That Time I Almost Went to Disneyland

Growing up, my family never went on any vacations. One year when I was eight, we traveled to Tennessee for a family reunion. I didn’t know anyone on that side of the family and never made friends quickly anyway. I don’t remember any other time we traveled somewhere that didn’t involve moving. We lived in about six or eight different states before I turned six-years-old. We were always moving to a new place. My father worked for interstates as an electrician and we traveled to where he would work. We settled in Oklahoma and stayed for several years.

I thought my childhood was normal. As I got older, I repressed most of my trauma. Any memories I did have, I didn’t think were that bad. I thought everyone lived through things like that. I looked at photos a lot as a child. I’d see pictures of myself as a baby or toddler and never remembered anything from that time. Most people don’t remember being a baby. I saw pictures from before I was born. These were interesting because it was life prehistory. A time before life. More often than not, my family had to tell me who was in the photos.

One photo from the summer of 1986, the year I was born, showed two little girls standing in between their two parents. The mother was pregnant. The photo looked faded and old in the standard four by six size. They were my two older sisters and parents at Disneyland. There were other photos of the girls on various rides like the teacups. The rumor is they no longer have the teacups ride. At the time, the family lived in Southern California and would for another two years. In those first two years of my life, the family never went back to Disneyland.

I went through grade school hearing other kids talk about their time at Disneyland. I would joke and say I’d never been, but I had the food. They’d look at me in confusion. I would explain my mother was pregnant with me when the family went. They would nod and look awkward until the subject changed. I grew older and older sharing this same story. People would become enraged shouting how they didn’t understand how I had never been to the happiest place on Earth. Before now I don’t think I could have comprehended what happy meant.

I have ridden rollercoasters where they take your photo. My picture would show me grimacing. I didn’t think the rides were as exciting as everyone else. The rides which pushed the limits are the only ones I find exciting. The only rides I actually smiled in the photo. I can think of two. No more. As a kid, I don’t think I would have appreciated Disneyland for what it had to offer. I’m not sure if I will now. It’s rare to find someone in their 30s who hasn’t been to Disneyland. The closest I’ve found is someone was 25 or 26 when they first went.

I’m not saying my family stopped going on vacations after I was born because of me, but I am saying my childhood was not great and enjoying things can be difficult. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get to visit this magical place. Part of me wants to and another part cares less and less each year. I think I will go one day and it’s possible I’ll go alone. Just so I can say I did it. But I think the point of a place like that is to enjoy it with people you love. That’s the part I’m still working on.

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Healing Through Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Poetry has played a significant role in my healing process. I spent many years discovering myself and learning how to heal. The things hurting me were not always clear. I wrote my first poem when I was 15 in 2002. Terrible does not describe those early poems, but I continued writing. Making sense of my emotions proved difficult. I didn’t understand myself completely. My childhood memories sat repressed in my mind making me feel and react to things. I never knew the cause until I began to heal.

As my trauma resurfaced, my poetry evolved. I had found my voice. After years of struggling with expressing myself, everything flowed with ease. In writing about my thoughts, fears, and anxieties, a blanket of burden lifted. I felt connected to those closest to me. I never felt connected to anyone. Poetry gave me the opportunity to understand my emotions and develop my thoughts. When I get an idea to write something, I often consider it as a poem first before other writing options. I don’t often have the money for therapy. Poetry acts as therapist to help me work through difficult problems.

I have a long way to go yet, but I’m confident that I’ll find my way to recovery. Writing poetry has kept me going for this long. I imaging I’ll write until I can’t type or lift a pen anymore. Everyone is different and I understand that writing poetry may not help others heal. I do encourage everyone to try. Especially during National Poetry Month. I wouldn’t call most of my poems great or inspiring. I have pride for creating something and I’d rather create than destroy. Creating something is what leads to healing. I recommend practicing an art form to anyone who struggles to heal.

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I Read/Write/Watch Horror to Cope with My Mental Illness

I always enjoyed horror though I never considered myself a fan of horror. I remember watching Tim Curry portray Pennywise the Clown in “IT” (1990) when I was three or four. I pretended to sleep while my parents (and I) watched the film “Dr. Giggles” (1992) about an escaped mental patient who kills with a surgical theme when I was six. I saw the film “Return to Cabin by the Lake” (2001) about a murderous screenwriter as a teenager. These films standout because they reminded me of suppressed trauma. Repressed memories that only recently returned.

I recall watching many films and having no emotional response. Scenes that made most tear up left me feeling numb or indifferent. I felt out of place and segregated from everyone else who had ‘feelings.’ Even horror films didn’t scare me or make me jump. I felt I knew the scares were coming. In high school and the first few years of college, I was described as ‘creepy’ by many of my peers. I could easily sneak up and scare others. I’d walk behind them for several minutes before they noticed me. One friend remarked after going through a haunted house it didn’t scare them because they had known me for so long.

I didn’t become an avid reader until my late 20s, but I’ve always had interest in writing. In the first grade, I wrote a detective story. It had all the tropes of film noir though I didn’t know what those were at the time. Film noir has similar elements to horror with suspense building and dealing with killers without the fantasy elements. I always enjoyed reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe and he is considered the creator of the detective story.

Many of the stories I have written or plan to write deal with death in one way or another. Some may not be called horror stories but still have death somewhere. I have written a few detective stories as well and they’re much better than that first one in the first grade. Serial killers, murderers, monsters, and people who’ve lost their minds take center stage in many of my stories. These are the topics in which I am most interested. Why do I have this fascination with killers, monsters, and madmen? Why would anyone want to think about these horrors?

I believe this is my way of coping with my own trauma. Upon writing this, I am 32. My trauma began when I was four. It had such an impact on me, I had to begin anger management counseling when I was six. We were cleaning up one day in class to go to recess. I was putting away a puzzle or something and this other boy tried to help. I told him I got it. He helped anyway. I got angry and hit him with a chair. I reacted with violence because I was exposed to violence at home. I thought that was the best response.

As I’ve aged, repressed memories resurfaced, and I’ve started to feel. I tear up during emotional scenes in romantic comedies or dramas. I can feel my heart racing during chase scenes in horror or action films. Horror films and horror fiction remind me of the violence and terror I experienced as a child without causing a panic attack. Writing horror fiction, I believe, is my way of dealing with the trauma and getting all the pain out. My mind has tried to pull my repressed memories forward through horror fiction. I think this is why horror is becoming even more popular as so many traumas continue in our chaotic world.

I am not the only person to experience this and this is not exclusive to PTSD. People with different anxiety disorders have a similar affinity toward horror fiction. Here are a few other articles I’ve found on the subject.

How do you feel about horror when it comes to your mental health? Is it helpful as it is for me or do you struggle with watching or reading horror?

Photo Credit: James & Carol Lee

Repressed Memories Resurface With C-PTSD

Growing up, I never realized my childhood wasn’t normal. I thought my life was similar to everyone else’s but with a different order of events or situations. I was 30 before everything started coming back. Small pieces at first. I didn’t have an official diagnosis, but I knew I had anxiety and I researched everything. This is when I first started contributing to The Mighty. As I continued researching, more memories returned; repressed memories. Repression of childhood trauma. I lived in the trauma for so long I thought it was normal. I thought domestic violence was normal.

It started when I was four. This was the first incident and I have few memories from anything prior. I’m told its normal for people to not remember much from their early childhood, but I feel the trauma has something to do with my lack of memories. The trauma continued for years. My older sister recalled I would rock back and forth with my arms crossed every time my parents started arguing. I don’t remember this. She said I did it for three or four years. There are so many things I don’t remember and part of me doesn’t want to remember.

After those years, I became emotionally detached. As I aged and went to high school and college, I had trouble relating to my peers. They didn’t understand my perspective and I didn’t see the joy in life they all saw. Few people wanted to spend time with me. When someone did, if they poked fun or ridiculed me, I would leave. They always thought I was bluffing. I grew up being ridiculed and treated like I was nothing. I didn’t want to be around that anymore. I spent nearly 30 years without emotional support from anyone. That’s a long time to feel alone.

I have a long journey ahead of me and I feel I won’t be able to have a healthy romantic relationship for many more years. I’m only now starting to get emotional support from other people. It’s only a handful of people but it’s a start. And I provide emotional support for them. I’m not broken but I need to heal. I’ll never be fully healed. The damage is too deep, and I spent years without treating it because I didn’t know I had damage. Time heals all wounds? Maybe. This wound needs all the time I have. If your wounds feel like too much, don’t give up. Give your wounds the time they need. Don’t stop fighting.

How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal

How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal

I never realized I was struggling with mental illness until I started having panic attacks. A month passed before I realized these were panic attacks. At first, I thought I had anxiety, and the stress from my job made it worse. I was a bouncer at a nightclub surrounded by drunken fools, many of which used alcohol to overcome their own anxieties. I removed myself from that situation and eliminated many other stresses in my life. I felt I was improving but still had a long journey ahead. I felt good and optimistic until the repressed memories resurfaced.

I hadn’t fully looked at the trauma from my childhood. It was worse than I remembered and what I remembered was worse than I thought. The only true memory I have of the trauma was the first incident. I was 4, my father was drunk and beat my mother. I have no memories before this and only a few spotty memories shortly after. I thought lack of childhood memories was normal, but most of mine are repressed. The epiphany came when my sister shared her memories. She is 4 years older, and her memories from that long ago are clearer.

She told me about a time when she was 10. She sat on the couch watching cartoons as our mother sat next to her reading. Our father came home and started screaming at our mother. She screamed back. My sister turned up the volume on the TV and continued watching cartoons. Our father sat on the other side of my sister, and our parents continued screaming at each other. The argument became so heated, our father put his arm in front of my sister to choke our mother. My sister sat up a little more to look over his arm so she could continue watching cartoons.

This is a perfect example of how common violence was growing up in our home. My own memories returning and hearing my sister’s memories created an existential crisis. Everything about my personality I felt made me unique and set me apart from everyone else were only symptoms. Most of my personality traits were caused by Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve had to search for new ways to identify myself. I didn’t know who I was for a brief time. I’m doing better, but I’m still re-establishing my personal identity.

This can make it difficult to make connections with other people when I’m still trying to reconnect with myself. When I do make connections, I fear they’ll leave like so many others have. I fear they’ll push me away or I’ll push them away. Talking about and writing about my experiences helps me reclaim ownership and identity. Some people don’t like talking about their trauma, and that’s okay too. I need to tell people about my trauma, or I’ll feel I have no purpose. I write to have a purpose. I write to feel I belong. I write to be identified. Everyone’s healing process is different.

By James Pack

Photo Credit: Elijah O’Donell