I had one of the most traumatic events happen to me when I was in my mid 20’s that most people will probably never experience. I was held up in an armed robbery at the local bank. The whole event was probably only 10 – 15 minutes long but it seemed like time stopped at that moment, which is something you will hear people say when experiencing traumatic events such as this. What I didn’t know five minutes before I walked into that bank was that what was about to occur in that brief moment in my life would change me as a person forever to some extent. As I watched the two masked gunmen enter the bank while I waited at the teller window for my deposit receipt, I for a second thought I was dreaming and that this wasn’t really happening. Things like this don’t happen to people like me or in the area I live in. But it wasn’t a dream, and it really was happening. As the one masked man jumped the counter beside me, the other one held his gun out and was too close to me – way too close. I remember looking away and I remember my body going into the automatic defense mechanism of wanting to do whatever I had to in order to survive. I knew that I would not move a muscle and the only thing I could do was to stare at the sign that was hanging on the back wall behind the teller’s window.
The gunmen took the money they wanted and left and fortunately no one was hurt physically. Everyone involved, however, will have emotional scars forever of that brief traumatic event in our lives. Once the gunmen left, we were able to let the tears flow and we comforted each other in knowing that we were all okay and that we made it through alive and without any guns being shot.
I don’t remember anymore what the sign said behind the teller’s head that I was reading to help get me through the robbery, but I do remember thinking, “I wonder if this is how I’m going to die?” and for just a blink of an eye, I still remember feeling an instant of relief – but it only lasted for a second. I still remember thinking while I was reading that sign that at least if I do die during this robbery, I won’t have to suffer anymore from CFS – and at this point I had only been sick for a few years. I hadn’t yet developed the wisdom, strength and just time that comes from aging and comes from being sick for so long that I have now.
While many people who know me have heard the “bank robbery story”, I have never shared with anyone, not even my husband, the feelings that I had for those few seconds. To this day it still astounds me how at a moment where a gun was pointing at me, not knowing whether or now I was going to live or die, I would feel that brief sense of relief because I might not have to suffer any longer. I think this is a perfect example of how traumatic chronic illness is on a person’s life and how living daily, and struggling daily and not being able to have a normal life takes its toll emotionally – even during times of intense stress and pressure.
The bank robbery experience has changed my life forever in that I have never felt safe since that day and I have always been extra cautious of my surroundings. For years afterward, I even slept with the bedroom door locked and that didn’t change until our son came along. I had to leave the bedroom open so that I could hear him when he woke up in the middle of the night.
CFS has been the other most traumatic event in my life – probably even more traumatic than the bank robbery in that it never ends. The pain, sickness, problems, trying to cope and function, not being able to do things, never disappears. It’s like a thief always invading my life and my body over and over again. I work hard to have a fairly normal life and maybe I work too hard at it sometimes. I refuse to let this thief steal everything from me. I didn’t die that day long ago in the bank robbery for a reason. I was spared for something, something more. I truly believe that.