The PTSD Highway



Freewriting Exercise at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference’s

Creative Nonfiction Workshop

As my husband Craig drives our daughters on Highway One in a rented cobalt blue Nissan Pathfinder, I spot the Holman Highway exit. My stomach drops, then sours. The fresh ling cod sandwich I ate half an hour ago at the Sea Harvest Restaurant is not sitting well. 

In the backseat the girls chatter nonstop with high-pitched, tween voices. The novelty of riding in a new car excites them, and they’ve begged us to buy the fancy SUV – we said no. Perhaps the “new car smell” contains a chemical that makes them even more hyper than usual. Who knows? It’s not affecting our collie Lucy who’s resting in the rear storage space. She’s in a rare moment of calm, tired after the brisk walk I gave our puppy in the Sea Harvest’s parking lot back at Moss Landing. 

When Craig takes the Holman Highway exit, no one notices the waves of terror that strike through my soul. A silent tsunami. I keep my panic deep inside, a learned behavior, and not a healthy one by any means.

It has only been two years since I was on this road headed for the psychiatric unit at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, also known as C.H.O.M.P. 

As we pass the majestic Monterey Pines lining each side of the highway, vivid memories of my despair surface. My hands grow cold and shaky, and I feel nauseous and dizzy. I take a deep breath.

And again.

I pull out my tiny, $15.00 bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy from my purse. I quickly squirt a few drops of it under my tongue. No one notices my doing this – I’m fast. The tincture helps me somewhat, but the effect is very subtle.

Still, it’s better than nothing.

I first admitted myself to C.H.O.M.P. when I was thirty-eight-years-old. I returned there four more times for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. While “suicidal ideation” doesn’t quite have the ring to it that “suicide attempt” does, I came close to taking my own life. Very, very close. And to this day it’s a miracle that I didn’t use my bathrobe belt to take me out of this world.

C.H.O.M.P. is where I pleaded for electroconvulsive therapy after my father died. I requested ECT yet again after attempting to taper off lithium. For my second round of ECT the psychiatrist and I agreed that I’d switch from unilateral to the much more intense bilateral form, and I have no regrets about doing any of it. It helped me, and my side effects were minimal. I can even still remember being born. 

Once released from the hospital, I commuted to C.H.O.M.P. many, many times for the outpatient ECT treatments I was informed I’d need to stay out of the suicidal ideation zone. I left my small children at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 6:00 a.m. appointment time. 

I drove back and forth to these treatments by myself. (Just to be clear – doing that wasn’t ethical/legal in any way, shape or form, nor do I ever recommend that to anyone. The explanation behind my decision is explained at length in my book.)




Today I look out the car window and see nothing but pines; it’s a landscape fitting for a postcard. This area is so spectacular that classic films such as “Play Misty for Me” with Clint Eastwood and “The Sandpiper” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were filmed here. This town is a destination point for honeymooners from every corner of the globe.

No one would guess that past the dense forest are ugly buildings housing the hopeless. The sterile, stuffy units are devoid of the beauty found just beyond their windowless rooms. 

I believe that places can activate our good or bad memories. While driving on the Holman Highway on this warm August day, little do I know that I’m on my way to a writing conference that will change my life for the better. Participating at this event will shift the traumatic memory of the Holman Highway into a mixture of horrible and good.

To my total non-ECT shock, I’m about to enjoy one of the happiest weekends of my life. The conference won’t erase my C.H.O.M.P. past – nothing short of a lobotomy or death could do that, but now this road is no longer solely reminiscent of a nightmare. It now holds better memories to offset my bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. And for that I’m grateful.



Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. Because Dyane isn’t going to screw up her 2nd book deal like she did with the first one!







22 thoughts on “The PTSD Highway

  1. Wow. Dyane, you amaze me. A survivor and a fighter. This piece provided such a tangible glimpse into your past and present and evoked so much emotion. I also use rescue remedy, so imagining you sneaking it from your purse reminded me of myself and kind of made me laugh — not AT you but a knowing laughter. Uh huh, been there… I’m so thankful you’re in a better place today and that you’re able to share your story of healing. I know it’s never easy but you handle it all with such grace. It’s truly inspiring.

  2. Lady, hmm with such writing style that memoir of yours will be a hit. Look woman, mother of lucy and the girls and darling to Craig, you’ve got what it takes. That catamaran gateway probably did some magic to you huh 🙂 Go Girl Go!

    • I love you, friend! I wish you went with me and read from your book to that crowd – maybe next year? Miracles can happen – never say never, eh Fairy Godmother?

  3. How wonderful for you to transform a place of stress and sorrow into one of joy and promise with your writing conference…fabulous !! Happy for you. ☺ Van

    • A belated thanks, Van! Your comments always make me smile. Too bad the conference didn’t have a motivational speaker a la Chris Farley who lived in a van….down by the river! ;)))) God, I love that skit so. Here’s a link in case anyone sees this and doesn’t know what the heck I’m talking about!

      • I admit I have a crush on Jay Mohr…here’s an interesting Chris Farley-related story that he relates on his radio show called “The Greatest Chris Farley Show You’ll Ever Hear”

      • I’m finally writing everyone back here and it’s only 9 days late – please forgive me! I’m glad you chuckled over the Rescue Remedy story – people at the conference *were* making fun of me, but I was mostly fine with it – it wasn’t like I was openly sniffing a line of coke. I just wish the Rescue Remedy people sold a bottle that was 100 times bigger than the “mini me” size they sell! Thank you SO SO much for your compliment – it totally made my day, coming from YOU! Hare Krishna! ;)))) (Remember that?)

      • RE: JAY MOHR/CHRIS FARLEY story – it is VERY rude ‘n crude, okay? Jay doesn’t bring it up until 3:38 minutes into his show! Please be warned! There’s lots of cursing! The subject matter is, ahem, immature. Jay also does a funny Christopher Walken imitation – he does Walken the best!

      • Such a nice surprise video to wake up to this a.m….Thanks, Dyane, quite a few have read my About page and thought I was Matt Foley. I might have included one of the SNL videos there. I forget sometimes that it might be a cultural reference only here in the U.S. ☺☺☺

      • I couldn’t find the complete version of it this time – I know it’s out there as I posted it before! :0 I was out of it last night so maybe I missed the obvious… That’s hilarious people have thought you’re Matt Foley!!!!!!! My new nickname for you!

  4. “A silent tsunami” what a beautiful use of words to convey the feeling.
    It must have been really hard going past it again. I still avoid the town where much of my trauma happened. I’m glad the conference was awesome and that it was all worth it though (your blogging at the time said as much).
    And I know your book will come out next year and that it will be awesome, because you’re the one writing it and you’re awesome.

    • Thank you very much, Jasmine! (a.k.a. Jasmine Honey!) Oh, it sucked to be on that road, even on the way back from the conference when I was high – hypomanic and all – I just can’t forget the past. I don’t blame you for avoiding the town where your trauma took place. I’m so sorry about that. I think it’s healthy to avoid such places! You’re super-kind to write that about the book; I’m going to send you an autographed copy! Unless you use Kindle???

      • I do use kindle (for PC – I don’t have an actual kindle) but I do like a real tangible book in my hand. If you sent me a copy I’d feel bad that I didn’t buy it and add it to your book sales though 😦

      • I’m no cheapskate, especially with my friends!!!! You’re getting one and then you’ll make me a jolly good cup of tea (and biscuits) when I haul my butt over there! 😉

    • Here’s a “better late than never” thanks, dearest Kitt. Your comments are precious to me. Always have been, always will be!

  5. An awesome entry, Dyane. I don’t go back to my hometown because of the memories. Memories are funny things, and they’re untrustworthy. I love the phrase, “silent tsunami”. That’s a perfect descriptor for so much, but the way you use it in this blog entry is simply brilliant.

    • A belated thanks, Vincent. Your comment truly lifted my glum mood. I’ve always had a huge obsession with tsunamis (I wrote about this at length in two earlier posts after I visited Hilo, Hawaii) and so this phrase “silent tsunami” really does mean something to me! Memories are untrustworthy, definitely, which is why memoirs aren’t to be fully believed. Mine will have lots of things that didn’t happen exactly the way I depict them, but I’ll try my best to be as accurate as I can! Well, maybe. 😉

  6. Beautiful, Dyane! You not only faced your demons and fears, a huge feat all by itself, but you went further and strengthened your future and your aims, your future of becoming a successful author! You go girl! Love and hugs for you Lady Dy!

    • Thank you so much – I’m sorry it has taken me years to write back. I’m overwhelmed but I know you’ll forgive me!!! Can’t wait to hear about Nantucket, my Seroquel Sister! love you!

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