‘Why suffer when there’s medication!’ I begged for help, no one heard.’: Widow suffers PTSD, finds herself, ‘I finally embraced the woman I once knew’’

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“Before everything changed, my life was quiet and normal—wife, mother of two. I had an established routine and I settled for what I had, as I was always very anxious from a young age and I never really knew why. I had a hard time facing people who were sick, I had never attended a funeral. I never liked that darkness of life.

Courtesy of Lynn Kenny

In August 2012, one phone call to the ER changed my life forever. I was by myself, I didn’t know who to call or even what to say. And just a few days later, it was confirmed: my husband had stage IV cancer with a survival rate of 6 months to 2 years if chemotherapy was started the next day.

At that moment I had to be strong for him, for my children, for our families. Adrenaline kicked in and I was in survival mode. Time was spent between home, treatments, and hospital stays until he suffered a stroke, was left paralyzed, and sent to the palliative care unit. He only wanted me around when he would pass away, and that’s how it happened, peacefully in May 2013. I was left a widow at age 43 with a 15 and 13-year-old to raise on my own. I didn’t have very much family support. I kept it together and within a few years, my body started to react to the stress and anxiety I was living with on a daily basis. At one point, I could barely move because my legs hurt. I was having terrible migraines, an upset stomach, and heart palpitations.

In my 20s, I was diagnosed with Psoriasis. Plaques covered parts of my body and the stress of course had made the condition worst. A physiotherapist advised me to get my level of inflammation tested and I was sent to a rheumatologist. I was told I had PsA, Psoriasis-Arthritis, but it was dormant. I was also diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and prescribed different anti-inflammatories and other meds to treat seizures, which made no sense to me. Of course, I was also told to lose some weight.

I felt like I no longer had control of my life and I started to feel depressed, keeping to myself, working from home as much as I could, and of course eating my emotions. After a visit with my doctor, I decided to use alternate methods, like eliminating certain foods and taking Tylenol for the pain. It worked for a while but my energy level was slowly decreasing. I was doing better while undergoing phototherapy to control my psoriasis, it was clearing my scabs and helping with the joint pain, but side effects put an end to that and I told my dermatologist I wanted to see a different rheumatologist. I was sent three hours away from where I lived and met my current specialist. I was put on Methotrexate and was told there could be some side effects. Blood tests would be required on a regular basis to monitor them. He confirmed I only had PsA and said, ‘Eat what you want, enjoy your life. Why suffer when you can take medication?’

Courtesy of Lynn Kenny

My children were now adults with lives of their own, though they did live at home while they attended university. I had no romantic relationships and was still living a widow life after 6 years. It was hard on me, I longed to be loved again. I felt empty more and more every day like my life no longer had a purpose. After all, my children were grown and no longer needed me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone except my psychologist. My future, as I saw it, was to survive until I could move into a retirement home at 55 because at least I wouldn’t be alone there.

Behind my smile, there was an empty soul, someone I no longer recognized.  My eyes would say it all but nobody ever noticed because I was very good at hiding how I really felt. The feeling of being stuck in molasses or in knee-deep water, trying to move forward, wanting to move forward, but with little success. My body could no longer follow, it wanted to stay behind and rest and sleep. Because I wasn’t really sleeping, I was constantly dreaming of my late husband. Those dreams were no happy reunions. They were dark, he was coming back to me but either dying again or happy with another woman while I was alone and sad. Those dreams escalated to visions of my own death; heart attacks, drowning, it didn’t matter how, it was always the same ending. I was screaming and begging for help, but nobody was coming to my rescue, nobody heard me.

I would wake up my arms wrapped around my chest, my wrists downwards in a childlike position, sweat dripping down my back and my legs, my heart beating at high speed. I was 49 and I assumed this was all part of my pre-menopause syndrome. I no longer wanted to go out, I wasn’t living, I wasn’t enjoying anything or anyone. I was fighting with my children, snapping at my co-workers. I was crying as soon as I would get home from work, behind a closed door, with only my dog to comfort me. I could barely move, I had no energy, I could only go up the stairs one step at a time while holding on to the support ramp. I was tired, out of breath, I was barely surviving at this point. Yet, I never said anything and kept it all to myself.

Courtesy of Lynn Kenny

Until one day, during a regular appointment with my psychologist, I said through tears, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I told him about the dream I had the night before. My late husband had come to visit me in that dream and told me if I let myself die, all my problems would go away and I would be with him again. My doctor looked at me with compassion. He listened as I told him I never contemplated suicide, but if I was ever getting diagnosed with cancer or some other disease, I wasn’t going for treatment, I would let myself die. I told him about the other dreams and how I tired I was. He left the room and came back with a questionnaire. I completed it and when he looked at it, he said he wanted me to complete another.

A few days later, he called me with the results. I was suffering from major depression and PTSD. I thought, ‘Wait, PTSD makes no sense. PTSD is for those in the army, police force, emergency crews, and rape victims, those who have suffered major trauma in their life.’ I was speechless. I had told him during our last meeting I needed some time off, to rest and get my life back together, I wanted to be able to move my body and I wanted to live again. He agreed but I knew it would be a struggle to convince my other doctor this was the way to go, which is exactly what happened. My other doctor cited a study that determined being off work is not beneficial for someone who is suffering from depression, as they need to be surrounded by people and they need to keep busy by working. Well, everyone is different, and this was not a good option for me as my body had been dragging behind for years now even as I worked. My psychologist had to intervene and I finally got my sick leave note for work. I barely had any sick leave left, I would have to rely on unemployment insurance and apply for short term disability benefits. I didn’t care about the financial stuff, I just wanted to sleep.

I was off for six months and my journey toward a healthier and happy me started in April 2019. During that time, I continued therapy and was sent to a physiotherapist who performed craniosacral therapy, which uses a light touch to relieve tension in the central nervous system and promotes a feeling of well-being by eliminating pain and boosting health and immunity. I could feel the benefits right away. My heart was being looked after and so was my body, but not one could be done without the other. I called my parents and told them I was off work, a leave I should have taken years back after my husband passed away. I told my children I was sick but didn’t go into the details of how I really felt, they were not mature enough to fully understand it as my psychologist explained. I was finally prescribed anti-depression medication as well as sleeping pills to help me deal with my mental health issues.

My family lives in the countryside and I always find going back there reinvigorating. I needed to recuperate and decided to spend more time in my home town. I felt secure in my childhood room, like I was in a bubble where I didn’t have to deal with all the stresses of my life. I felt like I was 18 again. My parents made sure I was eating and I started to enjoy life for the first time in so long. I opened up to my family and my closes friends about what I was actually going through, the depression, the dreams, everything. They were very supportive, they didn’t judge me or treat me like I was crazy but they did tell me I should have not felt that way, that what I had gone through was trauma and I should be very proud of what I had accomplished in the last few years, raising two amazing young adults, looking after a house and becoming independent. It helped me see that they were right, not all aspects of my life were bad.

Courtesy of Lynn Kenny

In July, I rented a cottage for two weeks by the river. I was close to my family but far from my children. I was alone and I was scared. I had never spent more than a few days away from them. My psychologist had taught me how to be mindful and how to ground myself. My first evening there, as I sat under the porch, watching the rainfall and the thundering rise, I knew I was going to be okay. I discovered how to enjoy my own company. I started to appreciate the small things in life. I listened to the birds, the wind, and the sound of the water while I was lying in a hammock. I slept a lot, I gave my body permission to rest. I finally put myself first.

A woman I once knew, happy, strong, and independent started to emerge. I embraced her, I started to love her, to love me. There was only one thing left to do. I needed to let go of my husband. I visited a place he used to go to with the children. A peaceful sanctuary in the woods where you could walk and pray. I sat down and started to pray in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. I asked Mary for help. I no longer wanted my husband to reach for me in my dreams—it was time for me to live my life, he needed to stay in my past. As I finished my prayer, I looked up and saw the sun come through the clouds. This was it, this was a new beginning for me.

I returned to work in October and people around me noticed some changes. My confidence was showing, I was glowing, I was dressing differently, I felt alive. I was walking with my head up and there was a smile in my eyes. I became the woman I was meant to be when I was born. I view life differently now. I no longer want to take anything for granted. I don’t sweat the small stuff, I live for the now, the present. My past is behind me for a reason. Nobody knows about their future, so why stress over it? I exercise, I eat healthily, I continue to be mindful. I’m close to my friends again.

Courtesy of Lynn Kenny

I have some bad days and some bad dreams but I no longer dwell on the negativity. I accept that it’s okay to be depressed once in a while but I talk to myself, I get back up and continue on, hoping for the best because I know I’m worth it and I know life is worth it. I am still single but my confidence continues to grow. I accept my body, I love the way I look and I never miss a chance to show off my curves. I am a very sexy woman in her early 50s, ready to conquer the world. One day a man will look into my eyes and see joy, excitement, and happiness. I will be loved again and if it’s not meant to be, I know one person who will love this woman unconditionally—me.

Courtesy of Lynn Kenny

Never let doubt dictate your life. Never let the darkness shield you from what you want and deserve. Mental illnesses are real, PTSD is real. Do things to make you happy, be proud of your accomplishments, whatever the size, take those baby steps. You are not alone, never hesitate to seek help. It’s hard work but it’s so worth it. As they say, life is a climb but the view is amazing.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lynn Kenny. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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