My little brother emailed me recently about someone I just had to meet. Enter registered nurse and coach Caitlin Forrest, whose Dream Big story, including fighting through posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is featured below. Dr. Jeffery Schaefer was right: she is an inspiration. Thanks, Caitlin, for sharing your story of triumph over adversity.
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Dream Big: Overcoming Adversity and Fighting PTSD
by Caitlin Forrest
I’m just an ordinary girl. There was nothing extraordinary about my story; my life. I had a sheltered childhood. As the only child of two loving and protective parents, all eyes were on me. Nothing really bad ever happened—until my thirties. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. The timing of my adversity is no exception. I suppose that was life’s way of preparing me for it, allowing me to grow a bit older, wiser and more mature to take on such life-changing events.
Anyone who has spent time around me knows that I am very social and active. Growing up, I was always involved in school and clubs like student body council and cheerleading. In addition, I was a dancer. I spent many hours every week at the studio, in classes and rehearsals. Most weekends were spent away at competitions. Being active and adventurous is a big part of who I am. The only times I ever “slowed down” was when I was sick or injured. However, I rarely got sick and had very few injuries. None of which were debilitating.
Being on the go all the time when growing up, has made me a ‘push for it’ type of gal as an adult. I am a go-getter; a goal setter. I work hard, and I usually achieve what I set out to accomplish. After high school, I went off to college to pursue a career in the medical field. I have been an ICU nurse for many years, specializing in neonates and pediatrics.
Things were going as planned until they weren’t.
My story is about spending time on the patient side of the bed and goes a little something like this:
Surgery, Recovery, Surgery, Trauma, Surgery, PTSD, Recovery, Surgery,
Sexual Assault, PTSD, Recovery, Death in the Family, Break Up, Move, Surgery, Recovery, Recover from Recovery,
Live Life Again!
This list is just the facts of what I went through. It’s very black and white. This list isn’t who I am, what I am or even where I am…anymore. Those facts consumed two years of my life. They are a part of my story and a good portion of why I am where I am today and definitely contributes to who I am today. Those black and white words are the reason I am so happy, healthy, passionate and full of life now!
Getting Healthy Again
There was a time where I was full on depressed. There were times that I was on so many medications, I swear a horse wouldn’t be able to see straight. I even dealt with withdrawal from narcotics. I still deal with a bit of PTSD going to doctor’s appointments and definitely when I visit the hospital where a lot of things happened to me. It’s overwhelming at times, but I use my breath and my support system to get through it. I also talk about it all…A LOT. As far as the depression, I went on antidepressants and had the help of a therapist. I had a lot of shame about it at first but tried to get over that factor so I could get myself healthy again. And, by healthy, I mean my physical body, emotional body, AND my mental body. I share this part and think it’s one of the most important aspects to share, because our society doesn’t talk about it much.
I had a cervical spine fusion of two levels and two pelvic reconstructions called periacetabular osteotomies (PAO), among other surgeries. One hip surgery was eight hours and the other was 12 hours. All three of those surgeries required hospitalizations, two weeks in total, and all within less than a year. I was in a neck brace, on crutches, used a cane and strolled in a wheelchair for the better part of a year. I was also bedridden for three months during two of those recoveries. And, with all of that came more procedures, scans, lots of poking and prodding, lots of pain, complications and even medical mistakes.
Most of my surgeries were orthopedic, but what I learned a lot about were the mental and emotional parts of physical illness. On top of the depression, shame and fear, I also had a new body to learn, huge incisions and scars to identify with. It all goes under the realm of body image. I didn’t know this new body. I didn’t recognize how it moved and how it felt. I certainly didn’t recognize what it looked like. I had to learn to walk again, twice. And, when I didn’t have assistive walking devices or a brace, all of my illnesses were invisible. Even chronic pain is invisible. No one talked to me about this.
Going Through the Motions
I’m a genuinely happy person. I love adventure. I’m usually seen smiling and laughing. I love being active, and it’s always been my release. When physical activity and adventure were taken away from me, so was my independence. I felt frozen in worry, fear, pain, and depression. I no longer had an outlet or a way to release my emotions. When I was bedridden, I craved distraction and creativity, so I started my blog from my bed. I also requested wheelchair outings around the neighborhood from my caretakers. I needed fresh air; I needed to see nature and to see other people living their lives. There were literally days where I would write in my planner what I was going to do each hour of that day. That single thing is probably what got me through the darkest days. I didn’t allow myself to wallow in bed, to miss a meal. To not shower when I could finally shower myself. I. Got. Up. Each. Day. And. Did. Something. Literally anything! I made sure to see sunsets, which are my favorite. I looked at wildflowers around my neighborhood when I had someone to help get me out of the house. I put a little more effort into outfits or getting ready when I had an outing, no matter if it was a physical therapy appointment, an outing to the store or I was staying at home. Somedays it worked and made me feel more human and other days, I just went through the motions. But at the end of it all, it was what helped me survive.
Dark days are out there, but the light will come.
For a long time, well-meaning people would say that I’m almost done, I’m almost on the other side of it all. But I knew it wasn’t true. I knew that I had so much more to overcome before I would see my light at the end of the tunnel. But then I began to see glimpses of hope in the form of shadows. If I didn’t feel completely dark anymore and I could see the shadows, then that meant the light was closer than it once was. I wasn’t at the end and maybe couldn’t even see the end in sight, but if there are some shadows, then there is a light somewhere. And to me, that was such a positive thing to focus on! It gave me purpose, where I didn’t feel like I had a purpose.
Why I Share My Story
I truly believe, had I not gone through the things I have, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Having really low and dark days, have made me so grateful for the good days. I am appreciative of ALL of my experiences. Yes, all of them. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Talking about all of it and sharing my story has become a passion of mine. The more I open up, the more I see others open up and share their stories. Those connections give me life. If I can put a smile on one person’s face or share tears with just one person during their hard season in life or offer support to one person hurting, that is my purpose. I haven’t been through all of this for nothing. I will never forget what I’ve had to overcome and how I made it through. These experiences are now what drive me to live life, enjoy the little things and share so much joy with every person I encounter! Don’t let your grief, loss, trauma, PTSD or illness overcome you or freeze you. I encourage you to let it become your strength, perseverance, and motivation.
To learn more about Caitlin, check out her website, literallyhip.com, which includes writing, coaching information, and more.