Like a Burn on My Leg

Since my heart episode and subsequent surgery this winter, I’ve been in counseling. (Yes, a pastor has been in counseling. But that’s a different subject for a different post.) It’s been hard. It’s been eyeopening. It’s been helpful. It’s reaffirmed my belief that people benefit from someone walking with them when they’re experiencing hard times.

One of the best parts of my counseling experience (aside from the ever important, “that’s normal and you’re not completely crazy” reminders that we all benefit from) has been the naming what’s going on with me. This feeling or that experience or this issue–it has a name. It’s something that can talked about and understood and addressed. That’s been an exceedingly helpful practice for me.

And perhaps the most helpful side of those conversations is the recognition that part of what I’ve been dealing with is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Very basically, PTSD is a disorder (confusion or non-systematic functioning) that someone experiences as the result of a traumatic experience or event. We might assume that PTSD is something that happens to military veterans or those involved in natural disasters (which is often very true). But various kinds of PTSD can happen to anyone who’s experienced something traumatic. Like someone who had an emergant heart malfunction at age 29, for example.

For me, realizing that I’ve been dealing with PTSD (among other things) over the past several months has been a helpful paradigm for making sense of my experience. It’s contextualized my experience. It’s helped me find tools that let me address what I’m thinking and feeling. And–most recently–it’s provided me a metaphor to better understand my life over the past several months.

You see, for me, PTSD is like having a burn on my leg.

Let me explain. Several years ago, I was in a biking accident where I got friction burns over about 60% of the skin on one of my legs. (It was not something I’d recommend to anyone.) When the accident happened, there was immediate treatment for my injury. It hurt and it was obvious that something needed to be done about it. And after the initial treatment, there was lots of less-than-pleasant follow up, mostly involving regular debridement of the wound. But after a few weeks, something happened: I began to treat my leg like normal again. Healing was taking place. I was getting mobility back. Things were returning to normal.

Except they weren’t really. Because I still had a huge wound on my leg. It still hurt from time to time. It took months to really heal and during those months, there would be moments of pain. As my skin grew back, it would pull and shoot pain. I’d bump my leg on something and the pain would all come rushing back. The healing process caused tension, and sometimes the healing caused pain.

And my PTSD is the same way. When my heart episode happened, there was immediate treatment and (almost immediate) surgery. And there was follow up treatment as well. But then the pain of recovery continued. Except it wasn’t just physical recovery–it was mental and emotional recovery. And like the occasional pain and tension caused by my leg as it healed, I’ve experienced occasional mental pain and tension too. I’ve bumped my mental pain into things that have caused the pain to all come back. The healing process caused tension, and sometimes the healing caused pain.

My PTSD has been like having a burn on my leg. The healing has taken time. The healing has caused tension. The healing has caused pain. But healing is happening. And some days, I just need to remember that. Some days, I’m going to bump into something that’s uncomfortable or painful. Some days, that’s going to be rough. And other days, I’ll be like nothing ever happened. And that’s okay. Because that’s part of the healing process.

And someday, my PTSD will be like my leg. If you look closely, you can still see the scar outline. And if you’re really observant, you’ll notice that my leg hair grows differently where I was burned. My leg was forever changed by my injury. But it still works. And it doesn’t hurt anymore. The healing is as complete as it will be in this life.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can say the same thing about my mind and spirit. I’ll be forever changed by my experience. But I still work. And someday, the pain will be something in the past.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

2 thoughts on “Like a Burn on My Leg

  1. Thanks for this Jacob, very helpful to get a visual on what we go through some times. It might help deal with it, if we can give it a face. Thanks for being vulnerable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: