Trigger Warning(s): PTSD
Two days ago, I heard the kind of news one never hopes to hear: a massive earthquake struck my hometown. Its epicenter sits miles from my house in Anchorage, Alaska. Streets, homes, and major bridges folded into themselves. From half a world away, I felt devastated and helpless.
Immediately upon learning the news, I called my father on every line I could. He didn’t respond for over six hours. There are no words to describe that feeling—the not knowing. Though I knew deep down he would be okay, I could only bring myself to expect the worst. Six hours with no information or contact and my brain couldn’t help but jump to conclusions.
When we eventually got in touch, he described the terror as though his entire existence was shaking. He recalled the aftershocks—the follow-up earthquakes striking at random intervals. He couldn’t sleep through the paranoia of not knowing when the next aftershock would strike.
Though I did not experience this 7.1 magnitude earthquake, I have no trouble conceptualizing aftershocks. As someone living with PTSD, I often experience “aftershocks” of my trauma. Fragments of memories return to the surface and confront me. I return to the site of my trauma: sights, sounds, and smells included.
When I experience aftershocks, nowhere is safe for me. I used to avoid certain spaces or situations that could instigate another quake. But when one carries baggage this heavy, it follows them wherever they go. Like earthquake aftershocks, one cannot escape. Whether on low or high ground, the world will shake, regardless.
The earthquake came only days after I felt like I was navigating the world on unstable ground. A broken relationship threw me into deep water, leaving me treading to stay afloat. At the peak of my distress, I called a dear friend. I couldn’t conceptualize how, despite my commitment to prioritize myself, I could feel such agony over a future that would no longer exist.
“You’ve overcome far worse,” my friend said, referring to the event that still left me rattled, nearly two years later.
He was right. I had surely seen better days, but I had also proven my resilience through worse ones. The knowledge that I have survived circumstances that some may consider incomprehensible gives me strength on days I feel nothing but weak.
When you experience change, from up close, it can feel like the ground is crumbling beneath your feet. From near, it may look like a dark abyss, a hole of nothingness. However, when you look down from above, you can see the canyon that arose from your former floor. From further away, you’ll see the canyon for its beauty—not just its emptiness.
If and when you tiptoe into the newly-formed canyon, you’ll see the foliage starting to grow amidst the darkness below. In this canyon, you rebuild your terrain. This point at which the world felt like it crumbled under your feet just becomes a new landscape. Your landscape.
Change is okay. It allows us to grow into ourselves and enjoy the view, too.
By Tasha Boyer.