Sketching, When PTSD Takes Hold

horse in the wind master.jpg

Courage, Strength and Love


It’s a long story but it involves an ex with a mental illness. He did things like hold a gun to my head, disappear out of state with my daughter, and collude with my current husband’s ex wife in order to fabricate stories in a corrupt family court where the judge made decisions based on her relationships with the attorneys, rather than on what was best for children. I had to have a body guard during my hearings. I had to endure sleepless nights while my daughter went on visitation to her dad’s house, who had his sister living with him that had just been released from prison. It was a mother’s worst nightmare.

I remarried, very happily, nearly eleven years ago. For the first time since I was fifteen, I felt safe and loved. I began to relax during the day but at night, the nightmares increased. My therapist said that happened because I was finally in a place where it was safe to get it all out, but I think the nightmares continued because my daughter was subjected to a cruel father, and I was powerless to do anything about it. My daughter is almost twenty now, and has been diagnosed with PTSD, as well. My worst fears have been realized.

I’d like to say that the nights of sleeping with one eye open have stopped completely but they haven’t. Thankfully, they have lessened in intensity and in frequency, but they still return. They usually awaken me at some early morning hour. They’re vivid, and usually fraught with violence, fear, and anger. When I wake up, it takes me a minute to realize it’s not real. Then I feel angry for what my mind produces. I feel guilty for not having moved past it. I wonder what I’m doing wrong, or what I could be doing to fix it. And then, I ignore it. I don’t tell anybody except my husband, because I am ashamed of it, and even then I water down the details and give a vague response when he asks.

“Why were you up at 2am, baby?”

“Another bad dream.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

When I was alone, and I was afraid my ex was coming to kill me, I would have a glass of wine at night to calm my nerves. Okay, maybe three or four glasses of wine, but I never really liked it and knew that alcohol was not the answer, which left me staring into the dark for hours, listening and waiting. It really screwed up my sleep patterns and to this day I have to work hard at going to bed at a normal hour, and not staying up all night until the coast is clear to go to sleep (crazy people still kill other people during broad daylight but I was hoping my crazy was at work).

My nightmares have decreased from nearly every night, to a few per month, but my current husband occasionally travels for business and I often revert right back to my insomniac nights when he isn’t home. I make sure the guns are strategically placed, so I can get to them quickly. I have my bear spray canister by my bed, because I don’t really want to kill another human being. My car keys are nearby so I can hit the panic button to alert my neighbors. My watch dog is asleep by the front door, and the security camera app is activated on my phone so I can check all four cameras at any hour of the day. Aside from living in a relatively high-crime area, my ex has disappeared into obscurity about two years ago, and is no longer a threat (I hope), but old habits die hard when it comes to PTSD. At 2am, I can still be found, wandering around the house, looking out windows or turning lights on. I get sick of it so last night, I tried a different approach.

I sketched.

This is my Horse in the Wind

She’s free and beautiful, and creating her took my mind to a new place; a place of freedom, and place of no worry.

I think I’ll be sketching again and hopefully I’ll find a way to do it without staying up until 3am, but for that moment, my mind was free.

Ebba Sage art is created using a variety of methods such as sketching, photography, and digital art. This is my version of Xu Beihong’s Galloping Horse. This is Horse in the Wind during the conceptual stage. I knew I wanted Chinese characters (those are actually Japanese characters shown below), but scaled down, like in the final version. They represent Courage, Strength, and Love.

horse sketch.JPG

Thank you, Xu Beihong, for the inspiration.

original horse painting.png

Xu Beihong, 1948




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