Specific trauma feels so far away

For as long as I’ve had this blog (9 years!), I’ve written annually around this time of year, about a hospitalization I went through at age 17. I was there for 19 days; it was voluntary but quickly became involuntary once it was clear I wasn’t actually based in reality.

This year, I wasn’t sure if was going to write anything. I’ve been thinking it over for the past few days. What else is there to say? I mean, there’s a lot, but is it worthwhile? Do I want to get back into the headspace? I’m not even sure if that’s possible anymore (which is mostly a positive thing.)

I started by opening a tab for each post I’ve made about it, so far. Rereading it all. I’m not sure why, but I think I want to try to plot out a timeline, even if it’s hazy and incomplete.

November 12 – December 1, 1999 – hospital
Spring of 2001 – wrote down everything I could remember, for a college course
Next 10+ years – continued to get blindsided by the emotional intensity of this trauma, all the time, but especially mid-November
Spring of 2012 – talked a lot about it, tentatively, in therapy, which really started to help
2013 – got a copy of the medical records. Was disappointed at how boring and repetitive they were. There were some nuggets though, for sure. First wrote about it on my blog.
2014 – brought the records to therapy. Watched my therapist zero in on the paperwork as if she were working out a puzzle. She kinda tore it apart, actually! This was both alarming and calming. Something was definitely lifting.
2015 – I got the records back from my therapist (she had been hanging on to them for me). I had been hospitalized earlier in the year, for the 2nd time for the same reasons, and it started to sink in that I might actually have bipolar disorder, type 1, might have had it this whole time.
2016 – didn’t dwell on it. Lots of other things were going on.
2017 – I was hospitalized for a third time, and the traumatic event was starting to be re-contextualized as just, one of the times I was hospitalized.
2018 – This is where I really started to rework things. I’m not sure how to distill that down into a sentence; it’s just pretty amazing to be able to look back on this journey.
2019 – This was the 20th anniversary of my first hospitalization. I wrote that I thought all this writing might serve a future purpose; I just wasn’t sure what yet. I included a photograph of a re-working of different photos I did for a college project, in the spring of 2002.
2020 – I wrote about starting work on a memoir, and the raw material from that college course in 2001 factors into it, but I couldn’t get myself to revise that stuff; make it more cohesive. I was working hard on everything else surrounding it.
2021 – I had gotten past that block and had reworked the writing quite a bit.
Earlier in 2022 – I was clearing out a lot of old stuff from a storage area in my parents’ house, this spring. I save everything. In sorting through all that stuff and reorganizing it to bring to my house, I found a hand-written letter my mom had given to me while in the hospital. I had been looking for this ever since then! I even asked her about it; I was at a loss for where it might have gone. It was in response to a letter I wrote her – that piece is still a mystery, but it was so healing to finally find this thing.

Present day (my 10th time posting about this) – I’m stuck. My memoir is off track and I’m sad about it. I started to revise it drastically in a whole different direction for a long time, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore and so I stopped. I haven’t touched it for over 6 months. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of journal writing, emailing my therapist, the usual. Recently, I started on ideas for a 2nd memoir. I’m starting to feel a little more serious about writing overall; I think I have three different stories to tell. Working on this other memoir has felt rewarding, but it’s not the story. I want to get back to this traumatic event and the events surrounding it. I feel like I might be on the cusp of getting back to it…

In those early posts about the hospitalization, I kept ascertaining that I didn’t need to be there, that it was extreme, and I didn’t actually lose a grip on reality until I got there. I see it much differently now. I definitely was going to need to be there – it was more a matter of when? If I hadn’t gotten my mom to get me there, I would have eventually had to go some other way. I know that now. And I could have ended up doing a lot more long-term damage. It’s kinda incredible that at 17, I had enough insight to know I needed to get there. Somehow, I saved myself. (In looking back over all these posts, I realized I wrote something very similar in 2018. For me, writing and recording and reviewing and revisiting all overlap and blend into each other. I’m starting to feel like maybe I am a memoirist? And trying to understand this one experience could be the impetus that has been pushing me there?)

Incorporating a traumatic event into a narrative, pt. 2

Every year around this time, since starting this blog eight years ago, I revisit the events surrounding a hospitalization that happened when I was 17. That was 22 years ago now, and I’m getting closer toward a goal of sharing my writing about it with a wider audience. Two years ago, I wrote, “Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.” Last year, I wrote that I was actively working on a memoir, in which the hospitalization plays a large part, but I was avoiding revising that portion. I had a lot of other work to do at that point, so it was easy to not get to it.

This year, I can say that I have a fairly cohesive draft of the entire memoir complete, and I am now forcing myself to get in there with the hospitalization “interlude.” I’m calling it an “interlude” because it’s written in a much different style than the rest of the piece. We’ll see if I keep that phrasing. Almost all of it, I wrote twenty years ago, for a class in college. It’s super disjointed, out of sequence, and jarring. Which, in a lot of ways, works, I think. I was going through a psychotic break. But I definitely needed to get in there to help readers orient themselves. I started to straighten out the timeline a bit. I added a lot of information about when I first got there, and my relationship with my mom, who brought me, at the time. It feels doable. I am glad I can finally start to face it down.

Other than that though, I’m stuck. I feel like it’s been so long ago that I no longer have any firsthand memories. It’s hard to conjure a feeling. (Which is amazing because I used to feel like it was always looming over my head.) I have all this writing, which I think is very accurate because I recorded it so closely in time to the events. I’m trying to figure out how to improve on it.

At this time, the event feels like a mosquito crystalized in amber. Or any other thing that’s trapped in a protective casing. And I’m trying to extract its essence without tampering with it too much. I’m trying to bring it back to life.