I’m alone in the house. My boyfriend is out running errands. I’m sitting at the computer, studying. The front door is open. I’m aware of the trees in the wind, the sound of a leaf blower down the road. I feel mildly uncomfortable, but I’m focusing on studying. I turn my attention back to the computer, but I am constantly aware of the open door. It’s a nagging itch in the back of my head.
I’m getting antsy. My shoulders are tense, and I can feel the beginnings of a headache. I notice the breeze from the open door, but it makes me even more uncomfortable. The outside is invading the inside – my safe space, the place where my mind is at rest. I decide to get up and get a knife. I keep it on the desk in front of me as I continue to study. A few minutes later, the uncomfortable feeling has turned unbearable. I keep imagining someone barreling through the door, determined to hurt me. My heart starts to race, and I feel clammy. I have to get up to close the door. I get up, run over to the door, and slam it shut. I lock the main lock and the dead bolt, then sit back down and continue to study, my fears relieved.
The grocery store is packed, even early in the morning. I get up as early as possible to avoid the crowds, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I keep close to my boyfriend as we quickly grab what we need. We’re halfway to the register when my boyfriend stops short.
“Oh, we forgot the eggs. Can you grab them?”
My chest feels tight. I nod, but I want to say no, run into the bathroom, and never come out. I turn around, lift my chin up, and march back to the refrigerated section. Faking confidence makes me feel confident, and I keep my eyes focused on the path ahead of me. I feel like everyone has their eyes on me as I walk past the makeup aisle. I stop short at the produce section – a woman turned the corner without looking. She apologizes, but I hurry past her. The eggs are the only thing on my mind. My heart is pounding in my chest.
The dairy aisle is empty, except for a guy. He’s minding his own business, but I am filled with dread. I remind myself where I am, and what I’m here to do. The eggs. I grab them, make sure they’re not cracked, and hurry back to the register.
We’re watching TV. I made the mistake of not checking to see what was in the movie, and an upsetting scene comes on. I freeze. My brain feels like it had short circuited. I can’t talk or move. I’m back in a bad moment in my life. Fear courses through my body, and I feel icy cold. I keep forgetting to breathe. My boyfriend quickly turns off the TV, but I’m already crying, heaving, choked sobs. I spend the rest of the day trying to scrub that memory out of my head and move on. I have nightmares that night.
I’m in the exam room, waiting for the doctor. I know the doctor is a man, and I’m so tense my jaw hurts. He comes in, bright and cheerful, but my heart sinks when he closes the door. I know it’s normal, routine. I remind myself that my phone is in my lap, he’s a doctor with good intentions, and in ten minutes I’ll be out of here. The doctor, seeing my discomfort, asks if I want a female nurse in the room. I nod quickly, and he calls in a nurse. I’m at ease. She smiles at me and my shoulders relax. After the exam, I take a klonopin and cry in the car.
PTSD symptoms are different for everyone, of course. Some people experience one symptom more strongly than another. Some people have physical flashbacks, some have emotional flashbacks.
These are real life experiences I’ve had in the past. I’ve been asked what PTSD feels like, and this post is the best way I can explain it. It’s an overwhelming feeling of dread. You don’t feel safe – imagine a tiger is loose in your town, but you don’t know where it is. Crowds makes me anxious, new places and people give me anxiety. Therapy has been a lifesaver, and reasonably forcing myself out of my comfort zone helps immensely. What some people consider simple – grabbing the eggs – is an almost insurmountable task for me. My body is always on high alert, looking for the next threat.
Thankfully, I’ve improved greatly this past year, and these moments are less and less common. Baby steps. ❤