Sunday, December 16, 2018

Out into the light...

CW:  Mental health issues, triggering events.

Two days ago I had what is called a triggering event. I don’t need to go into the details of exactly what the event was – but the result was my collapsing into a crying, panicked heap, followed by a total emotional shutdown. From the extreme of panic and fear to absolute emptiness.

The rest of the day I felt apart from myself and the world. I was along for the ride but not really present. If you interacted with me at all on Friday it was likely obvious that I was not myself. I probably seemed standoffish, quiet, maybe even grumpy. If you asked me how I was feeling I either didn’t answer or just said, “Mostly okay…”

When I am in this state of shut down I don’t actually know how I feel. I become like a void; a walking emptiness. I know this is a defense mechanism. That this comes from being in places where showing emotion was dangerous, or where being fully present resulted in more harm – disassociating and leaving myself is safer. It isn’t very practical. It interferes with my life and relationships. I don’t like it.

But I can manage these events. These two stages are, at least, predictable. I know that the emotions that spew out immediately will run their course and that shut down will last a few hours. I know that at some point I will start to feel again, but that is not really a relief, because then it gets worse.

What follows the collapse and the disassociation is two days to a week of panicked, obsessive thinking. Whatever emotions are attached to the triggering event start relentlessly swirling around in my brain. Because many of my issues center on abandonment, it becomes a firework display of rejection and self-loathing. It fills my mind’s sky horizon to horizon and is too loud to shut out or turn away from.

(BOOM!) See, it’s true. You are unloved.

(Sizzle…crackles) People only pretend to like you.

(BOOM! Boom! BOOM!) You should remove your horribleness from the world.*

(Whistle…swirl) Can’t you see you will never be good at anything?

(KA-BOOM! Pop. Pop. Pop.) You will never be wanted. You suck. You suck. You suck.

And then there are the nightmares. These tales spun by my subconscious appear a day or so later; in full color, with surround sound, even scents. Dreams in which I walk the world hearing people’s thoughts – and every imagined judgement. Another in which I discover that all the good in my life is a lie. There is a recurring one that due to some unknown offense I am shunned by the town I live in. I’m allowed to exist there but when I approach people turn away, and no matter how loud I yell or scream they ignore me. The worst part though is never being told what it was I did to make them reject me so.

This emotional barrage during both my waking and sleeping hours will last for a few days. I can distract myself from it; and as the days pass it becomes easier to do. I can zone out to Netflix, I can make art, I can find friends to hang out with, I can clean, but if I find myself in a quiet moment – it comes back – so I keep busy in whatever way I can. Eventually, with a few days and a lot of self-care (get up, make the bed, eat, drink water, move, write, rest, repeat) it will pass.

Then, when it has passed and I feel safe enough, I begin the deconstructing process. I ask the necessary questions:

What was the event that set this off? Why was it so bad? Was I already in a tender place when it happened? What event in my past is this trigger tied to? What plan can I put in place so that I can respond differently next time?

I remind myself that this is all process. That I am here now and that the original event that this trigger is tied to is long past. I get back to the work of rebuilding myself, shoring up my self-worth. Reminding myself that I am worthy of being here. That I will be okay.

The worst part of this I think are the other feelings that surround it. For me there is a lot of embarrassment, shame, and fear surrounding these events. I am embarrassed about feeling so out of control. There are feelings of shame about not being as good or together as other people seem. And there is a fear that others will not understand. That I will be rejected for my brokenness, and that my damage will be too much.

I often find I am quite literally unable to speak of these events; my body rebels and my vocal chords freeze up. This is why, when I am in crisis, I often have to text people for help because I become incapable of speech.  When I see my therapist and talk to her about these latest occurrence my voice will be a squeak and I will likely be hoarse for several days.

But I very much want to share them because it beats back those feelings of shame and embarrassment. Putting these feelings and events out there is the medicine I need. It brings them out of the into the light where I can see them, examine them and remove the fear surrounding them. And so, because I cannot speak of them, I write instead.

This is my work.

*A note on this – I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts. I instead have fantasies of removing myself from the world. The most common story is one of quitting my life and moving far away, to some forgotten small town, where I work at a convenience store and fade away into obscurity. Everything in this fantasy is in shades of gray and sepia. It’s very drab, predictable, and comforting. So, when I say I want to remove myself from the world, I mean removing myself from my current place in it. I don’t mean death. 

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  1. thank you for writing this . I need to try to be more helpful .

    1. Thank you. You are one of the few people in my life who knows my story. And you have been helpful.

  2. Very eloquently written! I love your description of the reaction to being triggered as a fireworks display. Then, I thought of how my grandfather called the fireworks finale "The Final Barrage", and you described the period after the trigger as an emotional barrage. It truly is! I have definite issues with how society throws the term trigger(ed) around so casually nowadays that describes merely being inconvenienced,
    or mildly uncomfortable, with a situation/event. Like you have described, it is anything but casual or mild, disrupting the life of the triggered individual for days or longer, depending on the event in question. My favorite stories as a child were "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", and "Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass". Dealing with a wicked witch, or crazy creatures, seemed to be more preferable than dealing with my abuse! Having Complex PTSD can be so draining! Unfortunately, the only thing I can give right now is my words of understanding.