computer virus, ducking for cover, fight or flight, freak show, glitching, human cesspool, illicit hiding places, iron-fisted punch, neurological aberration, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, Recovery is a bitch, triggers
Lately I’ve begun to think about PTSD as kind of like a computer virus: once it’s in, you’ve gotta completely scrub the hard drive to expunge it. Only thing is, there’s plenty of places for it to hide and then pop up unexpectedly. Taking you by surprise and completely fucking things up. Temporarily at least.
I’ve discussed this before with my lovely friend CK – She Who Also Knows – that in some ways, it’s all a lot easier to cope when you’re still mostly crippled by that blasted virus. You’re intimately involved with what to expect and you’re way more used to ducking for cover. PTSD in full flight might suck big time, but at least you know what’s coming. Well, sorta.
But when you’ve worked your ass off to clear the decks and you’ve kicked over as many illicit hiding places as you can, you begin to feel a great deal more normal. Which is completely awesome. It’s nice to be able to function effectively in day to day life. Really.
Until you don’t. Until you start glitching. Until some stupid little trigger you didn’t even know existed, makes itself known.
These days most people I interact with don’t know about my PTSD history. I don’t often feel the need to talk about it because it generally doesn’t incapacitate me anymore.
Until it does.
Not just in the here, have a physical illness to go along with your mental health issues kind of way. And not in the wow, did you know that PTSD weakens the immune system kind of way, either.
I’m talking about the sort of shit that makes you look like a freak show to the uninitiated. One minute all is well and the next, you can barely breathe. Your throat is closing as if someone is strangling you. You unintentionally mess up the lovely night out we were all having until you flipped.
That kind of freak show.
Ah yes. That was me on Saturday night. Out with my beautiful-of-heart friend, M, and one of her mates. A girl’s night out (without the drinking since none of us were, for various reasons).
I’d no idea that I’d be triggered by being in an over-crowded bar/club. We had fun, we were talking and then dancing to some of the cheesy music being played (Whitney Houston or Tina Turner, anyone?).
And it was all good until, perhaps, the crowd capacity maxxed out. Suddenly it was wall-to-wall people. Elbows in backs, drinks in danger of being spilled and no room to move. Forget dancing – it was all you could do to shuffle around on the spot. Not my idea of a good time.
But even then, I was fine. Until something snapped. Don’t know what. One too many up-close-and-personal moments with complete strangers, perhaps? The sensory overload of music, people, voices and being in a place I wouldn’t choose to hang out in myself? Maybe.
All I know is that I couldn’t stand dancing in that human cesspool any longer. The fight or flight mechanism had kicked in and I wasn’t doing so well. My poor friend M was caught between her other pal and I. M’s friend wanted to keep dancing (if you can call standing flesh-to-flesh in a crowd actually dancing) and I wanted, no, needed space.
Now, I’ve been out plenty of times in recent history. I’ll go to music gigs, hang out at festivals where there’s lots of people. But for whatever reason, I was triggered. And the problem with being triggered is that the world doesn’t make much sense any more. I couldn’t figure out that I should just leave, even though I really wanted to.
My friend M had never seen this happen to me before (she’s only recently moved back to Australia from the UK). So she didn’t really understand what was going on, and with my throat closing in I could barely speak. M kept asking me if I was okay, but my basic PTSD modus operandi has always been to deny that anything is wrong.
So I nod my head and plead with my eyes, I’m okay. I really am. All the while, coughing (a classic sign of stress for me) and sucking on ice cubes from my drink (cranberry and soda with a slice of lime).
It’s not like I wasn’t trying to change how I felt. I worked on controlling my breathing, but it was really hard going. When the fight or flight wild horses take off at a gallop, it’s very tricky to regain control.
M’s other friend really didn’t understand why I was being such a buzz kill. The only thing that made any difference was leaving that environment. Which we did, eventually… the night was pretty much over after that.
I took a tram home and slowly recovered, all the while I was kicking myself. Because I know just how weird that sort of experience can look to others. I’ve lost friends over similar incidents before.
And poor M was feeling terribly guilty that she didn’t get me out of the bar sooner. But really, neither of us had any way of knowing what was going on. Just like those viruses that get past your firewall and raise all kinds of weird and wacky hell on your laptop… completely unforeseeable stuff.
Unfortunately this little meltdown caused Sunday to be a total write off. That kind of neurological aberration socks a particularly iron-fisted punch. I slept until around 1pm and when I got up, I was dizzy. As in, whoah, I know which direction vertical is but I’m kinda all over the shop.
I spent the afternoon eating, resting and writing because that’s about all I had the bandwidth for. And to think I used to somehow get by with those sorts of experiences happening multiple times a day! (“Get by” might be slightly ironic).
So it looks like I’m still not done with PTSD. There’s more to do. And instead of feeling devastated about it, I’m thankful for what happened. Because if I hadn’t had that experience, I’d still be thinking I’m further along the healing path than I actually am.
Recovery is a bitch, but giving up just isn’t an option. Not anymore.