Triggers and PTSD


We have to share with each other; it’s an absolute necessity. I have seen people retreat, building a fort around their minds and hearts. I can tell you from experience, it is the absolute worst thing that you can do. I have seen brilliant people rescind mid-way through stellar careers and lives,  eaten alive by depression and the aftermath of  trauma. I am often too busy to deal with my memories and triggers at the time they come up. I admit it’s a state I am not only grateful for, but prefer. I then wonder why I burst into tears in the shower, crawl into bed, unable to converse at the end of the day, or am irritable and bereft. I sat down and wrote some of my triggers, and then sardonically laughed, incredulous that I ever questioned why I am exhausted and crave space at the day’s end.

Here are some of the places, aromas, music, etc, that bring forth strong memories and emotions:

Suburbs: Concord, Bondi, Auburn, Greenwich, Lane Cove, Katoomba, Westmead, Parramatta, Revesby, St Leonards, Manly, Ryde, Lidcombe and Kogarah.

Scents: Anais Anais, Tabu, sandalwood, Aramis, cigarette smoke.

Songs: Run for your Life, Sorrow, Hard Woman, Dear Prudence, Stairway to Heaven, Belladonna, Oh Father, Stray Cat Blues, Ruby Tuesday, Comfortably Numb and so many more.

Conversations about crimes and offenders, falling, abductions, crimes against children, abuse. Seeing famous people and institutions fall one-by-one, some of whom I once looked up to.

Hearing people scream or argue loudly, having to climb stairwells or go over bridges; anything to do with heights, and being unable to avoid such. Hearing trains in the background or the wail of sirens, winter and feeling cold, certain herb teas that I used to drink as a teen, seeing strangers that remind me of past villains, sharp knives (I don’t own any, nor do I have a knife block), two-minute noodles, toffee, apple pies, carrot cake,

Too many movies to mention.

In any given day, I have to deal with at least one trigger that provokes unpleasant memories and emotions. I am often in a situation where I simply can’t avoid said trigger and have to somehow plough through. It is at home when the mask can fall and you can let it all out. How do you explain to someone the cologne they have spritzed has brought up unpleasant memories, particularly if you only met the person five minutes ago? What do you do when you are in a restaurant and a song comes on that hooks you straight into the past?  It is a minefield and I step on them all the time. A portion of my brain explodes, as does my heart. I pick myself up, and stagger home.

Once inside my sanctuary, a few things happen. I turn on gentle ambient music, light candles and drop some lavender oil into my diffuser. I play with my birds, and prepare a healthy dinner. I then soak in a bath filled with salts and essential oils, slip into pajamas and dim the lights in my room. Breathing deeply, I try to sort through what has transpired throughout the day, and what has come up for me. I let it be, assuring myself that it is of little surprise that I felt adrift, and that it is completely normal. I try to sleep, aware that I may have nightmares, if the triggers were strong enough. Waking, I will have a herb tea and hot shower, and start the day, hoping that the triggers go easy on me. This is PTSD, and trying to navigate through it.

When I was a teen, I met many returned military personnel and emergency responders, damaged by what they had seen. I met scores of people who had been in notorious orphanages. I met people who had encountered unimaginable horror as young people. Back then, knowledge of PTSD was in its infancy. These folks were thought to have ‘shell-shock’ or a nervous disorder. I regret not having my PTSD acknowledged for many years, as it is crucial to seek treatment early. When I open the paper and see an institution or individual I had encountered finally being brought to justice, a part of me rises, and yet another part of me falls. Why did it take so long, and why did so many have to suffer? Why weren’t we heard way back then? I take comfort that the world my daughter is growing up in is slowly but surely changing. The treatment we were told to accept would be deemed outrageous now. At last, at last.

I live with chronic pain and will require more surgery. I haven’t been able to run, rollerskate nor do many other things with my daughter, and need to be supine more than other mums. My daughter has borne witness to tears brought on by my constant pain, and seen my whole demeanour change when faced with a trigger. It is a wicked burden for both her and I to carry. It shouldn’t have happened. The times are changing, and it brings me such comfort. As I endure my nightmares and flashbacks I am at least assured that the days of being silenced are coming to an end. I feel like a bird with a broken wing, trying to heal and trying to fly. I am slowly getting there. The public outing of personalities whom had hurt and damaged many people has helped. No more dark spaces in which to hide. Suddenly, there is light.

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International Women’s Day


It was the eve of International Women’s Day, and I was ploughing through a long list of chores. I caught the headline news, and dropped the pen I was holding. The healthcare centre I had been visiting with my foot was featured in a story about a doctor arrested for sexual abuse and assault. He was subsequently charged. Nausea overtook me, horrified that I had taken my child to this practice, a place where evil had quietly resided. We always went into the room together, and I was quietly relieved that it wasn’t our doctor; it couldn’t be. His manner had been a little strange… He had looked at us intently and for too long. There was an air of arrogance about him, but nothing that screamed danger. I had it confirmed that it was indeed the doctor we had been seeing, and I ran to the bathroom to throw up. All the horror of the past came hurtling back. I bid my daughter goodnight, and bundled myself into my room, armed with gin and a bottle of tonic. It took  four glasses until I was adequately settled.

I didn’t know what to do with the anger, confusion and terror I was feeling. I had felt less afraid in the past few years, more confident and assured that both my daughter and I were safe. I had tried so hard to keep her safe, always aware of where she was and with whom; scanning her social media daily. Now I found that she had been in the room of a predator, when accompanying me to appointments.

I had a few women contact me, sharing that they had been abused by this creature. In all cases, they froze when he insisted on thorough examinations; it had felt wrong, and yet they didn’t quite know why. Surely a doctor insisting on you undressing can’t be amiss? I knew exactly what they had gone through; where their minds had wandered to. They had disassociated , a device of the brain to protect us from threat. It were as though they weren’t there, and this couldn’t be happening. Numbness had been conscripted, and it was only later that the full horror of the betrayal hit them. They talked of the pain they felt, by having taken their children to this particular doctor. They had trusted him. The world felt a bit less safe as a result.

I am going to escort one lady to the police station to give a statement. It has now been 24 hours since the news hit, and I still can’t eat. I keep replaying the consults I had with this man over the last month, replaying everything he said and how he had looked. There was nothing to give him away; nothing you could put your finger on. My instincts felt he was rather peculiar, but nothing overt. Thank God I had seen him about my foot, and only my foot.

I am furious that he was able to go from practice to practice. Who knows how long it had been going on, and if the authorities knew? More victims have come forward since his arrest, and I applaud all these brave patients. On International Women’s Day, my heart is with all those whom he hurt. My thoughts are with all those whom he deceived and re-traumatized. My thoughts are with all the parents who thought their children were safe in his care. It isn’t the celebration of International Women’s Day that I had hoped for, but as I reflect on the women I know and love, and the girls I have had the privilege of seeing grow throughout the years, I am humbled. The old guard is dying, and an egalitarian spirit is not only being summoned, but demanding to come forth. The sexism, abuse and horror of the past shall not be tolerated. It never should have been.

 

 

 

Fragile Minds


I was on the bus the other day, when a familiar gentleman boarded. He is usually quiet, his movements steady. On this day, he was swearing and banging his head with his hand. He had a pronounced tic. The bus driver greeted him by name, and warmly invited him to sit down. I was touched by his kindness. For twenty minutes, this fellow pounded his head with his hand. I wondered what had happened to make his condition heighten. Had his medication stop working? Was he taking it at all? I looked out the window at the rain falling, and a memory emerged.

When I was fourteen, and in the clinic, I was sipping a hot chocolate, when I noticed Robert outside. Robert was a cordial fellow, always with a greeting. He had greying ginger hair and beard. I noted him pacing up and down the courtyard in the rain. Suddenly, he went over to a window, and repeatedly banged his head into the frame. As blood gushed out of his head, I ran over, begging him to stop. Finally he did, and I held him as he wept. I was later told that he had been editor of a big city paper in the later stages of his career. Esteemed and well-regarded, until his breakdown.

What causes people to break down? It is usually those who seem to have it altogether that are the first to succumb. It is damned exhausting, keeping up appearances. I once knew a CEO of a large corporation, who was found under her desk, cowering after years of intense pressure got the best of her. When she told me her story, I determined that I needed to deal with stress as it happens. I learnt not to store it away; not to drink or eat until I drowned.

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People have minds that can be drip-fed abuse of every kind. From the workplace to home life. We need to be careful whom we listen to and whom we consider our allies. It is not only our hearts we have to protect, but our precious minds. Think of all those who give you joy, and stick with them. Christmas is a tinderbox of embers, which can either give a comforting glow, or explode. Life is not meant to be played, as if a game, and minds aren’t designed to be toyed with. Seek out the gentle, the kind and affirmative. Your precious mind is designed for dreams, for visionary ideas and to give solutions to pressing problems. It is nigh impossible to achieve any of that if it is being filled with nonsense from people who have no business being in your life. I saw scores of adults (some famous), rescind during stellar careers and lives. I learnt early on how precious a gift our minds are. Be kind to others, but also to yourself.

White Ribbon Day, 2015


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Today is White Ribbon Day and a plethora of emotions rise to the surface, as do memories. I recall when I was living in a small town, there was a single mum of three little girls. She had been subjected to much violence, and was now starting again. She owned her own business, and she and the girls were finally happy. Her ex-husband starting drinking more, which fuelled his aggression. He was verbally aggressive on the phone and in person, when she dropped the girls to the designated meeting spot for access visits. This lady was a fey-like creature, huge orbital eyes, tiny with long golden hair, and it would break my heart when she recalled the nights of violence she had endured. He was a mountain of a man. I was at her place when he rang one evening, slurring his words. I heard him promise to shoot her when she dropped the girls off in the car park of a fast-food restaurant. He did indeed own a rifle. She had the hide to start her own business and offer her children safety and security. I insisted that I go in her place. It wasn’t an offer, but an order. She was terrified that if she didn’t obey the court order, he would come after her and the courts would again punish her. I got out of the car with the girls, and he appeared startled to see me. This bear of a man was frightened! I nervously offered forth commentary on the weather, and other inane subjects. I got back in the car and my clenched hands were dripping with sweat.

I have had knocks at my door at night, and my home has offered refuge to mums and their kids. One dear lady came by with her little boys, having caught a bus from her house. She had been shoved and she had been hit. I took photos of her bruises. When she went to the bathroom, her seven-year old whispered to me, “he yells all the time.” I drew him close to me, desperate to vanquish this hell from their precious lives.

I have had women come visiting, and delight in keeping me company for ten hours straight whilst I tended the routine chores of everyday life. They have simply not wanted to go home, fearing what may happen. Imagine getting into trouble for talking to a barista at the café, for not having dinner on the table. Imagine flinching when there is silence, and at the screaming to come. Imagine having to deal with rage, not knowing what shall set it off from one day to the next. Imagine being left without money. This heartbreaking pictorial appeared this morning, and I sat and reflected for a while, both on the sketches and also on the description of the women therein. It is up to us all as a society, to be vigilant and to be vocal. It is my dearest wish that the next generation don’t have to be termed ‘survivors,’ for they won’t have any horror to survive.

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