In March 2019, while eight months pregnant with my third son, I almost died. I unexpectedly got sick with the flu, which turned into pneumonia and then sepsis and then lung failure. I was put into an induced coma with life support and gave birth prematurely while unconscious.
My husband brought our baby home and worked tirelessly to maintain a low-stress environment as a nearly single father to three little boys. The Lord was watching over us, and our ward stepped in with meals, babysitting, driving, blessings, prayers, and fasting. I woke in the hospital after four weeks, endured multiple failed breathing trials, and was ultimately given a tracheotomy before I was able to meet my son. Miraculously, the day after I held my baby for the first time, I was able to breathe on my own and was sent home. I believe my survival was directly influenced by the faith exercised on our behalf and the Lord’s tender mercy. While the physical recovery was rapid, the toll this traumatic event took on my mind and heart was large.
Six months after my homecoming, I found myself suffering from anxiety, sleeplessness, and paranoia. I had nightmares that I was being hunted so I could be brought back to the hospital. I often woke screaming, afraid that I had stopped breathing or that the doctors had found me. I frequently questioned my reality and wondered if I was really home, if I had really survived. I sought escape all day and was overly stressed by normal daily tasks. My children became afraid of me, and my husband didn’t know how to help. I was experiencing a mental collapse as a result of PTSD.
I was struggling to keep hold of my rational self, so I communicated my feelings to the Lord in prayer. I listened for inspiration and wrote down ideas for anything I could do to solve the problem, not just run from it. My list looked like this:
- Find personal therapy for post-traumatic stress
- Join a support group
- Try marriage counseling and therapy for our kids
- Get a housekeeper and a nanny to help lift the load
- Regulate my hormones
I decided I should try as many as I could, so I scheduled appointments for different therapies, counseling from religious leaders, medical appointments, and hired help with tasks that continued to overwhelm me.
I tried it all because I didn’t have time to try one thing at a time. My children were young and resilient but also in their key learning years, and I wanted to provide a stable home environment for them. My marriage was strong and loving, but we had been through a major trauma together and had a lot of processing to do. I considered myself to be a strong, determined woman, but the evidence was proving that I needed help and wouldn’t be able to get through recovery without assistance.
One doctor confirmed that even after the harsh withdrawals from all the narcotics, paralytics, and other drugs have worn off, drug residue can cause side effects for up to three years following a medical event like mine. I understood, finally, that what was happening in my brain was chemical, a response to the medicines and the mental weight of the trauma I had endured.
Everything I tried was helpful and contributed to massive improvement, but the thing I believe made the biggest impact was the 12-step program. A friend in my ward attended the Addiction Recovery meetings with her husband. I had told them about my struggles with mental health after the hospital experience, and they responded with love and compassion and invited me to come see what a meeting was like. Her husband, a recovering alcoholic, told me that I was creating patterns in my behavior and emotional reactions that would be harder to break the longer I indulged them.
My brain was under a lot of stress, and I was responding to stimulation (kids crying or whining, a loud toy or cartoon, or a sudden mess) as if it were a threat to my safety. Sometimes, the trigger was enough to leave me screaming, breaking or throwing something, or driving away from home just so I could find some escape. My friends told me these patterns were like an addict responding to a trigger with drugs or alcohol. They said if I felt that my life was becoming unmanageable because of the issues in my brain, the group could help me learn how to retrain myself to respond to triggers more appropriately.
So I started going to Thursday-night meetings at the church. The people there gave me immeasurable support and understanding. Their stories told me I wasn’t alone. I had hit rock bottom when I felt I could be a danger to myself and my family. They understood my struggle and shared how they utilized the Savior’s Atonement to overcome their own habits. They made me feel, as a trauma survivor with a history of drug exposure, struggling to cope with emotional management (the same pattern-breaking issues as an addict), that I was welcomed and loved. I worked on the steps and continue to work on them.
The program helped me look at my patterns objectively and reestablish control over myself. I attended the temple, and I lifted my pain up to the Lord every Sunday as I took the sacrament. I prayed that the Lord would stand beside me as I walked through post-trauma. With His guidance and mercy, I was able to seek help, make necessary changes to my environment, stay aware of myself and make conscious changes to my behavior, and relearn how to cope with triggers.
I learned to offer my broken heart to Jesus for mending and safekeeping. I learned to trust the Master Healer and that if I offered my sincere efforts, He would make up the difference. Without a doubt, He did.