In a previous post I wrote about some of ways I have attempted to deal with my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For anyone who is battling this disorder, it is no easy feat. Not only is it difficult to deal with, it is also hard to explain to others including friends, family, and even to one’s therapist. This disorder makes me feel-for lack of a better term-“crazy.” PTSD makes me feel things I don’t want to feel and drags me to places in my past that I don’t want to go. It blurs that line between the past and present so that you feel lost with no emotional anchor. Yet how does one explain this so that others will understand? This post is my attempt to describe what this experience is like for me when I have a PTSD episode. I would encourage those of you who also have post-traumatic stress disorder to share your stories. The more we talk about this openly, the more we can bring awareness to the general public. We can do this together.
It is some coincidence that I was just writing about PTSD last week and this week I experienced a full blown episode. PTSD usually begins with some sort of trigger. The thing about PTSD triggers is that they can take you by surprise. Some experts advise to write down all your triggers. The thing is…you cannot possibly know what some of these triggers will be until they happen. This is one of the horrible aspects of PTSD is that a trigger can seemingly come out of the blue without warning. Just when you think you have control and a handle on things, a trigger will remind you that these traumatic memories are still right under the surface.
My recent PTSD trigger was a news story about an owner of exotic animals who killed himself after setting more than fifty of these animals free to roam the community. Bears, lions, tigers, and assorted wild cats were hunted down and killed by the local sheriff and his deputies in order to protect the people who lived near the animal compound. Some news reports showed graphic images of the dead animals lying side by side. As an animal lover, I was horrified by this tragedy. But it was the visuals that did me in emotionally. The pleading of the owner’s wife to not to take her “babies” was also heartbreaking. It was a situation that could have been avoided had authorities stepped in years earlier to prevent this man from hoarding wild animals.
At first I felt upset but it was the sort of upset anyone feels when they hear about a tragic news story. You feel badly but from a distance. But then I heard a response on the news that somehow “it was for the best” for these animals to be killed. Those words triggered a memory I had forgotten and I could feel the episode coming. When I was eleven years old my mother, who suffers from schizophrenia, had a major breakdown. The breakdown didn’t happen over-night. It was brewing for months. She was having both visual and auditory hallucinations. She was so paranoid that she had a knife under her pillow. My mother was neglecting any self-care or care for me. We had very little food in the house and no heat except for a couple of electric heaters. It was winter and it was becoming very cold. We would wear coats to bed and I could see my breath. My mother had stopped cleaning. Mostly she would sleep, talk to herself, and smoke. She was down to smoking butts. It was near Christmas and I put up our artificial tree in our bedroom and decorated it to have some vestige of normalcy.