Triggers for sexual abuse*
For me, PTSD has many faces. One moment it is a flashback that I can quickly move on from. The next moment will be a 2 hour anxiety attack. The next can be one tiny trigger that sets up the snowball effect.
Last night we were watching the AMAZING Super Bowl. Seriously, that was the best Super Bowl ever!!! Having a lovely time with my husband on the couch and then….Towards the end there was a movie preview for The Handmaid. I only saw maybe 5 seconds of the preview. I told my husband that I saw the original movie and it was one of the most triggering/anxiety provoking movies I had ever seen. When I watch something on TV that is triggering to PTSD it is not the same as a smell trigger or a flashback. Something different happens. I get hot. My face feels flushed and I can’t feel my legs. I immediately feel like I’m going to throw up and pass out. When I first saw this movie it was 25 years before I even knew what the PTSD symptoms were. I had no idea why I was so shaken. Seeing this preview to this movie was the first part of the snowball.
I went to sleep last night telling myself “stop thinking about that movie” and that didn’t work so I completely distracted myself. I watched comedies until 4 am when I finally fell asleep. Then the nightmares came. Second part of the snowball. My nightmare was a post apocalyptic one. Large groups of people were put in this massive parking garage type thing. They were all lined up in some areas and others and crowded into corners. The children had tears running through the dirt on their faces. They were all starving. There was panic in some and blank stares in others. Then a rich white man who had a lot of power came through and chose the women that he felt still had a little fight in them and were cleaner than the rest so that he could use them to rape repeatedly. The nightmare went on and on, children being ripped from their mother’s arms. I woke up after only a few hours of sleep and I knew this was all part of the movie preview. It had triggered an emotional response deep within my brain. I was so upset. I had this nightmare residue I could not shake off. Then I lay there and kept thinking how my view of this nightmare was post apocalyptic realizing it wasn’t at all. These things happen everywhere. Men in power raping women. Men in power taking what they want. People starving. This was not just a nightmare, this is really happening in the world. I got so worked up over this I couldn’t calm myself at all. I tried all of my therapy coping skills and none worked. My nightmares are just a symbol of a true reality for many people around the world. And that crushes me. I know how it feels to be sexually abused. Then I have nightmares of other women experiencing the same nightmare and know that it is a reality. Very very upsetting. Once my mind gets wound, it is hard, to bring it back down. Especially on a few hours sleep.
I got up finally and started my day to soon after realize I was hypersensitive to smells. Everything smelled badly. I thought I smelled urine. Then I thought I smelled something dead. I spent half of the day seeking out where these smells were coming from not to find a one. Every smell, my shampoo, my conditioner, my deodorant, all smelled too strong. Cooking foods smelled too strong. This was definitely stage 3 of the snowball.
The last stage was inevitable and it was dissociation. I look at my hands and they don’t feel like they are my own. I look at my daughter speaking to me and I don’t hear the words. I realize a 2 hour tv show has just passed and it seems like 2 minutes or maybe 2 days I’m not sure. So I came into my room and decided I needed to take some control of this. It is taking everything in my being to stay in bed right this minute. I feel manic. I want to manically clean or manically check things. But that would be feeding into this chaos that my brain is currently wrapped up in.
Therapy has taught me to be mindful. To be aware. I am learning more and more about things that are the most triggering and I am seeing the snowball effect that PTSD can have. I have just begun my healing path through this PTSD really, it has only been a few months of therapy. We have only scratched the surface. PTSD is very serious. It is very real. It is very scary. It is a very powerful mechanism in the brain that I am not AT ALL happy about having to deal with. It feels like PTSD is an abuser all over again. PTSD makes me feel like I have no control. Lacking control, feeling vulnerable, is just even more triggering to MORE PTSD. It is so incredibly frustrating.
These are the times where my brain goes to a dark place. These are the times when internal dialogue is critical. I could very easily give up, feel defeated, lose hope, and just throw in the towel. This is where being mindful is key. I may NOT be able to control triggers, PTSD, or any of the symptoms that come along with it, but right this very moment I CAN control my internal dialogue. I can choose to not go to a dark place. It is so hard. You just don’t know how hard it is. But I will choose to say positive affirmations, I will breathe, I will watch a happy movie. I will pray that I have dreams of angels and puppies and that the cycle of the snowball effect stops right here.