My name is Jenny Saxe, I am thirty-three years old, and I didn't trust anyone. After three years of military training, numerous assignments ending in open fire and explosives, and watching my best friends die at the hands of traitors and enemies, I had no choice but to ignore seemingly acts of friendship or a simple comment. In my mind, any form of communication was hostile.
When I came back to the States I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. I was afraid that the person next to me in line at Costco was a third world terrorist, planning to blow the joint with a handy M27 and explosive.
My therapist recommended I join a group to help me get through my emotions. To sort my mind out and to put my past in the past. I quickly declined. I didn't need some sort of emotional support group crying their eyes out and relaying details just to make me cut open closed wounds. I had already put some things behind me, and people that went through the same stuff I did and talking about it? I could never handle that.
Instead, as a compromise, I decided to join something that wasn't just made up of Combat PTSD patients, but instead a group that was generalized. A mix of people from different backgrounds, and other reasons for being emotionally wounded. Maybe I could then take my eyes off of my own problems and see other people's hurts.
A woman that I knew recommended a group called, 'Every Woman's Division', a club type gathering for recovering PTSD patients. She said that it was meant to take your mind off of your worries instead of onto them. It sounded like the place for me.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
One mediocre Tuesday evening I found myself in my old Volvo in the middle of a parking lot of a café called, 'Le Tiens'. I tapped my foot incessantly on the dirt encrusted mat of the car. I tried to give myself every reason why I shouldn't go in, but my mind graciously returned it with the present of every reason I should. Five minutes after the time it started I sighed and hesitantly got out of the car. Better late than never. I slammed the door shut and walked in the direction of the café.
As I walked in a little bell chimed. There was a counter where a young woman stood behind. She seemed relatively mentally stable. I looked in the corner where a man sat sipping a coffee and working on a computer. A couple other people were spread out, either alone, on a date, or with a friend. In the furthermost corner however sat three women. An older lady, a younger woman, and an older teenager. I expected that was my group.
I walked over and tried to plaster a semi-healthy looking smile on my beaten face. I was nowhere near smiling in my mood, in fact I was quite on edge. What if the group was just a set up for something deeper or darker? What if these people knew who I was and were just waiting for a chance to pounce on my fragile mental state? I wanted to run out that door, hop in my car, and speed to my home. I wanted to call my mom and weep for hours trying to let her calm voice soothe me. But I was a big girl, I wasn't a boys-obsessed teenager, I wasn't a romantic young adult, I was a mid-thirties lady that needed to get ahold of herself.
I ordered a hot-cocoa and walked towards the women. The oldest lady saw me first. She had greying dark brown cork-curled hair wrapped into a loose bun. Her eyes seemed to scan me. I felt as if she could see the torment of my soul. The anxieties and fears and hopes dashed. That was impossible.
I tried to analyze her, I had learned a thing or two from the armed forces. Her eyes were saddened, yet she had a happy shaped mask in front of them. Her mouth was curved in an I-have-to-smile, much like mine. She seemed more to grips with her emotions than I was, and more experienced in home life than I was. I could tell by her posh non-ripped jeans she didn't care much for trends and that she was unique to herself.
By the time I had come to that conclusion I had made my way to the table. The older woman stood up and welcomed me, like I said: I got the impression she knew who I was, which didn't help my anxiety.
"Hello! Are you here for the 'Every Woman's Division'?" She asked, all bright smiles.
"Yes, my name is Jenny." For whatever reason I didn't feel like including my last name. Possibly I just needed the extra sense of security that she didn't know something about myself that I did.
"Hello! My name is Sammie Scott. The young woman on the left is Adelaide York, and the girl on your right is Liv Anderson." At that point she seemed too happy. Maybe it was just my anxiety or maybe I was noticing abnormal behavior that needed to be addressed. Thats the problem with PTSD, you are stuck in your own mind and you don't know truth from falsity.
Adelaide was a woman in her mid-twenties. She had brown hair in a braided twist and light colored eyes. She was very shy looking and to the point of tears. She didn't try to hide her sorrow, in fact it looked like she was trying to showcase it. She seemed very tired and hurt. She had had some close one die or grow very ill and was guilty about it. I know because I had been in the very same position.
Liv was the older teenager. She looked to be anywhere from seventeen to nineteen. She had very thin clusters of blonde white hair and had bluish white eyes as well. She was very unique looking. Her skin was sallow and pale. I wouldn't be surprised if she was in the process of fending off a deadly disease.
I nodded at the three woman, trying to hide every emotion that was coming to my head. It was all about the mask. Keep your face cleared, your mind on top of things, and push people away and you will stay safe. Of course it wasn't really living, it was just existing, but I didn't think like that at the time.
"Well, now that we've got introductions underway, let's move on to the basics of the meeting," Sammie started as she sat down and invited me to do the same, (which I did), "We are here today to help each other grow...through writing." She looked at each of us, one at a time.
"Umm, writing?" I asked, suppressing a giggle. Was this lady serious? No one had said writing! It was supposed to be a group to lead us away from our emotions, not to write stories of princes and princess and fairy tales and dragons!
"Yes, writing. Did no one tell you, Miss...Jenny, was it?...That 'Every Woman's Division' is a writing circle for PTSD patients?" Sammie asked with a raised eyebrow and a southern drawl.
"No, not a soul thought to tell me that. I don't write! I don't care for stories or reading or writing. I wasn't that kid that excelled in literature in school!" I was about to get up and walk off.
Liv looked at me dead-on for the first time. She seemed to gain some confidence suddenly and stared at me with her pale white blue eyes.
"I wasn't either. I never thought to write stories to help suppress emotion. I didn't think telling the tale of another's life would help my own. But it does, it gives me the control I needed to not go into a panic attack." A tear came to her eye and she rocked her body back and forth. "A year ago I was...umm...diagnosed with cancer. It has gotten to be terminal and I have...three weeks or less to live. Tomorrow I might not be able to step out of my bed, so this might be the last time I see any of you. I have learned that the love of writing can be spread. So I want to spread it to you...Jenny." She looked back at the floor and closed up again. Curtains seemed to shut over her eyes. That was the first and last words I heard out of Liv. Even Sammie seemed genuinely surprised.
I was honored that someone in her position would share her story and her passion with me. A person that was destined to die before her time, a person that could hardly talk and was only just starting to really live, was the one person that touched me the most.
"I will give writing a try." I said under my breath.
The other women had brought computers or other writing utensils, but I didn't know about anything so I just ended up using my iPhone.
We started out by doing focused writing exercises. First we did speed-writing where we just dumped our brains on a page. Whatever we thought or heard or felt went on the page. It was good but hard.
Next we worked on character development. We wrote the background of a person that we saw randomly without knowing anything about them. I used a woman that had just left the shop, I made up her whole life story without knowing a thing about her. It woke my imagination up after a long hard hibernation.
Finally we ended the day by brainstorming a long-term project: writing a full on book. It would take place over a six-month period of time and would build upon itself.
I made my first friends in three years that night. Over the course of a week I learned about these people who made up 'Every Women's Division.'
Adelaide was a twenty-five year old woman that had given birth to a still-born child. She had been air-lifted to a remote hospital and it had been a severely traumatic experience. She wasn't much of a talker, but she made sure her waterfalls of tears were shone.
Sammie had been neglected and racially abused as a child for the color of her skin. She had been shipped to foster care and had bounced from home to home until she was eighteen. At that age she married herself off to an abusive husband who took advantage of her. She divorced and ran away and at the age of forty she had remarried. She still suffered from memories and dreams, just as each of us did.
That was our pasts. Like any life our futures were unknown to us, but now I can say what would befall us.
Liv passed away two weeks after the first meeting. She went humbly in her bed, with her mother holding her hand. According to Sammie she had once had a wonderful singing voice, she loved music and songs and she had written a few of her own. Her mother had sung love songs and hymns as she passed.
Adelaide became a speaker for mothers who had had a child die or had a still born baby. She continued to bring hope and warmth towards the people around her and saved many hopeless lives.
Sammie continued on with 'Every Woman's Division'. She shepherded women with PTSD through writing and communication.
I learned to trust. I learned to live. I learned to love. I gained relationships and even married a wonderful man and had two boys. I would probably still be stuck in an isolated apartment fearing for my life if it weren't for that club. I published a book for PTSD patients and steadied my anxieties.
If I were to introduce a book about myself now, here is what I would say.
"My name is Jenny Collins, I am eighty-nine years old, and I have learned to trust. After anxiety exercises, numerous relationships grown, and watching people learn to accept me, I am at peace."