A swarm of Jellyfish in a dark tank.

Unwanted Holidays

Most people when asked what comes to mind when they think of a “holiday” will likely describe something along the lines of: “A time for relaxation, rest and ease celebrated through a mix of tradition and family.” You might hear a bit about the stresses around planning, travel, dealing with family, or finances. For a trauma survivor though holidays can be difficult to navigate without reliving the past.

For most people, a holiday celebration can be a bit like a trip to Disneyland, a carefree time with a joyous surprise around every corner. For someone like me it is more akin to a trip to Edisto Beach, South Carolina which has a surprising number of (mostly harmless) jellyfish.

Looking over the sun drenched sand and water, all seems right with the world. Wading out into the water, first ankles then calves swishing through the salty foam swirling in and out with the waves, toes dig into the sand underneath. Sand that washes away a bit with each wave that pulls back out to sea leaving a slightly less sure footing. Serene and calming, the water entices further steps until suddenly jellyfish surround. They wash by in the ebb and flow as the water grows slightly deeper. Wondrous forms captivating all around, the touch of them on skin tingly, fleeting and pleasant. Then a transient burning, twisting which causes a sudden gasp.

No mind, a sensation quickly forgotten, yes perhaps but a passing sensation. The calm flowing enchantment of the jellies soothes the body as the mind drifts. Moving forward again after that unreal interlude. Sun and sky above, ethereal jellies encompassing the body below as joy dawns from watching their forms. Searing, tearing unexpected pain wraps the body cutting through all. Back out of the water, stumbling up the beach, collapsing onto a towel as breath tries to cut through pain. Conscious effort to breathe, to make things at least OK with the world again…

I spend most of my life not knowing certain things, simply because knowing them would be too much to bear. I couldn’t possibly know those kinds of things and still be a functional person in our world. So knowledge is hidden, buried safely from my awareness. Yet, like the unseen stinging jellyfish, hidden memories always lie in wait to ambush me, mores on a holiday.

It seems for most people memories associated with holidays are stronger, and easier to access. Pleasant memories of the past reinforce present experiences making them more enjoyable and reinforcing them. One memory connects and leads to another. Thinking of Memorial day leads to memories of grilling, then watermelon and swimming. That may lead to connected memories such as the smell of sun screen and the feel of a blanket on the sand. Pleasant enough.

With my experiences, each of those connected memories is a minefield of stinging jellies. I never know which memory will be connected to something that will leave me remembering too much, triggered and struggling to breathe on that beach. So this Memorial day I’m actually relieved to be home, to be having a quiet holiday as are so many others.

Summer holidays usually leave me asking the universe fora day of rain to give me relief from crowds, heat, grills, and fireworks. A reason to stay home where I can limit the number of memories I must stumble across and safely manage the triggers that will inevitably flow from them. Well, and I just love rain.

Rain pulls me right down to the ground, roots my feet to the dirt below me and connects me to the earth. It blots out the world and drowns out sound. Standing in the rain it is impossible for me to be in the future or the past. Sound fills my ears, cool moistness touches my skin, mist fills my vision, the smell of a wet world floods my nostrils. There is nothing for me but this moment in time. The world, for just a moment, is right.

So here I sit on our balcony, eating hot dogs, salad and potato chips while I watch the world go by. Sad for the state of the world which is keeping me home, yet happy for the respite it gives me this day. Happy to have a chance to avoid so many of the things I can’t, don’t want to know. Happy to try to not get dragged into the ocean on this summer holiday.

Then the rain begins…

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