For about a year in 2014/2015, I was under continual emotional distress mixed with depression, severe anxiety, panic disorder, and worsening insomnia. The cause was outside my control, and I just kept spiraling further into a mental health crisis despite weekly sessions with a wonderful therapist and a team of doctors trying to get my medications right. When you have complex PTSD and are living with continual triggers, there is no coping. No healing. No escaping. At some point, you break.
During that year of crisis and trauma, I did everything I could to keep myself from dying. That may sound over-the-top melodramatic, but it’s not. Let’s put it this way: Once, there was a loud bang near me while I was in the kitchen, and the next moment I was paralyzed in a squat with my hands over my head, and literally couldn’t move my muscles for half an hour. I nearly passed out more than once when overcome by severe panic attacks out of nowhere (the sort of panic attacks that actually drop your blood pressure and slow/stop your heart for a second or two). Etc. This isn’t about the symptoms, though. It’s about the ways I tried to survive. Some of those ways were good, like going to a therapist and gathering an online group of close friends to help support me. Some of those ways were not so good, like binge-eating and drinking too much alcohol. When you’re in the midst of continual crisis, however, “good” and “bad” cease to matter, because survival is survival, period.
It’s been a few years since that terrible time. Not all of those years have been pleasant, but the more time that passes, the more I’ve been able to heal. For over two decades, I had specific triggers related to my PTSD that I’d learned to manage, but all of a sudden, there was an entire year of mixed up triggers. To this day, I’m still discovering them and working them out. Two days ago, I discovered a new one.
When Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater was announced, I was thrilled. I loved the Raven Cycle books, so I definitely wanted to read the next splinter series! Several months ago, I preordered the audiobook, read by Will Patton (same reader as the Raven Cycle). The book released over a week ago, and I downloaded it, but didn’t start listening. I was already listening to another book, I told myself, even though it was a many-times-reread book that I could have easily interrupted. Did I examine my reservations? No. I just put off the book for a bit over a week. Then I decided to just get on with it – another sign I probably ought to have paid attention to (and didn’t).
I can’t write a review of Call Down the Hawk. I began feeling triggered early on in the reading, and because there was no known trigger being pressed, I just ignored the feeling. I began eating junk food. I began drinking. And I kept that way for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t binge or drink to the point of getting drunk or anything – I was lucid all through the audiobook – but the feeling of unease and drinking to alleviate that unease got all jumbled up with the story and Will Patton’s voice. I could not even begin to pick apart how I feel about Call Down the Hawk, separate from what was clearly (at least clear to me now) a PTSD attack.
Thankfully, in hindsight it was really easy to pick out the trigger. I listened to the first few books in the Raven Cycle in the fall of 2014. I listened to them over and over again, went to other books, and then went back to re-listened again. You know how some songs or books or smells have particular memories and feelings attached to them? You hear a few notes and suddenly you feel like you’re somewhere else entirely? I’ve always felt that intensely, often combined with a vast amount of nostalgia. But you don’t really have nostalgia for horrible, traumatic moments. I love those books, I love those audiobooks, but they are utterly and completely attached to the dumpster fire that was my life that autumn.
I didn’t anticipate this. I didn’t think realize hearing Will Patton’s voice and experiencing the new adventures of these characters would bring forth the panic, anxiety, and pain in muted, uncomfortable form. I didn’t prepare myself to deal with the situation in a better way, but instead fell to the default of Then. I won’t beat myself up for the lapse – I know my body and brain were just doing their best to protect me – but I’m also not going to pretend that my thoughts about Call Down the Hawk aren’t colored by past trauma. One day I’ll go back and reread, either in print or via audio. At that point, I’ll write up a real review. In the meantime, this will do as a combination placeholder, confession, and personal experience of complex PTSD.