EMDR, Fear, flashbacks, Nightmare on Elm Street, nightmares, Panic attacks, Post-traumatic stress, PTSD, Therapy, Trauma, triggers, Wes Craven
Tried to describe PTSD to a friend, recently. What it’s been like for me, and why my recent encounters with EMDR are so miraculous, given the world I’ve been inhabiting.
To illustrate, I spoke of the creations of Wes Craven’s classic schlock horror, Nightmare on Elm Street. Y’know, how those kids in the movie tried really, really hard to stay awake and out of that nightmare zone.
But inevitably they had to fall asleep. Though, they never saw sleep coming. Didn’t know they were in the dream until, well, they were in it. The slippery divide between those worlds was translucently thin, sliding over the boundaries without realising it.
And Freddie was always waiting for them. Scaring the crap out of them. In some cases, scaring them to death.
Throughout most of that movie, they didn’t feel like they were in control at all.
This is the insidiousness of PTSD. And I believe, it’s partly why it’s so traumatic.
It’s not just the memories being on repeat; it’s that you seemingly can’t control when they appear or how it impacts you. Triggers can be both known and unknown. The unknown ones are the real kickers.
And the trauma is caused by having life as you know it continuously swamped by this broken record, stuck on repeat at random intervals.
The memory itself, was terrifying in the first place. Of course. But repeated over and over… it can stop your heart. Makes dying feel like a much simpler solution. A rest. A break.
But then, it’s not just the flashbacks, though that’s a hefty chunk of the issue. When PTSD arrives, fear and anxiety are the bitter after-taste in your mouth you can’t quite identify. Always there, flaring up when it’s least welcome.
The trickiest thing to understand from the outside looking in… someone who looks perfectly ‘normal’, can, at a moment’s notice become a complete wreck. Can suddenly act like a different person. And mostly, they can’t possibly explain what’s happening to them.
I lost a friend that way, once. She wasn’t exactly a very good friend. But one of the few I did have here in Melbourne at the time.
We were walking to a cinema, and were suddenly walking in very crowded area. There was some sort of festival on, and it became a flesh press… to move from point A to point B, it was necessary to slowly force your way through the crowd physically.
Which completely freaked me out. From my friend’s perspective, I totally over-reacted to what was going on. I had what I can now recognise as classic panic attack symptoms.
But this was only months after I was assaulted, and I had no idea what was happening to me.
My stress levels didn’t evaporate, and when we finally got into the movie, once again I over-reacted to what was going on. Which was (one of my pet hates) people talking in the cinema. It was just previews, which I usually tolerate. But this time I was really angry and aggressive towards the young dorky boys in front of me. Completely out of character for me.
Apparently the combination of these two events was enough for my friend to decide she couldn’t cope with hanging out with me any longer. I was too ‘unpredictable’ for her.
No one likes rejection, and I tried to explain to her what happened (as best I could) but she wasn’t buying it. Which, actually, was kinda fine with me, given she was one of those people who would complain about her other friends to the person she was hanging out with.
But it’s tough… like those kids in Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s impossible to put a stop to PTSD while you’re enclosed in its iron grip. And really hard to properly communicate what’s going on to other people. Especially non-empathetic people.
And it’s a process, waking up to what’s happening to you… to know your triggers (if you ever can know them all), and then… to finally feel like you’ve got a shot at beating it.
PTSD is after all, a kind of warped safety mechanism of the mind, trying to protect the person who’s been traumatised. The twist is, it actually traps them inside a fragile ‘safe space’. Makes them feel like the ongoing trauma is being done to them by someone or something else. Mostly, because the trauma was inflicted by someone else/an external experience.
But its not. PTSD is a defective thought process. It’s broken. It’s stuck on repeat, and in fact, its your own mind torturing you. A tough one to accept, because the flashbacks are so all-encompassing and terrible. It doesn’t ever feel like its something your own mind is creating.
However, it is possible to recover from. That’s what I’m discovering.
For my next trick, I need to let go of the vestiges of this thing. Apparently, I can start getting used to living in a world that doesn’t suddenly shift into a nightmare any more.
I can’t tell you how amazing the idea of that seems to me right now. And I’m slowly trying to trust that it might actually be the truth…
P.S. Note: This is not what I’m experiencing right now. I’m not struggling with PTSD once again. I just felt moved to write this explanation because I realised… there’s a lot of people who really don’t get what’s going on for someone in the grip of this very tricky mind game…
Ah, Svasti–I’m so sorry to hear you are struggling with PTSD right now. Sometimes, when you start a new therapy, it forces issues to the surface and things often can get more gnarly before they get better. The great thing is that you are writing it out your feelings. And not only is this beneficial for you–but to so many others who will read what you wrote.
I couldn’t help but feeling anger for the ‘friend’ who rejected you. I cannot imagine rejecting someone who opened up to me and let me know what was going on. But to me, the very essence of a friend is someone who sticks with you when you ARE going through the rough times (and let’s face it, all of us, as members of the human race) have rough times that we count on our friends to help us through. Would that I would have been there, Svasti.
Take care, my friend–and here’s another virtual ((((((hug))))).
wow… what an incredible and new way of describing something(s) I’m quite familiar with… reading this was like shining a brighter light into a similar dark corner that resides within me…
Thank You 🙂
@Melinda – Oh, I’ve just added a “P.S.” to the post. No, I’m not struggling with this right now, just expressing some of how its been as I’m on the way out… because it seems appropriate.
I’ve learned there’s no point holding grudges or feeling anger because someone couldn’t deal with what I’ve been through or how I acted as a result. Everyone after all, has their own inner wounds, and for some people that means they can’t and don’t have empathy or the ability to support others. I get that, so… even though at the time I was pissed off at her, now I can see it from her perspective.
Many thanks to you, for your ongoing support and care. I wish you had’ve been there, too. 🙂
@Victor – Thank you, what wonderful feedback! I’m glad that it helps you in some way!
Oh good! I’m so glad to hear that! I should stop projecting my own experiences into others. 🙂 When I first entered therapy (the successful time), I struggled for about 2 weeks–really awful–but then the storm started to really clear.
I’m so glad to hear you are doing well, my friend–
@Melinda – No, I can see how this post might’ve read like I was living through these experiences again! Off to another therapy session this afternoon. Seems we’re on a roll. Each session is hard, for sure, and knocks me around a little. But then, I bounce back and its good… really good.
I think too, I’m finding it a little strange to suddenly be feeling so much better. Like, a lot better. Its quite a dramatic shift, and as much as I’ve shared here, I don’t know I’ve ever explained what I attempted to express in this post…
I’m cheering for you Svasti. Thanks for this post. PTSD is something that is so misunderstood.
Catatonic Kid said:
Brilliant post, Svasti 🙂 You explain it so dang well. Maybe that’s one (or can be one) of the signs of recovery? Actually being to able to translate our experiences of the ‘whole’…
The Nightmare on Elm Street analogy makes a heap of sense to me. That ‘Dream Warriors’ one captures something of the tripped out nature of the whole thing for me.
Do you think that this (excellent) explanation of PTSD flowed more easily because you weren’t experiencing symptoms at the time?
The more I read here the more I’m wondering if I’ve had mild episodes of it since a horrendous episode in my first marriage (not the morning I woke up with him choking the breath out of me, thinking I was his brother….much worse than that). I’ve never been able to forget it, in spite of writing a short story based on it that did help. All I can say is that, decades later, it takes only a comment from someone to get me completely riled up and protective of the defenseless.
Thanks for your posts!
@tricia – I cheer for you too, Tricia. I know you can get there. Gotta stop giving yourself such a hard time, though!
And I agree, PTSD is really misunderstood.
@Catatonic Kid – Thanks heaps, coming from you, I take that as a huge compliment! I think partly with PTSD, its hard at first to know what the hell is going on. The tentacles of the disorder reach into so many unexpected parts of our lives. And that makes it really tricky to understand when seemingly unrelated issues crop up.
And to try and explain what’s going on? Well, I think that’s the passing of time, in part. But yeah, sure, also it must have something to do with recovery.
P.S. I cleaned up your duplicate posting! 😉
@Lydia – Having both written about PTSD from inside an episode, and from the outside looking in… I don’t know that one is better than the other. Different, yes.
This explanation came about because I was trying to give someone else (who’s never had any kind of mental illness) an idea of what its like to live with PTSD. She knows me well enough, and when I was going through the worst of the trauma, I used to work with her. And yet, at the time she didn’t know because I did everything I could to conceal it.
So, this came out of my attempt to help her ‘get it’ – see what is invisible to everyone else.
The most surprising thing for me about PTSD was actually accepting that I could have it in the first place. I really thought it was something only “really traumatised” people experienced!!
But, apparently, if you’ve experienced any kind of incident where you felt your life was threatened enough and death was imminent, PTSD can raise its ugly mal-adjusted head.
I hope if you need it, you get some help with your recurrent memories. Its been the most liberating thing I’ve done for myself! 🙂
“PTSD is after all, a kind of warped safety mechanism of the mind, trying to protect the person who’s been traumatised.” This was really interesting. I have never heard it put this way–it is wise and helpful to read.
I came over here partly to thank you for the lovely comment you left for me, and although I still want to do that (thank you!) I am struck by so many other things in this post that I don’t know where to start.
I’m so glad to read that you are not struggling with PTSD at the moment, it’s good to read the writing of someone who is getting there, who has got some kind of a handle on it. The unpredictability of the triggers, the lack of understanding among acquaintances and the way your life can shrink because of the desire to over protect yourself are things I recognise from my own experience. I have never been able to properly put into words what happens for me, so seeing what you have written, and feeling able to recognise some of it is really helpful.
Excellent post, Svasti! I’m going to send it to my mother. I think she’s totally lost, and I’ve not been able to express it to her well at all. Hopefully it’ll help her, especially when she’s inadvertently stepped in one of my emotional potholes and feels bad about it. Not her fault, or mine, that they’re there.
@RB – Well, its just my interpretation. Its how it seems to me, anyway!
@Bird – You’re welcome! I’m glad that what I’ve written helps you a little.
The work I’ve been doing with my therapist using EMDR has radically transformed my experience. Right now, I don’t feel affected at all by PTSD. Which is nothing short of amazing. That’s what I’m trying to say really.
@Immi – Hey, for sure, send this to your mother. I’m not sure that my experience would be the same for everyone, but possibly for many others, since its an experience of being human and dealing with trauma. 🙂
Bobby Revell said:
I don’t know why, but I am prompted to think of the samurai and other ancient martial arts, and how it came to be that their philosophy of peace was woven into being fearless or willingness to fight to the death. And I believe they understood how the normal human psyche is not prepared for such traumatic events naturally, it’s something to train for. None of us are really prepared to deal with having something horrific or evil happen to us, especially if we’re young. And it’s nearly impossible to prepare for it if and when it does, but still we must prepare and become ready. Ready to deal with anything, no matter how terrible. Still, so much easier to say than do. I suppose it’s natural to be driven by emotion (some of us more so than others), but even for the most sensitive, it is possible to conquer our fears even when they’re not our fault.
Just so you know, over the past several weeks I felt the most powerful storm of looming depression coming on. You know, when you just know weeks or months of harrow are on the way. Something unexplainable happened. I embraced it and allowed it in—and the storm missed me. It’s not that I rejected the feeling, it’s that I welcomed it with open arms and it never came. The next day I felt reborn. I am still confounded of just how much progress I’ve made after an entire lifetime of this depression. And I know our situations are totally different, but I do know you will succeed in absolute totality.
A great post that really made me think. Just what I needed today. Thank you:)
This sounds like a very interesting thing! I had to Wikipedia it the first time I saw those letters… never heard of it before!
Thanks for visiting/commenting 🙂 … ears ARE weird! I recall having an ear infection when I was a kid… they are horribly painful, and on top of that, feeling like you are walking through one of those tilted funhouse things or something… not pleasant!
Another reason that the ringing in my ears made it to the pages of my blog could be that I’ve been meditating more than I ever have now… since I applied to the course… I was finding myself irritated by the ringing in my ears… kind of like a train of thought that won’t go away. I discovered a way to make it not interfere though… if I find myself feeling distracted by it I REALLY focus on it… I don’t know why exactly but doing that has made it considerably less irritating… it is like my head has a built in mantra or something! lol
If you are curious about the meditation course I’m disappearing to in 4 DAYS (OMG!) … here is a link: http://www.torana.dhamma.org/
@Bobby – Y’know, warriors live for the battle, but understand peace is a good thing. And absolutely thrive when there’s something to defend.
But I don’t agree – in this modern world of ours, there’s no need for most people to be on alert. And I’d say that no matter how prepared/unprepared you are, that doesn’t stop your brain mis-firing, caused by the shock of something unexpected happening.
Glad to hear you were able to meet the latest wave of depression so well. That’s a wonderful point to be able to reach. 🙂
@Victor – Which letters? PTSD or EMDR? The interesting thing about meditation, is that you can find a place of peace from the ringing in your ears, even though it might never stop. Hoping you find that place soon. Vipassana, eh? Well, enjoy and I look forward to reading of your experiences!!