What’s Your Superhero Power?

by Charlotte on January 2, 2012 · 38 comments

Okay, I give up. Who is the layer with the fish scales and trident supposed to represent?! And also, no way does Batman trump Spiderman. Sorry. Image credit.

I can kill a mouse with just the sound of my voice.

I believe everyone has a super power inside them – something they are uniquely, and sometimes weirdly, good at – and I’m lucky enough to have discovered mine very early in life. While some super powers like great beauty or charisma or being able to do a spot-on Nicki Minaj impersonation while still in Pull-Ups, are immediately obvious, many lay dormant until the moment of need arises. It was this way for me, just 12 years old, sleeping soundly one night. I don’t remember what exactly woke me (A noise? A smell? The feel of a tiny fetid nose trying to project disease inches away from my own nose?) but the second I realized there was a rodent sitting on my chest, I did what came naturally: screamed like a girl until my daddy came running down the stairs. There was a moment between when I stopped screaming and before he pounced that we both realized something was awry. The hapless mouse was laying on its side, eyes already starting to glaze over. “Wow, Charlotte,” my dad muttered. “It’s dead. I think you screamed so loud you gave it a heart attack.” And a star was born.

Actually there’s not a great need for shrieking mouse-killers (Ellen, call me) and so over the years I’ve been left searching for a real super power. This past week I think I found it. And thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with rodents.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a particularly evil type of torture. For those of you who have never experienced it (which I hope is most of you), the only way I can describe it is that it’s like reliving your worst nightmare in real-time. While your brain knows that the traumatic memory isn’t really happening your body is flipping your brain the bird because as far as it’s concerned you are experiencing everything exactly like you did when it happened. The worst part is that you are no more able to change the outcome now, even though you’re safe, than you did then, when you weren’t. One incidence of PTSD is enough to make me shaky for a couple of days but an avalanche like these past few weeks? Not even a mouse-caliber scream could save me.

This was disappointing to me on several levels. First, it took me by complete surprise as I thought my PTSD days were all in the past. Thanks to a twisted and abusive relationship when I was 18 which culminated in a sexual assault and then an equal-but-differently traumatic court case to prosecute him five years later, I have a deep well of traumatic experiences from which to draw from. Upside: Never the same movie! Downside: They all suck! But other than the occasional flashback, I haven’t had any incidences of import in a good five years. So to be knocked down by a tsunami of horrible feelings that have nothing to do with my present life felt like a failure. Plus, my timing was stellar: all the kids were home for winter break so I got the double whammy of mom-guilt for being a basket case during Christmas.

Here’s what happened: something in real life “triggered” me, as they say in mental health parlance, which set off the memories like dominoes. But there was something new and particularly heart-breaking in this round. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it and berated myself for being melodramatic but then about a week ago, tired of the PTSD memories coming in bits and pieces, I decided to rip the band-aid off and go back and read my original journals that I kept during the relationship. I mean, if we’re going to do this then let’s do this and get it over with, right?

Turns out it wasn’t a scratch that band-aid was covering, it was a gangrene-infected pus-oozing wound.

See, that girl thought she was dying. You may recall that about halfway though the relationship – about the time my ex made a list of 100 ways to kill me and then made me listen as he read it (and then ate it so he’d “always have it inside him”… yeah) – that I made a Box of Evidence. A small green Rubbermaid box with instructions to only be opened on the occasion I was found dead or missing. It was in that box I put my journal in which I wrote in great detail about the abuse because I was so certain that the only way this could end would be if he killed me or killed himself. Fortunately and miraculously that didn’t happen but that girl then, she didn’t know that.

It broke my heart reading those journals. And then I came across what had been eluding me: a terrible and deeply painful experience that was directly related to the thing that had triggered me a few weeks ago. (How’s that for vague? Honestly you guys the details are ugly and I don’t see any good in spreading the muck around. I think I’ve posted enough on this topic that you can understand the scope, if not the specifics, of what I’m talking about. Plus I don’t want to trigger anyone else.) The strangest part was that I had completely forgotten it. I know that sounds insane but I’m told it’s quite common for trauma victims. I hadn’t forgotten forgotten it – as soon as I read about it in my journal, every detail was immediately present in my mind – but I’d managed to so conscientiously not think about it for so long that it was as good as gone. Until.

What the mind forgets, the body remembers.

I became completely unhinged. The thing about PTSD is you can’t fight it, not in that moment. You just have to ride it out and keep reminding yourself that it will end.  I’m used to always trying to “fix” myself but this time I was forced to realize that all I could do was endure it. There wasn’t anything I could do to fix this because – and this is huge – I’m not broken. In fact, I’m amazing. Laying there (literally, on the floor of my closet) in the grip of one of the worst experiences of my life, I was able to watch it from a different perspective. Not only was I not as dumb as I’d always hated myself for being but I did some very courageous and difficult things, both in that moment and later on.

And then I told my therapist about it. Saying it out loud was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I shook for hours afterward. But it was worth it. He helped me understand that it took going through it again for me to see that what I thought was weakness was probably the best thing I could have done in the situation. I was finally able to forgive that girl who really was still a teenager and be grateful that she did what she had to do, as messy as it was, to get out alive and relatively unscathed. At long last, I could see the good in her.

And that’s my super power: my ability to see the good in people. I’ve long been delighted by my ability to find the beauty in others but seeing it in myself has been harder. See? Huge. I’ve been greatly blessed over the past few weeks to be use my super power. There is nothing like a good ol’ fashioned breakdown to bring out the best (and the worst, but we won’t talk about that now) in people and it was a gift to be able to watch them at their finest. I have one friend who is so gentle that just being in her presence is better than Xanax. I have another who is so brave that she wasn’t afraid to just sit with me while I hurt. And another who is so compassionate that she took the time out of her holiday season, not just once but several times, to check up on me. And yet another who shared with me her own PTSD experiences and gave me permission to stop pretending to be okay.

So what does this all have to do with fitness? Nothing. My brain has been 90% consumed by this (the remaining 10% I had to save for my kids which apparently was not enough since #3 hit #2 with a plastic garbage can necessitating a trip to the ER for stitches* thereby keeping the Andersen family motto of “It’s not a vacation unless someone goes to Instacare!” alive and well). But what started out as a nightmare of the worst sort has turned into something amazing. I’m profoundly grateful. Thanks for your patience with me (and for many of you, your kind support of me!) as I have worked through this.

Now I want to know – and I’m serious, don’t be modest! – what is your super power? What are you uniquely good at and when was the last time you got to use it? Anyone else end up in the hospital during the holidays??

Coming soon (not sure which day exactly since they sent it media mail – argghhh!) January’s Great Fitness Experiment! It’s going to be epic. (Mostly because Gym Buddy Krista is going on a cruise in a month and threatened a boycott if this workout wasn’t spectacular.)

*Wanna see it?? All this from an EMPTY, TINY, PLASTIC GARBAGE can. And a 5-year-old with a temper.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Pubsgal January 2, 2012 at 12:54 am

I guess my super power is knowing the identities of obscure super heroes. Scales & trident = Aquaman.

But seriously, dang, Charlotte. I wish you (or anyone) didn’t have to deal with PTSD. (((hug))) And your little one’s injury reminds me of the time I followed my toddler around the playground shielding him from falling, to just have him trip as we walked out and get a big ol’

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Pubsgal January 2, 2012 at 12:56 am

…knob on the noggin. (darn autocorrect and typing on glass had me catch the Publish button with my finger)

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Mandy January 2, 2012 at 2:37 am

Those scars lead to awesome stories when they’re older. I have some epic forehead scars but mine are all self-inflicted (aka, got attacked by a gate, a hose pipe and a trolley full of books).

My superpower is being THAT friend – the one who just listens and drops everything for those in need. Sometimes I do it a little too freely and easily and get myself hurt in the process but I will always be the friend people call in the middle of the night and I’ll be there as much as I can. Because I know that the people I need will do that for me.

I’m sorry that you have PTSD and I’m sorry that you have to experience the bad to get to the good. But I know that you are an amazingly strong and brave person with an enviable support base. And many virtual (hugs)

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miz January 2, 2012 at 4:45 am

ahhh we have a bigbig chinscar here which we now love—but getting it caused ME major angst.

My power is the fact I can help others believe they are capable of doing whatever and ANYTHING they want to do.
because I really do know that they can.

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Elisa January 2, 2012 at 5:36 am

My super power is probably that I like everyone and can have fun in just about any group of people. As a personal trainer, it’s pretty cool to really like all your clients. I seem to like the difficult ones even more:)

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Alyssa January 2, 2012 at 6:02 am

You are not only un-broken, you are AMAZING!!!!!!

And BOTH children involved in The Great Trash Can Incident of 2011 will dine out on it for the rest of their lives. (I still tell people about the time I threw a TV at my brother. He’s fine; I’ve always had terrible aim.)
I suppose my superpower is appearing calm and zen when I’m freaking out inside. Comes in handy when parenting. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always work when I need it most. But I WISH I were like Elastigirl from “The Incredibles!”

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Naomi/Dragonmamma January 2, 2012 at 6:38 am

I am The Finder. When something is lost, I find it. At home, at work, at other people’s homes.

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Sue January 2, 2012 at 7:01 am

My personal super power is probably that I’m really good at remembering random facts, especially about movies, tv series, and science. I could win lots of money on any given game show (call me!). That power isn’t very usefull, but entertaining.
A few years ago, my mom broke her foot on Christmas Eve. She still has a screw in there.

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Hannah January 2, 2012 at 7:07 am

Getting through this will make you even stronger than anything at the gym could!

My super-hero powers…intuition about people!

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Cameo January 2, 2012 at 7:43 am

I have always thought my super power was communication. I talk good.

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Dr. J January 2, 2012 at 7:58 am

I’m glad you are not killing mice anymore, bad Karma with that.

Doctors don’t need any more super powers, just better grounding in reality.

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Abby January 2, 2012 at 8:01 am

Nothing I can say will add much to your own self-discovery and healing, but thank you for sharing your story. I believe your other superpower is connecting with people on so many levels while maintaining an air of accessibility, intelligence and understanding.

My superpower is not ass-kissing, despite that last comment. I have to say that as sarcastic as I can be, I also tend to see the good in people and often give them too much credit at times. Just because I might be accepting and live with an open heart and open mind doesn’t mean others do. While this could be seen as a vulnerability, I have come to value it as a positive force that I hope to project onto others. Plus, I can make people laugh, or so I’m told ;)

A less favorable superpower would be choosing the checkout line in which the cashier will have a comment about every single purchase (hmm…how do you make banana bread? I used to love broccoli. Have you used this shampoo before) or the person in front of me will dispute every price.

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Sable@SquatLikeALady January 2, 2012 at 8:33 am

You are so awesome, Charlotte. Your blog has become such a resource for me recently…a family member was raped several months ago and reported the incident to the police, not realizing that she would then lose her ability to say she did not want to press charges. The case is going to court in several months, and reading about your experiences has helped me (and her) prepare for what’s to come — and has given both of us hope about what comes after everything is said and done.

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Charity Froggenhall January 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

A) I’m very sorry.

B) Aquaman.

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Bob January 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

Invisibility. As a guy in my 40s, I walk through society undetected. I’ve passed within feet of coworkers outside of work and gone unnoticed, like Bert from SOAP.

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deb roby January 2, 2012 at 10:33 am

My superpower: the ability to see similarities in disparate people and connect them. By telling them why they should know each other. If I ever tell you that you MUST follow someone on twitter, believe me it will be magical for you.

My PTSD is usually very low key -hello verbally and emotionally abusive mother. It’s that constant voice in my head telling me I’m going to fail so why try?… and the absolute intense, insane anxiety if i try anyway.

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Alli January 2, 2012 at 10:35 am

My most reliable super power is opening jars. Even before I was particularly strong or fit, I could always open stuck jars. Big manly men have given up on jars that I could pop open with a seemingly effortless twist. By the way, no, you did not “loosen it up” for me, I’m just good at making it look easy.

It’s not a glamorous super power, but it is a very practical one.

I hope you’re able to continue taking care of yourself as you are now.

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Melissa January 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Oh Charlotte I’m sorry you’ve had such a hard Christmas season! :( I wish I was there to give you a big hug. Miss you so much!! And I completely agree with a previous comment…you are an amazing woman! Your strength and faith in telling your story and overcoming your pain are inspiring.

And my super-power? I suppose being able to get by without a drop of caffeine, despite a very cute little 2 year old who has only slept through the night a handful of times… And I too wish I was like Elastigirl! That would be so useful for a mom of four kiddos… LOL

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Jenn (GH) January 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I’m very sorry you had such a rough Christmas but it sounds like it’s also been a huge time of growth.I have to add courage to your list of super powers. Not only did it take courage to go through those old bags but your courage to share is astounding.

I think my super power is “x-ray vision”. I’m really good at seeing below the surface in situations. Mostly, that comes from so many years of therapy and studying theatre. I’m very good at hearing “subtext”.

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Jody - Fit at 54 January 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm

HUGS!!!!!!!!!!! Like Miz – I got a scar on my chin from 6 years old still—– but sorry about all the “stuff”!!!! I was reading this last comment by Jenn & so true – YOU HAVE COURAGE!!!!

Me – muscles !!! ;-) At least for now. At 54, still fighting to keep them!

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Pam January 2, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Charlotte, you are so strong for facing such a huge hurdle head-on…I hope that you find peace soon.

I had a hospital holiday too…an emergency appendectomy a week before Christmas, so I have spent the past two weeks (and still continue to) convalescing and doing little else. Christmas still happened, thanks to my wonderful husband and our network of friends and family, but it was far from ideal. I guess they can’t all be “the best”…and that’s okay too.

I have two super powers! My most practical one is my super organization skills: give me a hundred people (or pieces of information, etc.), all with disparate skills, schedules and considerations, and I can fit them together into a cohesive team. Comes in very handy for coordinating volunteers or events. My *best* super power, though, is: I can cluck just like a chicken. I amaze friends and strangers with my extraordinary chicken noises on a regular basis. I can also do a decent impression of a goat.

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Casey Kay January 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Oh my goodness! That’s quite a whopper from an empty trashcan…Scary!

It’s great that you have been able to find such a great support system for those times when you really need it, and that you can use your special super power to add to that group. As for my super power, I’m not quite sure what that is yet.

Happy New Year! :-)

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Another Suburban Mom January 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Headwounds are GROSS. I ended up in the ER twice when each child was three since they both seemed determined to crack their heads on tables.

Good for you for getting yourself out of your bad place. I always had faith in you that you could.

My superpower? I have supersensitive bat hearing (but its getting selective) and I also always believe the best in people. I still also believe in Santa a little, which I think is more than ok.

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Heather @ Bake, Run, Live January 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I’m sorry you had such a rough holiday, but I’m glad you have been able to see your strength. God reveals his lessons in his own way, on his time.
You have so many super-powers. Your kindness, the amount of love you show and give to people, your strength, your courage, your ability to see the good in things. All of these (and more) make you an amazing woman!

My super-power (and weakness at times) is the ability to see the good in people.

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rach January 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I believe my super power is the ability to un-do knots. It comes in quite handy at times, especially since I’m very good at knotting things.

It’s amazing to me that we can still live through our “stuff” years after they’ve happened. I find myself recalling moments from my anorexia days, as if they were yesterday, even though rehab was over 20 years ago. Giant *hugs* to you, & here’s hoping that 2012 is the most wonderful year ever! God bless you.

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Joan January 3, 2012 at 7:37 am

Thank you for sharing your experience of PTSD and helping us to understand better what our loved ones are enduring after surviving a trauma. A member of my family was in an abusive relationship at age 17, ended up dropping out of school and is still floundering 3 years later.

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Joshua January 3, 2012 at 7:42 am

That cake is full of awesome, though I’m 1) disappointed at the inclusion of Robin when there are other members of the Justice League that should have priority, 2) disappointed that they would mix DC and Marvel characters onto the same cake, and 3) disappointed that I have failed to prepare you with the appropriate knowledge to identify Aquaman in there.

Still so sorry about the kid. Ouch!

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StoriesAndSweetPotatoes January 3, 2012 at 10:04 am

That cake is the most awesome thing ever.
This post was very moving to me. There is something special about being able to see the good in people when you have seen so much bad.
I’m so glad I found your blog!

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Heather January 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I think my super power is seeing the abilities in those I work with (therapeutic horseback riding) rather than the disabilities. I tend to not “see” the diagnosis. I last got to use my power in September, but will get to again in April when our 2012 season starts up.

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bjbella5 January 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Just home from the hospital, cheers to spending the New Year tending to a sick child!

{{{{hugs}}}} to you. PTSD sucks (having my own issues after my kiddo having to go back to the hospital). Can I add that your superpower is being able to clearly verbalize difficult things, such as an episode of PTSD. It is so helpful to me, as I suck at trying to explain the crazy going on inside my head ;-)

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amy January 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm

First, I had to show my 12-year old daughter the picture of the. She is a huge superhero fan. She was able to identify the layer, and she would like to have this cake at her next birthday party. I think for the first five years of having children we were in the ER monthly due to injuries or illness. It always seemed I had just paid off a medical bill. we wer yearse
ing

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Tanya January 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Many hugs for you Charlotte. I’m so glad that you have found this path to self discovery.

Only once have I ever written down my superpowers, and that was quite a long time ago. My superpowers seem to interchange, swap and then totally shift over the years. So I would say in this instance I love to morph (especially in work situations). It may seem fickle, and maybe it is. But at the same time it comes with it’s benefits. I love to try something at least once in my lifetime. Even if I’ve never tried it, I’ll say to myself “Yeh, that looks really good. I have to try that”.

I used to work in logistics and communication for 13 years. Asking a person like myself to stay so solid for such a long period of time; made me want to crack a Freddy Mercury and sing a rendition of I Want To Break Free. I resigned and took on so many different roles after that point: Working in charity, then it was creating my own home business; before I was doing data entry and in my last bout of interests, truck driving for a large chain because I’m short (5’1) and loved the sensation of sitting up high (even though I used to get gawked at from time to time). I’m starting to settle down a bit now that I had my sense of liberation from my first employer, and have since chosen a new path.

BUT I’m still very easily distracted by bright and shiny coins. I’m a knowledge leech who loves to try new things, what can I say.

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Kriscia January 17, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I think we all want to have a superpower and If I can have, I will choose to solve the problem of every person…

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