I have just recently made one of the biggest steps in my PTSD recovery: moving out. My original goal was to move out to Anchorage, Alaska after my great road trip filming where I would find a part-time job as a mountain guide and edit the documentary, live there for a few months. Well, I didn’t move to Alaska. I moved to Troy, NY.
Troy is still among the scattered small cities known as the Capital Region, where I grew up. I lived in the Capital Region during the Dark Ages, when Troy was the scariest place to drive through North of Poughkeepsie. I would come to Troy for various things with my parents, tagging along with them to the closest/easiest DMV from my small town or because my gastroenterologist was at some random doctor’s office there. I took my driving test there, amongst all of the one-ways, hidden stop signs, and crackheads. It’s hard to shake the idea of what was once called the ‘Troylet” out of my head (yes, that’s really what we called it).
That idea that memories are permanent is such a strong part of PTSD, tricking your mind into thinking that something so horrible must always be that way. If people don’t change, neither can places or objects or events… but people can change. In fact, everything is constantly changing all the time, so although PTSD was a great way to protect us when we were all cave people, it’s not helping me now.
My brain is really, really good at avoiding things that hurt me. Once I turned 18, I moved out and didn’t look back for 6 years. I moved away, to Arkansas out of all places, and I cut myself off from everyone in my family. Just because I didn’t like two of those family members, I felt the need to break away from all of them. Just because I didn’t like dreary, gray Albany (the dreariness hasn’t changed), I felt the need to leave the entire state. I needed that. I knew I needed that and I grabbed that opportunity.
I ended up loving Arkansas in the weirdest ways. It was the first place I ever felt safe. The dry, sweet smell of Arkansan brush, the light brown dirt that was so different from the dark, almost black dirt of New York. Coming back there this past August felt like a hazy, beautiful dream. I spent a few days in Fayetteville, which, like Troy, is considered one of those up-and-coming small cities, with my lovely friend Cason. He reminded me of this amazing culture in Arkansas that I had missed – one of common vulnerability and honesty I haven’t seen anywhere in another group of people. And omg, when Arkansans swear, their Arkansan dialect enters the word “fuck” in the funniest, most admirable way possible. I understand why people go “Arkansas?!” when I tell them I lived there for a year and a half, but you can’t understand Arkansas until you go there, breathe in the light, humid air, scents I haven’t smelled anywhere else, hear the deafening cicadas while listening to an Arkansan you just met tell you their biggest fears as if you weren’t some random stranger from New York. I said this over the summer and I’ll say it again: Arkansas is a gem.
Arkansas was there for me when I needed to leave one of the worst situations in my life (I didn’t expect to write about Arkansas this much when I started writing this, you guys), which was in this Capital Region place that I hated so much.
Then, a couple years ago, the Capital Region was there for me when I needed to leave THE worst situation of my life, which was in Los Angeles, a place that I loved so much.
I haven’t moved back to LA. I haven’t visited since I was floxed. However, Los Angeles doesn’t hold as much negativity for me as the Capital Region used to, so I don’t have PTSD about the city itself.
In fact, I had a breakthrough with my therapist the other day when we discussed my fluoroquinolone-induced anxiety, that I described as manipulative, that it manipulated my thoughts. My therapist thought it was poor word choice since the word ‘manipulative’ would imply intention from the drug itself, which didn’t have an intention. It just does what it does. I understood his idea that I might be giving fluoroquinolone antibiotics thoughts, but manipulate does not need to imply intention or maliciousness, as in ‘manipulating position with hands,’ like a puppeteer with a puppet.
My point was that my memories about getting floxed were not as accurate as they could have been because I had anxiety that wasn’t mine. I had fears that weren’t mine. The drug had manipulated my mind and my memories were memories of feelings that were not mine. A memory is a memory of a memory, he said.
I don’t have many memories from when my neurotoxicity was at its worst. My brain was incapable of making memories, but I do remember the very beginning of getting floxed very clearly. I remember getting anxious about every little thing, which was not like me at all. I remember getting furious at my roommates for kicking me out of an apartment I was mostly incapable of moving out of myself. I did not have the mental capacity and my tendons were too damaged to do much of anything. I received an email giving me 30 days notice to move out of my apartment in Los Angeles while I was at the doctor’s office in New York.
I didn’t realize that this moment would haunt me almost three years later, keeping me in a very toxic household in the middle of nowhere that I had previously worked very hard to escape. I felt stuck like glue to a place I didn’t belong. I was mad at myself for my inability to move forward, but my PTSD therapist helped me get rid of that anger, helped give me clarity. It’s okay that I’m here right now. It’s okay that it’s taking time, that I’m still in the Capital Region, that I’m still recovering. As my brother so lovingly puts it, paraphrased, because I don’t remember exactly, “You could be a lot worse. You could be a crack addict. You could have given up, but you didn’t. You have a job, you’re responsible, and you’re still doing a lot from here, even if you’re not where you want to be yet.”
It’s difficult sometimes to come to a new year and look back on your past, but this year, I have made a lot of accomplishments. I drove across the country and back, I drove into Canada by myself, shooting interviews of strangers who have been floxed, of strangers who had family members die of the same thing that nearly killed me in 2016. These strangers became friends, became part of this weird floxed family we have of people who have experienced something not too many other people have. I formed my own corporation only so that taxes would make more sense at the end of the year, but I can actually say that I’m the CEO of something, so that’s cool. I successfully reached out to an A-list sports celebrity and made some strides, so I’ve definitely grown as a film producer. I’ve made so many new friends. I’ve made so much healing progress, both physically and mentally.
My elbows no longer hurt every day. That’s amazing.
I’m no longer depressed all the time. That’s amazing.
…and the biggest thing this year? I moved out of that house in the middle of nowhere.
So what if I haven’t yet moved out of the Capital Region? I already feel more like myself again. I already have more clarity about who I was and who I want to become, about how I want to move forward. Things feel kind of mucky lately. It’s difficult to know what steps I want to take, but I’m getting there.
Oddly, I’ve noticed that I dissociate less frequently when I’m around friends. I feel present. I feel wholesome with them. My mind feels clear. I am so grateful for the new friends I have made this year that I could never put into words what they have done for me. They are so supportive, despite only knowing floxie/PTSD-ridden Michelle. They don’t know the Michelle I was before, but they still love me for me and that is huge in itself.
I know it seems like the worst is over with my Fluoroquinolone Toxicity, and it is, but recovering mentally has definitely taken the biggest toll. Just like Troy, I too am up-and-coming… and it’s going to take some time until I get there.