I had been seeing her for a few weeks, and today’s session was no different from any of the others. I sat in her Chicago office nervously spewing my life’s stories, some from the present but most from the past, all the while hoping desperately for answers to the questions I was too afraid to ask. Why couldn’t I feel happiness? Why couldn’t I maintain a relationship? What was wrong with me?
As usual, she nodded occasionally, took random notes and said nothing. There were no comforting words. No supportive smiles. Does she think I’m crazy? Should I keep talking? How is this helping me?
Fifteen minutes into the session, I knew I couldn’t tolerate her stoic expression anymore. I couldn’t bear to regurgitate another story from my string of failed romances or my troubled relationship with my father and stepmother. If she wasn’t going to offer a diagnosis, I would have to ask for one. I wanted a label, something to which I could attach the pain, the fear, the emptiness. If I gave it a name, perhaps it would finally go away.
So I did it. I asked her the question I was most afraid to ask. I asked her what was wrong with me.
And she gave me the label I thought I wanted to hear: post-traumatic stress disorder.
But how could that be? I was a 26-year-old magazine editor. I had never served in the military or held a dangerous job. I had never been the victim or witness of a violent crime. How could I have PTSD?
She explained that children who lose a parent at a young age often experience PTSD symptoms, even into adulthood. My mother had died when I was a toddler. I had no memory of her death or any effect it might have had on me. But there it was: the reason I couldn’t visualize my own future, the reason I felt perpetually detached from others, the reason happiness seemed constantly out of reach, the reason change terrified me.
I had lived with my mother’s death all my life, yet I had no idea, until that moment, how much it had haunted me.
* * *
Several friends back home had told me about the “Love Lock” bridge in Paris, where couples attach locks to symbolize their undying love, and I had hoped to visit it during our family’s trip there earlier this month. But when you cram London, Paris and Amsterdam into a seven-day visit, some things just don’t make the cut on your itinerary. When we stumbled upon the bridge during our walk to Notre Dame, I was thrilled at the chance to squeeze it into our adventure.
Our visit to the bridge was unplanned, so we had to buy a lock and borrow a marker from a street vendor. I wrote our last name and the year on it, while my husband and children searched for a vacant spot on the lock-laden bridge. Apparently there is a lot of undying love in the City of Light. When we finally settled on a location and affixed the lock, I was overwhelmed with emotion. This trip had been both an ending and a beginning for us. Summer was over and my oldest child was about to start high school. I had spent much of the past few months struggling with my own fears about the changes in his life and ours. I had been worrying so much about all the bad things that could happen that I hadn’t been able to see the good.
As we stood there on that bridge in Paris — my husband of almost 18 years, my 14-year-old son, my 12-year-old daughter and 45-year-old me — I imagined my kids returning to it as adults. I saw them married with children of their own. I pictured my husband and me coming back as silver-haired grandparents. I knew we would be holding hands, and I knew we would still be in love.
On that bridge with my family, I saw the future for the first time in my life. And it was happy.
I am so happy for you and for your incredible trip. I love that you stood on that bridge with your family and saw a future that is beautiful and bright.
Thanks, Sam! So many great memories from that trip.
What a beautiful family and beautiful words. Everyone deserves to see such happiness.
Thanks so much, Bill! I agree: Everyone does deserve that kind of happiness. Hope all is well with you and yours. Nice to hear from you!
So very happy you are able to imagine the future now! I’ve never heard of that bridge but now I have a reason to want to go to Paris some day. Happy to read you again 🙂
Aww, thanks, Robbie. I hope you are doing well.
P.S. I can give you about 100 more reasons to visit Paris. I am already dying to go back.