His PTSD, and My Struggle to Live With It

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I tried to maintain some semblance of my former life: I worked on the book, started a new research project, was offered a job and briefly considered moving us both to Philadelphia. When I wasn’t working, I made appointments and returned calls: therapists, doctors, human resources, insurance companies, co-workers, family and friends. Jason kept going to therapy every week as the scars faded from his face. But he was dogged by insomnia — nightmares and hypervigilance kept him awake at night, and he spent most of his daylight hours watching TV and drifting in and out of sleep on the living-room couch. I scheduled meal deliveries and dropped off laundry at the fluff-and-fold. I looked for blackout curtains and white-noise machines on Amazon. I fought and fought.

Then, I fled.

On the first anniversary of the beating, I was in Los Angeles on a reporting trip. For the second anniversary, I was on the road, working on the new research project.

When I was away, I desperately tried to feel something — anything — for myself. In Helsinki, Finland, to speak at a conference of Nordic social workers, I sat in a 190-degree smoke sauna and then padded outside, barefoot and mostly naked, to plunge into a hole in the ice in the Baltic Sea, over my head in the black near-freezing water, once, twice, three times.

In 2016, I was on the road 147 days. In 2017, I was gone 97 days.

We needed the money I earned through speaking engagements and research grants. But to claim that all my travel was materially necessary would be disingenuous. I wanted space and time away from the maelstrom of PTSD. I wanted to leave as much as I needed to leave.

In December 2017, we decided to experiment with traveling together. Before the attacks, we were partners in adventure — we drove hundreds of miles of Route 20, visiting 1930s-era attractions: sifting through a museum of petrified creatures, spelunking in Howe Caverns, trying to choose a favorite roadside cheeseburger. We tramped the Adirondacks and floated in the Sacandaga reservoir. He ducked under security fencing to photograph crumbling 19th-century hotels while I kept lookout from the car.

We wanted to try to recapture that feeling. We used all my Amtrak points to buy two round-trip tickets in a sleeper car for a seven-day trip to Montana for my mom’s 75th birthday. In theory, it was perfect: a tiny fishbowl of our own, traveling across the country at a leisurely pace. I imagined we would read, play cards. I bought a tiny electric kettle so we could make tea while the world passed outside the windows.