I have PTSD. I have had it for 30 years, which is the majority of my life. My mental status quo is as good as it's going to get, and it's lightyears better than it was when I was growing up.
Most people who meet me think I'm neurotypical. I'm not. People with schizophrenia, autism, or aspbergers peg me as one of their tribe almost immediately, and I'm not, although I share certain aspects of each of those. PTSD changes the composition and chemical makeup of your brain. Mine has been changed for most of my life, and I'm still struggling with a certain amount of disassociation and hypervigilance. But because people assume I'm "normal", they don't understand why I'm not social, or why I'll insist that I can't do something that is easy for them. I tell them, "That will make me panic." The most infuriating response is when people say it'd be "cute" or "funny" to make that happen. Because they think I'm normal, see, so they think I'd maybe hyperventilate or possibly scream a little.
That isn't what panic looks like on me. My fight-or-flight doesn't have a 'flight' option.
I know what my triggers are. I don't like being in a situation where loads of people are staring at me, particularly if they're all standing behind me, or between me and the only exit in a room. Rooms with only one exit make me nervous. Having my wrists restrained is a bad one, though it's gotten less bad over the years. The feeling of being smothered, which can include the water from the shower pouring over my face or a bathroom full of steam. Things jumping out at me. Loud, sudden noises. High pitched noises. Being in a room with a lot of background noise or loud music or conversations, because then I can't hear the things around me. Gunshots when I'm not expecting them, especially at close range. Gunshots on a shooting range is perfectly fine, because I have ear pro on and the sound is muffled - and if I'm on a range, I've prepared myself to be there. Things coming toward my face. The feel of certain textures. The most odd one came up recently - the part of an avacado, the dark green part just under the dinosaur-egg shell. Not the light green edible yumminess - the slimy outer coating. Touching it will send me into hysterics, because it feels like the layer of tissue between scalp and skull. Because I know what that feels like. I have known since I was 7 years old.
It's rare that I have a triggered panic attack anymore, because I've learned to control my environments and the people I'm around. I've learned to lock myself down and I've also learned how to talk myself out of the hysteria tree, for the most part. But let me walk you through what it feels like.
It starts with nervousness, a tightening of the gut, and the need to look around the room, find the exits, examine faces. Hypervigilance sets in hardcore and I start examining the minutae of the room, the people, their body language, their expression, things they're saying. I start obsessively counting things - how many times that person tapped their hand, how many cups are on that table. My brain itemizes which things around me could be used as a weapon. It finds places in the room that could be held against a mob. It assesses who is most likely to be a threat, where they are in the room, where they are in proximity to me. The gut tightening gets worse and I start convulsively swallowing, because there's a horrible metallic taste in my mouth. It's the adrenaline, and I know that, but I always think if I just swallow enough, it'll go away. It never does. Unlike a lot of people, I don't hyperventilate - I go the opposite way and have to force myself to breathe, otherwise I'm holding my breath with anxious anticipation. My heart will start to hammer and I'll often break out in a sweat. At this point, I'm still aware and cogent and able to take steps to make sure it doesn't get to the next part. I duck out or duck under something. If I'm in a room full of people, this is when I get outside, and barring that, I put myself in a corner or under a table. Literally, under a table. It drops the acoustic ceiling and makes it less noisy so I can focus and breathe.
If someone is foolish enough to try to stop me leaving, or makes a big issue of what I'm doing, say by pointing it out or trying to be "helpful" and talking to me in baby-reassurance talk, it will just reinforce that I'm going bugfuck and make my anxiety that much worse. Even at this point, I'm still aware enough to snap at people and tell them to back up off me, leave me alone, don't touch me. If left alone long enough, I will either calm down and get a grip or GTFO of the situation. The best thing to do, if I'm in this situation, is to back away and ignore me until I grab the sanity reins again.
But there are people in this world who Do Not Get It. They think they're "helping" by doing things like hugging me or getting in my personal space or trying to "talk me down". Which for some stupid reason involves touching me.
The panic can go from "lucid" to "unholy monkeyfuck batshit" in less time than it took you to read that. When that happens, my vision goes grey around the edges and becomes hyper focused tunnelvision. Everything is warped and out of perspective, because my brain has just decided reality is not where it wants to be and disassociated, and I'm so flooded with adrenaline that I am literally hallucinating. I'm seeing monsters. I don't recognize people around me, and you don't want to be in my peripheral vision. I don't understand English. Everything is warped and terrifying and threatening. All I want is to be left alone
and anything coming toward me is perceived as a threat, and I only have one way of responding to a threat.
I go fucking berserk
. I hit, kick, slap, bite, headbutt, knee, elbow, and basically become a whirling, spitting, screaming, swearing, hissing, growling dervish of insane fury and will beat the living fuck out of whatever is in my personal space. I won't feel any damage I take, because my adrenaline output is so high. I won't stop attacking
unless people back up or pile enough bodies on me that I can't - and that makes it much, much worse. Leave me alone and I can bring myself back down out of the monkeyfuck tree eventually. Restrain me in any way, and I lose my shit and will scream until my throat bleeds, and require pumping enough sedatives into me to knock me out cold, because even under chemical restraints, if I am aware, I will fight. If sedation is required, I wake up in an ambulance or a hospital and that's yet another trigger, but doctors and nurses generally know to leave the panicking person the hell alone.
The most horrible thing is that somewhere, I'm aware the whole time this is going on. I'm disassociated, so part of me is watching it and cringing in embarrassment and anguish, helpless to do anything to stop it. I will feel awful later, for hurting someone - and I /will/ hurt someone if they don't back away, and there's always someone who wants to play psychiatrist and try to touch me.
The part people don't get - if I lose control, I cannot stop it
. I hate
that feeling. It's part of why I'm as Type-A as I am - I absolutely need to be in control of myself. I don't get high, I don't get drunk - hell, I don't even get tipsy unless I'm secure enough in the company I'm keeping that it's not an issue for me, and that is rare. There's no drug or therapy in the world that will fix PTSD. The only way to prevent it totally is to put myself on a drug regimen every day that turns me into a Thorazine zombie with no emotions whatsoever. It is at this point as good as it's ever going to get. I am functional on a daily basis. I know what the triggers are. I know how to get away before I go psychotic. I don't put myself in situations where I might spontaneously go monkeyfuck. I am only social on my terms, and if I'm having a bad day or my reserves are low, I'm comfortable calling whoever I was to be social with and begging off or begging a raincheck. The people around me are not people who would be upset by this, so there's no anxiety there. The people I hang out with are not going to stare at me like I've grown a second head if I suddenly and abruptly insist I need to get outside, get somewhere quiet, get away. I don't work in an environment where triggers are likely to happen. That Guy knows I am tweaky in crowds and doesn't make me be his +1 in situations where I might not be comfortable. He doesn't like crowds either, so he's on board when I'm all "It's time to go now, yes?" It irritates me a lot when people assume he's being a jerk by not inviting me to events. It makes me feel bad that they blame him, when it's not him. He's known me this long - believe me, he knows what situations would tweak me the hell out, and he doesn't subject me to them. A recent comment by one of his friends was, "Wow, two events in one month! It's almost like you're a REAL girlfriend!" It made me neurotic as hell. Should I offer to go to more? Is That Guy upset that I'm such a tweaker that I can't go to things with his friends very often? Does it bother him that I have to be social on my terms? Does he want me there? Does he not
want me there? That one was fairly easy to talk myself down from. If it bothered him, he would tell me. When he requires my presence, he asks me. And if I had to say, "No, I think I'd be too tweaky." - that would be ok
The people who think it's cute or funny to set me off, or who threaten to instigate a panic attack basically cause me to write off that person and the situation. Example: I'm in the SCA. I panic in crowds. I mentioned this as a reason I don't go to court, and asked TPTB to please never call me into court and here's why it would be cruel to me. One of TPTB wrote back an email that said, basically, "It's not about you, it's about your friends and the populace seeing you honored, so if it happens, you need to man up and go into court and now that I know you'll panic, I'll make sure to have people escort you to make sure you show up." That person has ensured that I don't go to court. I've gone exactly three times since then, and all three times were when I had to go because I had a report to make. I have friends sitting on the thrones right now. I'd really like to go to their court, to see them in shiny gold hats, because it makes me smile that they have the shiny gold hats. They're my friends and I absolutely know
they would not set me off - and I still can't do it, because it's now been logged in my brain as a potential triggering event - because someone threatened to make it happen. Another dumb one is karaoke. I can't sing - and I mean physically, it literally makes my throat bleed, I cannot sing. Friends do karaoke and I offered to go and watch, and they threatened to kick up a fuss and make everyone chant my name until I stood up and sang. The very thought of that makes me want to vomit. They threatened to invite me out to dinner at some point and not tell me it was karaoke until I got there, and make that happen. I don't associate with any of those people anymore. I don't go to that restaurant, either, just in case.
I do my best to not go bugfuck in public. I haven't had an incident in years. I am social on my terms and I have learned to not associate with people who can't accept that.
This post sponsored by this other post here - not all of it applies to me, but enough of it does.