August 25, 2020

Trauma and it’s Aftermath

Around 1.30pm on August 14th every part of me froze. Paralyzed with fear, I stood there on top of a narrow Moraine Ridge nearing Iceberg Lake in Banff National Park, with a nasty wind gust, believing my life was over. Behind me I could hear a reassuring and calm voice, but I couldn’t hear what was being said. Ahead of me, another person turned to help, I knew by the look on her face she could see the terror in my eyes.   

The gust was not letting up as my chest began to tighten. With my feet unable to move, my left hand holding the pole that was dug into the side of the slope beginning to shake, my breathing became labored.   

“Not now. Please not now.” I thought to myself with panic.   

Tears began to stream down my face, my body began to crumble. I couldn’t catch my breath, I couldn’t breathe! I was given help to ease me down and the other person was right there by my side.   

I’ve never had a panic attack in front of anyone other than my immediate family. Embarrassment and shame took over. I saw my husband making his way back to me.  It broke my heart knowing his terrifying fear of heights would also be at play.

Once I had pulled myself somewhat back together, two members of the group helped me navigate going down the steep slope. One in particular, a man I had never met up until this day, focused on me with such compassion, calmness and encouragement. The other turned to help Neil and just as I turned to look up, my husband was mid air in a somersault. Once again terror took over and all I could see was the blood trickling down his hands, and all I could think was I can’t lose him now. 

After some convincing, we told the group to continue on and we made our way, painfully slow down the slope, most of which was on my butt.  At the meadow below, I collapsed into my husbands arms. Another panic attack hit me, he stood there, rock solid, holding me, comforting me and reminding me to breathe.  

We sat at the meadow, regained some composure, had a bite to eat and plenty of water.   

“We were only 100m or so from the top Lee!” my husband said.   

The compassionate mans words popped into my head. “Give it another go on the other trail Lee. I don’t want you to regret it when you’re at the bottom.”

For a moment, a shot of courage hit and I said to Neil, let’s do it. My knees, back and shoulders screamed at me, but I was determined. As we reached the top I thought I would feel this sense of elation and pride, but I felt nothing, all I could focus on was now we have to get back down. The group cheered as we came into view, once again I felt nothing.

After a brief stop for a group photo and a bite to eat I watched as they all continued on their adventure. A deep sadness hit as I realized my inexperience and inability, as well as an agenda I wasn’t aware of, would result in me missing out on what has been referred to from the group as an epic adventure.

The journey down seemed to take forever. I was in excruciating pain the whole way. My husband kept me focused. His encouraging words, patience and determination to get me home safely rekindled one of the many reasons I fell in love with him 26 years ago – he is my rock, and has always been right there beside me.

The Aftermath

Two days later, I sat by the shores of Bow Lake, a place I once loved coming to for photography and peace. Looking up at the Glacier where all this took place, I felt nothing other than a great deal of sadness.

I revisited the same spot again a day later, and this time I felt anger. I was angry that not one person in the group had acknowledged the trauma I experienced. I threw rocks at the lake and knowing no one else was around I yelled, screamed and cried – trying to release all the pain I felt inside.

The group continued to share photos and memories of their epic adventure, a group photo of them all gathering and even a family photo at Bow Lake. Given a response to me reaching out with worries and fears after this traumatic day; The question to ponder is: can you do the job without the emotional load seeping in? I felt I could not share the emotional impact this had on me. Given my current mental state, I came to the painful decision that I could not perform the job I loved in a professional, light manner with a positive attitude, therefore I resigned.  

Six days later, I sat on a bed in a mountain lodge. Alone. Defeated. Ashamed. Feeling a sense of failure and desperation. I saw my notebook and my toiletries bag which contained enough medications, and a plan formed in my sick mind. My beautiful daughters came to mind and I realized I needed to call my husband and told him the truth, I had a plan and he needed to come get me as I feared for my life. His training as a Crisis Line Volunteer for Distress Centre kicked in. His main concern was me being alone until he could get there- which would take one and a half hours. He made me promise to call my daughter and friends as he would be out of cell range for most of the trip.

The first phone call was with my youngest daughter who is 17 years old, at that time I shared with her that I had a severe anxiety attack and didn’t want to be alone (she now knows the whole truth). I had reached out to two of my friends via text to let them know what was happening. The first friend called me immediately, and then shortly after my other friend called. Their compassion, kindness, wisdom and genuine care kept me safe until Neil arrived just before midnight – he drove late into the night and got me home safely.

The grief from the attempted suicide of a friends son, my dear friends death, depression, anxiety and hormonal fluctuations due to perimenopause (all experienced in this past six weeks), all played a part in this trauma. Had I been at my best self, maybe that day would not have been so traumatic. Maybe it would’ve played out the same. I don’t know for certain. What I do know now, is that I’m suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event, on top of the other struggles I’m facing. PTSD requires professional help, which thankfully I am receiving.

The aftermath of trauma is something to take seriously. It can’t be swept under a rug, avoided and hope it goes away. It demands your attention, because if you don’t, the emotional pain will continue and only worsen. It is imperative to acknowledge and create steps to move forward and heal, to work through the pain with the help of a mental health professional. I’m grateful to have caring, compassionate people in my life that want that for me and have the capacity to support me.

If you believe you are suffering from a traumatic event, there are resources available to you, please reach out for professional help immediately as the alternative is a very dark, lonely and dangerous place. 

PTSD Association Association of Canada – Coping Strategies

The Lifeline Canada Foundation

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention