After going through such a traumatic loss having anxiety and being scared or jumpy all seemed to be part of the package. A year and a half in those feelings are still there. They might not be as intense as they were a couple of months after Erik’s passing, but they continue to just lie beneath the surface…until something triggers them again to feel as intense as they did that very day he died.
Last week I had a triggering event, one among many since Erik’s passing, but this hit a little differently than the others. Nothing has felt like home since Erik’s death and trying to find a place that at least felt safe for the twins and me wasn’t easy. After a lot of searching, we finally got settled in the place that made me feel safest among all the options. I think this is why I became so unsettled after the incident. It was what seemed like a regular Thursday afternoon. As I locked my door on the way out to pick up the twins a scent all too familiar hit my nose. I didn’t really think anything of it. Sometimes the smell of smoke will trigger me to think that I am smelling gunpowder. So I figured it was probably a neighbor who overcooked or burned something or my mind playing games on me. I made my way to the parking garage and got in my car. Driving down I didn’t even give it a second thought. As I approached the exit gate I saw a bunch of cops standing at the entrance in tactical gear. I stopped my car as they asked to check the trunk. I was one of the very few to get out before they mandated a shelter-in-place order. As the cop told me to stay away for a few hours I overheard some of the other cops talking. Something about an armed suspect bolting into the complex as a gate opened while being chased by cops from a store nearby, but all I heard were the words armed. The only thing running through my head at that point was there was someone with a gun in the place that I somewhat felt safe in since Erik’s death. I quickly thought back to the smell that hit my nose as I was leaving and couldn’t help but wonder if something happened or if it was just a coincidence. Mostly as this is a safe neighborhood and the complex is gated. What were the chances?
As I drove out of the gate after getting cleared I saw all the cop cars with lights flickering parked one after the next and this unsettling feeling started setting in. As I saw the entire complex surrounded by cop cars in my rearview mirror the unsettling feeling turned into panic. It took me right back to the day Erik passed. The flashback of the smell from the gunpowder, to the flurry of the first responders and noises, to the notification from the detectives. The knots returned to the pit of my stomach as I tried to catch my breath from the memories that were flashing in my mind as I continued to drive away. Being scared set in even deeper even though I knew I was driving away from the incident. I called my cousin and texted my widow squad group to calm me down. I couldn’t begin to explain how much it meant for me to have those people by my side. The ones that would respond right away to calm my nerves, the ones that knew exactly what to say, and the ones that continued to check in on me about this for the following hours, days, weeks, even the ones that would have flown out just to make sure I felt safe again. They were the ones that helped me through this trigger.
Not being able to go back to our place for a couple of hours after picking up the twins we spent it with family. During this time all I could think about was were they going to be able to catch this person in such a large complex? Will it be safe to go back? When will it be safe to go back? Even if I was told it was safe to go back would I feel safe again? The notification finally came through from the police department. They were clearing the area and it would be safe to go back soon. Soon. Then came the email from the complex, it is now safe to return to or leave the complex. Anxiety washed over me again as I read this. I thought I would be relieved we could go back. The cops wouldn’t clear it without it being safe right? Although I was slightly relieved I felt more scared than I thought I was going to be. Scared to go back to a place where I didn’t know what necessarily happened. Just the minimal facts that I had learned when I left. And not even knowing if they did catch this suspect or not. How could I feel safe? Could I really trust it was okay? Already being out of routine with the twins I decided it was already getting too late, it was time to go back.
On the drive back my stomach was in knots again. The darkness of the night definitely didn’t help. I found myself doing double takes as I walked the kids in from the garage to our place. I looked down each side of the hallway before I proceeded and jumped at every little sound I would hear. Once we got back in I found myself triple-checking that the door was locked behind me. That night was rough, the next couple of days were rough. Not much sleep combined with jumpiness and the feeling that I needed to constantly check behind my shoulder and look around each corner before I proceeded anywhere became so exhausting. Later finding out that this suspect pointed that firearm at one of the residents made me even more on edge as I came and went from our place, mostly when the twins were with me. I realized that these triggers will always be with me through my life after what I had gone through. Although this seemed to be one of those out-of-the-blue triggers, it will now be one that sticks with me. As I learned from other triggers, it will take time for me to heal, even if I may never be completely healed.