought I had to learn to live with them. But no, I simply must say good-bye.
In my studio, there’s a pillow with a joyful, multi-colored fabric covering, which splits open at the back so the pillow can be easily removed and washed. (I’ve posted about this pillow before.) Each time I toss it on my bed and chance to see the split at the back and the white of the pillow beneath, I have a PTSD moment. I feel anxious and my heart races; I hold my breath. Panic–a result of the surgery for pyloric stenosis, a stomach problem, that I underwent at three weeks old. Something about the split-openness of the pillow alarms me. Something about my incision. But since I know that this pillow catalyzes this response, I say to myself–oh, it’s that pillow again. I calm down, feel relief. I turn the pillow over and hide the split.
At home in my bedroom, I have another such pillow. This one, a recent arrival, has a deep blue covering. When I toss it onto my bed and it lands split-side up, I panic and stop breathing. But because I know that I have PTSD, I say to myself, oh, it’s that pillow again. It’s my PTSD. So I take a breath and go about plumping up the pillow, turning the split side out of view. I should be able to get over this, I reason. But each time I see the split in the pillow, I freak.
Why do I keep putting myself through this ritual? I had an amazing revelation the other day–amazing because I hadn’t had it sooner. How about I get rid of these pillows? Oh, but the studio pillow belongs to my landlady and I wouldn’t know where to store it, the place is so small. It never even occurred to me to take off the pillow case and replace it with one without a split. And the pillow in my bedroom? My sweetie put the blue case on and she wouldn’t want me to take it off. She might be hurt if I ask her to put the pillow in her room and substitute it with another. Can you believe this?
Why would I want reminders of trauma around? Then it hit me: learned helplessness. Infants, like myself, who underwent surgery before general anesthesia was standard and who may have felt extreme pain and fear before and after surgery, cried out in every way they could for help. If they were not able to scream because of a tube down their throat or thrash about because of paralysis with the drug Curare given to prevent movement during surgery, their eyes scream. If no one assisted them and soothed the pain or fear, they learned that no matter what they did to alert their caretakers, the outcome would not change. They learned that those entrusted with their care did not relieve their suffering. They learned to tolerate and accept suffering. They learned to not assert themselves. Learned helplessness.
It’s embarrassing to write of such inability to take such a small step–a baby step, if you will–in order to feel better. Removing the pillow covers or putting the pillows in a different location will help me deal with my PTSD in the most positive way. I never realized how deeply this learned helplessness thing has affected me. I can, however, take action to change my situation.I don’t have to overcome or conquer my PTSD. I can let it teach me how to invite peace into my life. Good-bye pillows!