My brother works on the halftime show for the Super Bowl. He has booked this lucrative winter gig for himself every year for the past 6 or 7 years, at a time of the year when work in the industry in Western Pennsylvania can be slow. I’m still not exactly what all of his work entails. I know that it has something to do with production – building the set, gripping, lighting, etc. He’ll usually leave a few weeks before the Big Game, bidding us all a fond farewell via phone call or text (we live in different states) since we don’t usually get to talk to him much in the weeks leading up to the game. However, we can all expect a call that night with his famous phrase “Whatcha think of the show?”
As a football fan I’ve never missed a Super Bowl. I’d gather at a party, bar, or my husband and I would invite a few friends over where we always had a full array of Super Bowl foods prepared for the festivities. I would watch the game, no matter the teams playing and I was always sure to catch the halftime show. “Awesome show!!” I would exclaim while my husband would yell, “Nice job Trav!” from the other side of the room hoping to be heard over my squeals of pride for my little brother. The past four years haven’t diminished that pride – I still get excited for him each year around mid-January, request a phone call before he boards the plane, and I make sure to tell whoever I can that “my brother is there…’doing’ the halftime show.” However, my ability to actually watch the game or even the show has been overtaken by intense fear, anxiety, flashbacks, and panic. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Super Bowl is one of my triggers.
When most people hear PTSD they usually think of soldiers coming home from war or survivors of rape and/or physical trauma. However, PTSD can be caused by a number of different traumas that a person can face within a lifetime. Symptoms of PTSD can range from general anxiety to severe psychosis when the traumatic memory is triggered. My PTSD was caused by the premature birth, NICU stay, and subsequent death of my daughter almost four years ago. In addition to being triggered by the Super Bowl some of my other more prominent triggers are certain areas of hospitals and beeping monitors.
But let me go back a bit and explain exactly how the Super Bowl became a PTSD trigger – In late 2010 my husband and I discovered that the daughter it took us 3 years to conceive had such a severe case of IUGR that she was measuring almost 4 weeks behind. After bouncing around trying to find a specialist who was willing to take our case and help us fight for our child we landed in Louisville, KY (about 4 hours from where we were living at the time and 8 hours from family). In early 2011, I found myself being placed on hospital bed rest. My husband moved into a hotel room and began teaching his classes online and we prepared ourselves for what was sure to be a difficult 3rd trimester. The hospital became my home and the staff became my family since ours was so far away. My husband and I are originally from Pittsburgh, PA – home of the Steelers. And boy were the Steelers making a good run in the playoffs that year. With my Steelers shirt pulled on over my hospital gown and tiny belly we watched each game as nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff would come into my room and razz us about being Steeler fans. We just knew that our precious unborn daughter, Stella was the lucky charm that landed the Steelers into the Super Bowl that year. Stella was born on February 1, 2011 – 14 weeks premature weighing only 12oz. She was a fighter! She was doing amazing and each time we got the report of “she’s doing better than expected” we breathed a sigh of relief. That relief was quickly replaced with dread when her doctor looked me in the eyes and told me, “Shanna, she’s not going to survive this.” In that moment I knew my life was about to change forever.
That was February 5, 2011 and the Steelers/Packers Super Bowl was played on February 6, 2011. I know that the Steelers lost, but I really only know that because I’m from Pittsburgh and people from Pittsburgh never stop talking about the Steelers. I’m not able to recall anything about the actual game or halftime show. But I can tell you so much more about that day. I can tell you about how the hotel room that we “watched” that game from smelled like dirty laundry and pizza. I can tell you that if I close my eyes I can still feel the searing pain of my C-Section scar more sore than the moment the epidural wore off since all the screaming and crying I had been doing had caused me to use my abdominal muscles too much. I can tell you that although I was in such excruciating pain I was moving from the bed, to the couch, to the chair at the tiny kitchenette table in the room because I just didn’t know what else to do with myself. I could go on and on about the pain from the evening – feeling like my arms were on fire, aching with this longing to hold Stella again, the thoughts I had about ending my suffering in the bathroom quietly with the bottle of pain pills I had while John lay on the couch in the living room area of the hotel room. But do I really need to? The first sentence in this paragraph is enough to explain how the Super Bowl became one of my PTSD triggers.
It’s been 4 years since that beaten and bruised Baby Loss Mom stood in the bathroom of a hotel in Louisville and contemplated suicide. My husband and I now have a beautiful daughter, Sophia (who we adopted). We now live in South Carolina where he teaches and does research on Sport Communication at Clemson University and I proudly teach elementary students with special needs. We are considering adopting again to expand our family. We are doing well! We really are doing well; however, I will not be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. I’ll peek in at the Half Time Show so that I can proudly answer the phone with my typical “Awesome show!” when my brother calls. But there won’t be a Super Bowl feast at my house, we won’t have any friends over and I definitely won’t know the score of the game come Monday.