PTSD isn’t just for the soldier, but within every trauma survivor is a soldier.
Trauma can result in symptoms. The problem is, most people don’t recognize their quirky habits as symptoms.
I used to work in a call center. I can not describe the amount of mental stress it caused me. Now I know why. At the time…I didn’t. I was always jumpy then. I don’t mean a little. I mean, I was very jumpy, always alert. Always looking over my shoulder. Always waiting for anyone of my male co-workers to rape me. I thought this was normal.
We had a long cardboard tube that was always passed around. It was an empty tube of wrapping paper. One girl in particular loved walking up behind people and saying “Yaaak” down the tube that was aimed at their ear. In most cases, the victim would jump, and we all would laugh.
The day she tried it on me, I jumped up, shaking from head to toe, my arm was back, ready to attack. We laughed as I found my breath and tried to calm myself. Thirty minutes later, she did it again. And again. Each time, no matter how many times, I had the same reaction. Jump to my feet, stand, and arm back ready to fight. I couldn’t stop shaking.
I laughed alongside them. I walked to the bathroom, curled up in a stall and hugged myself while I sobbed. I didn’t know it then, but that, was PTSD. The sudden loud “yak” from behind my back signaled to my mind to attack. It was the surprise and the noise. Both were a trigger for me. Both still are. I didn’t know it then, but now…
The thing with PTSD is, without awareness—being ignorant of your condition—worsens it. Without awareness, you’ll keep getting triggered. Triggers worsen the condition. I was once triggered so much, for so long that I became a shut in and created a nest. I didn’t feel safe even walking out of my bedroom. I look over my shoulder every time I left my room to use the bathroom. That is where I was only four months ago.
Talking on the phone is also a trigger for me. I worked in a call center. You do the math. Once a trigger is tripped, the sufferer of PTSD becomes “hyperaroused.”
To be hyperaroused is to mean the sufferer is sensitive to triggers. The state of hyperarousal can be as strong as someone with Autism. Smells, taste, alertness, touch, sight, and, in my case, sound…all the senses become heightened with awareness. In the call center, I would become triggered with my first phone call (Phone calls are another trigger of mine). For the rest of the day, I would sit in hyperarousal, jumping at the smallest sound. Looking and expecting danger. In my mind, I was at war. To all others, I was sitting in a cubicle answering phones.
On the outside, I looked like a 4’11” 110-pound petite female ex-ballerina with a reputation to be a bit jumpy. Inside my head, I was Rambo living in the world of Apocalypse Now. Inside my heart, I was naked and chained to the floor alone, trembling in the dark with no way to escape.
But what is PTSD? Really. What is it?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a disorder one suffers after trauma. But what is the “Stress?”
PTSD, in my own words, is the state of mind a trauma survivor stays in after experiencing a traumatic event(s). Things, words, smells, sights, sounds, anything can trigger a memory, and the PTSD survivor is mentally transported back to the event. That is a flashback. In that state, the trauma survivor re-lives their trauma.
Seriously! If you haven’t seen it watch Star Trek. Watch the episode when Jean-Luc Picard goes back to his home village in Next Generation. Phenomenal example of PTSD. You see the flashbacks, the breakdowns, the hyperarousal. Tom Hanks in Captain Philips! Mr. Hanks CAPTURES the state of surviving the trauma, to shock, to the beginnings of PTSD. Gorgeous portrayal! Now that I know what it is, I see it everywhere. I was surprised at how much of it is everywhere.
I’m going to get graphic. For that, I am sorry.
In my case, hearing a male orgasm teleports me back to my rapes. Certain positions, certain phrases, certain clothes even all reminds me, and suddenly I see my rapists all over again and I forget that I am in 2015 in my home making love to my husband. In my mind, I am back in 1995 and I’m chained to a bed in that room. Or it’s 9/11 and I’m being raped while thinking of the thousands who died in New York only moments ago. In my mind, it is 1995 or 2001. My husband calls my name and says, “Angela. You’re here. You’re okay. That was then. This is now. You’re here now.” I slip back to 2015 and am surprised to see my husband there. He says he can literally see me slip into the past. My face apparently changes.
A dog barks, and suddenly I see my step-brother standing over me with a pipe and he’s screaming he’ll kill me. A baby cries, an animal screams and I’m seeing their little bodies ripped apart all over again. The phone rings and I’m on the phone with the pedophile and he’s my puppet master all over again.
The worse is with TV. A movie changes to sexual content, and at once, I’m prepared for rape and I brace for the pedophile who forced me to perform every single time over every minute sexual reference. No matter where we were. Movie theater, the car, the backyard, my father’s couch. Every movie I watch must be pre-screened. And then there are the movies that subconsciously slip in triggers. They are the worse. Most Batman films, most of Tim Burton, and all horrors and thrillers. Anything with sexual content or nudity of any kind. I have a list of banned movies.
Ironically, I can watch war movies. It triggers me, but in a good way, I say. My therapist has advised me not to watch them as they put me in the state of hyperarousal. My husband has been very supportive and does a lot to help me through this.
This is what I relive when I am triggered. This is PTSD. But that’s not the hard part. The hard part is accepting that my rapes, abuse, neglect, and the torture were all abnormal. The hard part is accepting that those events were traumatic.
“No they weren’t,” I argued with my therapist.
She asked, “How many children do you think saw the animal abuse you saw?”
“All of them,” I answered and she shook her head. “Almost none of them. How many were raped?”
“All of them.”
“Rape is traumatic.”
“No it’s not. I got through it. I’m fine.” I’m tapping my fingers on the edge of the chair. I’m moving my foot so my knee is jittering and I’m looking about the room from left to right. “I’m fine.”
“Are you?” she asks.
“Yes.” I begin biting my thumb nail. “I just can’t be around sex ever.” I want to cry, but I’m holding that in. I’ll be weak and vulnerable if I break. But not I. I won’t ever break. I’ll just keep it contained, behind my walls, and I see rapists everywhere.
The hardest part is altering your perspective drastically enough to see your past as traumatic and finally…finally calling it for what it is. Trauma. Only then, can you start to see the signs. Only then, can you recognize the triggers and then…only then you can try to stop them.